Let’s build something worthy of us for a change

I’ve written before about the play between mythos and logos, particularly the impoverishment of our lives from the elevation of logos—reason, facts—over its partner mythos—meaning, context. Logos alone sends us looking for truth in news items, not in fairy tales. At least until recently. The very crisis of the so-called “fact-free” world we woke up to post-election points to the inadequacy of logos alone to make sense of the world. And we’ve gone so long without mythos; it’s hard to visualize its relevance anymore. Or what it even looks like in the physical world.

In the first century BCE, back when mythos and logos still enjoyed equal billing, a Roman architect and engineer called Vitruvius wrote an architectural treatise called The Ten Books on Architecture. It’s actually an interesting read. The most quoted principles from it are the triumvirate: firmitas, utilitas, and venustas, or “firmness, commodity, and delight.” Vitruvius argued that architecture must be structurally sound, functional, and beautiful—all three. It must serve its purpose economically and spiritually. Though human cultures and their architectural styles have taken many different forms over the centuries, these underlying principles have generally held. When logos was promoted over mythos, the unraveling began. Continue reading

Reclaiming the fierceness of sincerity from the armor of irony

We have all learned the hard way that email and social media can be tone deaf. It’s difficult to parse sincerity from irony and cynicism. I was reminded recently that this may happen in other forms of writing as well. In notes on a scene in which my characters make ironic reference to Ayn Rand’s John Galt, a friend questioned their sincerity. The scene plays overly pious and even deluded if these characters truly take John Galt as gospel. Ewwww. (How on earth did Rand get away with Galt’s 90-plus-page rant-slash-speech? I mean, really.)

In architecture school, we had a yearly Friday night showing of “The Fountainhead,” during which we hooted and threw popcorn at Howard Roark. What an egotistical windbag. Telling the difference between irony and sincerity is so much easier in person. Or is it? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the spectrum between these two, and what mindset I bring to life’s difficulties. My teenage son keeps telling me I’m hopelessly naïve, which is his way of saying sincerity is uncool. Deeply uncool. Continue reading

Triumph of mythos over logos, or, Nate Silver is not all that

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Ordinarily, I don’t get very political on this blog. But these are extraordinary times. To many, the results of Election 2016 are unimaginable. The Day After played out like the inciting incident in a dystopian alternate-reality Netflix series about a dying civilization. Rural voters seem to have acted from fear and misinformation, and not simply willingness, but eagerness, to be lied to and manipulated. Shirley Jackson could not have written better.

Liberal elites, neo-libs, progressives—whatever label we claim—have not just been humbled. We have been brought low. Our country elected, by popular vote, the first woman president. But the crafty Framers set up the Electroal College to give rural voters a chance against urban elites. And, boy, did they prevail. So here we are, literally unable to imagine, using the rational mind, how it happened. I am an avid listener to the 538 Podcast, but not even Nate Silver is smart enough, nor his algorithm clever enough, to make sense of this.

So, let’s use imagination for something bigger than a futile attempt at rational understanding. Let’s tap into mythos, rather than rely on logos. From a mythic perspective, we just handed the reins of the most powerful country on earth, and the one with the largest per capita environmental footprint, to the Trickster god of Norse mythology. Continue reading

Darkness at dawn

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I only know it’s raining from the sound. Outside is deep darkness. There has been a death in the family, news of a life-threatening illness, a natural disaster, an unnatural disaster, a house fire, a child claimed by asthma. My hands shake, I feel weak and sick as with an icy fever. My heart aches and a fresh wave breaks.

I am standing alone in my mother’s kitchen, gripped by the terror that only reality can serve up. She has just been unable for the first time to get out of bed. She lies upstairs in sweet docility, if not resignation. Later, I will bring her strawberries and dolmas on a tray with a daffodil in a bud vase. It’s been a beautiful spring, not that she’s been able to go outside to enjoy it.

I’ve been up since 4:00 a.m., when I couldn’t help checking the news. This thing is bigger than any of us can imagine. I know that. And right here, right now, I will not try to talk myself out of my emotions. This is one place I can be completely honest. Continue reading

Imagination softens the hard edges of opposition

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This week brought more videos and news of police shooting black men. These confrontations are as usual shrouded in confusion, misinterpretation, reactivity, bias, and defensiveness. Peaceful demonstrations in Charlotte turned violent, as they had in Baltimore last year. If we inquire into such protests and uprisings, perhaps we can glimpse the frustration, hopelessness, and rage behind them. Given the pervasiveness of racial inequity, one wonders why there aren’t more of them. I imagine similar outrage in Chicago, where the bodies continue to pile up and youth unemployment in some neighborhoods reaches ninety percent.

I was just finishing the following post when these sad, violent events occurred. I questioned its relevance and wondered if I should just put it away. After some thought, I decided that the invitation to embody and embrace opposites might be useful. It could be just the time to seek the awareness hidden behind surfaces, and to assume that all is never what it seems.

“‘Tell them they have to wake up twice in the morning,’ Nyae continues. This means that you should first wake up in the morning and get out of bed. Then awaken your heart: walk out of the bedrock of objects and materialism and into a spiritual world guided by the felt lines of relationships that hold everything together. Now the ropes, rather than the objects they connect, are primary. They are the most important and the most real.” ~ Bradford Keeney

I’m dreaming in a tent under the full moon at a forest retreat. Here to meet the awakening that beckons from the world behind this world. In my dream, a panel van pulls up in an alley behind a building. All the surfaces are hard—buildings, paving, cars, light poles. A man tumbles out. He’s been shot in the left shoulder. My first thought is, he is escaping from criminals, maybe he’s been kidnapped. Continue reading

Healing what is broken by reweaving the world, with visitation by Red-tailed hawk

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“You are in the time of the interim, where everything seems withheld. The path you took to get here has washed out. The way forward is concealed from you. The old is not old enough to have died away; the new is still too young to be born.” ~ John O’Donohue, Celtic scholar, mystic and poet

Recently, the Public Radio program “On Being” interviewed several people about the spirituality of running. The most riveting interview was of Billy Mills, a Native American runner who won gold in the 10,000 meters at the 1964 Olympics. Just as he was nearing the finish line with nothing left, he glanced at the runner he was passing and saw an eagle on the guy’s shirt. He thought of his dead father telling him, “You do these things, Son. Someday, you can have wings of an eagle.”

Inspired, Billy Mills flew the last 60 meters to set a world record. No American has since won gold in that event. After he got over the shock of winning, he went to find the guy whose singlet had propelled him over that last bit of track. There was no eagle on the shirt. In that moment, he understood the power of perception. “I realized that perceptions create us or destroy us, but we have that opportunity to create our own journey.” Even more moving is what he says about his true motivation for running: Continue reading

Playing it safe is a ticket to mediocrity in art and in life

2.27.16_marsh_620wI was driving last Wednesday night during a sudden violent thunderstorm, first on the highway and then on city streets unable to handle the epic volumes of water flow. It was a terrifying, white-knuckle experience, especially as I had someone else’s child in my backseat. I was thankful for the traffic, so I could gauge the depths of the fast-running streams that crossed every intersection. Give me a snowstorm any day.

That intimidation feels familiar. It’s been with me all week, as I continue to work on my novel. I keep thinking I’m not up to it and finding other things to occupy my time. I’ve never been afraid of hard work—especially when I’m on a roll. This project is calling me to let go, to let the writing take me where it will. And yet I’m afraid I can’t pull this off. That all these years of work will have been for naught. It seems the more I learn about craft, the bar gets higher and the finish line farther away. Continue reading

Voices from the threshold: listening for and telling other-than-human stories

2014_8.28_620w-2In his 2009 book about climate change, Down to the Wire, environmental science professor and visionary green building pioneer, David Orr, describes a thought experiment he once gave to his students. He asked them to act as lawyers representing Homo sapiens before a congress of all beings. The charges read like this:

“Over many thousands of years humans have proved themselves incapable of living as citizens and members of the community of life, and in recent centuries have become so numerous and so hazardous to other members of the community and the biosphere that they should be banished from the Earth forever.” ~ David Orr, Down to the Wire, p. 138

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Ask Edith: animal sounds

Dear Edith:

I was helping my daughter study for a French quiz on animals and the sounds they make. Did you know that the French think a horse goes “hiii hiii?” Continue reading

We are all blind men describing an elephant

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I had an exchange on social media after the Paris climate talks, a back and forth of articles and videos with an acquaintance who challenged the veracity and conclusions of what’s known as “accepted” climate science. I let myself be annoyed by his posts, dismissing them as straw men. (The book and film, “Merchants of Doubt,” shows that many of them are). Among the challenges to climate science, the one I find most absurd is that scientists are after big government grants, so they’ll say anything. It’s just not persuasive when you consider that it’s usually leveled by those who DO have a financial stake—like the Koch brothers and others in the fossil fuel biz.

Then I had to laugh. Here I was defending science, when I’m more inclined to question its assumption of human exceptionalism and elevation of reason to exalted status over intuition. Rupert Sheldrake’s book, Science Set Free, shows that modern science, for all its value and rigor, has gotten so dogmatic as to be almost fundamentalist in its stridency. Anything that doesn’t fit the accepted paradigm of materialism is ignored, dismissed, and labeled “anti-science.” Data that doesn’t fit the expected outcome is shoved into a file drawer and not published. Continue reading