Sunday, April 19, 2020

The Listener

I’ve been exploring the mytho-poetic a little more lately, something I’ve been doing on and off for many years now. I found some old recordings I had of a story told in a lodge by a fire, back in 2010. Now it’s on the internet for everyone. If you’ve never heard anything like this, or even if you have, a good place to start is part 2 of 4 at 38 minutes or so. In the story, the hero, well, let’s call him the main character, has just killed a few people.

This raises a few questions. That’s the whole point of telling stories around fires, to raise questions, but this one needed to be addressed. Death in a sacred story is not like death in our real lives. There is one story teller in this recording, but there are a few people, men, on the stage (the bench as it is sometimes called), and they all chime in. I know all of them and have spent some very special times with each one of them, but I’ll leave all those stories until the Q & A session, which is anytime on this media. Tom Gambell talks about Ghandi, Martin Shaw talks about being pulled by different characters in the story. You could back up 5 minutes or so and hear Malidoma Somé talk about his initiation rituals in his tribe in Burkina Faso, . You get a nice overview of what this is about in a just a few minutes.

Then you can go back to part 1, or go back to 20 minutes before my mark above to get more of that, or whatever you want. If you don’t want to listen to the guys chatting, there are indices on each of the four YouTubes and you can just hear the story. Won’t take long. There was no video of the conference, but someone added images. They are quite beautiful. You’ll see the room in some of the pictures. It’s a big room with just a few mics, but the sound was edited and most of it is clear, especially the story telling parts.

Stories like this are not usually on the internet. There aren’t many like it left and in 2010 we were not planning on making this something publicly available. We didn’t do it to sell some albums or get people to join our merry band. It’s kind of intimate. This isn’t entertainment, although there's nothing wrong with being entertained by it. My voice is in there and if I knew you’d be listening to it now, I might have said something different. But, times change, words sometimes need to be heard first one way, then another.

These stories are the stories that we need now. I’d go so far as to say when they were heard long ago, they weren’t completely understood. Maybe they aren’t understood much better now. But they need to be grappled with, talked about, told to the younger ones and see if they can do something with them. Love of these stories is love of the earth and love for each other and for people who are not yet born.

Malidoma says, you don’t know where you are going to end up when you go through an initiation story, but once you decide to go, keep going. As his elders told him, “You go backwards, you die, you go forward you die, so, what the hell, go forward and die”. There are at least two meanings of “die” here. We’re all going to die someday, so you might as well keep growing and learning as much as you can. The other meaning is initiation, the transition from child to adult, from the safety of the village to the unknown risks outside out of it. A part of you may need to die so you can survive that transition.

The other thing to know, this was the year of the Minnesota Men’s Conference when Robert Bly, the guy who started it, stepped aside. This is the story that was being told while he stood in the back of the room. On one of the nights, he said goodbye, we sang a few songs, and he went off to be part of some other stories.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Dave and Suzanne and Deanna and Riker


While stopping for lunch, the edge of a book can be seen in Dave’s bag. Suzanne grabs it. Dave’s reaction?
S: Sooooo, what are you reading?
The book is Star Trek, Imzadi
S: I didn’t know anyone actually read these.
D: I needed something for a rainy day, since I thought I’d be alone.
S: Yeah, so, I don’t remember any rain yesterday and your bookmark is on page 57.
D: Okay, so I like Star Trek, I think I mentioned that. This story revolves around one of the most famous episodes from the first series where they find a time portal (The Guardian of Forever) and accidentally change everything so they are stuck on this planet and Kirk and Spock have to correct it…”. Dave was starting to run out of breath as he spoke. 
S: Suzanne saved him,“So, if everything changed”, Suzanne stretches out that last word with rising and lowering tones and makes exaggerated hand motions creating the wavy effect from old television shows used to indicate a flashback or alternate timeline. Or maybe she was creating some sort of butterfly effect with that hand waving. Then quickly asking, “how did they still exist?
D: “Because they are the stars of the show, you can’t make your stars disappear, there would be no show.” Pleased at his own cleverness, he couldn’t hold back a half smile.
S: Suzanne needed a moment to process the shift from nerd to joker, and whether or not that was a shift, “No, I mean really”.
D: “Well, ‘really’”, Dave’s elbows moved slightly but he suppressed the air quotes, “they were standing near the time portal and Dr. McCoy just jumped through, he had some kind of fever that was making him not think straight, so, anyway, they weren’t affected because they were in the proximity of the portal. It made ripples in time, and they were at the center of that ripple.” His hands were moving this way and that until he noticed them like a baby finding his toes for the first time, “Anyway, it wouldn’t be a very good time portal if you could go back in time and make the time portal not exist would it?”
S: “I guess not. So does this book explain all that? Isn’t this the one where Shatner says “hell”? They just leave at the end right? Do they just leave something that powerful laying around?”
D: “Wow, you sure you aren’t a geek? I used to have conversations like this that went on for hours. No, or, um yes.” Shaking his head to get the scramble of questions sorted out, “yes, the book explains it. They set up a whole institute around it. They are still trying to figure the thing out in this book. It’s a talking time portal, but it just says profound sounding things that don’t make much sense, like, “all is as it was”, but doesn’t tell you what “was” should be or whether or not you’re currently on the correct “is”.
S: “Okay, I’m good.” A final wave of one hand swept away all those timelines. “This is why I’m not a Trekkie.”
D: We prefer “Trekkor”. Having practiced that clever line many times, he puts on a somewhat indignant face and remembers to raise one eyebrow in classic Leonard Nimoy fashion. He sees he has really stumped Suzanne this time. Is he a geek, or nerd, or just playing around? It’s his turn to break the silence. He chuckles, “I really don’t care. Maybe I did at one time. And before you ask, I do not have any costumes and I never dressed up as any of these characters. Am I stepping out of some intellectual closet here? This is a book, I read, there I feel better.“
That last bit quotes the comedian Bill Hicks, from the same bit that Suzanne and the waitress had their inside joke about earlier. Suzanne, relieved, she sighs with a smile then draws it back in with a snap as she realizes Dave knew the joke all along and was playing her.
S: “I’m glad you got the Bill Hicks reference this morning. But really why this book? What are you reading this particular book for?”
D: “I figured if you knew Bill well enough to use one of his punch lines, we’d probably get along. After the “geek” remark, I was having doubts.”
“Really, it’s light reading. I already know the characters before I even started it. The title is an affectionate name Riker uses for Troy, and this goes into detail about where that came from. The time travel stuff is just fun to think about, it’s how the people react to it and how it can play with alternate possible outcomes of their lives. This story starts out with Troy dead, but they find out that is the altered timeline. Riker sort of brings her back to life by fixing the timeline.”
S: Okay, slow down. Troi, she’s the one in the mini skirt, right? The one who can read minds?
D: Well, we’ve got a long day here. I don’t want to be the guy who recounts Star Trek episodes and explains costume choices or the difference between mind reading and empathic abilities.
S: But you could.
D:” I could”, he said as if he had glasses and was looking over them.
S: So you believe in alternate universes?
D: I don’t believe in much, just trying to get by like everyone else. It doesn’t matter anymore now anyway, does it? They tell us we were getting close to figuring that out for ourselves, that the multi-verse theory was the right one. What I believe is not going to change that.

Suzanne sees some defeat; he’s hanging his head, lost in some sad story. The place they stopped has a bike repair station and weather information (shouldn’t weather be on her phone? Maybe this is better somehow, or not everyone has a phone). She checks the weather and reports it. 

(Around midday the next day, while they are riding)

S: So you learning anything more from Imzadi what’s her name?
D: It’s Deanna Troi.
S: Sorry.
D: And it’s not clear who is learning from whom, that’s what I like about it. Riker is a bit of a misogynist, but gets on Troi’s case because she spends too much time studying psychology but doesn’t know how to go with her feelings.
S: “I remember she was a bit stiff.” She gives Dave a sideways glance as she realizes she admitted she’s watch the show, “The one or two times I saw her.”
D: “Riiight. I don’t know if Riker really wins the argument. He’s the puppy sniffing after her and she plays it cool.”
S: So, how did they meet?
D: At a wedding. One of those things about Star Trek that bothered me, every planet has some sort of wedding ceremony, similar to ours, everyone has laptop computers, everyone has starship captains.
S: Everyone has 4 fingers and a thumb.
D: Well, yeah, but at least on earth, that’s a common trait across all large mammals, so that could be something you could say evolution would produce even in different conditions.
S: What? What do you mean? Whales have fins.
D: Yes, but the bones in those fins look a lot like our hands.
S: Alright, well I won’t bother going down that road.
                Some thoughts
S: So, but, I mean, if you don’t mind.
D: That’s okay, We’ve got time.
S: Yeah, you know, is that it?
D: “I think I do know. But can you be more specific than ‘it’?”
S: Well, is that it? Evolution? Just the will to survive? You’ve got science and science fiction. Then you die?
D: No. You’ve only known me for one day. There’s Job for instance.
S: Old Testament Job?
D: Yeah. God said to him (Joe Pesci voice), “You think you know me? You don’t know me. You know nuthin’ about me.”
S: Is that what he said? I don’t think he said that.
D: Maybe not exactly, but I look at this ridiculous, flawed body, and this brain that is designed mostly for procreating. That all came from millions of years of being an animal out in some plain somewhere in Africa. Then I look up, and my Dad could do this, he could point to a star and tell you how far away it was and say something about photons from it hitting his eye. Then he’d go on about the eye, how it evolved from early animals and the animals came from vegetables before that. All of that had to happen for him and I to be there, enjoying that moment. That’s the universe asking ‘you think you know me?’ (Not quite as much Joe Pesci voice this time)
S: Right, right, doesn’t that make you a little sad, or feel small?
D: No, my answer is, I am all that.
S: Which? The universe or God?
D: Dave looked away to collect his thoughts. Suzanne only had the back of his head to work with, is he just looking at a bird over there, or is he gritting his teeth? What he wanted to do was change the subject, “So, the wedding, did I tell you about the part where they are naked?”
S: What, the bride and groom? No, are you going to tell me about the sex scene?
D: No. Troi and Riker.
S: So, they meet at a wedding then they go get naked?
D: “Noooo.” Dave was enjoying that he had her on the ropes,  “Everyone at the wedding is naked. That’s how they do weddings on her planet. It’s symbolic about not hiding anything or something like that.”
S: Oh, sounds like something my mother would do.
D: “Exactly what I was thinking. Riker, the first time he lays eyes on Troi, she is naked and he thinks she is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.” He fights to keep his eyes above her neckline.
S: “and he should know”
D: He should, and Troi, being empathetic, knows he’s thinking it, and completely ignores him the entire evening. So when he later arranges a date, very diplomatically and formally, she sees him as a bag of hormones.
S: And he sees her as an over thinking academic.
D: A match made in heaven.
S:  “But you know they get together in the end. Like you said, they can’t kill off the main characters. They can’t split up Troi and Riker. Or is this an alternate timeline thing.”
D: Another habitually annoying Star Trek thing. No. I’m trying to address that kind of rude question about me thinking I’m God.
D: I’m not God, or the universe. When I was a kid, I’d get into fights because I said I didn’t believe in God, any god, or anything supernatural. I didn’t start it, they just asked, like kids do. So then they’d say I am just a mass of hormones. We barely knew what hormones were, but they thought it was funny. I’d come home with my lower lip sticking out. My dad had to figure out some way to get me out of those dark places without telling me comfortable lies, so this star stuff story is what he came up with.
But it’s still a story. I’m not just a bunch of chemicals cooked in stars billions of years ago that happened to fall together as they did. I am that, but I’m also the result of something much bigger. But if you try to say you are part of that bigger thing, people will ask if you think you are God, or if you know more than God, or whatever. That bigger thing doesn’t really care about me, it doesn’t have feelings at all, but when I look at it, it sometimes seems like it’s mocking me. It wants to keep me small. And those hormones and chemicals want to be big, want to believe they are bigger than they are. Trying to be both won’t get you anywhere because you aren’t either of those. Sometimes it seems like the easy way out is being neither. “
His eyes go to the road just in front of him, his biking form is rhythmic, his breathing even. He pulls slightly ahead.
S: thinks – did he just hint at thoughts of suicide, did I do that? “Sorry.”
D: It’s okay. Sorry for the rant.
Suzanne wonders if this was their first fight? And who won?