The Power of Story

First, a POSTSCRIPT to last week’s blog: In my last post I mentioned how much I enjoy the possibility of unraveling & re-doing in that exists in most fiber work. However, too often I let my wonderings about those illusive possibilities take over a project, leaving it unfinished for a long, long time. That’s what happened with my Thalassa mask (introduced in the May 28 post — almost 6 months ago!). I spent months arranging & rearranging fiber for her background. I must admit I loved the process of adding, subtracting, rearranging, just touching the beautiful soft and colorful fibers. I was not in a hurry to finish, but I finally told myself to stop playing, to bring that conversation to a close, and to go ahead and wet-felt the piece in its final form. (Wet-felting cannot be unraveled!)

And then began the conversation (occasionally almost moving towards argument, but eventually calming down into negotiation) among the completed background, Thalassa’s hair, and myself. I know I — with my dissatisfaction & perfectionist tendencies, alas — made that conversation much more fraught than necessary as I tried one thing, …then another, …and another….

Now I am eager to try some of the many new ideas that emerged from all that trying, so the time was not “wasted,” …. but I am relieved that the fibers & I have achieved a conclusion at last!

The Power of Story

Ben Okri, The Mystery Feast ( This is part of his address given at the “Everything Under the Sun Storytelling Festival, 2013);

As this is a celebration of storytelling, it is also important to state that stories can also be pernicious. Stories have been used for evil. They have been used for the denigration, the demonisation, and the extermination of peoples. This is because of the psychological power of stories, their ability to fit in perfectly with our belief brain cells. It is easier for people to believe nasty things about others if you tell nasty stories about them.

Stories used as negative propaganda have fueled wars, tribal dissensions, and genocide. False stories use the same laws as good stories, making them readily acceptable to our imagination. The true danger of stories is that they bypass intelligence and go straight to the subconscious. Why else have very intelligent people…believed such absurd things…? The subliminal demonisation in stories and images is one of the roots of racism and sexism.

…. Whenever we listen to negative stories about others we are contributing to this ongoing preparation for some unforeseen future monstrosity.

This week I read a story in the Washington Post that reminded me of Ben Okri’s words. It’s a long story about a traumatized young veteran who helped create a story/video, trying to understand and work through his war experiences and disillusionment in the process. The resulting video, “Loose Change,” was subsequently adopted by extremists, contributing to the current “conspiracy culture” in the U.S. I’ll just summarize a few points here. I do hope you will read the whole article so you can get a more rounded understanding of Korey Rowe, learn the details & really get a feel for its “story-ness.” My Washington Post subscription allows me to share access as a gift article –>  https://wapo.st/3DbTYUy

If that doesn’t work, try https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/interactive/2021/loose-change-korey-rowe-911-truth-conspiracy/?utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most&carta-url=https%3A%2F%2Fs2.washingtonpost.com%2Fcar-ln-tr%2F35423b5%2F618d50409d2fdab56b84f48f%2F5ee01337ae7e8a4360c30ba1%2F9%2F72%2F618d50409d2fdab56b84f48f . You can also find recent (9/8/21) commentary on the video itself at https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/08/technology/loose-change-9-11-video.html

The Washington Post piece begins: “A veteran helped spread viral 9/11 conspiracy theories. Can he start over? Nearly 20 years after shipping off to war, a soldier who helped make the ‘Loose Change’ video wrestles with the power stories have to heal and to destroy.” (Jose A. Del Real, Washington Post, November 11, 2021)

When he was a teenager, Korey Rowe made some bad choices, dropping out of school at 16. By the time he turned 18, Korey knew he needed help to straighten out his life so he joined the Army in 2001, planning to save for college. Just weeks later, while he was still in basic training, the U.S. experienced the terrorist attacks of 9/11 & Korey soon found himself fighting in two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) for which he was not prepared. War ‘was something I wasn’t ready for emotionally, physically, mentally,” he said. “It was not something I wanted. It was not something I expected. Those were the hardest years of my life.’

Kory returned to civilian life a “deeply broken” young man. When an old friend asked his help in producing a video about the 9/11 attacks, Korey agreed. As they began doing research, the two became fascinated with the conspiracy theories that were floating around. Those stories seemed to Korey to fit with his own distrust of the government’s motives for and the appalling methods used during the wars: “I had seen countless innocent people die for no good reason, for a war that was based on lies,” Korey said.”This wasn’t a report I read. I was there. I saw them rob the American taxpayers and murder innocent people by invoking 9/11 every day.” …. “I was f—ing angry. I was angry at the government. I was angry at the media. I just wanted to say something,” Korey recalled. “And so this became my vessel. We never, ever, ever expected it to go anywhere.”

The series in question, “Loose Change,” made fantastical claims about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, including that the World Trade Center was brought down by explosives rather than airplanes and that the Pentagon had been attacked by a military missile. Laced throughout the videos was the suggestion that the U.S. government was intentionally concealing the truth about the attacks, including perhaps its own participation in them. It melded compelling narration drawn from Internet research with engrossing news footage from the attacks to create a highly watchable documentary.

And the videos did go somewhere — Exploding onto the internet when just when folks were discovering ways to connect and pass along “information” through new social networks, the videos were viewed by millions & lodged in the hearts and minds of those (whether extremist or not) who already distrusted the government’s handling of the 9/11 crisis. “Loose Change” was perhaps the first Internet blockbuster.

Korey Rowe has no sympathy for right-wing extremists, but the story he told fifteen years ago in his anguish and confusion has taken on a life of its own. It remains a key rallying point for extremist agitators today. It is often seen as a significant player in the polarization that currently distresses the U.S. Today, after a few more years of wrong turns and poor choices, Korey is committed to a new life. He’s married with 2 young daughters & is starting a video business in his hometown of Oneonta, NY. Korey wants to use his storytelling skills in ways that he feels will be more positive — to create video ads that tell the stories of locally-owned businesses and someday to make documentaries.

The article concludes: In retrospect, Korey and his friends had become characters in a story arc they didn’t recognize, at once patients and superspreaders of a new disease of viral misinformation that would come to infect all of America.

But how could he and his friends be blamed for creating anger and distrust, Korey tried to understand, when they had been reacting to those feelings themselves? Could there be some truth to it?

How shall we take responsibility for the stories we tell, the ways we tell them, and the stories that we take into our hearts? I am thinking today of Gosar, the member of the U.S. House of Representatives who posted an animated video of himself killing another member of the House and attacking the President of the United States. What do the stories we tell say about us? When we tell a story — to ourselves or to others — we weave a world. What kind of world will it be?

As Okri reminds us in Birds of Heaven,1996: To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralized nation tells demoralized stories to itself. Beware of story-tellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts, and who are irresponsible in the application of their art: they could unwittingly help with the psychic destruction of their people.

Stories can illuminate, build, and heal. They can also destroy.

All We Do, by Ben Okri

"Gazing at the shape of a hill,
The grey horizon,
A woman reading a book,
A landscape shaped by history.
All we do is story.

Our public acts are dreams.
Our private acts are dramas.
Submerged rivers are our thoughts, 
Misted streams our hopes.

Like the spider we turn
All things into ourselves.
We bend the light
Of time into fables.

Beyond our mind, reality moves.
Unknowable like the darkness
Before creation.

We carve from the unknown
A world.
Without story
Our identities
Starve.

We live in and out
Of time
Simultaneously.

Living belongs to story.
Being belongs to mystery.
Beyond form
our souls
Breathe.

We yield time
Our story-making sense.
In this portion of eternity,
Awake and in dreams,
We live myths.
It's what makes us immense."

Weaving & Unraveling

This week I have been musing about a lovely essay included in Vol.5 (Practice) of Kinship: Belonging in a World of Relations, published this year by The Center for Humans and Nature. Written by Maya Ward (https://www.mayaward.com.au/), the essay is entitled “Getting In On The Making”:

Weaving is an old way of knowing. Losing our fur was quite an incentive for getting in on the making: to find a way to dress our delicate skin, to shelter this sensitivity. The weave is a knowing like life: a pattern, not yet conscious, emerges in the creative act. Weaving in many cultures is a sacred art, a type of magic, a spidery kind of skill.

We can all see, now, the holes, perhaps irreparable, in the web of life. In this age of ecological unraveling the subtle, gentle magic of the weaver seems too humble a thing to help. And yet without it, I fear we will become totally frayed.

Some say this time, exactly as it is, is an initiation into something entirely new. Can we trust enough to be entrusted with the true, strange, terrible way things are? I think every person is called upon to stitch together their samples, to quilt themselves into this new home. I doubt there is a soul alive for whom this will be easy work. The needle must be carved from one’s own bone. The thread will be nothing less than our sinew.

We care for ourselves through tending our connections. Our love for this world, our kindness with it all, and the actions that arise from love–these must weave a vessel that could nest a new culture. Through everyday acts of attentiveness, from aligning with the other as kin, change will come. Practices of kinship involve a conscious restorying of our irrevocable entanglements. All things are born from this system of earth and sun, a system entangled among endless stars, the dying of which gave birth to elements of our bodies. The root of the word ‘kin’ means ‘to give birth.’ [All things]…are emerging as and from the eros force…. It’s a wild and sexy thing we’ve arisen from. All things are woven into it; threaded knotted, bound. And within the weave we dance.”

I was immediately caught by this opening — these metaphors of Interwoven Being are exactly what I love. I was a bit taken aback when — after the three central sections in which she brings to life the power of improvisational contact dance, the stories behind place names, and the intimacy of a night walk in the forest — Ward shifted the metaphor slightly, concluding:

“We wove to shelter our extraordinary sensitivity. We wove cloth and we wove narrative. We wove ever-greater patterns of protection; shelters, walls, nations, wars. To shed false skins seems an immense risk, yet there may be no other way. At its wildest, eros is the will to trust all things, to be kin with all things, even in this terrible time. It is its own strange truth. It is love and naked fury. To say yes to the fray, to let go of the woven, to be an act of unmaking. From this we will be made.”

To weave/connect/make or to un-weave/unravel/unmake…..?

In workshops I’ve given, people of various ages have enjoyed both creating their own new weaving and unraveling parts of an old one so it can be re-woven in a new way. [This is easily done with burlap: After cutting some of the burlap’s weft threads somewhere in the center, you can easily pull out those short bits of weft and then, using a needle and new yarn, weave over the existing warp structure to create something new. Or, of course, you just pull out some of the burlap’s weft and relax into the empty spaces. Or you can unravel the edges and play with the fringe.]

One thing I’ve loved about working with yarn it that it can be undone. This is very different from the finality of taking chisel to marble. (Working with yarn is certainly more suitable for anyone as indecisive as I am!)

While weaving, I find myself un-weaving surprisingly often. Sometimes it’s because I am unhappy about way the color or pattern I’d planned actually looks as I make it. Sometimes it’s because I have a “brilliant” idea about how to do things “better” — which may, in the end, lead to more un-weaving. Sometimes it’s because I’ve let my attention falter and just plain made a mistake — which I may not notice until I’ve woven a good ways further. Occasionally the “mistake” is something I’m content to ignore or it might turn out to be an opportunity for a new way of continuing, but often it is something that just throws all that follows out of kilter and simply has to be undone and remade for the sake of the whole. I guess the latter is where we in the dominant/dominating Western culture are now with respect to many of our errant weavings.

[The old Persian belief that you must always leave a flaw in the carpet you weave — to show humility, to acknowledge that your creation is less than what has been made by the Great Creator — is an altogether different thing.]

Humans have at last become aware that we have — perhaps unintentionally — been unraveling the all-inclusive tapestry woven by Earth. And it is our own weavings of certain stories, technologies, politics, religions, etc. that have caused this damage, this unraveling. We need to re-weave, to re-story ourselves and our ways of being so that all of the Earth community can be actively included as participants rather than being seen as either “obstacles” we must overcome or mere “resources” under our control. It is, I believe, time for us to consciously keep the human weavings that support or enhance Earth’s greater weaving and to un-weave the ones that are damaging the larger whole. Then we can pick up the threads and — with the help of the inclusive stories that will continue — weave something we may not yet have imagined, weave “a new vessel that can nest a new culture.” Within that new vessel, not only we but all of our Earth kin will be able to dance!

On 11/9, Grace posted — on https://windthread.typepad.com/ — this beautiful photograph by Bertrand Kulik. It has been an amazing image to contemplate as I think about weaving, unraveling, re-weaving…. I hope you, too, enjoy it.

Bertrand Kulik, photographer

"O our mother the earth, O our father the sky,
Your children are we, and with tired backs
We bring you gifts that you love.
Then weave for us a garment of brightness:
May the warp be the white light of morning,
May the weft be the red light of evening,
May the fringes be the falling rain,
May the border be the standing rainbow.
Thus weave for us a garment of brightness
That we may walk fittingly where grass is green,
O our mother the earth, O our father the sky! 

                         -- Tewa Pueblo prayer

Casting a Net

This past week has been, in Celtic & many other traditions, a time to mark not only the threshold between autumn & winter but also the threshold between our ordinary world and other worlds (whether the world of the dead, of spirits, or of faerie). This is the time of year to pay special attention to the Thin Places, the places where, according to local lore, one may easily slip — often unaware — from one world to the next. It was in such a frame of mind last weekend, that I happened to pick up Sylvia V. Linsteadt’s magical book of stories & poems, Our Lady of the Dark Country. I opened it, somewhat randomly, and found her remarkable story “Net.” It begins like this:

“Time is a net thrown around the universe, though every knot may be loosed. There are winds that live inside knots, and love affairs–solar winds that blow comet shrapnel through the glinting fishskin of the galaxy, stars bound to the same gravitational spin, like two pumas, golden and circling one another.

“Of course there is no saying what cordage was twisted to make that net, how dark space may tie a knot, but on ordinary days, when there are low clouds and then rain, when you have to turn on the heat or light the fire…, you can just as easily find the netted universe in the fascia of your own body. There are enough stars to last a lifetime, inside. Not all nets are for capture. Some things long to be contained–veins and muscles, fat and bone; stars and moons and striped planets, a hundred million other suns and all the dust that drifts between them.

“All witches know…. that the cords in a net are for walking, and all the empty spaces for slipping through, but only if you know your way back. It’s best to tie an extra cord to the knot by which you left, and unspool it from your belt so you can follow it back home.”

I was enchanted by the images: a net to capture or to contain; cords for walking and empty places for slipping through; a thread that leads the way home…. And, of course, my mind immediately flew off in too many directions at once — tightrope walking along the cords or (more often) slipping through the spaces between.

The earliest nets our species formed, being made of materials such as willow bark, were quick to decompose, so we don’t have a good archaeological record of when the first nets were invented. The oldest bits of netting found (in Karelia, Finland) were more than 10,000 years old. But fragments of string at least 50,000 years old have been discovered in areas of human occupation. Other evidence has lead to conjectures that string may have been made 150,000 years ago. Once string appeared — as anyone familiar with string or yarn might imagine — knots probably weren’t far behind.

We at least know that netting has been in our human repertoire for a long time, including — we can safely assume — our repertoire of stories. It was fun to learn that Polynesian stories include one of a sly man stealing the secret of net-making from fairies. And, of course, there is the majestic Hindu myth of Indra’s Net — infinite in size with each knot containing a jewel that reflects all the other jewels in the net — an amazing metaphor for the Oneness of being. I think my favorite story of nets comes from Norse mythology which tells of the Trickster god Loki, who invents the net and then, turning himself into a salmon to flee the angry gods, finds himself trapped by his own invention. (Perhaps this is a story with pertinent messages for our own times of climate change…?)

Nets = strong cord + open spaces. Opposites joined to create a new entity. Nets can hold something safe or can entrap it, can let something through or keep something out. For a fisherman, a net means food; for a fish, a net means death. Or, thinking about the netting used to make some old-fashioned curtains or nylon stockings — does it obscure the view or enhance it? Much depends on the perspective.

As I thought about it, I began to see stories as nets that — like a spell — are cast over our hearts and minds. How do we each decide which stories are nourishing/life-giving or unhealthy/perhaps deadly for us? I’ve found it’s an interesting question to ask about all the conspiracy and/or political stories that seem to dominate our news — and also, of course, the stories I tell myself about myself & others. I tend to prefer stories with lots of possible openings in their net, which may explain my fascination with Trickster.

In his lovely little book The Mystery Feast: Thoughts on Storytelling, Ben Okri says:

Stories are the koans life sends us. They contain hints of multiple realities. [….] Great stories have lightness and multi-dimensional agility. They speak constantly to different levels in us. They speak to the level we are on.

Stories are the infinite seeds we have brought with us through the millennia of walking the dust of the earth. They are our celestial pods. They are our alchemical cauldrons. If we listen to them right, if we read them deeply, they will guide us through the confusion of our lives, and the diffusion of our times.”

Stories are never what they seem. They are whispers from beyond the invisible screen of existence. They are whisperings from the gods we carry within us.”

Making as Wild Conversation

Wildness is the earthy, untamed, undomesticated state of things — open-ended, improvisational, moving according to its own boisterous logic. That which is wild is not really out of control; it is simply out of our control. Wildness is not a state of disorder, but a condition whose order is not imposed from outside.”

David Abram https://wildethics.org/why-wild/

“When we consider the palpable earth around us as though it were an object – when we conceive of nature merely as an objective set of mechanical processes – we tacitly remove ourselves from the world we inhabit. We pretend that we are not palpable creatures co-evolved with the rest of earthly life, but are rather disembodied minds pondering reality from a godlike position outside that reality. In this manner, we free ourselves from any responsibility to the rest of nature; we give ourselves license to engage other animals, plants, and natural elements as a set of resources waiting to be used by us….

If, however, we acknowledge the myriad presences around us not as objects but as subjects in their own right — as open-ended beings with their own inherent spontaneity and active agency — then we swiftly become aware of the relationships that we sustain with those beings. For only then, when we recognize the things we experience as sensitive beings like ourselves, do we notice that we inhabit a common world. And in truth, it is not only the other animals and the plants with whom we actively share this world; it is also mountains and rivers and stormclouds, the asphalt street underfoot and the wind surging through the skyscrapers…Every aspect of the sensuous surroundings can be experienced as an active, animate power, able to sense the beings around it and to influence them in turn.”

David Abrams, https://wildethics.org/why-ethics/

Like David Abram, the poet David Whyte frequently speaks & writes about the experience of reality as “Conversation”. (For example: https://onbeing.org/programs/david-whyte-the-conversational-nature-of-reality/ ).

David Whyte stresses the importance of asking questions and then (like Rilke) of living your questions. Whyte delights in the Invitational nature of life and the essential role of Astonishment. Again and again in his poems, he asks the reader to pay attention to “what is not yourself.” Only then can you enter into Conversation — i.e.,that “moving frontier” of relationship which he so beautifully celebrates throughout his work.

In his poem “Everything is Waiting for You,” David Whyte makes this truth of relationship concrete — involving even the minutiae of our day to day lives in Conversation. I thought I would type out the poem for you but realized how much better it would be to hear it in the author’s own voice. Indeed, my first encounter with this poem was not on paper but by ear. I’m happy to say that I found it on YouTube in a format that lets you both read the words and hear them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmA4s8r630s

As I continue to learn how to participate more and more fully in the many Conversations that life offers — listening as well as speaking; speaking as well as listening — I find myself engaging in the deep interrelationship & interaction from which something new may emerge. This certainly includes conversations with the fibers I love. And those conversations, of course, change me as much or more than than they change the fibers.

Sometimes I find these conversations take much more time than I’d planned/expected. Sometimes they gradually bringing to the foreground the integral Listening aspect of any “Wild Conversation through Making” — whether one makes a mask or a garden or even the “best planned” meal. As a maker, I am not asked to impose my will on the materials but to enter into a dialog with them. A good example would be the making of “Willow: Healing Spirits,” which I might summarize as Expectation, Rejection (mutual!), Persistence/Loyalty/Faithfulness to the Conversation, and – finally – the making of Community.

I usually begin by weaving a mask & then weaving or felting a context for it. “Willow,” however, began with a weaving I created to use up some rather ugly (i.e., not as expected) yarn I’d spun to make use of internet-ordered fiber that had turned out, upon arrival, to be not quite what I’d expected. [And as I write this now, I realize how those intertwined themes of “Expectation-As-Impediment” & “Impediment-As-Opportunity” have been embedded in the process since its very beginning!]

While taking the weaving off the loom, I heard it ask for a mask, ask to become part of something larger — perhaps to be named “Willow: Healing Spirit.”

After I wove the mask I thought was called for, I placed it on the weaving — and I shook my head in something not too far from disgust. Not what I expected! And the mask took one look at me & replied, in an equally unfriendly tone of voice, “I don’t much like you either.” Not to be deterred, I wove another mask. Again, I didn’t like it & it didn’t like me. Again I wove. I soon was looking at 4 masks of various shapes & sizes. None of the four fit the background weaving.

I paused a long while, listening more closely. I began to see how the masks needed each other. I realized that the conversation was teaching me something wonderful. Healing is not about a single entity but about a community — not about one “Spirit” but about the interaction of many “Spirits.” By staying with this rather uncomfortable conversation, remaining engaged through the ups&downs and back&forths, not being trapped by the limits of my own expectations — I had received some beautifully unexpected gifts of understanding about both Healing and Expectation.

Willow: Healing Spirits — weaving & spinning; wool, silk, and found rosemary branch — MCK

And, one more thought on the Wild Conversation of Making — from Jay Griffiths:

In making art, the artist expires, breathing herself out to allow the inspiring to happen, the breathing in of glinting universal air, intelligent with many minds, electric and on the loose. Artist, shape-shifter, shaman or poet, all are lovers of metamorphosis, all are minded to vision, insight and dream.

https://aeon.co/essays/how-the-jaguar-shamans-took-the-arrows-from-my-mind

We Need ALL the Stories

Since the beginning, the peoples who have lived in and with Turtle Island (now called “North America”) have dwelt in Kinship with and listened to the Land and her many creatures. As they have listened, they have made meaning from what they have heard, and stories have been told to point to these essential truths. Of course, many different stories arose about how humans came to have Fire. And, as far as I know, the different groups of people never fought over whose Story was The Truth. [A situation very different from that in Europe, from which many of my ancestors fled as a result of persecution & “religious” wars for power, thus becoming colonizers of this already known and occupied place].

As you already know, I love the Story of how Raven — while trying to be selfish — brought Light to the world. There are also Stories about how Raven brought Fire. And I love the Stories of how Coyote acquired Fire through his tricks. But the Story of How Fire Came to the People that is perhaps most dear to my heart is the one told, in varying ways, by the Cherokee, Creek, Osage, and other Peoples in the south-eastern part of the North American continent, where I now live. This week I have been especially in need of this account of How Things Happened.

The following is, as always, merely my telling for this moment. I give gratitude to the Peoples who originally told the Story, to their descendants who still tell it today, and to the land and animals from whom the Story arose. I don’t know if my telling is exactly how it happened, but I know that it is True:

Long ago there was a time when the world was dark and cold. An icy wind blew and all the People suffered. And so it went, on & on. The People suffered from the cold, from the dark.

Finally, one day all the People — Skunk & Cricket, Bear & Frog, Eagle & Turtle, and all the others — gathered together in a great Council to decide what to do. Their bodies shivered & their teeth chattered. At last, Fox spoke up. “I have heard,” he said, “that far away there is a village of people who have something called Fire. It warms them & lights their nights. But I have heard,” he continued, “that they will not share this magic. They want to keep it all for themselves.”

The People grew angry and a great uproar arose. At last, someone shouted, “Who will go to fetch us some of this wonderful Fire?”

“I will!” “I will!” they all clamored at once. After a time, Possum’s voice was loudest. “I will go for us,” said Possum. “My beautiful tail is bushy, covered with thick fur. I will hide the fire in my tail and easily bring it back,” he bragged. It was agreed by all, and off Possum went. The People shivered as they waited.

After a time, Possum returned, sadly dragging his naked tail behind him. “That Fire is fierce,” he said. “My tail was soon covered in flames and the people saw me. I was barely able to get away.” And Possum sat down, ashamed, at the back of the crowd.

Again the voices rose, “Who will go to bring back the Fire?” And many People answered, “I will.”

“”Ha!” shouted proud Vulture, “the crown of feathers on my head is stronger than fur. And I can soar high, out of reach of those greedy people. I will bring the Fire!” It was agreed, and Vulture flew off quickly on his wide wings.

The People waited, and after a time they saw Vulture returning, high in the sky. But when Vulture landed, his head was scorched and all of his glorious feathery crown had been burnt away. Vulture hung his head and hunched his shoulders, and silently crept to the back of the crowd.

Again, the crowd cried out, “Who will go for us?”

This time, only silence.

Then, in the great silence, a tiny voice spoke up. “I will go,” said Grandmother Spider.

At once, the People began to shout: “But you are too little!” “But you are too old!” “But you are only a woman….”

Grandmother Spider ignored the shouts. She simply set to work spinning and weaving a little basket, patted some damp mud on it to help it stick to her back, and off she went. She left so quietly that no one noticed & the shouts of “You’re too old! You’re too weak!” went on for quite awhile longer.

Grandmother Spider spun out long lines of her silk and swung from one tree to the next until she came to the village of the greedy people. Grandmother Spider looked down from her tree and saw that those people were angry. Two outsiders had tried to steal their Fire! Those people posted guards with knives and bows & arrows all around their village and all around their splendid Fire.

Quietly, quietly, Grandmother Spider climbed down from that tree. Slowly, carefully, she walked between those fierce and angry guards. No one looked down to see her among the shadows. No one could hear the silent passage of her tiny feet. Grandmother Spider walked right up to the fire and carefully placed a tiny ember in the basket on her back.

And off she went towards her home village. The way was easy for her as she swung by her silk thread from tree to tree, and soon she was back in the great shivering throng of folk in her village. She went to the center and called out in her tiny but very clear voice, “Gather wood! Here is the Fire!”

Soon there was a huge heap of dried sticks & branches. Someone shook the ember out of her basket and soon there was a blazing fire. No one shivered anymore. Then “Look!” a voice cried out, “Look at Grandmother Spider’s basket!” And sure enough, the clay she had patted around the basket was dry and strong.

Indeed, old Grandmother Spider had brought the People two gifts: the Gift of Fire and the Gift of Pottery. And so it was.

I give gratitude to Grandmother Spider for her bravery & persistence & artistry in bringing gifts to the People. I had special need of her Story this past week after I read Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletter of October 16.

In this newsletter, Professor Richardson outlines the details of a new law passed in Texas to control what children may or may not learn about in school. The Texas House Bill 3979 is way beyond appalling! Among many other things, Dr. Richardson comments that

Topics explicitly eliminated from the teaching standard are also instructive. Those things cut from the standards include: ‘the history of Native Americans,’ and ‘[founding] mothers and other founding persons.‘ “

I was immediately taken back to my years teaching at an American school in Libya. I arrived in Libya about 2 weeks before the start of school. On the first day of school, I had my classroom all decorated & organized and I was looking forward to meeting my students. But, as I went out the door that morning, a neighbor called out, “No school today! There’s been a revolution!” At first I thought he was just teasing a new teacher….. but it was true. It was the coup that put Qaddafi in power as dictator in Libya. During my 5 years teaching there, I found that living through a revolution and continuing under a dictator offers many kinds of traumas. But what I was remembering when I read Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletter was the day when we teachers were forced to black out, in all our written materials including encyclopedias, any mention of Israel.

That is was a dictatorship looks like — the specific exclusion of things that those in power want no one to know.

I have 3 grandchildren currently enrolled in Texas public schools. I know that my love of weaving & working with fibers goes back to our 2nd grade study of the Navajo and their weaving practices and stories. It was in this class that I first wove on a simple frame loom. What ideas, encounters, and dreams might my grandchildren miss through the limited and closely prescribed “education” now required in Texas? How narrow will their worlds become?

Thoughts of Grandmother Spider have now calmed me down enough so that I can begin writing letters to the powers that be. My gratitude to Grandmother Spider for giving me courage to confront the threats. May I strive to emulate her persistence & craft.

"Then speak.
 Grow poetry in the debris left behind by rage.
 Plant so there is enough for everyone to eat.
 Make sure there is room for everyone at the table.
 Let all of us inhabit the story, in peace."

                  Joy Harjo, Warrior Poet: A Memoir
— photo by Marcel Kessler

RAVEN STEALS THE WATER

The mythworld is structured like a forest or an animal. It wakes and feeds and sleeps and dreams and changes. And it is made of separate parts that live or die.

Robert Bringhurst, A Story as Sharp as a Knife, p.133

This is my telling of Raven Steals the Beavers’ Pond for this day, with gratitude to the Haida people, whose story this is & to all the peoples of the North American NW Coast who tell Raven stories (and have done so since the beginning); to Skaay, the Haida storyteller who told this tale to American anthropologist John R. Swanton in the late-19th/early-20th century; to Swanton who recorded it & to the Canadian poet Robert Bringhurst who offered a new translation (A Story as Sharp as a Knife); and to all the others — including especially Bill Reid (Haida artist) & David Wagoner (American poet) — who have kept the story alive, recognizing that to be Alive is to Change.

I don’t know if this is exactly how it happened, but I know that it is true.

************

Raven was going along. After awhile, he came to the start of a trail down to the beach, so down he went to the beach and down he sat on the sand. Soon two Beaver people came along and Raven began to weep and sob. When the Beaver people asked him what was wrong, Raven answered, “I am tired and hungry. But I’ve heard we have the same grandmother….. Perhaps…..”

Immediately those Beaver people, who’d been heading out to gamble with friends, turned around and said, “We will help you. Come to our house.”

After awhile, they came to the Beavers’ house — and what a wonderful house it was! The entry was surrounded by huge figures carved of cedar. There was a rock-lined fire-pit in the middle and an exquisitely carved screen across the far end.

“Please come in,” the Beaver people welcomed him. “We shall prepare a feast.” They sat their guest in the place of honor and, striking together two pieces of quartz, they started a fire. Then one of the people went behind the screen and returned with a big fresh-caught salmon, its scales glistening. That salmon was so big, it took both the Beaver’s arms to carry him! As the salmon roasted over the fire, fat dripped down onto the coals and a delicious aroma filled the house.

When the salmon was done to perfection, they gave the best and largest portion to their guest. Then one of the people went behind the screen again and returned with a basket full of the juiciest cranberries Raven had ever seen. It was a feast indeed!

Raven watched carefully. Raven was curious. Where did the Beaver people get such delicious fresh food? Raven wondered and wondered.

That night, after yet another luscious feast, those Beaver people made their guest a bed near the fire where he’d be warm, and they all said goodnight.

Raven lay very still and closed his eyes. He waited. He waited. Then, when he heard the Beavers begin to snore, Raven got up quietly, quietly. And quietly, quietly he walked to the back of the house. And quietly, quietly, he peeked behind the beautifully carved screen.

Raven’s eyes got big, then bigger. He opened his eyes as wide as he could. Even Raven was amazed by what he saw! A beautiful clear lake stretched out before him. Fish were jumping all across the lake and a fish trap near the end of the lake was shaking, full of salmon. He saw canoes, their prows stained bright red as they cruised through the dense cranberries. Raven wanted that lake.

The next morning, the Beavers once again struck together the pieces of quartz to start their fire. Again, one of the Beavers went behind the screen and quickly returned with a fresh fat salmon. They prepared it and roasted it and gave the largest portion to their guest. And when they’d all finished the delectable salmon, the other Beaver went behind the screen and brought out a basket overflowing with plump cranberries.

When they had finished eating, the Beavers set off to gamble with their friends, telling Raven to be comfortable in their house until they returned in the evening. Raven watched the Beaver people walk down the beach. He watched and watched until they were out of sight.

Raven went back into that house. He went behind the beautifully carved screen. And then Raven began to roll up that lake. He rolled and rolled up all the lake and even rolled up the Beavers’ house! And Raven tucked the roll under his arm like a blanket and sat up high in a nearby tree.

When the Beavers got back, they saw no house. They saw no lake. They saw only Raven up in a tree with a bundle tucked under his arm — and Raven was laughing.

The details of how things happen in the story vary from one teller to the another — even from one telling to another by the same storyteller. So, of course, what happens next in this story varies. [I won’t talk about how the story “ends,” because it is still alive & isn’t finished teaching us yet!] In Skaay’s version as translated by Bringhurst, the Beavers chop down many trees while Raven hops from one to the next with his bundle still under his arm. Finally, the Beavers give up and depart to find another lake. In other versions (reminiscent of Raven Steals The Sun), as Raven flies off with the bundle in his beak, he loses his grip and the lake spills out, creating all the lakes and rivers of Haida Gwaii and what is now known as British Columbia.

**********

I tell this story today because truly Water IS Life. I give thanks for the many blessings of Water.

What do we hope for the next chapter in our Story of Water? How can we make it so?

My sister & her partner live in a drought-stricken part of northern California near Mt. Shasta. This past week, their well went dry. No piped water in their rural area. They are now on the well-drillers’ waiting list but were told it would be 9 to 12 months.

Every day we hear more of both droughts and floods; of rising seas and dwindling rivers; of wetlands being “developed” and aquifers going dry; of the restrictions of out-of-date water “rights” agreements and the increase in corporate control; and of the on-going pollution and poisoning of Earth’s waters, and…and….and………..

Now feels like an important time for each of us to examine the relationships (physical, historical, and spiritual) that we have with Water — both as individuals & as members of our society.

We are the ones creating the story…..and it isn’t finished yet…..

WEAVING IT TOGETHER — Stories & Masks

Last week I posted my poem “Learning to Read,” about having seen a hawk with the pigeon he’s just killed & imagining what I would have (mis)read into the loose feathers on the grass if I’d arrived a moment later. I loved the 2 comments that were sent.

Grace ( https://windthread.typepad.com/ ) observed: “so much….this is how it is. only for the pigeon, a single truth, for sure.”  

Warren Peace imagined: “The hawk took one look at the world of humans from her place in the humans’ yard & took off to feast in peace!” [And if I follow that thread — knowing, as I do, where this happened — I’d “see” the hawk flying across Rivermont Avenue to the large wooded park on the other side.]

So here we have at least 5 or 6 different stories about one event: the story as told by the Pigeon, that told by the Hawk, that of Warren Peace’s conjecture (and that of my follow-up/extension), the story of my actual experiencing, and the story of my imagining. Then, of course, there’s the story told by the Cat that I might have blamed — a story which might or might not include any of the above. Not to mention the stories told by the Grass, the Lost Feathers, the Air…… and on and on…..

So many Stories …. So many perspectives… So many ways for us to process the stories of others….

Just something to ponder, especially in these days when we are seeing so clearly — throughout the U.S. and the World — just how the ways Stories are told impact individuals (human & others), cultures, nations, and Earth.

I ask myself — and you:

To what Stories do we choose to listen?
What Stories do we choose to tell?
How and to whom do we choose to tell them?
How do we interact with the Stories told by others?

And speaking of Stories — I just finished reading an enthralling new novel, Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr, that has as a major theme the importance of Story and of Written Books. The novel is too big & complex to summarize (many themes & insights) — but, to use a weaving metaphor, the warp of the book (the taut threads through which one weaves, the steady structure that holds the piece together) is an ancient Greek manuscript of a Story. Back & forth through this structure, the author weaves wefts of myriad colors in the form of multiple stories of characters from medieval Constantinople, from the present, and from the near future — wefts/stories that intersect & intertwingle in a thousand different ways to create a rich tapestry.

Many people (anthropologists, linguists, philosophers) have written about the deep (usually portrayed as negative) differences between Oral & Written Stories/ traditions/ communications. And yet here — in Doerr’s novel (written, of course) — is this ancient Written Story whose very physical form is a part of its being. Again, much to ponder. Definitely the best novel I’ve read in a while. I hope you get a chance to read it!

And on the fiber front — It is not strange that a Weaving metaphor leapt to mind when I tried to describe Doerr’s novel. I am enchanted by wet felting, with its process of easy spontaneous changes in the early stages, the intimacy of touching and energy of rubbing the fibers, & the inherent chaos of forming and form. However, this past week, I have found healing in the simple weaving on a frame loom — not unlike the kind of loom on which I learned to weave in 2nd grade when we were introduced to the Diné (Navajo) arts & culture and I feel in love with it all.

Once tied on the frame, the warp threads provide a stable structure. Of course, I can rebel against the structure & work around in various ways if I wish, but still the structure/the warp is stable & holds the other yarns as One. I weave the weft yarns through the warp with my fingers in intimate contact and interaction. Thread by thread, over/under/over/under/over/under…. My mind slows down to my fingers’ rhythm…. I am centered.

I’ve been looking over my past work with woven masks — a skill taught to me by the wonderful fiber artist Susan Merrill (http://www.weavingalife.com/) who was gifted the woven mask structure in a dream. When I first began, I placed the masks on woven backgrounds, but recently — without thinking about why — I have shifted to placing the woven masks on felted backgrounds. Perhaps my spirit has felt during this time the need to encompass both order & chaos.

In any case, I have now begun to weave the next mask. I am finding the process of weaving soothing, a very quiet conversation with the materials. And, of course, even in this more structured work there is — as in felting — the sense of surprise & wonder as I see how the colors work together & even more to look forward to at the end when I begin to turn the flat weaving into a real three-dimensional face. ….I wonder who this next face I am forming will become…..

P.S. Speaking of points of view…. I just came across my poem —

            THE RUG'S STORY

Part I:  Fate

There was a rug who hated shoes.
Crushed by thick soles, smeared by grimy boots, bruised 
    by high heels,
he tried slipping out of the way or curling his corners
    across his face.
No matter how much they dragged him back and shook and
   straightened him
his brow stayed furrowed with misery.

Throw the old thing out! shouted the voice with boots
    who had just stumbled yet again over the rug's
        deep frown.
No, said the stiletto voice.  Put it in the basement
    for the cat's bed.
The rug relaxed and grinned from fringe to fringe.
He knew for a fact that the cat never wore shoes. 

That night the rug felt one tentative paw testing his soft folds.
    Then another.
The cat began to purr.  The paws began to stamp and knead.
Alas, cried the rug.  From hammers to knives!
A rug is a rug is a rug...

Unless.....

Part II: Flying Carpet
                      ......

Learning to Read

In our walled yard, a hawk
stood--grave as an angel--
on a snowy hump of feathers.
She turned her face and
fixed me with her perfectly
round and clear right eye.

At last she simply opened
her wings and rose, carrying
her lunch with her over the avenue.

It is all a matter of moment.
Fewer red lights and I might have seen
feathers flash against the sun:
the stoop, the strike, 
the waves of air opening,
a whirlpool towards landfall.

Or, pursuing my usual routine, I'd have come
home late to a scattering of feathers, perhaps
one lump of bone glistening 
in its pale pink sheath.
I'd have imagined immediately the neighbor's cat,
long black body pressed flat against the earth, 
how
        --slowly, slowly it must have crept
               through the screen of bushes
                     towards the fat and 
                         nearly flightless pigeon.

           One paw, then
                            (after forever)
           the next--
                  raised,
                       placed
                            silently in the grass.

                Stop. 
 
        Muscles gather for the great uncoiling...

                Spring!

        Hooked together, fur and feathers 
        tumbling across the lawn and finally 
                into
                           stillness.

        Later, sated, the cat tugs 
        the corpse away, under 
        the blackberry brambles.

Tracing the marks, I'd have read
a plausible, earthbound tale:

being completely confident,
being completely wrong.

 
             

Autumnal Equinox & Beyond

“Always we begin again.” St. Benedict

This blog began just before the Spring Equinox, a time we in the northern hemisphere tend to associate with new beginnings, with the emergence of animals from hibernation and of leaves from the skeletal boughs — a time of sprouting seeds, tadpoles, fawns, new and renewed life.

Now we have just passed the Autumn Equinox, a time of balance before tipping into shorter days & longer night here in the northern hemisphere, a time when we think of harvest, of dwindling light and falling leaves. But — probably because it brings relief from the oppressive heat of summer (harder on me now than when I was a youngster) & because most of my life has been spent as student and/or teacher in places where Autumn marks the start of a new academic term with all its hopes and its often unexpected turnings — I have associated Autumn with a kind of fresh energy, with vibrant beginning. I have been saddened by the lengthening of summer weather each year — and, of course, by what this shifting of rhythms means to the plants and animals and to the future.

Autumn is an amazing season. It dances with so many different movements. There’s the exuberance and abundance of harvest time, both in human fields and in the woodlands as squirrels gather nuts, bears forage and fatten for their long rest, and birds feast among the ripened seeds — whether pausing on their journey from further north or in preparation for the start of their migration, or just getting ready to hunker down for the winter here.

Then, gradually, as autumn progresses, the movement shifts from feast and celebration to letting go — a kind of sacred unraveling. Many of the birds have flown on, ripened fruits have fallen and rotted, flowers have withered, leaves that have been delighting us with their spectrum of fiery colors are dimming, dying, drifting dry and crumbling to the ground.

But the movement doesn’t stop there. This isn’t some sort of final curtain on the yearly show! In fact, as the green fades, as the bright leaves fall, much that was hidden can now be seen more clearly — no longer masked in leaves, the unique shape of each tree becomes almost startling in its clarity as do the curves and ridges of the land, the rocky bones of the mountains, the animals still moving through a more open forest. And what seems to us to be fading and departing is actually just moving on into a new phase of enlivenment, as the summer’s growth crumbles, falling to feed fungi and other tiny beings, becoming the soil from which life will spring.

And something I just recently learned: The autumn leaf hasn’t simply died of hypothermia & left the tree bereft. The tree has protected itself against the hard weather ahead by absorbing the nourishment contained in each leaf back into its main body, separating itself from the worn-out leaf, and then healing the tiny scar so that new buds are possible in the spring. In this letting-go there is already a new beginning that makes space for survival and eventually for new growth.

And all the while, hidden from us, the trees are sharing with each other the sweetness of the sunshine the leaves harvested during the summer, literally feeding each other through an incredible network of roots and fungus underground. Some of the roots continue to grow, even during the colder times ahead. …And how much other Life is still busily carrying on beyond our sight, beyond our awareness?

There are so many poems about Autumn that focus on aging, dying, loss and sorrow….. Mary Oliver writes of this time of letting-go in a different way:

Song for Autumn by Mary Oliver

In the deep fall
don’t you imagine the leaves think how
comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees themselves, especially those with mossy,
warm caves, begin to think

of the birds that will come — six, a dozen — to sleep
inside their bodies? And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
vanishes, and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its blue shadows. And the wind pumps its
bellows. And at evening especially,
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.

And then there is this:

Autumn In The Northern Hemisphere, Spring In The South.. by Michael Shepherd

It’s autumn here: the leaves fall brown, 
the nights are cold and frosty, 
the days are shorter and shorter, 
there’s snow on the way...

is autumn asking you to be sad? 
Go take a walk: fill your lungs with air –
isn’t that good? Don’t you feel the air
singing of everything that nature needs
to keep things going the whole year round? 

Listen as you walk
to all that goes on in silence; 
secret movements pretending to be stillness: 
the trees are making plans for Spring,
the plants, the flowers too; the earth
is bubbling secretly with thoughts of Spring..

If on an autumn walk
a Persian poet met a Japanese poet
they might write
a Persian haiku: 

This autumn evening
my mind is full of endings; 
trees smile as they plan. 

I ask myself: What conversation are I having with Autumn right now? Can I feel a sense of trust in or acceptance of the changing — the preparing & the letting-go, the evanescence & the emergence — just as the larger-than-human world does so clearly in this season?

Intertwingularity

“Sharing Knowledge”, silkscreen print by Alvin Child (Haida)

On Monday, I came across a lovely new word: Intertwingularity — and even more beautiful, its verb form intertwingling.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intertwingularity [emphasis added]:

Intertwingularity is a term coined by Ted Nelson to express the complexity of interrelations in human knowledge.

Nelson wrote in Computer Lib/Dream Machines (Nelson 1974, p. DM45): “EVERYTHING IS DEEPLY INTERTWINGLED. In an important sense there are no “subjects” at all; there is only all knowledge, since the cross-connections among the myriad topics of this world simply cannot be divided up neatly.”[1]

He added the following comment in the revised edition (Nelson 1987, p. DM31): “Hierarchical and sequential structures, especially popular since Gutenberg, are usually forced and artificial. Intertwingularity is not generally acknowledged—people keep pretending they can make things hierarchical, categorizable and sequential when they can’t.”[2]

When I am thinking of the reality of cosmic oneness, I love the word Interbeing created by the Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hahn who says in his book The Art of Living):

” About thirty years ago I was looking for an English word to describe our deep interconnection with everything else. I liked the word “togetherness,” but I finally came up with the word “interbeing.” The verb “to be” can be misleading, because we cannot be by ourselves, alone. “To be” is always to “inter-be.” If we combine the prefix “inter” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, “inter-be.” To inter-be and the action of interbeing reflects reality more accurately. We inter-are with one another and with all life.”

The term Interbeing is fundamental to my understanding of Cosmos, but oh! there is definitely a place for Intertwingling as well. First of all, it is just so much fun to say! I cannot even think the word “intertwingling” without feeling a twinkle come to my eye and a happy tingling to my heart!

And then, too, Intertwingling in apparently built from the root word “twine,” which calls to mind my beloved fiber arts of spinning, weaving, and wet-felting: Perhaps especially wet-felting, where neither “Line” nor “Direction” are involved as they are in the first two. In felting, you add the magic ingredients of Moisture and Movement to a hodge-podge of fiber and the individual fibers interwingle with neighbors who have interwingled with others and on and on in all directions at once until you have a stable community of fibers — a piece of felt!

The picture at the beginning of this post — “Sharing Knowledge” by the Haida artist Alvin Child — strikes me as an excellent example of Intertwingling.

As the gallery description of this piece says “In this design, Frog’s tongue touches Raven’s. What looks like an intimate interaction at first glance, symbolizes the sharing of knowledge and power, and the ability to communicate with different species. It suggests an interconnectedness between all living things.”

How hopeful I find it to see Raven (that Trickster “assistant to the creator”) and Frog (symbol of Healing) intertwingle their attributes — creating, I hope, something new and much-needed in today’s world!

— Please do go to the website https://cedarhilllonghouse.ca/product/sharing-knowledge/ for a clearer view of the image [without the glass-reflection I couldn’t seem to avoid in the photo] and for more information about the artist and his interpretation of the the painting. —

… As I was writing the above, I realized that “Interwinglement” was perhaps the main reason I am so attracted to the art of the peoples who inhabit the northwest coast of North America. Something about the way the shapes merge and break apart and merge again….

So, like the good (recovering) academic that I am, I began to look for more information about this distinctive style. Imagine my great delight to find an article in the The University of Chicago Press Journals that expresses something to close to what I had felt intuitively:

“… the expansive and expanding figures who appear in Haida and Tlingit art reflect a distinctive theory about aliveness: namely, they understand aliveness to be the generator of all the material, perceptual, and metaphysical structures we call reality. The reality that so arises is predicated not on, say, Kantian concepts of space or time understood as a priori forms. Instead, the shivering intensity of sentience creates the very space in which it exists; a surface does not exist until a being moves over it. Furthermore, this aliveness is most generative right on the threshold of epiphany: the world is authored by the sudden flicker and flash of living beings behind dense screens of nonliving matter.”

https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/709278

!!!

Those of you who know me well can imagine how difficult it was, after reading those lines, to grab myself by the collar & say sternly to myself, “Margery — this is a blog, not a dissertation.”

“But,” I replied plaintively, “one thing leads to another & then to others & they lead to still others and…. And I could bring in Andreas Weber’s term “Enlivenment” and…” Exactly: Another example of Intertwingularity! 🙂

And then, of course, I began to ask myself questions about the intertwingling of Stories and …. Isn’t life fun? Always more to be curious about!

See you next Friday and…….