Pillars of Fire

for Stephen Carter in partial fulfillment of a promise
but especially for greenfrog, who showed me a bit of backbone

When a subject and object look at one another, there is no subject and no object, there’s only relation, the scope of which extends beyond either creature’s ability to fully grasp it.  You can’t grasp it, but you can step out to meet it.  If you do, prepare to catch on fire “¦

When I was in my early twenties, two events ignited my life.  The first involved a disagreement with a close friend whose feelings of friendship toward me had cooled.  I was changing, growing up a little, I guess.  I think my friend no longer felt needed, and feeling needed was important to her.  My feelings of deep friendship hadn’t changed, yet somehow that didn’t matter, not to her.  Why not? I wondered.  Why shouldn’t my feelings matter to her?

In a fit of confusion, I went a-walking.  I ended up in the playground of an elementary school where I straddled a seesaw.  There I sat, turning questions over and over.  It was an act of prayer, that deep mood of introspection.  Like Telemachus pinning Proteus to the strand, I watched a strange procession of ideas contort the face of the problem, each one trying to spook me into letting go.  I didn’t let go; finding out was too important.  Suddenly, the face quieted and the revelation came: Your love for others, a voice said, needn’t depend upon others’ feelings for you. 

It was a moment of liberation that illuminated the world.      

A voice of another kind touched off the second event.  I was sitting at a desk in an undergrad English class at BYU staring down at John Keats’s “Ode on Melancholy,” where read I for the first time:

Ay, in the very temple of Delight
    Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
        Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
    Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine “¦

I didn’t care much for that “Veil’d Melancholy” bit, but the other image–that strenuous tongue bursting Joy’s grape against the palate–flashed in my mind like lightning striking summer grasses.  “I could do that,” I thought, as I squinted against the glare of Keats’s image.  “I want to do that.”  I meant, write like that.

Ten years of superheated life followed these moments, hyper-nomadic years during which I abandoned narrative constructs almost at the moment I finished assembling them.  At first, I felt afraid.  The world refused to hold still long enough for me to put down intellectual, emotional, or spiritual roots, though something about the movement itself felt natural and compelling, like the contractions I experienced later with childbirth. 

Fortunately, I had good mentors during this time, a lot of them, because that’s what it took.  Observing my growing love for life and humankind, Arthur King released me from dilemma when he said, “My dear, it’s all right to love, and to love deeply.”  Yes!  Leslie Norris: “You strike me as someone who wants to wander the face of the earth.”  That was pretty close, closer than I realized at the time, because I took him literally.  But he provided the metaphor for what I eventually understood my nature to have become.  I had learned to like living at the frontier of who I am, a frontier that, rather than shrinking as I crossed over into its gorgeous wilderness of the unknown, became all the more unbounded. 

At this point, my essay wants to fly off in several directions: to talk about love, the role it plays in writing, in a writer’s language, in the tendering of human agency; to talk about the priesthood as it shined through my interaction with those long-suffering mentors, all of whom were men; to talk about narrative constructs, houses for our beliefs where we attempt to settle but that suffer inevitable tensions of being built on sand or a floodplain; about my sense for how, in the spreading garden of the Creation, human beings shiver in the budtime of an indefinite spring; about the leading role language plays in the drama of the developing mind–indeed, in human progression overall.  But at the risk of reputation, I’ve decided to talk about one of the especially unsettling aspects of living at the frontier of who you are: those crazy voices. 

Reading her poetry at the Bluff Arts Festival, Lorraine Nakai, a Navajo poet and crop entomologist, remarked that new science suggests that schizophrenia is an artifact of the evolution of the human brain.  Now that this “the human brain is still evolving” idea has finally caught on, scientists, wrestling with the usual ironies of self-portraiture, are hurriedly applying, in broad strokes, yet another coat of paint to their never-finished (yet often exhibited) masterpiece of human nature. 

Because of my twenty-plus years’ experience with voices, dreams, and other cerebral pops, flashes, and fires over the personal pan-sized evolutionary course of my own brain, I had already wondered if schizophrenia was more than an unlucky misfiring of clay, a cracked pot.  My exploits in cognition suggested that not knowing what something is or not knowing what to do about it doesn’t mean it’s an impenetrable mystery or that nothing can be done.  In fact, in the case of the human encephalon, some mysteries are divine calls to action and epic adventure.

I began hearing voices at what is probably the usual threshold for it: mid-to-late teens.  The sound of someone calling my name often startled me awake, middle of the night.  The fact that the house was dark and quiet and that my sister, who shared the bedroom, was fast asleep, confounded my compelling urge to answer. Usually, I lay awake for a while wondering then fell back to sleep, sometimes to be awakened again later. 

Other than these middle-of-the-night wake-up calls, nothing happened until the two events mentioned above lit me up.  Then voices and other artifacts of heightened brain activity aroused and integrated themselves into my daily life, making in poetic/religious language statements about my prospects, summing up my condition, helping me find people, etc.  These in turn gave rise to more striking events.  Feelings of heightened clarity or transcendence accompanied most of these incidents.  Sometimes flashes of illumination occurred without a voice-over making a fortune-cookie-like remark: I simply saw through myself, clearly and hotly.  And the dreams “¦ straight out of Joseph Campbell, redolent with archetype.

I spent a couple years worrying I might be going mad, because while LDS beliefs rightly herald the refining fires of salvation, accurate topo maps for said fiery terrains are rare to nonexistent.  The village spirit of the church displays itself in objectives and goals, the signposts of accomplishment. Indeed, objectives and goals do seem to be obvious destinations.  Problem was, I didn’t know where I was headed.  Every time I imagined I had arrived, the scene dissolved and another frontier opened.  But a few experiences (including a you-won’t-believe-this dream sequence culminating in a real-life encounter with Joseph Campbell) helped me understand that within a certain range of activity level in the brain, the voices and other artifacts not only were normal but also healthy, maybe even very healthy.  They are the brain’s strivings–at least, they’re my brain’s strivings–to integrate regions, update wiring, and get to the next level, or, as Joseph Campbell puts it, to answer the call. 

Accordingly, I made peace with my psychic fires.  Making peace with them didn’t exorcise them, nor have I outgrown them.  They’re not as concentrated as they were when I was in my 20s but they still come.  The voices accompany events I call “quickenings,” movements into new levels of awareness and social, artistic, and spiritual responsibility.  Other phenomena exert themselves more commonly than do the voices.  For instance, it was a brain flash, which feels like a charge of energy going off head to toe, that called my attention to the man I married.  I think because my mind is accustomed to these fireworks as a side effect of interaction with other humans, for which I have a great passion; the natural world, which folds me into its bosom; and God, who exudes irresistible mystery, these fires have jumped firebreaks into my middle years. 

Two elements proved essential for navigating by these fires: language and relation, which together form the double helix of human experience. I needed words of two kinds. First, words to work off of, forged in others’ fires, written or uttered expression from men and women who speak the language of transformation.  Second, I needed words to generate new prospects as my old take on life went up in flame, wrapped in the most recently woven shroud of broken-heartedness, bound up in shreds of contrite spirit.  But of course, I’m not the only one who needs to feel the fine touch of well-turned words; everybody needs good language, though it seems to me that many, despairing of finding the better part, settle for bad language and try hard to make something of it.

As for human relations, they formed–still do–my true north.  That might sound impossible and unwise, trust not in the arm of flesh, etc.  But I wasn’t trusting in the arm of flesh.  As I contended with the loss of bearings that often comes with traveling uncharted territory, over-the-pulpit sermons to “love thy neighbor” begged the question.  I finally developed a simple touchstone for testing the quality of a situation: If the new thought, event, question, association led me deeper into happy community with my fellow beings, then it was good–pursue it.  If the new circumstances led me away from people I loved or who loved me, or even from human society in general toward isolation or abandonment, then all engines reverse full.  So simple, a matter of learning to take responsibility for my actions, including my thinking, with is also action, and my language, which can be an especially long-lived form of action, as dynamic and effectual as physical exertion is thought to be.  Works for me.

A year and a half ago, I sat talking with my supervisor about a student I’d had in one of my classes and subsequently tutored.  This student posed challenges I’d never encountered.  As I wrestled with him and his needs, I found myself at the far reaches of my teaching experience.  My supervisor knew the student and understood the problems he posed.  He wasn’t the actual trouble, of course; the real bind was an intricately woven tapestry of human condition through which ran the frayed threads of our not knowing what to do.  All I understood was that in spite of the fact this young man challenged my skills and questioned my experience on many levels, pushing my patience to its furthermost borders, I had deep feelings for him and desired more than anything to find a way through. 

In the middle of a sentence I spoke to my supervisor describing my frustrations, the bookcase I sat facing, and indeed, the whole office winked out.  I found myself in a dark cave, or maybe an open but rocky area under ceiling of night.  Right of center stood a column of fire, slender and straight like an aspen tree, bright yellow flames wrapping tightly against its segmented core, driving upward in a spiral of combustion. The fire cast a glow that lit up a rock wall behind the column.   The dirt floor surrounding the pillar was vacant and smooth, except that slightly out from the pillar’s base something moved, some kind of backfire maybe, a small flame, so hot it burned clear, yet I could detect it.  Animated with intention, it circled the pillar, forward and backward, encouraging the fire to burn more intensely while at the same time guiding its energy upward.

If I were William Blake, I could make a painting of the thing, or if I knew Blake and described it to him he’d draw it exactly right.  I don’t know how long I sat gazing at the column, but when I came out of that cave and the bookcase rematerialized, I turned to find my supervisor throwing me a sharp look of concern.  I think I might have smiled; how could I not have.  As far as I know, I picked up the conversation where I left off and we continued exploring prospects for the young man in question.  She said, “We’re talking about love here.”  “Yes,” I said.  “I know.”  The burning pillar had rendered that much clear.

Out there at the edges of my known territory, that pillar of fire, my most extravagant brain-flash ever, oriented me to the work at hand–entering the wilds of my unknowingness to find the better place.  It provided light and, just as important, warmth to go by.  

Blake said, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as infinite.”  Thinking about the Exodus and those two, stiff-backed, preternatural ushers, the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud, I wonder now if they were manifestations of God’s standing with his people, creation’s support poles running between the apparent fixed position and the movable and growing mystery. But also, I wonder if those columns reflected the backbone of the Israelites’ burning desire to cross the frontiers of what they had become in captivity and get to Promised Land, that better place.  I wonder because that’s what my flaming pillar looked like–a backbone of fire.

74 thoughts on “Pillars of Fire”

  1. Oh yeah, I forgot to say, bring on the “She hears voices? That explains everything” comments.

  2. My hope is that Brother Blake will be taking commissions in the next life because I have some visions for him too.

  3. I agree, Th. All I can say is, Beautiful, Patricia. Your flames have spread into my soul and I’m changed in some small way because of my encounter with your words.

    Thank you.

  4. Wow, are you brave!
    This stuff you write resonates way too much energy for me to process the way I’m used to processing. Process probably isn’t a good word for it, it’s more like ‘expand’ or ‘absorb’ or something organic like that.
    Lots to think about, and fun to think about, too!

  5. Patricia, you are one of the most startlingly talented writers–and thinkers–I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet in person. Beautiful essay. Thank you.

  6. Beautiful writing–and it clarified some things for me. I also have the Spirit speak to me in ways that are somewhat unconvential and had similar fears of madness until a patriarchal blessing reassured me. “flashes of fire” is a great way to describe things.

  7. FoxyJ, I don’t think I use the phrase “flashes of fire,” that’s something you’ve done with the essay for yourself. I like it. I wish I had thought of it.

  8. Th. said, “I don’t have any startling comment…”

    It startles me a little that folks I don’t know would like this essay. Thanks for reading it.

  9. Hey Tyler, you’re such a gracious fellow. I’m glad you could make something of the writing. I hope it gives you something to go on for a while.

  10. Lora, thanks for your lovely comment. I’m especially grateful you used the word “fun” in relation to the essay.

    ***

    You, too, Angela! Thanks for your kind words.

  11. .

    I’m glad someone else used the word ‘beautiful.’ I’m trying to wean myself off it, but it took a lot of self-control in this case.

  12. Patricia–it gives me hope! That’s all I can say. That and I think I’m going to have a good cleansing cry. Amazing. Had to read it twice.

    When is someone going to publish a collection of your essays so I can quit saving them in a Word document?

    Oh, and I wish I had your visions/voices. Mine are all scary . . .

  13. Patricia,

    I want to be totally honest and forthright with you, because your courage demands it of me. “Demands” may be the wrong word. It invites me so compellingly that I dare not refuse.

    When I first saw this post and that you had written it, I knew it would be long and challenging. Part of me wanted not to read it. Now that I have, I am alight (to follow in your train) with gratitude, because you have taken a risk and in doing so provided me with the insight I needed to take my own self-exploration to the next summit. You have told me what to do with my voices.

    Of course, my “voices” are not voices at all, but visions. I feel I owe you this explanation as a debt of thankfulness, and here I take my own risks: I see the future.

    This doesn’t occur as a mode of pseudo-prophetic robbery or in any priestcraftly, aggrandizing way. I simply see future events in my own life, large and small. The only time I’ve ever successfully asked for a vision was when, in high school, I wanted to see the face of my future wife. I disbelieved at the time because it wasn’t the face of anyone I had a contemporary crush on, but I knew her by it when first we met.

    Generally, the events I see can’t even really be called events. The first one I recognized was my shoe in a car I’d never been in before, exactly as I would see it if I were looking at my shoe while sitting in that car. It ended up being my neighbor’s car on the way home from school, and I knew it “owing to the distinctness of the vision.” The realization came so long after the vision that I had completely forgotten it.

    Over the years, my visions have fluctuated in length, frequency, and significance. I once foresaw a half-hour long conversation with some friends. When it occurred, I immediately knew it and could have spoken each word in unison with the entire company, but I had no power to change the outcome. I have since developed that power and am no longer merely an character in most cases. Instead, I am an actor with independent will and I have learned to go by the script when I desire the foreseen outcome, and to improvise when otherwise.

    I’ve generally considered these visions to serve as roadsigns or map markers of sorts, indicating when I am or am not on the right path. The problem is that I have come to a recognizable dead end on my roadtrip. I rarely have a vision anymore, and I’ve felt that it’s because I don’t know what to do with them. When you said, “They are the brain’s strivings–at least, they’re my brain’s strivings–to integrate regions, update wiring, and get to the next level,” you answered my question. I need to change my paradigm a bit and start interpreting differently. I don’t know when or if I would have found this insight without you, and so I am deeply grateful.

    I know this explanation was longer than it needed to be, but I am prone to wordiness and I thought you deserved more than just “thanks, your post helped me” although there’s nothing wrong with comments like that. Because you so accurately described what I have experienced if only “visions” were substitute for “voices” I wanted to give you some details.

    Anyway, I’ll stop now, but not before I’ve said it again:

    Thanks.

  14. Laura,

    I’ve never had to contend with scary voices and visions, so I don’t know what this post might offer you. Well, wait, yes I did have some scary ones–as a child. Forgot about those. But not since. So I might be missing something. If there’s something here that you sense helps you, please e-mail me, because I’d like to know what it is and why.

    Likewise, if something I’ve said weighs you down.

    I want to understand because I want to take greater care with my language, and you might know something that could help me with that.

  15. #15, Adam:

    Part of me wanted not to read it.

    I love this! I love that people can not want to read my posts. Everybody should feel free to not want to read my posts, okay?

    Instead, I am an actor with independent will and I have learned to go by the script when I desire the foreseen outcome, and to improvise when otherwise.

    Nice use of acting imagery, fun to turn over in the mind.

    Question: You speak about these incidents in terms of desired or undesired outcomes. Have you ever let go of the outcome-driven will just to see where events take you?

    I’ve generally considered these visions to serve as roadsigns or map markers of sorts, indicating when I am or am not on the right path.

    The language of map-making and map-reading pops up over and over again in these kinds of explorations. You seem to have leaned toward map-reading, which is interesting, and leads to your next point:

    The problem is that I have come to a recognizable dead end on my roadtrip.

    Could be time to switch from map-reading to map-making. Perhaps your outcome-driven will, or some aspect of it, isn’t serving you at this point, at least, not for this. There are plenty of circumstances where outcome-driven will is needful, say, in trying to get the best medical care possible for a loved one or putting food on the table. But maybe in the case of your writing or your level of awareness and engagement, you’ve outgrown your outcome-driven will. Just throwing some ideas around.

    I need to change my paradigm a bit and start interpreting differently.

    Heh, me too. Love that part of eternal progression, or whatever you want to call it.

  16. I’m going to take a moment to do some musing here.

    Comments have taken an interesting turn. That’s the cool thing about putting language out there like this, it tends to take off and do things, some of them beyond your sight. You might never know what your words have done once they’ve launched, what they’ve touched off somewhere past your range of sight. It isn’t always like using a hammer to drive home a nail — after the job’s done, you put the hammer down then go in for dinner and forget about the hammer.

    Language has its hammer aspects, its “get the job done” drive. But it also has creative drive, a kind of “let’s see where this takes us” restlessness or wanderlust. I think maybe part of the trick is not to mix the two up. Or maybe, in some cases, not to think language is only ever one and never the other.

    Another way to think of language might be as an environment to create change, in oneself, or else, by the generative, dynamic nature of the best language where it provides for social energies, in one’s community or culture. But you can’t always be certain what changes might occur nor control them, because sometime life needs room to exceed expectations.

    You writers out there — I say this without a “maybe” or a “perhaps” or “could be” because I’m certain of it — language is in as great a need of good stewardship as is any other part of the living world.

    In Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature, John D. Niles, citing George Steiner citing Wittgenstein, says the following

    “Ours is the ability, the need, to gainsay or ‘unsay’ the world, to image and speak it otherwise.”

    You have to pay attention to do that, keep on top of things, yet become enough of a master to let language unfold life, and life unfold language, in wild and unimagined blooms — into something completely new.

  17. Part of me wanted not to read it.

    I love this! I love that people can not want to read my posts. Everybody should feel free to not want to read my posts, okay?

    I feel a difference between “wanting not to read” a post and “not wanting to read” one.

  18. When a subject and object look at one another, there is no subject and no object, there’s only relation, the scope of which extends beyond either creature’s ability to fully grasp it. You can’t grasp it, but you can step out to meet it. If you do, prepare to catch on fire “¦

    I read yesterday Nagarjuna’s take on this:

    I the beholder,
    The one I behold,
    The beholding itself
    Do not connect with one another —

    Just as I who desire,
    The one I desire,
    The desiring itself
    Do not connect.

    We do not connect
    Because we are not
    Apart from one another;
    We would not be together

    If we were apart.
    I am other than you
    In relation to you;
    I could not be your other without you.

    Were I other than you,
    Then even without you
    I would be someone else;
    I cannot be your other without you.

    There is no otherness
    In either you or me;
    Without otherness,
    There is no me or you.

    I do not connect with me
    Nor do I connect with you —
    No connecting, no
    Connections, no connectors.

    Verses From the Center, Nagarjuna (trans. Stephen Batchelor), Riverhead Books: NY, 2000; pp. 104-105.

  19. # 20, greenfrog:

    I feel a difference between “wanting not to read” a post and “not wanting to read” one.

    Ah yes, so there is. In the interest of parallel structure, those sentences should read:

    I love that people can want not to read my posts. Everybody should feel free to want not to read my posts, okay?

    The ambiguity’s more wiggly this way, and perhaps I was seeking to shift out of that with my re-wording, but the opportunity for play is too much to pass up.

    Waste not, want not.

  20. re: #21

    greenfrog, I suggest you review AMV’s Comments Policy. I distinctly remember seeing there a clause stating that embodiments of higher consciousness should keep said consciousness to themselves and refrain from pelting either bloggers or other commenters with ANY lotus blossoms, regardless of color.

  21. greenfrog (#20),

    You’re right, and the wording I used was the one I meant. Like Horton. 🙂 Thanks for picking up on that.

    Patricia (#18),

    Before I answer your questions, I will extend to you again my gratitude for not responding to me with a flowery affirmation. You do me honor validate my thoughts far more by facilitating my transformation process as you have done.

    Have you ever let go of the outcome-driven will just to see where events take you?

    Not since I gained the ability to determine outcome, although I determine it in a halfway Choose Your Own Adventure manner in which I only know what outcome I want to change. I don’t know what outcome my deviations from the script will create. There’s usually an impression at the time of the original vision that guides me in this decision.

    Could be time to switch from map-reading to map-making. Perhaps your outcome-driven will, or some aspect of it, isn’t serving you at this point, at least, not for this.

    That is the the very thing your thoughts helped me determine, although your framing of it in this way helps even more.

    But maybe in the case of your writing or your level of awareness and engagement, you’ve outgrown your outcome-driven will.

    Let me turn the course of comments back to Mormon arts. I am actually more of a filmmaker than a writer in the literary sense, although that field certainly does require some writing and I have and am engaged in some writing projects. Just as your voices are well suited to your poetry and other writing, my visions are well suited to the filmmaker’s need for audio/visual detail and acuity. Whether the events in them are significant or not, they are my most defined experiences in terms of the detail of my memory of them. I can reconstruct them in my mind as though I were living them again, and this helps me in my work. I cannot always do that with ordinary memories. My visions and dreams – along with some childhood memories – are my clearest realities.

    So you could say that my visions help me find my language in exactly the same ways that your voices help you find yours. I’m not sure how the fact that I see real future events impacts this language, but I need to give it some thought. I wonder at times if this is among the advantages enjoyed by many artists who are blessed with the gift of the Holy Ghost – or at least if it happens to us more commonly than in the world, speaking generally. You understand that I don’t mean visions and voices exclusively, but I mean some spiritual, revelatory aid, suited to the individual, that is made more accessible by communion with the Godhead.

    I know President Kimball was convinced that such communion would aid the artist dramatically. Perhaps these things we discuss are manifestations of that.

  22. #24, Adam:

    Just as your voices are well suited to your poetry and other writing, my visions are well suited to the filmmaker’s need for audio/visual detail and acuity.

    You seem to be raising questions of form here. Does outcome-driven will = vision = form? Or is it vision = outcome-driven will = form?

    So you could say that my visions help me find my language in exactly the same ways that your voices help you find yours.

    The voices/visions/brain bolts aren’t the only way I find better (that’s what I’m after) language.

    Critical thought — reasoning — is another. Practicing the discipline of form falls into this category.

    Garden variety wonder — experiencing surprise, awe, or astonishment — catches my attention more often than brain flashes do and may ignite inspiration and give rise to new language.

    Etc.

    But I get what you’re saying. Your answer to my wondering whether you’ve outgrown your outcome-driven will is “No, I don’t think so.”

    There are a great many kinds of minds in this world, including male minds and female minds.

  23. Patricia (#25),

    I don’t think we’re understanding each other. At least, that’s what your response seems to indicate to me because I don’t understand it. You seem to have read a great deal into what I intended to write, which was relatively simple and meant for a face-value interpretation. This is probably due to my own weaknesses in expression.

    For example:

    You seem to be raising questions of form here.

    I was actually raising questions of blessedness. I wanted to rejoice with you in the similar yet individually relevant ways we have each been blessed.

    As far as my answer to your question about whether I had let go of outcome, I was only answering your questions about what had actually occurred up to the moment of writing. I wasn’t including current intentions about outcome-driven will in my equation at all with the comments you referenced, neither was I implying that your voices and other phenomena are your only sources of improvement nor that my visions are mine – only valuable ones. I addressed them specifically because you did in your original post.

    The thing that confuses me most is this:

    There are a great many kinds of minds in this world, including male minds and female minds.

    I don’t know where that came from. I certainly hope you don’t think I was arguing or assuming otherwise.

    The thing that worries me most is the thought that I may have offended you in some way. Perhaps this is only me reading too much into your words, though. If I have, I’m sorry.

    I do see your point about form (for the record), but again, I didn’t mean to argue either of the options you propose.

  24. No no! No offense. That last bit about male and female minds was a joke. Guess I should have added a smiley face or something.

    I asked the questions I did because I was trying to understand, because I recognize our languages are quite different.

    I’m just trying to learn your language, and learning someone’s language takes a bit of work and time.

    So this is where I think I have learned so far:

    You were not raising questions of form, you were acknowledging gifts, different in kind but similar in effectuality. Is that close?

    Regarding my question about outcome-driven will: Maybe not a question relevant to your points. I’ll drop it if you will.:) 🙂 😉

    Regarding my point about my other sources of improvement. You used the word “exactly”: “So you could say that my visions help me find my language in exactly the same ways that your voices help you find yours.”

    I’m not sure that’s true. I don’t know you well enough to say. So I pushed a bit on that word “exactly.” In response you explained more, but still I don’t have enough to agree with you on that “exactly.”

    That’s all.

    My responses were short (in length) because I wanted to keep things as simple as possible as I tried to understand.

    Thanks for your concern and patience, but don’t worry. If you haven’t decided it’s impossible, keep talking and give it time — give me time — to learn.

  25. .

    Patricia, re: #23 — I’m confused, was this a joke? I thought the poem matched quite nicely the quoted comment excerpt and offered a nice way to look at the same argument. I didn’t think the poem was that great (but we can blame that on the translator if we like), but the concept behind it was sound.

    I’ve often jokingly said the doctrine of the Trinity + John 17:20 = Nirvana, but Zion is a single unit, so metaphors like Nirvana have some usefulness to us, even if we are on individual paths to exaltation.

  26. Th.

    Judging from your comment and Adam’s, the four hours of sleep I got last night were not enough.

    Yes, it was a joke, one I reserve the right to make.

    Just because two statements look similar or appear to match quite nicely, as you said, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they do. The quoted statement and the poem might actually represent two distinctly different ways of approaching relation, in spite of the fact the poem could be read to suggest that they can’t be.

    The jury is still out for me on whether the poem and the quoted passage fit as well as they seem to. Until that jury
    comes back, I prefer to keep some distance between the two ideas. Hence, the joke.

  27. Th.,

    If you didn’t like the poetry, bless the translator. The original Sanskrit was more a capture of an oral philosophical argument tradition than a poetic form, but it laid claim to both. The poetic form gives the argument a shape and structure that allows us as Westerners to parse it slowly and, to the extent not impossible, make sense of it.

    I read PGK’s response as a parry rather than a disagreement. She was saying, “Nope, that isn’t a full-blooded response, and you know it.”

    And she was right, I did.

    But sometimes, it’s easier to start something difficult with a move oblique to the target, than directly toward the heart.

  28. I read PGK’s response as a parry rather than a disagreement. She was saying, “Nope, that isn’t a full-blooded response, and you know it.”

    Right on, greenfrog.

  29. Patricia (#27),

    Thanks for the clarification. I like to think that I have a knack for understanding people’s intentions, but it seems that you and I come from different enough worlds that my knack is somewhat jilted. This should be fun. 🙂

    This comment: You were not raising questions of form, you were acknowledging gifts, different in kind but similar in effectuality, is right in its essence. I would only say that I was casting the gifts in question as of the same type – that type being spiritual communications in the respective languages of our chosen art forms. But the main point was that mine is as effectual in helping me do what I do as yours seems to be for what you do, so your way of framing it is just as good for me.

    The outcome-driven will was relevant to some of my comments, but not the ones you selected. We seem to among be blind men (or women :)) of Industan on that point. I agree that we should drop it. At least for now.

    “Exactly” does seem like a strong word. Let me give you the context of the sentence as I meant it. I said “So you could say that my visions help me find my language in exactly the same ways that your voices help you find yours.” That first phrase (up through “say”) is my way of saying “in one sense,” or “from a very specific perspective.” That’s the same perspective that I described above, in which our gifts are of the same relative, respective type, though there are differences of administration. That might have been slightly redundant.

    I don’t lose patience so easily, so don’t worry. I’m as eager to work towards Zion in language (how’s that for a context-laden clause?) as you are.

    BTW: One of my favorite quotes, though I don’t know the author is this:

    He who takes offense when offense is not intended is a fool. He who takes offense when offense is intended is usually a fool.

    I’m glad you didn’t take offense. 🙂

  30. #34, Th.

    Notice, if you please, how quickly greenfrog’s language shifts from

    “Ooommm”

    to

    “En garde!”

    When he starts oozing his Buddhist charm, it’s time to take a few quick steps backward.

  31. #35, Adam:

    But the main point was that mine is as effectual in helping me do what I do as yours seems to be for what you do, so your way of framing it is just as good for me.

    This shows progress. It’s a good place to settle for the time being.

    I agree that we should drop it. At least for now.

    Ah! Thank you!

    That’s the same perspective that I described above, in which our gifts are of the same relative, respective type, though there are differences of administration.

    I appreciate the “You’re good enough for me to consider you at least as good as I am though different from me” sentiment. But you’re still making an assertion based on too little evidence.

    The statement requires concrete, on-point examples to support it. But you’re stuck, I think, because as I said, we don’t know each other at all. From whence would you draw such supportive evidence?

    Time and continued exchanges of language.

    And no, I’m not offended. You guys are just forcing me into sheer analytical mode:

    your way of framing

    Always with the hammers. *sigh*

  32. Patricia (#38),

    The parts of my comments you respond to specifically always surprise me (pleasantly). I was right: this is fun – and good for me.

    You’re good enough for me to consider you at least as good as I am though different from me.

    I don’t consider myself nearly as good at self expression as I consider you, for what it’s worth. But that may not have been what you meant.

    From whence would you draw such supportive evidence?

    Assumption. Opinion. Hopefully not totally unfounded. I have read your other posts and comments, if I haven’t responded to them, and I daresay you’ve read at least some of my comments. I’m not claiming to have the best foundation. I’ve never tried to assert my opinions as facts. Sorry if it seems that way. If we disallowed all assumption and opinion no one would ever communicate anything other than “what do you mean by that?” without 10 years of study and interaction first (exaggeration, perhaps).

    Always with the hammers.

    I said “your way of framing” because you said it that way. It seemed accurate.

    Having said that, I do acknowledge my tendency to use words like cannonballs. I’ve written about that tendency elsewhere online, though I can’t remember exactly where. The essence of it is that it comes from my belief in truth and a sort of “to thine own self be true” philosophy where I say what I mean in the words I think are best to express that meaning in purity as I see it – often regardless of how others may interpret. I’m more concerned with accurately representing my thoughts as I understand them than with catering to others’ understanding. I don’t see how I can, since everyone comes with unique prejudices and I can’t possibly (as you point out, I think) know ahead of time what those are. Naturally, my biggest frustration in communication is being misunderstood. I’ve softened somewhat over the years (because I have so many behind me :)), but the tendency is still there. I’m not trying to justify or apologize for it, just dissect it a little in the hopes of increasing understanding. Yes, I do see the irony/paradox in that, and I think it’s appropriate.

    Anyway, do not my assertions give us material for developing understanding?

  33. Naturally, my biggest frustration in communication is being misunderstood.

    My biggest frustration in communication is misunderstanding. I’m not nearly as concerned about being understood. Let people make something of what I say in accordance to their inclinations and needs. (Within reason!)

    Anyway, do not my assertions give us material for developing understanding?

    Yes, indeed, Adam. I will be going over your words again and again in my course of study.

    Thank you for entering into the spirit of this conversation.

  34. Patricia,
    Thanks for writing this. I’ve been working on coming to peace with the way my brain and my personality work, and your perspective and experiences rendered in such delicious language are helpful to me.

  35. Katherine, I’m so glad they were helpful. Thank you for commenting.

  36. Patricia (#40),

    Let people make something of what I say in accordance to their inclinations and needs. (Within reason!)

    Agreed. My frustration comes in when the responses to my language indicate that the way in which I’m being understood is causing harm. I say that it’s natural because it seems to be a natural outgrowth of not trying to tailor my language to others’ understanding. But as I said before, how can I?

    Thank you for entering into the spirit of this conversation.

    I’m not sure how to respond. I never meant to do otherwise, but I don’t know that you’re implying that. Thank you for starting it with your excellent post.

    As I’ve been thinking about it, this seems to be the way things have played out:

    You took a self-acknowledged risk by posting about something very personal. That post struck a chord with me, and I responded out of gratitude, taking what I viewed as a similar risk. The ensuing discussion revealed a number of differences in our language, if not in our thinking, which we are now trying to comprehend and/or compensate for. This experience has been instructive and enriching, and I value it. I look forward to continued interactions with you. I think our discussion has value within the scope of AMV as well, for could it not be said that it is about how we, as artists, relate to ourselves, our work, each other, our audiences, and our God? I do apologize for hijacking the comments, though.

  37. “Samuel”

    “Samuel”

    “Samuel”

    “Speak, for thy servant heareth.”

    Evocative. Invocations. Hearing voices.

    * * *

    I lie still, awaiting sleep.

    “Sean”

    “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean” “Sean”

    Three, seven, a dozen, three dozen different voices. All calling my name, talking over each other, demanding, summoning, requiring, conjuring, invoking.

    * * *

    MRI scans of the brains of advanced Zen practitioners in meditation, the news reports, do not respond to repeating stimuli as most brains do, by accustoming and then becoming unaware of them. They don’t get used to the sound of the washing machine churning. They hear it anew in each moment.

    I wonder if they’d hear the voices all the time.

    But, in the end, I’ve never complained about the cacophonous Sean-ing. Those voices don’t tell me to drive across medians and into on-coming traffic. They don’t scream at me.

    My sister’s voices did.

    * * *

    The ninety minutes of yoga practice now done, I lie in corpse pose. Death after life. I’m drenched in sweat, but the room is hot enough to be comfortable. Breath enters and leaves. My mind quiets, settling deeper than my skin, than the bones and muscle. Day-thoughts sink below the horizon, and in the darkness of their absence other, less garish shapes and colors emerge. More sinewous than dreams, quieter than consciousness, substrates, perhaps.

    An asphalt square, surrounded by graffiti-ed walls of tenements. The yard is empty of all save this, in the center: a narrow tower of white-hot fire that rises from beneath the pavement and reaches beyond sight; and this: the tower, pillar if you will, earth-to-sky is wrapped and confined in chain-linked fencing.

    * * *

    Hypnagogia (Greek ὕπνος, húpnos “sleep” + the root found in ἄγω, ágō “to lead away, conduct, convey”, ἀγωγεύς, agōgeús “conveyor”, ἀγωγή, agōgḗ “abduction, transport, leading away” etc.)”¦ Gurstelle and Oliveira distinguish a state which they call daytime parahypnagogia (DPH), the spontaneous intrusion of a flash image or dreamlike thought or insight into one’s waking consciousness.

    * * *

    For reasons I’m not clear about (sounds like a line from a Poe narrator, doesn’t it?), I distrusted such events. They seemed to me to come from far outside the predicted path of my spiritual entrainment, wild seeds wind-blown into a 4000 acre field of monoculture Du Pont Pioneer 39N98 corn. They were so accessible and so uncontrolled. Most of me thought of them as brain peculiarities. Just what happens when a brain gets snagged on the barbed wire fence between wakefulness and sleep.

    But chain-linked fencing? It was impossible not to see layers of meaning, even as I considered the event a random firing of a hypnagogic mind.

    It took a long bit of extricating me from my context before I allowed myself to consciously acknowledge them as visions. I’d wanted God to be profoundly Other. I’d wanted vision to be beyond experience. It seemed to me heretical (or perhaps blasphemous in an inoffensive sort of way) to think of God as the existence I in part existed, to think of visions as what I’d see when I closed my eyes at the end of a yoga practice.

    To this day, I’m not sure whether I’ve now got it right or profoundly wrong.

    The visions are of towers of fire, gigantic eggs, potential-filled voids, scarecrows, silent and happy Buddhas, fathers and sons, self-less-ness, dancers (and writers like Nagarjuna, even). Once I acknowledged the visions I’d seen, I saw more in more settings. The visions I see ““ sometimes in the deep quiet of yoga, sometimes during yard work, sometimes in meditation, sometimes in litigation settlement negotiations ““ they don’t feel like something other than existence manifesting itself in awareness.

    * * *

    Now as night winds carry their wild seed to my awareness, I give them space in my garden, and I watch as they grow and I grow and we grow together twined, tensioned, defined. They and I are not separate, nor undivided. I am because they are. As I am with you, because you are with me.

  38. Thanks, greenfrog. That was an interesting journey to go on, too. Felt like a readable yoga session. Enjoyed that.

  39. #43 Adam:

    I say that it’s natural because it seems to be a natural outgrowth of not trying to tailor my language to others’ understanding. But as I said before, how can I?

    This point in your language very possibly marks another strong difference between us, Adam. I do tailor my language to others’ understanding, or at least, I try to arrange my language so that as many people as possible in a given audience might approach it. Yet, your question “how can I?” is a good one that I entertain at every turn (of phrase).

    I’ll guess that the way we ask that question differs importantly. Probably in that question, in the two distinct ways we ask it, we could find the heart of another conversation.

    What a fantastic world that has such rhetorical moments in it, like identical twin questions. But place the question in one context, it means one thing; ask it in other circumstances, it means differently. Same words, different questions. Fun!

    I think our discussion has value within the scope of AMV as well, for could it not be said that it is about how we, as artists, relate to ourselves, our work, each other, our audiences, and our God?

    Another fair question. I agree that AMV provides good ground for artists to engage each other, their audiences, and God’s intentions.

    I’m a little fuzzy, though, on how artists might relate to themselves here.

    Your meaning …?

  40. #47, greenfrog:

    I tend not to think of myself as much of a writer, but rather someone who likes writing.

    Writing likes you, too. That’ll get you in the door.

  41. Patricia (#48),

    Your meaning “¦?

    Sorry, I was unclear. What I mean is that our discussion has been about how artists relate to themselves (i.e., how our own unique languages impact our work in our various fields). I think you can find artists on AMV engaged in self-exploration, particularly in the posts. Sometimes we need to see others’ responses to our work in order to better understand ourselves.

    I try to arrange my language so that as many people as possible in a given audience might approach it.

    This statement is instructive when juxtaposed with this one from #40:

    I’m not nearly as concerned about being understood. Let people make something of what I say in accordance to their inclinations and needs.

    I’m not seeing inconsistency here, but I am seeing a healthy paradox. You seem to be saying that you choose your words so as to make your meaning accessible through them to the maximum number of people. And yet you personally are more concerned with getting an accurate reading of what comes from the other side of the conversation. It’s not as important that your words mean the same thing to others that they do to you so long as they are helpful in some way. Is that right?

    I’m reminded of what I said earlier about how I get frustrated with not being understood. I want people to be able to understand me, as you seem to be saying that you do. But I am more concerned with being true to the idea I’m expressing according to my understanding of it. I guess it’s not so much linguistic approachability as it is idealogical accuracy.

  42. It’s not as important that your words mean the same thing to others that they do to you so long as they are helpful in some way. Is that right?

    Well, yes, although I have certainly seen cases where my words, helpful to some, were bothersome and unhelpful to others. That kind of sums up my experience in the bloggernacle, and any number of reasons might account for that.

    I have great faith in people and in language, or rather, an ironic optimism about it all. Just for fun, I’d like to try out a metaphor.

    Creative thought — let’s say “intelligence” — can be like light. Mormons certainly have the scriptural support to back up the idea that intelligence can be light.

    So maybe a person’s intelligence, entering language, can behave similarly to how light behaves when it passes through water, facetted glass, or what have you. Depending on where people are standing, when the light or intelligence of an other passes through language and angles in to audience members’ minds [their own history, their own language skills, etc.], they’ll see different colors or different aspects of spectral phenomena.

    I’m not asserting this metaphor, just playing with it, turning it this way and that.

    Me, when I’m looking at someone’s language, I feel the urge to go on the move and change the angles, see what else flashes up. I guess you could say that language is a journey for me, not a destination. I want to get as much out of another’s words as I possibly can, given the time and amount of exposure available, my own intelligence, and, of course, the circumstances or context. Sometimes I fail. That frustrates me, I immediately want to figure out where I went wrong and learn better. However it plays out, I always look forward to seeing more at the next opportunity.

    I want people to be able to understand me, as you seem to be saying that you do. But I am more concerned with being true to the idea I’m expressing according to my understanding of it. I guess it’s not so much linguistic approachability as it is idealogical accuracy.

    You: You seem to be saying you want people to be able to understand you.

    Me: Not necessarily. I’m perfectly content with happy misunderstandings, if they come to something, some good meaning or hale event, including ones that lie outside the situation’s visible spectrum.

    You: I’m more concerned [implied: than you are?] with being true to the idea I’m expressing according to my understanding of it.

    Me: Can’t see a problem with that. Do you expect your audience to be true to it, too?

    Adam, I found your language above much easier to get through. Thanks for making yourself more clear to me.

  43. Patricia,

    I’d like to just say that I particularly appreciated the following (from your original post):

    “I finally developed a simple touchstone for testing the quality of a situation: If the new thought, event, question, association led me deeper into happy community with my fellow beings, then it was good–pursue it. If the new circumstances led me away from people I loved or who loved me, or even from human society in general toward isolation or abandonment, then all engines reverse full.”

    I think that all of us need touchstones (guidelines, lifelines, algorithms, tethers, what have you) for dealing with the particular gifts we’re given in ways that don’t lead us off track. This is especially the case once we push off into those gifts that are peculiarly, and perhaps dangerously, individual.

  44. #52, Jonathan:

    This is especially the case once we push off into those gifts that are peculiarly, and perhaps dangerously, individual.

    The idea that there are dangerously individual gifts intrigues me. How do you get one of those? Beat the devil at thumbwrestling? 😉

    Oh yeah, there’s at least one good classical example of a peculiar, dangerously individual gift: Midas’ touch, one of those blessings that’s a curse deals. Of course, in this case, Midas asked for the gift, and Dionysus let him have it, making Midas a hazard to everybody, himself included.

    What I’m actually wondering is, in today’s mythos, what does it mean that a gift is peculiarly, perhaps dangerously individual?

  45. As I think about the exchange between Patricia and Adam, it occurs to me that textual exchanges (in whatever form) are dances at two different levels.

    At the first is the creation sequence of a text. The author works with whatever intention leads to the formation of the text. For me, it often starts for a variety of reasons, but the initial intention often gives way to a kind of dual-mode experience where subconscious intention and conscious intention twine together, the former giving shape and power, the latter holding the reins of an animal it barely knows.

    Once a text exists, things get really interesting, as Patricia has described nicely; a mind can engage with a text from angle after angle, posture after posture, embrace after embrace. And not only do we discover various kinds of information from those various stances, we change ourselves as we explore it.

    And then the mind encountering the text sometimes releases its insistence on dominion and begins to perceive not just a text, but a soul. I don’t have exactly the right preposition to connect soul and text, but I’m open to suggestions.

    At any rate, when the perception of a soul begins, it elaborates exponentially the dynamics of the back-and-forth-and-in-and-out-and-over-and-under-and-before-and-behind dance of exchanging texts with another being. When both are aware of the other, language (or whatever other medium allows the seeing-through) becomes more than an interface, melding with the subjects themselves.

  46. “How do you get one of those?”

    I got mine at midnight at the crossroads.

  47. greenfrog, the time’s come.

    #44: To this day, I’m not sure whether I’ve now got it right or profoundly wrong.

    Knowing that you might have shifted thinking by now on this point, I’d still like to propose a BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious), a third possibility — you’re both, right and profoundly wrong.

    Of course, I can’t know and in some ways am not interested in knowing whether you’re this or that. We engage easily without knowing and I have what might be called a perfect faith in the creative energy in your language. I just see this other possibility, given your words.

    Also, I suppose I see it because in that current that’s the eternal ironic tension between what we think is and what actually is, I go a-swimmin’. It’s a bracing current, where I’m always wrong. For me, the point is to become less wrong. Less wrong than what? Less wrong in comparison to what actually is, which might very well be in the same condition of unfolding? Even if it’s not, even if Creation and the Creator are at rest in an eternal seventh day, an eternal sabbath, the task is daunting.

    To keep it simple: The point for me is to become less wrong than I am.

    I’m going to break this comment up so we don’t have a river of words running down the page.

  48. #56, Wm.

    I got mine at midnight at the crossroads.

    Wm, you disappoint me. That’s so retro.

  49. #54, greenfrog (everybody else look away or put on sunglasses ;)):

    There’s so much in this comment that sparks response. Let’s see where it takes us.

    At the first is the creation sequence of a text. The author works with whatever intention leads to the formation of the text.

    If we grant that text = effectual creative action and not mere captured or preserved thought, then we’re dancing (as opposed to, say, fencing, or having in a snowball fight). Not that we have to dance all the time!

    Or maybe we do.

    For me, it often starts for a variety of reasons, but the initial intention often gives way to a kind of dual-mode experience where subconscious intention and conscious intention twine together, the former giving shape and power, the latter holding the reins of an animal it barely knows.

    Anybody else see what I see? This looks to me to be the pillar of fire. I can see it as clearly in these words as I can when I reflect back on my “vision” or imagine yours.

    Mine:
    Right of center stood a column of fire, slender and straight like an aspen tree, bright yellow flames wrapping tightly against its segmented core, driving upward in a spiral of combustion. …out from the pillar’s base something moved, some kind of backfire maybe, a small flame, so hot it burned clear, yet I could detect it. Animated with intention, it circled the pillar, forward and backward, encouraging the fire to burn more intensely while at the same time guiding its energy upward.

    I’ll leave the match-up in your vision(s) to you.

    Whew! Did you do that on purpose? Or were you (somewhat? mostly? completely?) unaware?

    Once a text exists, things get really interesting … a mind can engage with a text from angle after angle, posture after posture, embrace after embrace. And not only do we discover various kinds of information from those various stances, we change ourselves as we explore it.

    The phrase “change ourselves” is like one of those ice crystals lying on the surface of snow, catching morning light. You lean one way, it flashes pink/red. But change the angle of engagement by a few degrees, you see a beam of green/blue.

    In your context, “change ourselves” seems to flash brightest as an act of deliberate will, comparable to choosing new postions, embraces, etc. as we move around the language of a text. Is that right? If so, how do you know what to change yourself to?

    And then the mind encountering the text sometimes releases its insistence on dominion and begins to perceive not just a text, but a soul.

    We’ve spoken of this “soul” in other places as “presence.” But in most ways, these ideas about perception of an other through their words are as new to me as they are to you. I admit, however, that my questions have arisen in me because of our exchanges throughout the bloggernacle. Now that I have the questions, I’m looking for the broader possibilities where laying out language for an audience is concerned.

    The phrase “insistence on dominion” is very interesting, seems to come right out of your Manifest Destiny file. That you should make the leap between your developed ideas about the nature and effects of Manifest Destiny on exchanges of text gives me joy.

    At any rate, when the perception of a soul begins, it elaborates exponentially the dynamics of the back-and-forth-and-in-and-out-and-over-and-under-and-before-and-behind dance of exchanging texts with another being. When both are aware of the other, language (or whatever other medium allows the seeing-through) becomes more than an interface, melding with the subjects themselves.

    I like the word “interface” as a word marking that zone of first or early contact, yet as a rule (and in accord with your “always seeing the same thing anew” ideas) the interface zone never becomes a domesticated space, no matter how frequent the encounters. “Meld”–I’d have to pull that apart a little to see what’s going on in your mind with this word.

    But not now. Right now, I just want to say, Wow. You’re moving fast. And I’m pretty sure I just heard the music of the celestial spheres pick up the pace. 🙂

  50. #59 Wm:

    It’s not retro — it’s classic.

    In your case, it’s both. 😉

  51. Not that we have to dance all the time!

    Or maybe we do.

    Only for so long as elegance appeals.

    Whew! Did you do that on purpose? Or were you (somewhat? mostly? completely?) unaware?

    Unaware.

    The phrase “change ourselves” is like one of those ice crystals lying on the surface of snow, catching morning light. You lean one way, it flashes pink/red. But change the angle of engagement by a few degrees, you see a beam of green/blue.

    In your context, “change ourselves” seems to flash brightest as an act of deliberate will, comparable to choosing new postions, embraces, etc. as we move around the language of a text. Is that right? If so, how do you know what to change yourself to?

    Curiosity and love keep one working. Are they deliberate? They seem to me entirely liberate. But there is an autonomic quality to them — like breathing. When I attend to them, I can curtail or formulate their application, but their default setting is “on.”

    We’ve spoken of this “soul” in other places as “presence.”

    Yes. Some use “spirit,” as well, but that gets a bit confusing in an LDS context.

    But in most ways, these ideas about perception of an other through their words are as new to me as they are to you. I admit, however, that my questions have arisen in me because of our exchanges throughout the bloggernacle. Now that I have the questions, I’m looking for the broader possibilities where laying out language for an audience is concerned.

    It feels a bit ominous, perhaps only daunting beyond my capacities today, to think of widening such a dance. It seems to my one-you limited mind like it would border on chaos — rather like trying to solve a three-body problem in physics. Perhaps the only solutions are those that unfold.

    The phrase “insistence on dominion” is very interesting, seems to come right out of your Manifest Destiny file. That you should make the leap between your developed ideas about the nature and effects of Manifest Destiny on exchanges of text gives me joy.

    There is a kind of Manifesto to such thinking, isn’t there? Hadn’t seen that, either, though the phrase insisted on inclusion.

    I like the word “interface” as a word marking that zone of first or early contact, yet as a rule (and in accord with your “always seeing the same thing anew” ideas) the interface zone never becomes a domesticated space, no matter how frequent the encounters.

    Reading your comment connects me to a trilogy by Octavia Butler where she told stories about an alien species that at first inserted itself between males and females, and then facilitated their interaction and mating. The stories had a strong Eden structure to them. Reading your comment suggests to me that the aliens might be understood as a stand-in (*chuckle*) for language, which might make sense of some conceptions of our own Eden stories.

    One of our last nights in Costa Rica, my wife and I looked out the west-facing windows shortly after sunset and saw Jupiter, Venus, Mercury and Luna in a vertical line, pointing to the sun’s setting point. The spheres have always sung their music into the night.

  52. Fun responses all around, greenfrog.

    Me: Not that we have to dance all the time! Or maybe we do.

    You: Only so long as elegance appeals.

    Me: Or one of us can’t keep up. 😉

    I have this funny fantasy. People, our species, what have you, will move beyond its opposable thumbs fixation and the hard-edged urge to grasp and manipulate that comes with it, learning to engage the world more thoroughly by way of something like generous dancing (“”¦there is only the dance” — T.S. Eliot). Right now, we have just the thinnest gold leaf of creative intent gilding that hand-to-mouth device of ours.

    Me: In your context, “change ourselves” seems to flash brightest as an act of deliberate will, comparable to choosing new positions, embraces, etc. as we move around the language of a text. Is that right? If so, how do you know what to change yourself to?

    You: Curiosity and love keep one working. Are they deliberate? They seem to me entirely liberate. But there is an autonomic quality to them — like breathing. When I attend to them, I can curtail or formulate their application, but their default setting is “on.”

    Me: What an eloquent frog!

    I too often find myself at point C, after starting out from point A, sailing for point B. Is that liberation? The sailing itself is autonomic, as you say, but more often than not, arrivals dawn as bright surprises.

    Me: Now that I have the questions, I’m looking for the broader possibilities where laying out language for an audience is concerned.

    You: It feels a bit ominous, perhaps only daunting beyond my capacities today, to think of widening such a dance. It seems to my one-you limited mind like it would border on chaos — rather like trying to solve a three-body problem in physics. Perhaps the only solutions are those that unfold.

    Me: Nothing wrong with staying within your range of acceptable risk. I certainly do.

    But I have a thing for frontiers. From here, I can see a frontier in my thinking. I have to find out what’s there. It’s what I do, part of my solo dance.

    As for chaos, frontiers appear commonly to open onto chaos, the void.

    Me: I like the word “interface” as a word marking that zone of first or early contact, yet as a rule (and in accord with your “always seeing the same things anew” ideas) the interface zone never becomes a domesticated space, no matter how frequent the encounters.

    You: Reading your comment connects me to a trilogy by Octavia Butler where she told stories about an alien species that at first inserted itself between males and females, and then facilitated their interaction and mating. The stories had a strong Eden structure to them. Reading your comment suggests to me that the aliens might be understood as a stand-in (*chuckle*) for language, which might make sense of some conceptions of our own Eden stories.

    Me: LOL, what to do with this? Just enjoy your having said it, I guess.

    You: The spheres have always sung their music into the night.

    Me: You’re right, the spheres have always sung, night and day. But where the cosmic dance matters, what people do influences notes, rhythm, tempo. Likewise chords and sweeps of harmony play us.

    It seemed to me you performed a mental quick step, and for a moment, I thought I saw and heard the world speed up. Maybe you just made me dizzy.

  53. Thanks to everyone who has participated on this thread. I read many of the comments to my husband. He said that it was both reassuring and exciting to know that these old gifts, these deep stories, still abide with, as he put it, “our people.”

    I’ve said on other threads that “nobody does epic anymore.” After reading and responding to comments on this thread, I think now I was wrong. Several of you have provided evidence that the archetypal forms and connections to the divine that form the roots of our lives are alive and kicking. This means that “epic” remains an option! Way, way cool.

    This thread has run quite a distance and is probably winding down, but if anybody else has anything to say, feel free.

    Thanks again, folks. I feel properly schooled. What fun!

  54. Patricia, (#51)

    I couldn’t answer yesterday because I was filming all day. 24 hour marathon for the LDS Film Festival. Woo hoo!

    Anyway…

    I like your metaphor. Let me play with it, if you will. If we accept intelligence = light as a basic premise then we have to ask ourselves through what functionality this light is received. The eyes are the organs for perception of light in its visible form, and they are remarkable. For example, the human eye can detect a single photon, but only under the right conditions. Also, the eye perceives roughly twice as much detail in luminance as it does in chrominance (I promise that’s a real word). So, while the colors are exhilarating, the fineness is in the glory (brightness). I could go on about eyes for a while, but I’ll spare you.

    You: I’m more concerned [implied: than you are?] with being true to the idea I’m expressing according to my understanding of it.

    Try this: [implied: than I am with being perfectly understood by others]. I would never go by such an assumption about what you are concerned about most, especially after this discussion :).

    Do you expect your audience to be true to it, too?

    Not at all. I hope it can see what I’m saying for what it is, and I hope that if it responds to me (specifically in agreement or disagreement, rather than exploration) it will do so on the basis of that understanding, simply for the sake of mutual understanding, but I don’t hold any expectation that it will prefer my understanding or adopt it. In exploration, I rather hope that my audience will depart from my understanding at some point, just as I hope my understanding will be a living, changing thing.

    I’m perfectly content with happy misunderstandings, if they come to something, some good meaning or hale event, including ones that lie outside the situation’s visible spectrum.

    As am I, but it is not my intent to create them, which (as I see it) is the issue at stake.

  55. Hi Adam! Welcome back.

    Congratulations on what I imagine is the successful completion of a step in your project! Best to you on that.

    *** ***

    I like your metaphor. Let me play with it, if you will.

    That’s what I had in mind when I placed it between us.

    then we have to ask ourselves through what functionality this light is received. The eyes are the organs for perception of light in its visible form, and they are remarkable. For example, the human eye can detect a single photon, but only under the right conditions. Also, the eye perceives roughly twice as much detail in luminance as it does in chrominance (I promise that’s a real word). So, while the colors are exhilarating, the fineness is in the glory (brightness). I could go on about eyes for a while, but I’ll spare you.

    Okay, who are you really, and what have you done with Adam? 😉

    Were you talking down to me in your earlier comments? 😉 😉 😉

    Nice move, AKKF, whether or not we are inescapably compelled to “have to ask ourselves through what functionality this light is received.” That you did ask is where we are, and I like where you’ve taken this discussion.

    About this part: So, while the colors are exhilarating, the fineness is in the glory (brightness).

    No disagreement, though maybe I could expand a bit, as you’ve done.

    This a.m. I walked out over the snow, which has been melting for several days now. The snow’s surface was a-glitter, mostly sharp, broadly geometrically based flashes of white light, tiny panes of brilliance. In the past, when I walked along broad trails, color from flakes lying just ahead on the snow’s surface bombarded my brain through my eye, exciting deep pleasure.

    The surface ice has changed in most places so that the colors it throws aren’t as intense, though the brilliance of the white light remains impressive. Yet, I saw something today that affected me more deeply.

    Blue shadows lie on the sunless side of the juniper and pinyon pine trees common around here. In those shadows, where only splotches, smatterings, and particles of light make it through the branches, and where reflected light pinballs off surrounding lit surfaces, are hundreds of flashes, white glitz shining against shadowy blue background. Reminiscent of stars breaking through twilight.

    Beautiful. It called my attention to the shadows. But better still, at one point, looking into a shadow as I passed it, I saw more: At the edges of that particular juniper shadow, in the rays of some special angle, the most brilliant colorful display I’ve seen yet, whole sequences of visible spectrum flashing up, colors more full-bodied than I’ve met with out on the open trail where there are no shadows.

    Why more brilliant here, in this pocket of snow? Well, among other things, because of the bright, separated beams’ contrast with adjacent darker regions, at whose edges the light played with stunning commitment.

    You (and a bit of me): I’m more concerned [implied: than you are?] with being true to the idea I’m expressing according to my understanding of it.

    You: Try this: [implied: than I am with being perfectly understood by others]. I would never go by such an assumption about what you are concerned about most, especially after this discussion :).

    So what we have now is “Adam is more concerned with being true to the idea he’s expressing (according to his understanding of it) than Patricia is concerned with being perfectly understood by others.”

    It’s interesting. Mathematically intriguing. Logically wry. Fun.

    I hope it can see what I’m saying for what it is, and I hope that if it responds to me (specifically in agreement or disagreement, rather than exploration) it will do so on the basis of that understanding, simply for the sake of mutual understanding, but I don’t hold any expectation that it will prefer my understanding or adopt it. In exploration, I rather hope that my audience will depart from my understanding at some point, just as I hope my understanding will be a living, changing thing.

    Again, nice language, very clear, very concise! We begin to understand each other.

    Me: I’m perfectly content with happy misunderstandings, if they come to something, some good meaning or hale event, including ones that lie outside the situation’s visible spectrum.

    You: As am I, but it is not my intent to create them, which (as I see it) is the issue at stake.

    To invite understanding is to court misunderstanding. The creation of misundertanding might come as the result of intent, or it might happen as an accident. Either way, it is an outcome to be expected, so what should we make of it? Do we discard eisegesis, for instance, as the peelings of comprehension, bearing little or no value in comparison to the meat, core, and seeds of the original artistic intent? And what are we to make of the event where some misunderstanding creates in the mind of an audience member a flash of insight that exceeds the brilliance of the original source. Do we call that strange creature understanding or misunderstanding?

    When misunderstanding comes knocking at our door, rather than ignore it, avert our eyes, or bark, “I didn’t invite you,” turning it away as a ragged beggar, we ought to sit it down to dinner and see what meaning it brings to the table. After all, it has followed us home in response to our artistic intentions. Sometimes, it shows itself to be wisdom in tatters that has been living in the streets, seeking better circumstances just as intensely as anyone else — sometimes, out of dire need, with even greater earnestness than the well-heeled best intention.

    Heh, now look what you did, Adam. You made me go all allegorical. Don’t you just hate that?

    Bottom line: Don’t sell misunderstanding short. It might know better than you.

    Not that you do. Sell misunderstanding short, that is.

  56. I appreciate your confidence in my ability to sell misunderstanding, Patricia. 🙂

    I do have to try one more time at this, though:

    So what we have now is “Adam is more concerned with being true to the idea he’s expressing (according to his understanding of it) than Patricia is concerned with being perfectly understood by others.”

    Whether or not that’s what we have, I couldn’t say :), but what I meant was “Adam is more concerned with being true to the idea he’s expressing (according to his understanding of it) than Adam is concerned with being perfectly understood by others.”

    I meant to make no assumption about how concerned you were about anything in this comment.

    Congratulations on what I imagine is the successful completion of a step in your project! Best to you on that

    Thanks, but “successful” is such a subjective term…

    Re: light and such:

    I just woke up, blinking at the brilliance of your gleaming expression. Give me time for my eyes to adjust. 😉

  57. #69: Fixed. Open html I slammed shut.

    #70: “Adam is more concerned with being true to the idea he’s expressing (according to his understanding of it) than Adam is concerned with being perfectly understood by others.”

    I like mine better. 😉

    Don’t worry about picking back up with the light and such. This thread has stretched so far it’s starting to fray.

    But this has been a fun introduction to you Adam; many thanks for participating. And good luck with the FF.

  58. Fixed. Open html I slammed shut.

    Ouch! I think I caught my finger in that! Thanks, though. I seem to be getting sloppy.

    Don’t worry about picking back up with the light and such. This thread has stretched so far it’s starting to fray.

    Agreed. It’s time to let some other people get their names on the recent comments list. And it’s been fun for me too. Your thanks and kind wishes are accepted and returned in kind.

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