I was sorting through bits and pieces of writing collected over the years and came upon a comment sent to another writer. I expressed how their writing took me to that “other dimension” the moment “just beyond” the witnessing. They suggested I try to form words around the dimension I was describing…..it felt ineffable.
Pareidolianoun The perception of a recognizable image or meaningful pattern where none exists or is intended, as the perception of a face in the surface features of the moon.
Discovering a new word, especially one that names a phenomenon I did not realize was a ‘thing’ is always interesting.
Pareidolia is quite common in humans according to online research and a small survey I conducted asking friends (or anyone I could interest) what they saw, if anything, in a series of photographs I took recently.
This Spring I attended a Geopoetics Symposium. I was unsure of what Geopoetics actually was at the time and probably couldn’t give a good definition even now, having attended and had time for reflection. One afternoon I attended a session that invited us to walk the shore at low tide in a “counter clockwise circulation” forming a circle in the sand “that we would later in the evening watch the sea edit.” Rain was pounding down and only five hardy participants showed up.
We faced the downpour and proceeded to walk in counter clockwise circulation on the exposed sand. The large circle we formed filled with rainwater causing the sides to collapse….any indentation we produced was quickly refilled with sand. I was about to abandon our efforts when my eye caught an image that had formed earlier by the pull of the outgoing tide.
Below is the first image I took of ‘Salish Sea Performance Art’ Mother Nature seemed more adept at producing and leaving impressions in the sand than we humans.
‘Performance art’ because the images are formed and stay only during low tide and then are “edited’ hours later by the incoming water. Twice a day everyday, I started returning every day at low tide and each day there was a new gallery of images.
Rotating the images once I downloaded them I stopped at the rotation that felt right. I cropped some of them but I have not altered them in any other way. The one below took my breath away when I rotated it into position. Everyone sees something different, please leave a comment below and let me know what you see.
The instructions we had read before starting our wet, circular walk read in part:
“Our shoreline interaction may spur participants to explore estrangement, intimacy, rural ritual, chronology, history, and/or relationship with human and more-than-human watery bodies. The interaction may be considered Geopoetics performance-as-research. There will be ears, and the shore will be a room.”
No circle was produced that day but upon rereading our instructions I realize that I was shown original artwork produced by a more-than-human watery body that reveals something new to each person I share it with.
A book with the title The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows recently made its way into my hands. It is a compendium of new words. “It’s mission is to shine a light on the fundamental strangeness of being a human being.” The author John Koenig spent several years forming new words that “capture the delicate subtleties of the human experience” then published this Dictionary that is described as a “poem about everything”.
I thought I would attempt to match a word and definition from the book with a photograph, a shot that I had taken in the past or use it as an inspiration to search out a visual that matched my interpretation of the new word.
SONDER the awareness that everyone has a story
“You are the main character. The protagonist. The star at the center of your own unfolding story. You’re surrounded by your supporting cast: friends and family hanging in your immediate orbit. Scattered a little further out, a network of acquaintances who drift in and out of contact over the years. But there in the background, faint and out of focus, are the extras. The random passerby. Each living a life as vivid and complex as your own. They carry on invisibly around you bearing the accumulated weight of their own ambitions, friends, routines, mistakes, triumphs, and inherited craziness. When your life moves on to the next scene, theirs flickers in place, wrapped in a cloud of backstory and inside jokes and characters strung together with countless other stories you’ll never be able to see. That you’ll never know exist. In which you might appear only once. As an extra sipping coffee in the background. As a blur of traffic passing on the highway. As a lighted window at dusk.”
French sonder, to plumb the depths. Pronounced “sahn-der.” Can be used as a noun or a verb, as you would use the word wonder.
from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig
This statement reached my ears and I was unable to process the meaning, my deep heart had no such trouble.
“I am Losing my Mother Words”
These words were in response to a call from an adult son. A call to his mother, an attempt to make sense of the myriad of events tearing humanity apart. He was looking perhaps for ‘mother words’ of long ago, the ones that somehow put pieces back in order, that securely strapped you in even if it turned into a bumpy ride.
His question was one of bewilderment, how so many failed to see beauty, failed to choose peace over war, acceptance over hate.
I too am losing my ‘mother words’, my initial reaction was deep sadness but I soon realized that the ‘mother words’ of the present were of no use to either myself or any intended recipients. They were slowly being unmade, new words were forming, sent from the Ancestors for Future Generations. Words of transition and transmutation.
The speaker then described the beauty of apple blossoms in her garden and then the horror of bombs falling in another part of the world. What ‘mother words’ were being spoken by mothers and fathers huddled together holding children close as bombs exploded around them? What words will comfort in that reality?
A discussion on how ‘breaking down‘ is often a portal to ‘breaking through‘ prompted a friend to forward the attached poem to me.
We had been using the metaphor of snorkeling to describe the approach many of us take towards the bigger questions of life. If not forced by circumstance to confront something, we snorkel, safe on the surface just looking into the depths.
We toyed with the image of putting on tanks, diving down to interact with and perhaps touch what we find, or a diving suit, a submersible that allows a walk on the bottom of our unconscious. A few days later I had the image of “free diving” unencumbered by any sort of attachment to the surface except the air you captured in your lungs…. doing a deep dive…
Surrender……. not the ‘giving in to‘ but the ‘living in to‘ the “promiscuous” present moment.
The descent by Gina Puorro
There are things you can only learn on your knees or in a storm or when the cracks in the foundation of this modern world open a chasm of uncertainty beneath your feet. Your discontent with what has been named normal is both grief and longing for what your mind has forgotten but your body remembers.
You can feel it in the way a child’s laughter disrupts your commitment to what is appropriate and makes space for foolishness and magic. You can feel it broken open at the altar of all you’ve lost and how much you’ve loved. Can we fall apart together? Make a commitment to search for the truth but promise to never find it. Let myths and stories be the cartograph for what is both primordial and brand new because the present moment is promiscuous like that. Compost ourselves down into the dirt beneath the dirt and tend the chthonic embers that light the ancient fires in our bellies.
When the fault lines open and your mind is grasping and you don’t know in the way that water has taught you how to be a vessel and how to spill. Can you trace your lineage all the way back to salt? the same that now stains your face with both sadness and laughter excites your tongue and protects your prayers. You are diasporic. Ecological. Holon. A vast territory of many wild bodies melting into each other dressed up as human. Simultaneously living and dying shaping and dismantling filling up and boiling over.
Ashes to ashes stardust to bone. What language do you grieve in? What is the mother tongue for that which twists and contorts your body wringing oceans from your skin? The gravity that pulls you down to your knees forehead to ground where to go from here; prostrate trade rapture for rupture let yourself spill and descend.
Wandering on the ‘misty isle‘ I happened upon reflections in a dark pond, the message of the photograph became the two directions, up and down, towards and away, only revealed when the image was turned sideways.
Yesterday a friend introduced me to this poem by Quinn Bailey.
When our internal or external worlds are turned sideways, that can sometimes be “when the boulder in front of the cave begins to shift”
THE ONLY TWO DIRECTIONS BY QUINN BAILEY
This world has only two true directions: Towards and away.
The big fear, in the end, is to awake and find that You chose away.
That the hand Which held you down Was none other Than your own.
The pursuit Of that which is not truly us Renders even the most Powerful vision useless
When the boulder in front of the cave begins to shift
When that first illuminating shaft Pierces the dark
Do not hesitate long
Do not waste time Anticipating the griefs Yet to come
They cannot be helped and perhaps are necessary
On that long And awkward walk Towards yourself.
Quinn Bailey The Currents of the World 2020 Homebound Publications
“Longing is the deepest and most ancient voice in the human soul” John O’Donohue
THE SUBSTANCE OF SHADOW
HIRAETH: longing for a home that no longer exists or maybe never was
There are words that speak from another place. A word can have no english equivalent when it is speaking the language of soul, a language seldom spoken in the west.
The lure of Hiraeth comes from a place where “home” is ephemeral, not a house or a return address. It is an internal longing that can appear external when recognized in another. Its call is strongest in times of transition, when the veil is thin…dawn, twilight, full moon and those times when life calls us to ride out unpredicted storms.
This longing aches for a shared fantasy, one that will provide temporary relief from these times. The shelter provided reveals itself to be a portal into deep, often painful insights … a threshold that when crossed leads to an untapped vein of love and life waiting to be mined for its wisdom and nourishment before being brought once again to the surface.
We chase this shadow as if it is the substance of the shadow, irrationally bound to the belief that this ‘home that never was’ is just as real as the house our bodies currently occupy.
This poem by William Stafford speaks of a thread, I feel it also speaks to the times.
“You don’t ever let go of the thread.“
THE WAY IT IS by William Stafford
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change. People wonder about what you are pursuing. You have to explain about the thread. But it is hard for others to see. While you hold it you can’t get lost. Tragedies happen; people get hurt or die; and you suffer and get old. Nothing you can do to stop time’s unfolding. You don’t ever let go of the thread.
Hello darkness my old friend I’ve come to talk with you again because a vision softly creeping left its seeds while I was sleeping and the vision that was planted in my brain, still remains within the sound of silence.
Sound of Silence Simon and Garfunkel
THE SOUND OF SILENCE
In this year of a thousand months a silence has settled, palpable, like silk against bare skin.
One by one freedoms slip away in an unintentional game of musical chairs until we find ourselves alone, gazing into the Great Mystery.
Fooled into thinking this was unexpected we see plans for this journey seeded long ago with every “yes” carelessly spoken.
Each moment becomes a new invitation, moving deeper like a lover searching for that place on your lip meant only for others.
Eyes closed, surrender drifts like wafting smoke to linger over new terrain, unsure of where to settle.
Shadows that once held fear dissipate with every wind gust, free now to ride this undulating movement…
Be ahead of all parting, as though it already were behind you, like the winter that has just gone by. For among these winters there is one so endlessly winter that only by wintering through it will your heart survive.
Rainer Maria Rilke
We arrived at the crossroads while wandering in the woods, it was so perfectly aligned, so quietly asking for a decision…..right or left, no easy answer, no promise that one direction would lead towards a place less difficult to traverse.
The direction chosen did not matter and the timing of the arrival of no consequence. There was no invitation to linger, just a gentle request to lift one foot and hope the ground held as you lifted the other to propel yourself forward.
The ‘winter’ we are inhabiting promises to be ‘endlessly winter’ and those whose hearts survive will have shed something that cannot be named, leaving it behind like a snake’s skin. Whatever path we choose, most will lead to the base of the mountain.
The mountain is the true ‘wintering’, from it’s base all paths call you to that place “ahead of all parting” and ask that you arrive alone, trailing the substance of life in your wake “as though it already were behind you.”
The time will come when, with elation you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat. You will love again the stranger who was your self. Give wine. Give Bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored for another, who knows you by heart. Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own image from the mirror. Sit. Feast on your life.
– Derek Walcott
…..As I put the key into the lock and opened the door to ‘the loft’ on this distant island that feels so very far from home, this poem came to mind. It is a piece that has haunted me for a few years perhaps because I don’t want the message to be true.
There is no ‘magical other’ waiting to save us from ourselves or from the circling storm of uncertainty that surrounds us.
There is a welcome shedding of expectation that comes from the words, a sigh of relief that the only goal is to “give back your heart to itself” and “peel your own image from the mirror.” Those things in themselves appear to be insurmountable right now but when compared with continuing this exhausting upstream swim, the image of simply floating with the current back to my “own door” is indeed a feeling of “elation.”
The latch is well worn, many have opened it and returned …..
“You are being called, we are all being called. We stumbled upon the Hero’s Journey and now there is no turning back. We know too much, overcame too many trials and received initiation into the Great Mystery, the river will not release us without a struggle. We asked to be conscious, we cannot become unconscious…it is too late for that. We are reluctant heroes.
TheEmpty Handed Offering
What does an Empty Handed Offering consist of?
I am not sure, but my gut tells me it looks something like the walking forward of this photograph. No idea what it actually is, or if it even exists. I hope to attempt an answer over the next eight months. A series of synchronicities has allowed me access to a small loft over the winter that is located on a remote island a few ferry rides away.
I have taken to calling it “A Room of One’s Own”. Full disclosure, I have not read in its entirety “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf but now have a copy in hand and will finish it before the first departure of my solo journey. Books, art supplies, camera and hopes for inspiration will travel with me as I move back and forth every few weeks from ‘home’ to ‘room’ with the question of the “Empty Handed Offering”.
I was born on the Winter Solstice, each year there is comfort in knowing that the days become longer, the light returns slowly from that day forward. This year I enter another decade of life, more decades are now behind than in front.
This opportunity is the perfect gift, a room of one’s own and a question that can only be answered walking forward with hands and heart open… into the ‘Great Mystery’
It is a negligence of the mind not to notice how at dusk Heron comes to the pond and stands there in his death robes, perfect servant of the system, hungry, his eyes full of attention, his wings pure light.
A photographic series….
This beautiful creature allowed me to sit very close and still while it ‘fished’ I witnessed the catch, the positioning as it prepared to eat and most disturbing to me the final look of the fish as it peeked over it’s bill and prepared to enter the gullet of the Heron.
The cruelty and beauty of nature on a late summer evening.
” In a world where everything is ridiculous nothing can be ridiculed. You cannot unmask a mask.” G.K. Chesterton
A DAY IN A LIFE
And then there is this……travelling back from town my eye caught the blur of a motorcycle coming up on the left. I asked my passenger to attempt to catch the image as it passed, here is the result. Clown? Skeleton?
He was social distancing and wearing a mask, following all the guidelines. Nothing to see here. The reaction of the three occupants of the car ranged from laughter to horror and affected us individually as a piece of impromptu performance art.
Later, walking in the wind and rain on a deserted beach my thoughts strayed to the masks we all wear. Recently I attended what was billed as a Public Information Meeting for a controversial development project. It was hardly ‘public’, tickets obtained online, twelve people to a sitting, masks mandatory and cut off for tickets five days before the ‘event’. Covid used as a mask to prevent an actual public event. The ‘public’ attendees were masked the presenters were not, but we were all masked in one way or another.
Speaking during the question period, my words muffled through the mask, I felt a strange comfort with only my eyes revealed and facial expressions hidden. The anonymity and calmness that it provided was in stark contrast to the verbal attacks that came my way. I realized that even if we had not been physically masked our daily mask(s) would have been our armor.
“You cannot unmask a mask“
We live in strange, tragic and interesting times, clowns on motorcycles, clowns in power……. where the majority of us put on our physical masks and wait for the opportunity to be able to remove them and breathe deeply again. Finding it harder to ‘breathe’ to find our personal authenticity to find that place where we can see ourselves and others naked, maskless and all vulnerably human clinging to the illusion of Control.
The Sweeper. Banksy
If you want to say something and have people listen you have to wear a mask. If you want to be honestyou have to live a lie.