“There are people who think that things that happen in fiction do not really happen. These people are wrong.” ~ Neil Gaiman
I had one of those aha moments last week about my writing, the kind that make me feel really dumb for not having clicked earlier. The epiphany was triggered by this article by Paul Kingsnorth, asking why fiction so rarely extends imagination beyond the human realm. We would have to set aside the modern story of a mechanical nature in which only humans have consciousness. Instead, consider that the nonhuman world is as alive and aware as we are, which has been the understanding for most of human history.
There’s a lot being said these days about the importance of hearing from previously marginalized voices. And we are blessed with an abundance of writers meeting this challenge from all directions, people like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Mark Haddon, Roxane Gay, Ta Nehisi Coates, Charlotte Wood, and Yaa Gyasi, among others. The living world is the ultimate marginalized voice, you might say. After all, the modern view of human exception and superiority has given us mountaintop removal coal mining, factory farming, fracking, genetic engineering, clearing rainforests to graze cattle, and on and on. No wonder we are awash in dystopian fiction. Continue reading →
The spaciousness of mythic stories is more and more essential to navigating life these days. How else to both witness and experience, much less make sense of, this clash of stories, the social unrest and economic and environmental unraveling? Much as I crave neat resolutions, I am more and more convinced of the importance, indeed necessity, of the open-endedness provided by narrative art. Whether it’s creation myths, fairy tales, or epic multi-media experiences like the miraculous Janni Younge production of Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” the language of symbol has something urgently to say to each of us.
I saw “Firebird” last night at Wolf Trap, the music played by the National Symphony, puppets by Janni Younge’s team at Handspring Puppetry (who gave the world “War Horse”), and choreographcd by Jay Pather. The production was a rich, intelligent, feeling blend of dance, costume, puppets, and visual art. They drew their creative inspiration from the music, as well as the larger societal story of South Africa’s young democracy, with its beautiful vision of a “rainbow nation,” sliding into corruption and greed, corporate control, the continuation of searing inequity, protest, rage, grief, disillusion. They are in a fertile period of hope and darkness and the unknown. You don’t need me to tell you that the fear, hatred, danger, and overwhelm they feel is absolutely relevant here as well. Continue reading →