The Story Teller by Mario Vargas Llosa

This is a magical book…

Llosa The Storyteller

“After, the men of earth started walking, straight toward the sun that was falling. Before, they too stayed in the same place without moving. The sun, their eye of the sky, was fixed…They were peaceable and without anger. Before the time afterwards…Then why, if they were so pure, did the men of earth begin walking? Because one day the sun started falling. They walked so that it wouldn’t fall any farther, to help it to rise. So Tasurinchi says…That, anyway, is what I have learned— (from pages 37 and 38)

The Machiguenga walked to keep the sun from falling from the sky—the story has variations, and there are many stories about the moon, death, the fireflies, floods, droughts, sickness and the little devils that cause all kinds of troubles, and there is even a Gregor-Tasurinchi metamorphosis story—what a beautiful book, it is joyful, it is sad, it is hopeful—it is a human document. I thoroughly enjoyed myself reading it, a real treat.

Storytelling, what a magical gift—I starved for stories as a child and often made up my own—I was called a liar by other kids who didn’t like it that I told stories that sounded a bit too real, so they must be a lie—and I, a liar. Sometimes, when we’re young, the imagination is a wee bit too overactive and the stories that come from that curious place where they are conceived feel real enough—it’s learning to understand the difference as the creator as well as the receiver of the stories. Ah, fiction—a precious gemstone of many facets –the truth and the lie, the mundane and the adventure, all wound tight together, a thread of thoughts, a word or two of conversation, an observation—a sky, a land, a path to follow through the trees—tree trunks, roots and branches—light and shadow—a sense of place and time, stories occupied by people and their doings.  It’s amazing how stories come together while we’re making them up. Storytelling is a very old tradition—the passing on of knowledge, the retelling of legends—the explanation for the how come of things made up on the spot by the tribal shaman and the story told and retold, built upon and told again—shared, passed on. Storytelling is the preservation of a way of life—an existence threatened by humanity’s constant progress—well, some of us progress, while others prefer to cling to old ways, taking comfort in the familiar stories, familiar rituals, familiar ways of doing things—it all served a purpose. Why must we [humans] impose ourselves on the ones we feel we must conquer? Convert. Exploit. All the profits lining the pockets of some rich bastards who never once got their hands dirty in the process of exploitation. The way of progress stinks, it’s corrupt, it is morally wrong—yet we do it, have been doing it for ages—assimilating—trying to eradicate what is not like us. It’s a sad old story, one that repeats itself time after time, after time—slowly wiping out cultures of people and the creatures great and small, spoiling land, polluting the water, destroying everything in our path like a force of nature. It is not sustainable.

Before the time afterwards…

I lament. I’m getting older now and so I lament for there are things that I hold dear that are slowly being dissolved by progress—many of us see it, but do we admit to it? Or do we just shrug and chalk it up to ‘progress’? We’ve always done it that way—why change what works (even if it’s not working for everyone)?

I want to believe that the Machiguenga of Llosa’s story are still walking—don’t let the sun fall from the sky—you’ll never get it back again once it’s gone.

That, anyway, is what I have learned—

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Janet Frame – In The Memorial Room

I was recently reminded of this book, and thought I’d share it…

Janet Frame In the Memorial Room

Simply, In the Memorial Room is a story about a writer, Harry Gill, and how he became disassembled because he won the Watercress Armstrong Fellowship—but it’s not that simple.

…I believe a writer is not ‘known’ until his grocer and barber have read his works without astonishment… (From p. 21)

I found this fragment highly hysterical at the time—‘without astonishment’ in particular. It’s such a peculiar sensation when ones writing is read—to have it read ‘without astonishment’ is honestly a relief. Writing is just so…so…oh, dang damn—what am I trying to say here? Well, writing is incredibly personal and can cause huge misunderstandings, emotional dust-ups, senseless jealousies, wary paranoia, and a collection of troubles that can send a writer into an oppressed oblivion and spiraling into depression. Something like that.

As I read the book, I occasionally felt this one was not quite as polished or as fully realized as her other books—there are several sparkles of gems and plenty of potential complexities that were not fully developed, and I immediately thought perhaps it is troubled by its personal nature. Sometimes when one attempts to “veil the truth” that’s when a writer stumbles and stubs their toes. (Ouch.) When I say “It’s not my favorite Janet Frame book” doesn’t mean that I’m foaming at the mouth raving that I want the hours spent reading it back, or that I’m disappointed in some way—not at all. I come to every book with the knowledge that each one will be different—expectations bedevil experiences every time—I enjoy the reading experience too much to spoil it with expectations. In fact, I have gone back through it so many times since, noting all the dog-eared pages of interest, I’m loving it more—that’s part of the magic of Janet Frame, it’s hard to put down the book after you’re done reading it. I always catch myself starting over again…

Funny thing, sometimes a creative person’s undoing is caused by being recognized. Now that I’ve done well for myself, what if I can’t do it anymore? (A frightening thought.) Suddenly the joy is sucked right out of the act of writing, writer’s block sets in, and then the writer starts drinking and…ugh. Between you, me, and the computer screen, I know I’ve turned into an “Aw shucks, it’s just what I do,” shrinking violet as soon as someone turns their praise in my direction. Sometimes I’m so embarrassed, I become almost combative, say “tsk” or “shit” and roll my eyes with the expressed “What’s the big deal? It’s not like I just pulled a rabbit out of my ass, I wrote a book, so what?” (Of course, only moments before I was lurking around Goodreads agonizing that no one has added my books to their To-Read list. Boo-fucking-hoo.) It’s a see-saw of emotions to be sure. I think Doris Lessing’s initial response when she was told that she won the Nobel Prize was— “Oh Christ”—that sums it up in a teacup. (That’s great, go away, leave me alone.)

—You display, he said, the incipient signs of intentional invisibility.
—You mean I want to be blind?
—No, no. No, no. You are trying to make yourself invisible, on the childlike theory that if you can’t see, then you can’t be seen. Like a child who shuts his eyes and thinks no one can see him.
—I don’t believe it, I said, indignantly. —I’m not neurotic, hysterical, or whatever you call it. I’m a matter-of-fact person, my feet on the earth.
—A pied-à-terre only? He smiled. —Monsieur Gill, this disease is real. One would scarcely call it a disease, though. It is what is known as a collaborative condition.
(from page60-61)

—Monsieur Gill, I know nothing of your life but what you have told me. I can do nothing for you. You are not ill, you are not going blind, you are a sane man, I believe. But through a combination of circumstances, through being in a certain place – which must be here, this city, at a certain time, and in the company of certain people, you are on the point of vanishing. (From page 63)

Going blind; going deaf; becoming invisible. Vanishing.

It is a book about being a writer—the discomfort of being a writer and the baggage of being noticed. The status or stature of a writer—what a writer “looks like” (a young Hemingway, of course!)—and the pressure to “perform” as a duty or fulfillment. Being recognized and under the scrutiny of even the most well-meaning person or institution can cause just as much anxiety as remaining undiscovered. The invisibility and uncertainty of belonging is familiar (not quite fitting in.) Then being treated like an object on exhibition, and the plague of expectations that others have for you. These ‘outside others’ who want to possess you and your time in a game of tug o’ war amongst themselves, and then your efforts are scrutinized nearly to the point of being censored as more expectations are imposed “Is it about….?” Then there’s that one person who has to say “I don’t like the name you picked for my character…” (Huh? Who said it was about you? Seriously.) Really, people get weird around writers—

“You should put that in your book.”

“You could write a book about that.”

I know it’s harmless banter, but sorry, when I hear that shit start, I cringe.

Have you sensed the nothingness of my nature, that I am as empty as the carriages of the trains that pass, dusty, used, in the morning sun? A novelist must be that way, I think, and not complain of it, otherwise how shall the characters accommodate themselves in his mind? To this you reply that it is he who must enter the minds of his characters? Certainly, but where shall he house them while he enters their minds, but in those empty used trains that pass and pass forever before his gaze? (Page 116)

The Memorial Room itself is a tomb—the cult of the dead writer—the worship culture that society has cultivated is ridiculous at best—there are those of us who create and those who worship the creators, and then bring their baggage of expectations. Meeting someone you admire can be horribly disappointing—what is it that they say? Meeting your favorite author is like wanting to meet a goose because you love pâté…(I believe Margaret Atwood said this, but I’m sure other’s have too.)

With that said—Janet Frame’s sly sense of humor is deadpan dry—goodness knows if you take her seriously, you will find yourself scratching your head and thinking “Huh?” She always has such an interesting way of looking at everything, each of her books have a twist that sends the reader down the rabbit hole in a manner of speaking. Thankfully, I still have more, older works by Janet Frame to read; I’m slowly building my library collection and will be happy to journey through them all.

of late…

Of late

My thoughts are scattered in

Far too many directions

Far too many distractions

I try to focus.

Focus.

Focus.

Focus.

I say,

Focus!

Far too many ideas

Far too many opportunities

Far too much outside influence

Tug on the fabric of

My mental sleeve

Look here

Look there

Look at me

Look at that—

Shut down

Shut off

Shut out

But I can’t.

I won’t.

I will listen

I will see

It all.

 

There Will Be No Intermission

Amanda Palmer There Will Be No Intermission

Amanda Palmer’s new album There Will Be No Intermission is a contemplative record. With that said, it is farthest of far from a top 40 pop record, pay no mind to that. It is a record—as in a record chronicling many events in life, structured with a continuous flow song to song with short instrumentals in between, it is like a diary recounting moments in time, disasters, deaths, life, missteps, decisions, choices, truths—for 74 minutes, it is all done with painfully stripped bare honesty and infinite compassion—in Stephen Thompson’s review (First Listen at NPR) he called it “radical empathy.” That sounds about right—it’s a beautiful thing how this group of songs embrace grief and suffering, yet happiness still perseveres in a celebration of the human condition—our flaws are gigantic, a society made up of broken people, broken hearts, and the glorious result as one keeps going forward in spite of the pain and suffering that life dishes out. Amanda Palmer’s music speaks most to those of us who have experienced (or are currently experiencing) the hardships of loss, death, health issues, the broad spectrum of complicated relationships with lovers, friends, family, navigating adolescence, the experiences of motherhood, the loneliness of a woman’s journey to have an abortion, the things we carry, our talismans of memories, and the resolve to rise above criticism. This radical empathy draws people together, to find solace in our pain, that we’re not alone. This is a record about truth, this uncompromising aesthetic is the thing that attracts me to Amanda’s music—I found the lady who sings about the truth! The songs don’t have to directly relate to me, it’s the story from another point of view that is good to hear—I don’t have to agree with everything, but I’m willing to lend an ear to a story well told. The emotional impact is incredible, you may ask “Why do I want to listen to songs that make me cry?” Why not? You should never be afraid of emotions—don’t be afraid to look within or around that next corner in your life. There’s something very cleansing about it, if anything, these songs and their sorrows are healing connections that I believe are very necessary—connect the dots. Hey, you know what? We’re all going to die. That’s the truth, and it’s all right to be scared, you’re not alone.  There is no light without dark—or dark without light. Close your eyes, listen with an open heart, let it break, and let it heal. Isn’t it nice when we’re all afraid at the same time?

There Will Be No Intermission is made possible by the support of nearly 15,000 patrons on Amanda Palmer’s Patreon, of which I am a member. Her relationship with her fans is legendary and being part of this community for four years has been a pleasure. I’ve had a front row view of watching the creative process happening and being part of it. I’ve heard most of these songs in their raw demo recordings, I know most of them by heart, and it’s fantastic to hear them all together in a finished form. This record evolved and came into being during a period of Amanda’s life that has had its share of turbulence—joys and sorrows, and she shared so much of herself with us, and we share ourselves with her, bolstering her, and each other. It’s a very special place. I am so happy and proud that the day is here to release this record to everyone.

Here are a few links to follow, enjoy.

https://www.patreon.com/posts/25219616

Amanda Palmer’s Songs Ring Out With Urgency And Compassion, Fury And Love

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLdCjn28n1Ao_nrjtRdaEuQRyTZJKcc4Ol

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/q/amanda-palmer-tackles-abortion-miscarriage-and-suicide-on-new-unapologetically-balls-out-feminist-album-1.5047589

https://music.mxdwn.com/2019/03/08/reviews/amanda-palmer-there-will-be-no-intermission/

https://crypticrock.com/amanda-palmer-there-will-be-no-intermission-album-review/

 

Devotion by Patti Smith

Patti SMith Devotion

Why I write.

Yes. The why of it—I know if I didn’t write, my poor head would pop off my body. I was writing before I could write—tho’ my accomplishments looked more like a Cy Twomby painting, but it meant something to me when I was 4 or 5, maybe younger, I always had that urge to express myself on paper in some way, even if I didn’t have words, shapes and colors had their special meaning too—a whole story told in puddles of blue on paper; the periwinkle crayon worn down to a nub.

Why is one compelled to write? To set oneself apart, cocooned, rapt in solitude, despite the wants of others. Virginia Woolf had her room. Proust his shuttered windows. Marguerite Duras her muted house. Dylan Tomas his modest shed. All seeking an emptiness to imbue with words. The words that will penetrate virgin territory, crack unclaimed combinations, articulate the infinite. — From Page 87

This diminutive volume is bigger on the inside. I am humbled and exultant both whenever I read Patti Smith’s books—she always makes me want to write—to write more, and to read more. She scares me a little, yet, not at all—I think why I feel that way is because she’s done all this great stuff, she’s lived a full life, she has followed her bliss without a perceived hesitation—and she can travel light. (I could never travel light, tho’ in spite of my Fred’s teasing me that I need a Sherpa and a pack horse just to go to work, I do travel lighter than most.) She’s an artist’s artist. I have always felt that she spread out her arms and went into a freefall and hasn’t landed yet. When I reached the end of the book, I whispered, “Keep going.”

Then I returned to the first page:

Inspiration is the unforeseen quantity, the muse that assails at the hidden hour. The arrows fly and one is unaware of being struck, and that a host of unrelated catalysts have joined clandestinely to form a system of its own, rendering one with the vibrations of an incurable disease—a burning imagination—at once unholy and divine.

               What is to be done with the resulting impulses, these nerve endings flickering like an illuminated map of thieving constellations? The stars pulse. The muse seeks to be vivified. But the mind is also the muse. It seeks to outsmart its glorious opponents, to rewire such sources of inspiration. A crystal stream suddenly dried. A thing of beauty joyless, defiled. Why does the creative spirit turn on itself? Why does the maker twist all drama? The pen is lifted, guided by the shattered muse. Without discord, it marks, harmony passes unnoticed, without discord, it continues, Abel is rendered no more than a forgotten shepherd. 

Keep going.

Rubber bands, Paper clips, Safety pins

I’m held together by

Rubber bands and paper clips;

Safety pins when need be.

I keep some in my pockets cuz

You never know.

Memories written on

copious amounts of

Sticky note reminders—

bulldog clips clamp together the

treatise of time.

Wait, I’ve got a screw loose!

Is it a Phillips head or slotted?

Shit, I don’t know. Muddling along.

I’m held together by

Rubber bands and paper clips;

Safety pins when need be.

I keep some in my pockets cuz

You never know.

Thumbtacks pierce paper thoughts

to the cork board.

Damn it, paper everywhere,

but none to write on!

Twisty-ties are in league with the

Lost buttons.

Missing socks come back to haunt you

As lids to Tupperware that

don’t fit your containers.

I’m held together by

Rubber bands and paper clips;

Safety pins when need be.

I keep some in my pockets cuz

You never know.

Superglue can close a wound, if

you don’t have time for stitches.

The bolt is no good without a washer and a nut.

Wing nuts are the silly ones that I adore,

But have no use for—at least not now.

I’ll keep them in mind.

I tied a string to my finger to remind

me of that thing—ummm, you know, the one

I forgot yesterday.

I’m held together by

Rubber bands and paper clips;

Safety pins when need be.

I keep some in my pockets cuz

You never know.

 

Written 1/26/2019; Updated 2/25/2019