27 Oct 2009, 9:03pm
1 comment

the Hallway of Possibilities

my life is weird and beautiful. my blanket fort in the Hallway of Possibilities is getting too comfortable. i’m not allowed to paint the walls in the Hallway of Possibilities, but they take on different hues according to my mood or which door i’ve got open, so it’s ok. i open the doors one at a time and take a step or two inside that Possibility, but i keep my foot in the door so i can go back to my blanket fort when i get tired or cold. yup. yup.

this week i am working at one of the two french immersion schools in town. it’s actually a vacation week and all the regular teachers are gone, so they are having “camp” or “workshops” or something like that, and i am assisting a drama workshop. i got the gig because i sorta speak french and have theatre experience and a. is a full-time assistant teacher there. this week a. is on vacation too. he’s in new york city visiting friends and interviewing at grad schools and going to the met.

the kids in the workshop are three to five years old and they understand french probably almost as well as i do, or they’re good at faking it. this week will be good for my french, for sure. when i left this evening, i kept translating mentally the things i might say. ça va. i am appreciating a week away from my work computer in favor of active verbs like dessiner, decouper, courir, manger, regarder, jouer et tout ça… the kids are going to put on a little performance for their parents on friday–in the morning they do “acting class” and practice the little song they’re going to sing (about letting animals out of cages; it is pretty adorable) and in the afternoon they work on their animal costumes (so far: masks). it’s interesting to watch how kids learn, especially from each other. it’s sometimes lovely and sometimes not.

i feel really busy, and i also feel sometimes like i’m not doing the right things. the right things are through one of those doors in the Hallway, but i don’t know which one. the thing is, the Hallway is lined with books. a lot of the stuff i am busy with is learning (unschooling, maybe?). sometimes i think that if i hadn’t plowed through all sixteen years of school on intellectual autopilot–if i had had the courage to take the time off i talked about taking after high school, etc etc–i might have figured out earlier how to make my learning matter, or something… but that is a cynical thing, and the truth is that my intellectual understanding of art and literature and western history and all of that is the humus from which my current learning is growing. when i am sad i feel like i will never know enough about my body and the earth and plants and rocks and whatever else (and more to the point, i feel like i will never know what i want or need to do with my one wild and precious life), but mostly i am invigorated by how much i have to learn. the door i am eyeing these days is labeled permaculturist/farmer (or something like that. maybe–just maybe–environmental studies grad student!?), but it’s sort of far away down the Hallway from my blanket fort, and i am still working on that courage thing. so mostly, in between cracking open the theatre artist and well-it’s-a-job doors (and, i guess, the childcare door), i just read. i went to powell’s last night and spent over an hour not in the blue room (fiction) where i used to get lost and collect big stacks of books, but in the rose room (environmental studies! ethnobotany! regular botany!). i am thinking about taking some classes at psu next term if i can figure out how all of that works (geology? “anthropology of the environment”?) and if i can make it work with my job. and if i can stop taking theatre gigs, hah! (also, how much of what i write that i am “thinking about” doing do i actually do? just trying to observe my dreams, i guess.)

anyway, on my curriculum currently is a book called the spell of the sensuous by david abram. here are some things i’ve marked and dogeared from it (so far–i am less than halfway through), without a lot of context, just to maybe pique your interest:

* “Shamanism” has thus come to connote an alternative form of therapy; the emphasis, among these new practitioners of popular shamanism, is on personal insight and curing. These are noble aims, to be sure, yet they are secondary to, and derivative from, the primary role of the indigenous shaman, a role that cannot be fulfilled without long and sustained exposure to wild nature, to its patterns and vicissitudes. Mimicking the indigenous shaman’s curative methods without his intimate knowledge of the wider natural community cannot, if I am correct, do anything more than trade certain symptoms for others, or shift the locus of dis-ease from place to place within the human community. For the source of stress lies in the relation between the human community and the natural landscape.

* …the intertwining of my body with the things it perceives is effected only through the interweaving of my senses, and vice versa. The relative divergence of my bodily sense (eyes in the front of the head, ears toward the back, etc.) and their curious bifurcation (not one but two eyes, one on each side, and similarly two ears, two nostrils, etc.) indicates that the body is a form destined to the world; it ensures that my body is a sort of open circuit that completes itself only in things, in others, in the encompassing earth.

* As we have already seen, the process of learning to read and to write with the alphabet engenders a new, profoundly reflexive, sense of self. The capacity to view and even to dialogue with one’s own words after writing them down, or even in the process of writing them down, enables a new sense of autonomy and independence from others, and even from the sensuous surroundings that had earlier been one’s constant interlocutor. The fact that one’s scripted words can be returned to and pondered at any time that one chooses, regardless of when, or in what situation, they were first recorded, grants a timeless quality to this new reflexive self, a sense of the relative independence of one’s verbal, speaking self from the breathing body with its shifting needs. The literate self cannot help but feel its own transcendence and timelessness relative to the fleeting world of corporeal experience.
(i.e., our mind/body dichotomy stems from our literacy)

* (oral) Stories, like rhymed poems or songs, readily incorporate themselves into our felt experience; the shifts of action echo and resonate our own encounters–in hearing or telling the story we vicariously live it, and the travails of its characters embed themselves into our own flesh. The senuous, breathing body is, as we have seen, a dynamic, ever-unfolding form, more a process than a fixed or unchanging object. As such, it cannot readily appropriate inert “facts” or “data” (static nuggets of “information” abstracted from the lived situations in which they arise). Yet the living body can easily assimilate other dynamic or eventful processes, like the unfolding of a story, appropriating each episode or events as a variation of its own unfolding.
    And the more lively the story–the more vital or stirring the encounters within it–the more readily it will be in-corporated.
(this reminded me of joseph campbell and his assertion that there is not yet a myth for our time. what information do we need to communicate that cannot possibly be communicated in “static nuggets”? and how do we communicate it?)

2 May 2010, 1:58pm
by dervla


i really like this stuff you’re writing-i’ve just come across your site this eve…there’s something very reassuring in here…keep on diggin keep on giggin

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