We wanted a story its magic in the key of longing notes we arced like stones from cliffs where we stood the key was carrying the eyes to where the magic was not. Years on a planet would spin us, looking for more of them to name. Here is one, an ordinary song, here is how you survive until the moment when you say back to us here is home and it cuts to remember between places so far full of dead heroes whose spirits won’t quit. We waited, unweaving the ritual to save ourselves. For tomorrow against this siege, and dawn keeps coming so soon.
Something that is was just here. It has significance but will not fit any storyline. There was a grotesque beauty reveling. And then, and then. Every soul has its way of coming to terms with its containment in space, contending with death. It crowds the psyche, back against a wall. It has no end, and isn’t going anyplace. It’s always going on. And then, and still. Unlike the notion of story––something that, as they say, happened. The order of movements is crucial.
I am writing a series of stories. I think. Or something.
What are they about?
They are about what this book is. They are still coming.
What is this book?
Complicated, I guess. They keep adding new parts.
So, what do you do?
I listen and try to write as they come. I guess it would be easier if so much of what they do didn’t evade language.
Wait. That doesn’t make sense. How can any part of writing evade language?
I mean the verbal kind. The kind I know.
What do they use?
It’s more like an incandescent unknowing. Like the brilliance of the world after memory loss.
Do you speak that?
I feel like I could once but lost it. I am trying to learn. But I guess I am a slow learner. I keep defaulting to the old expectation that they speak mine, forgetting I’m the visitor.
Inspired when I encountered Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ use of the phrase “incandescent unknowing” in reference to her experience of memory loss, which she relates interestingly to her process of storytelling in this interview she gave to Kaveh Akbar.
Contemporary conditioning shouts, Identity! and they are pressed like badges, considered essential means of outlining, separating one body from the next. As in, mine and mine alone.
And what for?
The first purpose was holding, and the next was touch. These are the grooves that allow a body to feel in stereo. Following certain lines of perception, one can easily lose the sense of having an end.
If these lines begat questions, perhaps they also prompted language, to answer with a beginning, once upon a time. We needed a past to explain ourselves, and some shelter from this wild so readily felt when we stretched our hands over any given scene. One story begat the next, but certain questions were never settled, such as: was the wild coming from or into these fingertips? Either answer begs a question–––
–––wait, I’ve strayed again. I only meant to wonder over the discovery that koala prints, being easily mistaken for those of humans, will contaminate a crime scene, which raises certain questions I can’t go into now and for which I lack the language to decipher, about what stories these creatures have had to invent to explain this everywhere, here.
Inspired by an overheard discussion about koala fingerprints, with details elaborated in an article I found when I got home.
If memory is the first fiction, then so is the history of a group. As a group evolves, so will its collective chronicle of becoming, but the process is as fraught as any reconstruction. If history is a cathedral and facts are the stones, then it’s worth considering that all somebody can do before a complete building with a single stone is throw it or sit on it. If all that happens in any reframing effort is the collection of a pile of new stones, you may end up with a whole lot of broken glass and all of us outside. But if people are challenged to build with them, to create new architecture, new gathering places, new halls of worship and dreaming, transcendence and offering, then what? Unless someone is feeding the dreamers from the same table as the builders, planners, architects, masons, and those tasked with moving each stone, a cohesive vision won’t emerge. Imagination is no luxury, but a life skill, and as critical in times of flux as any other preparation: for famine, attack, natural disaster, invasion. No group who makes outcasts of its dreamers can endure.
I first explored Tamin Ansary’s insight, “History is composed of facts the way that a cathedral is composed of bricks . . . But the bricks are not the cathedral,” in an earlier post, “Cathedral.”
Be the hero, we say to one another, of your own life. The logic encourages these rampant proliferating fantasies, each body the focal point of motion. It’s something else to assume a body like a riverbed. One logic trains heroes for noble departures from known worlds across manufactured thresholds, through theme park underworlds and back again, and in the retelling a people can learn to take as given idea of the world as something to travel through––in order to finish on top. It would be another choreography entirely if the crossing in question was over forbidden mountain ranges of the calcified remains that stagnate between the origin of music and the sound of a single voice, bereft of chorus, learning to hear again, a call across hemispheres of knowing, waiting to respond until fully immersed in the dirt, each limb stretching from self into selves into another body entirely, vast and webbed across acres of time, humming Here.
My bread prepared, time calls. The ship is leaving port. Consider the surface like a poet’s fable.
Consider also what is cloaked in story: truth behind the ornament of fiction, Orpheus’s lyre taming nature as wisdom over the cruel heart.
Then consider discovery, the possibility that a reader might know transfiguration. Last, beyond the senses, what a soul may know when it leaves: no womb beyond the elements, no warmth without cold, nor word without silence of the beginning and the end.
No single sense, but senses. No goat song, foul at the end. Give me instead a tragic beginning, the known world all fire. Then, let me follow and welcome me home.
Inspired by (and borrowing phrases from) Dante’s Il Convivo, as translated by Richard H. Lansing.
Real life, unadulterated, is an endless stream. A story is something else by necessity, a constructed thing.
I’m thinking about stories this week, because I am in the phase where I am generating energy and dreaming into new ones. I know I’ll be leaping before I have answers, because that’s the only way a project can start to emerge and start answering. That said, I’m in all the questions now.
Today I am wondering about memory and how someone, I can’t remember who, called it the first fiction. Also, how many have said, of fiction, that the best of it is “more true than real life.” A paradox, of course, but a useful one. Real life, unadulterated, is an endless stream. A story is something else by necessity, a constructed thing. An artifice, some would say, as if to minimize. Perhaps, I think, but then again, the shelters we build to live in may also be considered artificial and I wouldn’t want to do without these in the name of being real.
If the best of fiction is truer than true, and its building materials essentially invented or borrowed from the wilds called “real,” one might imagine that the most authentic parts of a person are those falling outside most given collections of facts, and these in turn will tend to vary, depending on the source and the context. Others have observed that truth may in fact be something that can only be known via collective effort. When the facts in one context overlap with the experience in another, and another, and another, then we have what we can call true. Maybe great fiction does this, by layering perspectives and viewpoints in deliberate ways in a concentrated space. And of course, by leaving out a great deal of the noise and extraneous events. But are any events extraneous, really? I mean, of course they must be, to the story. But which ones? I obsess on this question.
Many a writer has been taken to trial for altering facts. If you do this in a million little ways, as with any catalogue of events gathered through a given lens, it is expected; even invisible. But one big way is out of bounds, except when consciously indicated. And yet, a conscious mind, consciously growing, seems to be always trespassing its previous borders.
Some call storytelling the most natural thing we do, and while I can believe this, I take issue with those who would equate natural with easy. As of course it may be, sometimes, as with breathing––until it isn’t; as with laughing––until it isn’t. Death is quite natural, although we generally understand the term “unnatural death.” Childbirth is perhaps quintessentially natural, and it is a loaded matter of life and death, aside from being an historically deadly event for many women. Perhaps what is most natural for humans is not at all what comes most easily and reliably, but what reminds us we are walking always along a precipice between life and death.
Everyone has their obsessions, and this is one of mine. It’s kin to other obsessions: who and what gets to matter? Who and what gets to feature? I can’t help these wonderings as I am always thinking about who and what gets conventionally erased by dominant conventions of storytelling and seeing. No doubt some of this includes the parts of ourselves that we have consciously or unconsciously erased or let go, in the making of a given kind of sense. I expect to continue wondering about this.
Has the light turned yet? is a good question to answer before moving across a road, but these are not that sort of question. I could spin in them endlessly and wind up totally paralyzed, which would serve no one well. Still, they are worth pausing before, as one might before some sacred relic or holy place, to revisit the mystery.