Thursday, September 27, 2012
“How did I come to believe that what I knew was also what mattered? And, more to the point for the future, is it what matters?” Patricia Hampl
In her book, I Could tell You Stories, Hampl explores the realm of memory in auto-biographical writing connected by the impulse to remember. She pointed out that both Kafka and Rilke saw memory, “not experience”, as holding the sovereign position in imagination.
For herself Hampl discovered: “The recognition of one’s genuine material seems to involve a fall from the phony grace of good intentions and elevated expectations.” Although she shares via the route of memoir, this door of recognition applies to all forms of writing. If we are unable to infuse our memories, or perhaps our search for our memories into our work then we rob it of honest quest and discovery and an imagination that connects. Each person’s voice is unique and bears witness to life. But in order to share, we first need to identify what really matters to us.
“We store in memory only images of value.”
1. Choose a first memory of an experience you’ve had twice and write each up as an autobiographical event. For example, the very first day you went to school and then the very first day you went to school in high school, or college.
2. Or perhaps choose an area in which you became accomplished. The first day you swam in a pool and the first time you swam in a race.
Share: What emotions rose to the surface? Were there similar ones in both vignettes?
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Core Cosmos/Cosmology Cont'd
Chinese cosmology developed more as a philosophical explanation rather than religious, as the other concepts did. “It begins by saying that the universe was originally chaos, and after a period of time broke into two dynamic forces, yin and yang.” This concept of duality of two interacting, complementary energies underlies all Chinese culture, according to Moring.
It develops in accordance with a rotating cycle; when one has reached its peak then the next begins. Within the black and white symbol of ying and yang the opposite color is present in the other. The encompassing circle divides the two colors by curved shapes, not as a division but as fluid. The emphasis is on complementary: exhale/inhale, positive/negative, up/down, earth/heaven. It is recognized as a fundamental duality that orders the universe.
Without recognizing the underlying principles, a first impression might see it as opposites. However, even though opposites often do attract, and work extremely well in romance literature, they also have the potential to destroy. Think of it in terms of marriage or business collaboration where as opposites using their gifts and talents they blend into a harmonious whole, whereas if they use their abilities against each other they undermine and break.
It’s interesting that most cultures include folktales that include the need for harmony and the dangers of imbalance regardless of cosmology foundations, such as the European fairy tale of the Snow Queen where winter rules the land. The sense of nature being out of balance when mankind is out of balance is a common motif as well. Romans 8:22 in the New Testament describes the plight of nature, “that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.”
The duality of yin and yang presents an example of a harmony similar to a dance.
Exercise: Choose one natural phenomena that your world experiences. Perhaps it would be a seasonal aspect such as a short summer in an arctic environment or a monsoon in a hot climate. Write up one aspect of it as a season of struggle, at war within itself. Then write it up as season of a harmonious cycle.
Share: What differences did you notice in your use of language?
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Recently my grandson’s class did an art project studying Chagall. It was fascinating to see the images these six year-olds chose to reflect their emerging sense of self-portrait and what they remembered as being important to them. And satisfying to see that almost every child chose some depiction of home or school as being a safe place. This is the age to be able to dream big dreams, to become someone new every day and learn to stretch their imagination into possibilities.
For some, this season becomes the root of direction. Perhaps not the actual future vocation, but the essence of value begins to come to light. For others, it’s a long journey. For all it’s a struggle to know when to pursue a dream, and when it needs to be adapted.
One little girl splashed dance all over her portrait, basically ignoring all the other categories. Motion and movement pour out of her. Will she become a dancer—only time will tell if that dream is a concrete reality—but somewhere music will need to be a large part of her life.
Most childhood dreams fade with laughter, however some fade leaving behind a dark shadow when a piece of us becomes cut away along with the dream. Or dismissed as being irrelevant—impossible—irresponsible.
Maybe for ourselves and our characters we need to stop, reflect, remember our own self-portrait and see if we’ve forgotten something important that needs to be refreshed. Langston Hughes captures that essence in his poem.
by Langston Hughes
"Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow"
1. Two prominent images here are the broken-winged bird and the barren field. What are some feelings you associate with these images?
2. What two or three words would your character use to remember a broken dream?
Share: One image you chose and your reason why.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
The next major theme Moring discusses is found from Native Americans who often see their cosmos through a numerical theme set in a pattern of fours, both in multiples and in directions.
He gives an excerpt from a Lakota document that shares the four directions: east, west, south, north as a primary spatial theme. Then other natural cycles are divided into four as well; “four divisions of time: the day, the night, the moon and the year. Four kinds of things that have breath: those that crawl, those that fly, those that walk on four legs, and those that walk on to legs.”
For the Hopi people, though while four directions are at the beginning of cosmology, they are not however the familiar compass points, north, south, east and west—“but are directly related to the observation of the rising and setting sun at solstices.” Their creation is seen spatially as well, though the center view relates to place at solstice.
Also in Hopi mythology, this present world is considered the Fourth World to which the Creator, Tewa, led the people after the Third World was destroyed by flood.
In Mesoamerica cosmology the Aztec consider this world to be the fifth world, but the demise of the previous four universes is depicted symbolically in The Aztec Calendar Stone through hieroglyphs and pictures and provides mythological significance of heritage.
Exercise: Mark the central core of your ‘place’ in your land, and then view it through a numerical theme. Divide both in directional terms and in the division of the day. For example a six-pointed star has different meanings; among them it is known as the Star of David and The Star of Creation. Laying one or the other, as a compass directional and divided day, would differ according to which theme you used as your focus.
Share: What number did you choose to use? Did you have a particular reason?
Thursday, September 13, 2012
“For some minutes Alice stood without speaking, looking out in all directions over the country – and a most curious country it was… ‘I declare it’s marked out just like a large chessboard!’” Lewis Carroll
There is a geography app game for children (and adults) that help to learn about world countries. Three sections ask questions such as language or landmarks or capitals, and then there is another that is by shape only. You have to identify the country by its image, like a puzzle piece.
Two things surprised me while playing with my five-year-old grandson. One, how much I’d forgotten about world geography factually, and two, that it was almost impossible for me to identify a country based on shape only. However after playing the game only a few times, my grandson had almost instant recall on all the shapes and a high percentage of recall on flags. Whenever it was my turn he cheerfully showed me the right answers. The game has become a mutual teaching opportunity, as I in turn help share with the capitals. At least I had one high area to succeed in.
The ability to step back and see the landscape through an unexpected image opens up a flow of possible thematic and plot ideas that might not have occurred otherwise. It gives us a chance to stop and play again with our creativity, especially as we move deeper in the middle of the story, which sometimes becomes sluggish and difficult to navigate.
Twists and turns, ragged edges and soft flowing lines turn into new metaphors, new possibilities and new connotations to explore. What symbolism can we apply to a land that is shaped like a chessboard, or a stone dragon, or a blue marble?
1. Take different portions of the map you are using for your world. Make copies. Then ignore all the names and usual details and instead find shapes within in. Draw random lines around them.
2. Color-code them.
3. Or draw a shape over a section of the map and then look closely to see what is highlighted within that section. Color-code the new details.
Share: What perspective or theme or metaphor did you discover in your map world by seeing it as shape only.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
“That’s a pretty horrible account compared to the majestic telling of creation we find in Genesis and some other cultural stories.” Gary F. Moring
Genesis, chapter one, also incorporates seven units as seven days in the creation story. However in this presentation each unit details the events of each day as bringing forth a new life-giving aspect of creation.
Life begins with light being divided from darkness, moving to the creation of heavens and water, then land and vegetation, next sun, moon, stars followed by ocean life, birds, then living vegetation, animals, humans and ending on the seventh day when God rests. Such a magnitude of abundance given as gifts.
When each segment of creation is completed He pauses and “God saw that it was good.” Then He moves on to the next stage. On the sixth day of creation, when He created male and female in His own image, “God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good.”
Both of these creation stories used order and structure to lay the basis of their cosmology content—the coinage by which they determine the value of life. Their system used the same building bricks, but differ completely in their theology and attitude towards life. One a picture of profound grief, the other countless images of praise.
Exercise: Again put together a three generational genealogical pattern for a direct descendant family in your story world. This time make the entire pattern based on an ongoing desire to serve others. Make them altruistic in a particular field. How far has their influence reached without their knowledge?
Share: What part this version did you find intriguing? What part made you smile?
Thursday, September 6, 2012
“The ground and not the map…is the primary document…Field work consists in comparing the map with the actual ground.” S.W. Wooldridge
Have you ever had a trustworthy friend give you directions that you can’t make head nor tail of? Often even when we look at the same ground we can orient it differently.
Once I tried giving a directionally challenged friend landmarks to guide her way as basic roadmaps and linear directions only confused her. I told her to make a left turn at the large tree on the corner, which could still be seen in heavy fog. However, that particular night there was no fog and other streets had ‘large’ trees as well. She finally turned at the biggest tree she came to hoping that was it. (In the days after phone booths and before cell phones too)
In my own city, another friend recently texted me to pick her up on the SW corner of a densely populated intersection where making left turns was impossible. I had no concept of which of the four corners was the one she meant and my passenger couldn’t see her in the crowd. She had scoped out her visit by north, south, east, west orientation parameters. I drove oriented by street names, landmarks and no left turns. Plus the way my city is structured there’s no real way to tell which is east or west except at dawn and dusk. Our directional conversation did not meld together at all. Fortunately my passenger understood both versions so spent the day ‘translating’ for me as we navigated our locations. It was an interesting experience because I have often had to find my routes through unfamiliar cities, but I could not grasp her compass point mapping.
1. How does your character navigate when driving, or walking, or other mode of transportation central to your world setting?
2. Can she adapt if given directions contradictory to her normal mode of mapping her ground?
3. What does that do to the emotional tension within her? Could you use a minor journey to create added conflict?
Share: Share what has been one of the most humorous set of directions you have ever received.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Whether we plan it or not our worldviews will rise to the surface. Are our characters’ general perspective ‘glass is half empty’ or ‘glass is half full’? Do they see through Eyeore’s POV, or a Pollyanna disposition. Obviously this affects our overall story question such as, will the dystopia end in complete annihilation, or will a root of promise bloom at the end? But it also impacts the inner and outer conflicts and introduces a strong source of conflict throughout heresy and history as well as language and culture. And the root values influence the basic perspective of coinage.
Deliberately choosing a worldview that either coincides with our personal beliefs, or challenges them gives the setting an edge, even if the actual foundation is never even mentioned. Its reality filters the essence throughout the details. What is our world’s creation story? How far from its roots has it stayed or strayed?
Theories of the Universe, by Gary F. Moring, introduces four main concepts that impact our view of the universe today, and upon which we can borrow templates for our imaginary worlds to strengthen mythic connections. Over the next few posts we’ll look at a very generalized and much reduced synopsis of each and a few heartbeat characteristics of each.
The oldest and first two epics interestingly enough parallel a similar structure but from opposite positions. The creation of Mesopotamia is told in seven units in the Enuma Elish, a story of seven generations of a family of gods, filled with passion, gore, feuds, murder and fury. Moring chooses not to expand on the “horrible account” however he points out that many early civilizations related their myths to family dynamics.
For example, Greek literature has made us familiar with the ongoing strife of Olympian gods and goddesses with Zeus as ruler. What is not as familiar is that Zeus is the third generation of rulers. He warred against and defeated his father, his uncles and his own siblings in order to gain control. The level of graphic detail is much reduced in these stories, unlike in Enuma Elish, but the principles behind the battlegrounds for power and prestige along with disregard for human life is still the primary focus.
Exercise: Put together a three generational genealogical pattern for a direct descendant family in your story world—whether one member in the present time is a key character or not. Make the entire pattern based on an ongoing grasp for power and control. How far have they gone to ruin each other financially or socially or morally?
Share: What part of your version did you find intriguing? What part made you very uncomfortable?