February 4, 2014

”THE QUARRY MEN:” A CONVERSATION ON NEW MYTHOLOGY WITH CARRIDINE PORAN AND WILLI PAUL

Carridine invited Willi to talk after reading tens of Willi’s interviews with people involved with permaculture and mythology. Willi’s compelling applications of mythology to social and environmental crises turn the familiar conversation surrounding myth on its head. Carridine also found his commitment to online archiving admirable. He invited Willi to have a conversation he believed would be productive of a greater synthesis between depth experience and social organizing for sustainable change.

You can find Carridine and Willi at the New Mythology Permaculture and Transition Group and the Depth Psychology Alliance – New Mythology Group.

Here is the first round of that conversation.

*******

ONE

CP: I notice again and again people asking you, “Yes, but why do you call your stories myths?”

WP: This is a great question. I am advocating a new “brand” of mythology that fits our struggles and transitions. The foundation in this shift are my 8 Key Elements in the New Mythology:

1. Localization – back to sustainability and community; self-sufficiency
2. Nature- Centric
3. Spiritual
4. Future-based
5. Universal themes(s) and message
6. Para-Normal in conflict or characters
7. Initiation, Journey and Hero
8. Permaculture & Transition: values and principles

My tales have transformed the hero, initiation and journey from Joseph Campbell’s vision with modern fears about climate change, mass destruction of Nature and a dash of Hollywood. It matters not how long the pieces are, just the alchemitized struggles and lessons.

Archetypes for my new myths are modernized as well. Archetypes are very powerful images or dreams in our creative tool kit that can offer insights and guidance on our journey:

• Growing Season / Cycle
• Spiritual Healing
• Visioning
• Giving Thanks

Joseph Campbell was often asked how a new mythology was going to develop. His answer was that it would have to come from poets, artists, and filmmakers. In this talk, Campbell explores what he called creative mythology—the way in which artists can and do give a sense of the transcendent in a universe apparently empty of meaning.

So, in my 50 New Myths, it’s not about “story vs. new myths,” it’s much more about the revitalized power of myth!

//

CP: But is there a difference between myth and other kinds of stories? People ask why you call your myths because they are expecting something else when they hear the word myth. I’d like to explore your notion of myth as well as my own. Not only that, I’d like to somehow consider all you are doing and all the themes you are wrestling with in relation to what I know of myth as certain kinds of stories. You say your interest is in “therevitalized power of myth” and I’d like to consider that revitalization as a process in relation to Campbell‘s idea of creative mythology.

I think that first demands that we ask what mythology is. What is its power? That is what I see as the relevance of older mythologies, Greek and Roman or otherwise. We can investigate them and their uses in their own societies. They were connected to religious cults and rituals, to initiation rites as well as to popular entertainment. Part of the question is where these stories originate. They have been studied for more than two thousand years and a wide variety of meaning has been derived from them. Still there is no consensus on what a myth is. Part of the power of myth seems to be this mutability.

I think it would be very interesting to compare your 8 Key Elements in the New Mythology to concerns in these old mythologies. I think there are many parallels. And I think the main differences to be found are based on thedifferent crises being addressed.

Where both could be said to be concerned with nature and spirituality and human truths (universal themes) and values, yours are distinguished by the call to return: to return to sustainable (future-based) ways of living, to the retrieval of meaning out of meaninglessness. Another way they are distinguished is by the gigantic problems your myths must address. These concerns however can still be likened to old concerns: in many of the old Greek Myths you see a concern for staying within bounds and the consequences of boundless desire. I think a core value in all sustainability work and all planning for seven generations type thinking is the notion of conservation, of respecting limits. Myths in both eras hammer home the dangers of greed and over-consumption.

TWO

WP: You write: “Part of the question is: where do these stories come from?” It is beyond my scope to tell you where the classic myths come from; it is empowering to know where mine come from. This gut-level awareness for new rituals, the new symbols, sacredness and alchemy make new myths way more powerful than the old ones, yes? To be slightly critical: the old myths are like “TV re-runs” while the new myths are bursting out of our current predicaments. A huge matter of degree of importance; of nostalgia vs. a fire in the backyard!

I just discovered the notion and underpinnings of Campbell’s creative mythology. This is exciting because I now have a higher relationship with his vision and the world. I honestly did not know that this was the next stage of the journey until I read this:

In the context of traditional mythology, the symbols are presented in socially maintained rites, through which the individual is required to experience, or will pretend to have experienced, certain insights, sentiments and commitments. In what I’m calling creative mythology, on the other hand, this order is reversed: the individual has had an experience of his own – of order, horror, beauty, or even mere exhilaration-which he seeks to communicate through signs; and if his realization has been of a certain depth and import, his communication will have the force and value of living myth-for those, that is to say, who receive and respond to it of themselves, with recognition, un-coerced.”

So, indeed, creative mythology is my current example of the revitalized power of myth.

As to your reflection on the crisis of the day (or yester year), I agree in principle but technology to destroy the planet with one button or protracted regional conflict seems to separate the old from the new mythologies.

Can you explain what you mean by seven generations type thinking?

THREE

CP: First: by seven generations type thinking I mean the attitude that one must take in making decisions: one must consider the world not just in terms of the effects and rewards for oneself but in terms of seven generations of people that come after. (See Oren Lyons.)

Yes, our gut-level awareness of new myths makes them way more powerful than the old ones for us. In the Joseph Campbell lecture on creative mythology you linked to, I liked that he pointed out that the environment of the old myths had passed away and so they really couldn’t be relevant to us. Their guts and our guts react to different things. If I live in a modern city, a Bible written for shepherds who lived 2000 years ago is probably not going to reach me at a gut level. We have to explore our own images arising from our own “current predicaments” and “fires in the backyard” as you say. The old myths are indeed “TV re-runs”, and re-runs from the very beginning of TV: Dobie Gillis and Beaver Cleaver. It is hard for us even to imagine what might have been enjoyable or useful about those stories.

I agree with you when you say “but technology to destroy the planet with one button or protracted regional conflict seems to separate the old from the new mythologies.” This is what I meant when I said, “your [new myths] are distinguished [from the old myths] … by the gigantic size of the problems your myths must address.”

I appreciate Campbell’s notion of creative mythology and I’m glad you got a lot out of it. The quote you posted includes a description of a process of how myths come about:

“In what I’m calling creative mythology, on the other hand, this order is reversed: the individual has had an experience of his own – of order, horror, beauty, or even mere exhilaration-which he seeks to communicate through signs; and if his realization has been of a certain depth and import, his communication will have the force and value of living myth-for those, that is to say, who receive and respond to it of themselves, with recognition, un-coerced.”

This is one answer to my question “where do myths come from?” And I think the process you have been using is like this, for instance with Myth Number 1 about the Gulf Oil spill. There’s the horrific event. And then you add to it the story of the leatherback turtles. That is your way of communicating your realization concerning the experience.

When I ask this question of process, I mean how do we arrive at the new myths? The process Campbell describes is one of many. For example, there is the process described by Robert Bosnak in his recent free lecture, Introduction to the course on Alchemical Psychology.

Bosnak describes an alchemical process parallel to Campbell’s Creative Mythology. It involves the same elements as Campbell’s does: a person’s experience, a sign or image (in alchemical terms, a tincture/corpus) used to communicate the inspiration, and the inspiration itself — “the force and value of living myth.” Bosnak is applying his alchemy to psychology and individual healing whereas Campbell is talking about stories for the individual as a socially responsible self. A more significant difference I think is the source of the creative inspiration.

Bosnak talks about the lyrical organization of our perceptions in relation to these elements: (1) experience, (2) image and (3) inspiration (approx. 10 minutes into his lecture.) And what is this lyrical organization of our perceptions? As I understand it, as it resonates with my interests, lyrical organization would be reality apprehended or judged as that which makes sense or has meaning rather than the more familiar material organization of our perceptions which apprehends Reality as anything which has an existence independent of us – in spite of us, regardless of us. For me, this may be the whole of the question regarding new mythology and our attempts to tackle the huge problems of our time. What is our relation to reality, to truth, to nature?

Following this introduction about lyrical organization, Bosnak starts talking about the acquisition of an image from a dream encounter and an interpretive processing of the image through alchemical stages of “heat.” There are two chief differences between Campbell’s process and the process Bosnak is describing. First rather than a person having an experience and then “seeking to communicate it through signs” Bosnak describes the person being given an image from “deep deep down.” It’s not that the person has an experience which they understand and then chooses a way of narrating it to others. In Bosnak’s process, the person doesn’t understand the image. The second difference then is the discovery of the meaning of the image through these stages of interpretation.

I think it is this difference in process that allows for a truly powerful, healing realization in Bosnak’s alchemy: the dream image is created by a much deeper source than our conscious inventiveness. Coming as an influx from a more earth-connected or natural, more ecological mind, the image speaks the language of Nature. Because of this deep source, free from our alienated ways of thinking, it is capable of offering great insight with which the soul can be tied to the contemporary disaster in a much more intimate and holistic way. This does not exclude conscious inventiveness: it only adds the requirement that that inventiveness be interpreted by this more ecological mind.

Bosnak gives an in depth example of this process of working with images starting around 37 minutes into the lecture. I suggest starting to listen earlier for the procedural context. Bosnak describes his process in the terms that his teacher James Hillman used.

Tell me what you think.

FOUR

WP: To start, I would gently remind us that Myth Number 1 also includes my first recipe for new myth making, a process that is later refined in Myth Lab.

Is not Nature more powerful, direct and free source of inspiration and guidance than the “intellectual corps.” of psychology?

“Deep deep down” is not easily identified or felt these days with the disruptive power of television, Internet and “wide-max” theatres. We must be leery of “experts or writers or psychologists, etc.” who interchange the terms mythology and alchemy. My alchemy types support symbol making and new myths. Alchemy is the spiritual driver for the new world. Here are some types of alchemy to consider when building new myths and rituals:

• Imaginative Alchemy: This alchemy excites and creates our ideas, conflicts and even prayers in our brains.

• Eco Alchemy: Seeds, soil, plants and animals living, birthing and dying in an inter-related system pulsed by eco alchemy.

• Shamanic Alchemy: This is alchemy transmutates healing through ceremonies and rituals lead by a trained spiritual leader.

• Sound or Sonic Alchemy: The ancient alchemic power of song from cave rants to classical music and rock’n’roll.

• Digital Alchemy: Electronic learning and feeling working with computers including chat text, email and documents.

• Community Alchemy: People working with people: transforming attitudes, sharing ideas and making plans.

• Earth Alchemy: Planetary consciousness building and human evolution on a universal scale.

Furthermore, archetypes in my quiver are defined as very powerful images or dreams in our creative tool kit that can offer insights and guidance on our journey:

• Growing Season / Cycle

• Spiritual Healing

• Visioning

• Giving Thanks

Out of Nature evolves permaculture – a blend of science in spirit is so needed to get to the Post-Chaos Era. It’s time to integrate permaculture and transition principles with the tools of the new world:

• Appreciation for land preservation and environmental sensitive crops (non-GMO)

• Saving and sharing seeds

• Knowledge Sharing

• Inclusivity (Youth to Seniors)

• Resilience (back-up systems)

• Localization (local food and alt economic systems)

• Re-use & Re-cycle

• Alternative energy sources & practices

• Social justice

• Obtaining and using the Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC)

Here are six new symbols in my work in sacred permaculture tool kit:

• Diversity (Soil)

• Growth (Seeds)

• Harvest (Basket)

• Transformation (Fire + Smoke)

• Stewardship (Compost Pile)

• Localization (Community Well)

FIVE

CP: I can say that I have read through your process as it is stated on the page where Myth Number 1 appears and as it is refined in Myth Lab. That’s why I think I was able to map it onto both Campbell’s creative mythology and Bosnak’s alchemical psychology.

The lists you sent in this e-mail are, I think, the reason why people ask you, “What has this to do with myth?” People ask you that question because these lists don’t communicate the grand scale of your work. I hope through this correspondence to get to the place where people recognize in your work all of these listed elements in their mythic identity

.

If there was any writer in this mix who interchanged the terms mythology and alchemy, I was that writer. I did so only to talk of similarities of process.

Nature is indeed a more powerful, direct and free source of inspiration and guidance than the intellect or any human being’s attempt to produce wisdom by juggling generalized intellectual ideas. I shared Bosnak’s words to talk about symbols given by nature — through dream and vision. I wasn’t selling Bosnak or his approach to things. I looked at Bosnak’s video myself to confirm that at the core of what he is offering (a course, a book, accreditation) is a simple process which I am (and you are) already practicing. The only question is at what level Nature is being engaged.

I think the greatest contribution to community to be made by what used to be called social ecology is the recognition that Nature is the first symbol user. Dreams come from Nature, they come through our bodies which are part of nature, and they come to us, to our minds, which we have somehow concluded are not part of nature.

What we now call psychology and complicate with so many layers of jargons and credentials is first and foremost given to us by Nature. Through dreams, Nature instructs us in the nature of truth and balance. We ourselves have grown so far from such truths that we require alchemies and other arts to transform our self-talk back into something that can understand our own Nature.

I agree that the deep deep down is not easily felt or accessed. But that is one of our crucial problems. I do believe we can turn off the distraction boxes that have been built for us — not for all time maybe, but for time enough to allow for meditation, reflection and contact with real things. Distraction is the problem of the consumer and the tool of the capitalist. More and more I think we must reject the identity of consumer and rebuild the identities of citizen, community member, mentor, sage, shaman…

SIX

WP: In terms of sources, my interviews continue to offer insight and directions; PR for the interviewees and education / connections for readers. Out of all of the titles that folks have given me since 2009, teacher (shaman) is the role that works best. And there is no “grand scale of work” here! Please do not think of it as such. I am just seeing the pieces and laying them down, like a railroad engineer for others to follow.

As a species, humans are in a juvenile stage in terms of symbols and alchemy. Is my secret wish that Nature-borne symbols and alchemy will one day help to replace the mindless tyranny in organized religion.

If we can get back to Nature by destroying it, then we might live through the great paradox of climate change or the Chaos Age. This is one theme in my 50 New Myths.

Question 1: “Nature is the first symbol user,” do you mean “symbol generator”? I recommend this piece for symbol transmutations:

Question 2: “Through dreams, Nature’s instructs us in the nature of truth and balance.” I would appreciate more detail here.

Question 3: Is yoga alchemy? Meditation? Exercise?

Question 4: What are some New Myths about the consumer?

SEVEN

CP: We will have to agree to disagree on the subject of the “grand scale of your work.” Just considering the interviews alone reveals a grand scale. And I would think you are the only person who has seen all the pieces because you are the one who has laid them all down. You have mental access to the contents of all of it. I don’t mean to suggest that you remember everything everybody has said, but I bet as you talk to people little bells ring and get you thinking, “oh this reminds me of something so and so said when I interviewed them.”

In terms of the mindless tyranny of organized religion, I’d say that is one of the big bad guys to be included in a new mythology. Not organized religion as such but an embodiment of the various states of mind which make it up. I think when we look at the original inspirations for religions, the burning bush, the dying god, or you look at the large forms that arise in the history of any given religion, Saints and Archangels as dragon slayers, Madonna and Child, we can see that Nature-borne symbols and alchemy (or something akin to it) have always been present.

Organized religion, or the bad in it people often emphasize, is an embodiment of negative states of mind. These states can be characterized. That is, they can be cast as the characters of myths. The interactions between these characters can be dramatized. It is the Interactions between these states of mind which mummify the vital nature-borne symbols Bosnak describes in his alchemical process. Organizing religion has meant adding intercessors and harum-scarum until the symbols become permanent Mysteries. These are not the mysteries of alchemy which open to investigation as discovery and transformation. Instead they are- permanent Mysteries there to solidify the power of a priestly class; that class claims sole right to these mysteries of them and so too to an authority than demands obedient ignorance.

The relation between these two states of mind, Caste Priest and Caste Suppliant, as a permanent conflict becomes a recurrent narrative in a new mythology. Identified as states of mind in relationship rather than solely as “organized religion,” the priest and suppliant my theme can be seen to play out in other institutions, from City Hall to the Psalters.

Of the remaining four questions, I will save three for tomorrow and answer one in a brief introductory way. Question number 4: New myths about the consumer: I think in composing myths we first build a pantheon and a setting, like you do here. One God or Power is Priest/suppliant, One God or Power is Producer/Consumer or encouraged appetite. The setting, too, you’ve already got going, for instance the Chaos era, which is a situation as much as it is a place or period of time. Once you have these, and they are True Representations, the myths tell themselves. So arriving at True Representations is most important: What is an example of the consumer god? What is its power? My immediate answer to that is, did you see Spirited Away? The character of No Face in that movie is the character of the consumer. It helps if you understand the director’s point of view, I’ve quoted it on my blog:

EIGHT

Hi C: Note that the film maker references “survival” twice in the first paragraph

“I would say that this film is an adventure story even though there is no brandishing of weapons or battles involving supernatural powers. However, this story is not a showdown between right and wrong. It is a story in which the heroine will be thrown into a place where the good and bad dwell together, and there, she will experience the world. She will learn about friendship and devotion, and will survive by making full use of her brain. She sees herself through the crisis, avoids danger and gets herself back to the ordinary world somehow. She manages not because she has destroyed the ‘evil,’ but because she has acquired the ability to survive.

Are there modern day survival myths? Do they involve individuals or groups? Of course, it’s back to the Chaos Age v. the Post-Chaos Age….

NINE

CP: I’m working on the questions you asked me about nature and dreams. In the meantime, if you want to get a sense of me you can read my blog entries on my Grove project: here’s what I’ve written there grouped by theme. You can scroll all the way to the bottom or you can read them backwards, I’m not sure what difference it will make.

I’ll do my best to answer all the left-over questions in one e-mail.

I’m going to combine the third question and the fourth question in one answer:

Question 4: How is this vision (of the Grove) instructing us today? Or has it morphed digital?

(Not sure what morphed digital means: perhaps you mean that the place where the mentor appears in now the internet?)

Question 3: Is yoga alchemy? Meditation? Exercise?

I think I’ve already said that I don’t really have much of a relationship to alchemy. I have a way of doing my work that I am pleased with, that I think is authentic and that is based in personal experience. That is not to say that it is unique. In so far as it deals with real things and alchemy or active/embodied imagination or creative mythology deal with real things, there are parallels between all these ways of doing the work, including my own.

The little I understand about alchemy I described in one of my previous answers: in short, it is a process of interaction with an object capable of yielding transformative insight. The alchemist brings the whole force of inquiry to bear on a super-dense image: the image “heats up” until it explodes releasing “scintilla.” My process of working on the Grove very closely parallels that. I was given a dream image in response to the death of my mentor. In an effort to honor him and to heal my grief, I concentrated on this image in order to evolve it into the perfect tribute. Having to materialize this thing in physical space and to design its aspects to ensure that there were appropriate to his memory, I brought to bear previous decades of study and work. The result was countless insights and a greater wholeness within me than I had ever possessed before.

I take your question regarding yoga et al, in terms of this understanding of transformative work; is yoga, exercise, meditation alchemy? I would say yes. The continual practice of exercise generally speaking can promote health and regulate mood and bring clarity of purpose. That can certainly be a transformation to a person who previously lacked those things. Meditation generally speaking also seems like alchemy insofar as it transforms consciousness and can bring about progressive improvement. Yoga, I think, is clearly a parallel to alchemy and that parallel can be made clear by seeing it in terms of prayer: Yoga is often seen as the step beyond prayer, that is, beyond the faith that directs wishes toward a deity. Yoga is a practice which intends to bring about direct experience of deity. I read somewhere, “It is not enough to believe in God, one must endeavor to touch God.” Through intense bodily regulation yoga achieves higher and higher states of consciousness.

Your fourth question can be answered on several levels: How is this vision (of the Grove) instructing us today?

On an archetypal level the vision of the grove instructs us as it has since its first appearance in consciousness. And how has this archetype instructed us? As I just read in the brief essay available online by Craig Cholquist, WHAT GOOD IS AN ARCHETYPE: “As Jung pointed out, an archetypal image left unresearched is no more comprehensible than an ancient baptismal font whose history remains unknown.” A vision, above all, must be explored and as it is explored many insights come and the explorer grows, and as the explorer grows, the instruction can deepen and branch off in new unexpected directions.

On a historical level, how is this ancient Greek vision of a grove in the underworld instructing us today? First and foremost, it instructs by its continued reappearance. It instructs us in the ways that we are connected to the rest of humanity past and present.

On a contemporary level, the grove can raise up our own structures to the level of the mythologized shapes from the past: what more is the mentor in the grove than the teacher in the classroom? Why do we sense the teacher in the classroom as such a lessening of the mentor in the grove? To me, the ability to see this likeness calls us to act in front of a class out of a holistic and heightened sense of education, making the act of teaching today not just a mechanical communication of skills but rather a passing on of the wisdom necessary to live a good and satisfying life. These days the vision of the grove instructs me to encourage mentoring relationships.

TEN

CP: Okay, now I’ll answer question one and two together. Question 1: “Nature is the first symbol user,” do you mean “symbol generator”? I mean Nature is the first symbol user not the first symbol generator. Although I have to say reading your and Metcalfe’s Primer, I was most excited by the idea of the myth generator: To find some way of harvesting dreams from the internet to create a world wide web of dreams! In that net, we could catch, like schools of fish, commonalities constellating tens of thousands of dreams into myth formations, monsters, adventures, pantheons, a new global mythology! The gods are human fantasies in swarm. They are our murmuration. Myths are our stories about these larger human patterns. This idea is very, very exciting and inspiring! I would like to help in any way I can to bring such a thing into existence!

But yes, I mean Nature is the first symbol user in the same sense that I mean what I say in what you quote for question 2: “Through dreams, Nature’s instructs us in the nature of truth and balance.” The easiest way to proceed to elaborate on this is to again quote Craig Cholquist, this time from his essay on Jung’s Red Book, from page eight, about dead center in that writing:

“This tree would show up in a dream at the end of Jung’s life, the roots glowing with alchemical gold. Nature imagery never strayed far from Jung’s deepest thoughts about the psyche. His observation that at bottom psyche merges with world marks him out as a grandfather of Ecopsychology. [my emphasis]” Here’s thewhole essay:

“At bottom psyche merges with world” is what I mean when I say Nature is the first symbol user and that through dreams Nature instructs us in the nature of truth and balance. An example of that balance is Jung’s idea (approximately) that all conscious thoughts are half thoughts. Thinking only half a thought impels psyche to present in a dream the other half, the flipside of that thought. If you are too holy, you will dream of finding pleasure in something that defiles you. That’s a balancing act. But what necessitates this balance of the “sacred and the profane”?

Consider this other quote from Chalquist’s essay on the Red Book: “In later work Jung writes that when the ego has exhausted its efforts, the unconscious should be left to itself to do further work. The Cabiri now appear: gnomes who labor like dwarves under the earth. “You want to pull up with your own force what can only rise slowly….Spare yourself the trouble, or you will disturb our work.” Jung takes the hint and takes a break from inner journeying for a while. (Hillman would criticize psychoanalysis one day for trying to dig every stone out of the quarry: “But what about the quarry?”)”

The important thing for me in that quote is that last question “What about the Quarry?” To me, this is a question that strikes the same target I was aiming at when I asked, “what necessitates this balance?” How do we account for the quarry? We have these qualities sacred & profane — separated out of an original unity: maybe that original unity is the quarry. The quarry is an original abundance as well as a geometrization of that abundance.

All the stuff within consciousness pre-exists consciousness. It is something there to be conscious of. People have this ability to imbibe or embody a quality like “holy” and if they’re feeling too holy, they’re out of whack and something deep within them will send a message that says, “get real” or “act NATURAL.” Or as Osho says it, “Live the way Nature intended you to live.”

Who sends these messages? Who makes them up? I don’t. You don’t. We are subjected to them and dependent on them just as we are subjected to and dependent upon sleep. These meanings are made in the place deep within you (and without you) where psyche and world meet.

ELEVEN

Carridine Poran’s Bio

Carridine Poran is an artist and art instructor. Besides offering art instruction in traditional areas, “Kerry” founded Carridine Poran Creative Services, a program of art instruction in which artists assist communities in the production of group art such as murals, picture stories and oral history forums. These projects visualize community narratives and encourage mentoring relationships.

In his career as an artist, Kerry has been a galleried fine arts painter and sculptor and an illustrator of literary fiction. As an amateur he has been a playwright, actor, novelist and essayist. His work first and foremost concerns the link between the visionary landscape of the imagination and the life well lived.

Currently he is getting to know his newborn daughter, Frida, while at the same time revamping his website.

Willi Paul’s Bio -

Active in the sustainability, permaculture, transition, sacred Nature, new alchemy and mythology space since the launch of PlanetShifter.com Magazine on EarthDay 2009, Willi’s network now includes four web sites, aLinkedIn group, 3 tweeter accounts, a G+ site, multiple blog sites, and multiple list serves.

In 1996 Mr. Paul was instrumental in the design of the emerging online community space in his Master’s Thesis: “The Electronic Charrette..” He was active in many small town design visits with the Minnesota Design Team.

Mr. Paul has released 12 eBooks, 2140 + posts on PlanetShifter.com Magazine, and over 500 interviews with global leaders (site 1 & site 2). He has created 48 New Myths to date and has been interviewed over 25 times in blogs and journals.

Willi earned his permaculture design certification in August 2011 at the Urban Permaculture Institute, SF.

Please see his cutting-edge article at the Joseph Campbell Foundation and his pioneering videos on YouTube. His current focus is Myth Lab - a project that Willi presented at his third Northwest Permaculture Convergence in Portland, OR.

As a Senior Manager, Mr. Paul has worked for several Northern California sustainability, civil and software engineering firms. He now works part-time as a design / relocation consultant in the Bay Area.

Willi’s consulting work is at NewMythologist.com

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June 1, 2013

My Last Conversation with Kay about the Grove

There are several references in this blog to my presentation of my grove project in Dr. Kay Fowler’s Death and Dying class. Here for example.   Kay died one year ago today after fighting cancer for a year.  While she was receiving treatment she kept a journal at Caringbridge.com to record the facts of her treatment everyone would want to know so that when she talked to someone she would be free to talk to them of other things.  Kay being Kay she soon turned the journal into an opportunity to share her favorite poetry.

At least twice she had chemotherapy to prepare for a procedure using stem cells. The chemo knocked out every bug in her body as well as every defense she had against bugs.  This writing comes, in part from her CaringBridge journal during her second unsuccessful attempt at harvesting stem cells four months before she died.  In it she references ideas about the underground I commonly mentioned in my grove presentations:

Written Feb 8, 2012 11:32pm by Kay Fowler

Desert Places

by Robert Frost

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.
The woods around it have it–it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.
And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less—
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.
They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars–on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

Nobody can evoke the empty spaces within us better than Robert Frost

His is the gift of the familiar natural image.  The whole medcal world pulls the oppositie difrection everything is unfamiliar and unnatural so to frost I turn as my counts go on their majical journey into the underworld like all the great heroes  (Oh Kerry where art thou to explain this as eloquently as you do).  My WBC hit 0.5 today but so far so fever,no infection, no mouth sores. Etc.  WE are all watching and defending scrupuloulousluy and putting up huge hex signs – keep off the Kay – 3 or 4 more days down here on the bottom of the canyon and I shall begin to climb up and if I am really lucky some ass will give me a hand.  ‘bout to do my magic mouthwash ritual again so will sign off just asking everyone to please clap loudly and say “I do believe in fairies”.  I’m feeling just a bit dimmed at the moment.  BTW for a complete different topic and feel if you are familiar with Jay-Z and Alicia Keyes’ New York State of Mind you must check out my favorite parody Granite State of Mind athttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bX7nQrCgALM  It had me gasping for breath.

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– Having been directly addressed, I responded:  Written Feb 9, 2012 6:39am

I’m right here reading every post. :)

Kerry Dennehy

– Kay then wrote me an e-mail with this subject title –

A visit from a mentor in the grove Kay Fowler to you - Feb 9

Dearest Kerry: I am stunned and profoundly changed by your shout back to my cri de coeur in the middle of a very desohlate night last night when I was holding desperately to your notion of I must yravvel to the deep dark depths in order to get healing and wisdom to come back.  And just when I felt most abandoned and alone in this 3am quest I wake up to the reassurance that the mentor has been in the grove luistening to me and waiting to me.  What an incredible gift you have just given me _ the rest of the days down here at the bottom of my counts will be a little less awful because of you.  Love you and hugs.  Kay

– I wrote back –

Kay,

That is wonderful to hear.  That is exactly what I would have wished to offer you but would have never dared hope I could actually give. Such is the power, I guess, of conversations sustained over years: sincerely spoken in peaceful times they may resound in times of struggle.  Your support and your continual invitation to develop my work in your class, as well as the dialogue we started with the allegory class, make the words I speak half yours.

BE WELL,

K

– A few days later on Caring Bridge Kay again referenced the Grove image –

WHOOOSHHH!  That is the sound of the collective breathholding that has been going on around the tri-state area and, in Montana, Minnesota, Alaska, Ireland and beyond.  I have officially engrafted and am now sitting pretty with a White Blood Cell count of 1.20.  A rebirthday indeed – Feb. 13, 2012 my rebirthday.  There is little reason to revisit the days spent in the underworld except to say that I was never alone in my journeyings.  Paul and Ellen and Scotty visited just before the descent and gave me extra doses of strength.  Once I had begun my journey down, Bob and Sharon took nights in turn – trying to get any sleep they could amidst dozens of interruptions without the benefits of pain meds and other drowsers … Deanna came and just spent time quietly doing gentle touch and calming presence work. Geoff and I were phoning, texting, etc. throughout.  Christine came and brought her vitality and joy into the room.  It stayed around for days.  My quilt with the luminous faces of the wonderful women of the Moon Sisters called out to me again and again to hold on for the flowers, the dancing, the swimming in the ocean, the gathering of the stones.  The messages of love on email, and the Caring Bridge  and the phone and the healing energies of the Moon Sisters and of the daily 7:30 EST healers all attached me with bands of light to the upperworld.  I even found one of my dearest and most cherished mentors waiting for me by his grove which helped enormously on the finding my way back to the dawn and the light.  Having made the climb out I hope I get to keep the wisdom I acquired during this period but if  not – oh well – today is a new day!!!  And I didn’t eat even a pomegranate seed – well I just COULDN’T eat anything – but either way… I do not have to return to the underworld for months at a time.  Nor did I look back as I came out.  I do my reading – I know the risks!  But I have to tell you I think what worked was that they let me go to stop me from singing – not because they were moved by the beauty of my singing*  I could be wrong but I just got that impression.

——————————-

* Kay loved to sing but she was one of the few truly awful singers I have met.

 

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February 14, 2011

Carnival cartoons

This is a follow up to my previous post about Bakhtin’s book Rabelais and His World  here Puck is applying love potion to a fortunate dreamer.  Below is an image of the play within the play, which I always associate with Puck’s secret visits, probably because both shapes occur in MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM.  Both these cartoons were on the same page with the one in the next post, a truly classic carnival image.

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EVLOVE

Nick Mullins posted a rich and interesting challenge on his web site today.  I don’t have the time it would take to meet it, but I wanted to acknowledge it. It also gave me an excuse to publish a few old works.

First, my Halloween Costume from my 30th year.   I went as Pregnant Death.  It was the coming together of lots of postponed efforts. Since childhood, seeing Rick Baker’s gorilla make-up in such things as the Groove Tube and the King Kong of 1976.  (In 1976 as a result of watching a tv d0cumentary of the making of King Kong, this is before even the VCR available to the average (my) household, I conceived of the concept of “Special Features.” I found the “making of” so engaging I just knew there was an industry to be made of it.)

So since that time when I used to make home-monster movies with my brother and friends ( when our big technological debate was which is better Super Eight or Regular Eight?) I’d dreamed of trying Baker’s process.  The process involved casting an actor’s face, sculpting on top of the plaster replica, casting that and then making rubber “appliances” that could be glued directly onto the actor’s face. They were pliant so life like expressions could be made, either by the actor or by magical equipment referred to as “hydraulics.”   

It was one of those dreams I deferred.  I was quite sophisticated when I was younger and I knew that I would one day grow out of the urge.  If I just resisted long enough there would be no evidence that I ever desired to do such a thing.

Rob Bottin’s mutant dog from the remake of the Thing, Stuart Freeborn’s work for Altered States (this information just rolls into my head when I start thinking about this… 

Well, I reached the age of thirty, had long ago abandoned horror movies (even as a guilty pleasure) for film adaptations of Russian novels, and still the desire to “make my own real Hollywood mask” hadn’t gone away. In celebration of my milestone birthday — which like all my regular birthdays occurs just a couple of weeks before Halloween — I decided to give in and finally just do it.

My more grown up intellectual self  — which had been slouching beside me since my late teens — was not entirely left out.  The mask (and full body costume it turned out) I chose to sculp atop a cast of my own face was the image of Pregnant Death, which I’d learned about in Rabelais and His World the Russian scholar Mikhail Bakhtin’s book on the imagery of medieval folk culture’s ”carnivals.” Rabelais and his World and Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics were the first truly brain hurting mind expanding books I read in college.  I have sketchbooks full of carnivalesque sketches, all inspired by Bakhtin’s literary criticism.  That’s a (then) 20th Century predicament if there ever was one.

To my horror when I returned to Rabelais and the sketches I’d made, all intent on making my Pregnant Death, I discovered I’d misread or mis-remembered: the image was supposed to be — as in the authority of literary and historical reference insisted — that the image was the Pregnant Old Hag.   I persisted in my error already in love with the image.

To fully cut this obsessive tie to my past, I worked very hard on the above image.  Dressing up and going trick or treating wasn’t a big priority at 30. Instead, I did the whole thing, painting tens of layers of latex rubber into a plastic mold, building the pregnant suit, all to produce the image above. What it recalls to me, and hopefully anybody around my age and given to proclivities like my own as a child, are the images printed and endlessly reprinted in the Famous Monsters of Hollywood magazines I read as a child. They were printed on the cheapest newsprint, which was yellowing already when I bought it at the stationary store. To this day, the particular way that black ink would go matte on this rough cheap paper — whereever I encounter it — still screams HORROR MOVIES! to me.  Those grainy difficult to read images always offered so much more to my imagination than the actual movies.

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January 11, 2011

Images are true, explanations are divisive

This is a detail of “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” at the monastery of St. Catherine’s in Mt. Sinai, Egypt.   The image is based on the ideas of a saint, John Climacus, who lived as a hermit for most of his life and then came to run the monastery. He wrote a book with the same name as the painting (which I hear is still widely read) as a guide to monks seeking (divine ascent.)

The image holds such truth for me.   I’ve seen it in various forms my whole life, starting with Saturday morning cartoons.  The truth of it is sensual, experiential, it merely requires the reorientation Lynda Barry demonstrates  in the introduction to her book, One!Hundred!Demons!   In her book distracting and discouraging voices are no longer mistaken for “the voice of reason” or one’s own good sense. They are externalized as demons. Here the temptations that would draw a person from their true path are reimagined.  I assume this is done to make them easier to resist.

I was so moved to find out that this image could be attributed to a single individual (or to a single historical moment of poetic imagination) that I acquired the book. Reading John’s words, I was alarmed to discover that the first of the 30 steps on the ladder of divine ascent is the renunciation of life. I don’t imagine skipping to the second step is allowed.

Side note: I’d read somewhere that the saint’s last name was a reference to the image.  I looked to online translation sites, assuming “climacus” was Latin or Greek for “ladder.”   In another poetic moment, I found that it was instead Greek for “scale” which in one of its senses is what you do with a ladder.

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A sample of the Gilgamesh comic from my sketchbooks

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January 1, 2011

us doing what we said we’d do

  

   

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December 31, 2010

Toward a New Year

We moved into the new house this year and we’ve been making all sorts of choices about what’s kept and what’s left behind.   We used to draw on this blackboard when we talked on the phone back when we lived at Maya’s family house when Maya was in Grad School.  We stopped drawing on it when we came up with this lively composition, changing only the year each January 1st.  See up there in the  left hand corner?  We stopped changing even that in 1996, then in ’99 we stowed this board when we moved out of state. We moved three more times in the intervening eleven years.  I don’t know what the occasion was but some time in the last months in our apartment we hung this over our bed and left it still untouched, except to every once in a while scuff  it with our heads by accident.   With 2011 coming on, finally in a place of our own and with a hard year passing away, we’ve decided to exchange all this history for a fresh start.

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December 27, 2010

Fashioning a Fit Exterior

“My house is practical.  I thank you, as I might thank Railway engineers, or the Telephone service. You have not touched my heart.  But suppose that walls rise towards heaven in such a way that I am moved.  I perceive your intentions … By the use of raw materials and starting from conditions more or less utilitarian, you have established certain relationships which have aroused my emotions.  This is Architecture.”

– Le Corbusier quoted in The Philosophy of Interior Design  by Stanley Abercrombie

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December 24, 2010

For Discussion (02): Punch Drunk Love

Encouraged by the break out success of my first “for discussion” post, I choose this night of all nights to instigate a second rich conversation.   PUNCH DRUNK LOVE is a wonderful movie.  I see it as a meditation on the reality and formative power of things like the will.

The will too is a real thing no less than a body. It has a certain constitution, and it can be made healthy or unhealthy.

That’s what I love about the movie Punch Drunk Love. In part the movie is about this guy who’s been caged by his family’s constant characterizations of his behavior. The family constantly keeps him off-balance with demands for explanations of behavior they judge bizarre without ever attempting to understand. And he does seem sort of feeble and ineffective and afraid and at the same time he has these intensely destructive explosions of rage.

But the movie doesn’t assert that this character is caged from the get-go. First it just shows you this guy alone and he appears strange and you don’t know what to make of him.   The medium of film allows us to watch his behavior for a long time before anybody has to put anything into words. In this way the film is able to create a real mystery around this guy’s identity and we are enabled to consider his behavior in relation to what we hear said of it. And we can watch the changes in his behavior in different settings, in the company of different people.

Two things happen in the movie. First, the character calls a phone sex line and becomes entangled with con artists who try to extort money from him. Significantly they try to prevent him from retaliating against their manipulations by judging him, by shaming him, “You’re a pervert, you deserve it.”  Second, he meets someone and they fall in love.  The two storylines become involved in one another and so the movie goes.

But the significant thing about the movie for me is that it offers two portraits of this strange guy. When he cancels his credit card to prevent the con artist from stealing all his money, four thugs are sent to force him to pay. When all he has is a family that continually shames and humiliates him, he is in this encounter with the thugs a person who flees. It’s an amazing scene, he bolts and runs and runs with this tremendous panicked whine coming out of him the whole time. He’s completely out of control. That’s who he is in that moment.

But then the second portrait comes after he’s fallen in love. The thugs return and this time they endanger his Beloved and threaten that relationship. This time he stands his ground and dispatches all four of them with impressive ease.  That’s who he is in that moment.

What’s changed is his relation to his will. Before he fell in love, frustrated and ensnared by people who supposed to love him,  the power in him could only explode in fits of “senseless” rage.  After he falls in love, as he tells the con artist when he finally faces him down, “I have a love in my life, it gives me power like you wouldn’t believe.”  In this new relationship he is a changed man, he is no longer what being on the outside of a family, taking any abuse, waiting to be invited in made out of him.  He is not now waiting for some good that someone else has the power to proffer. He is in possession of a good, of a thing he values and it gives him the power of integrity, it gives him an untempered simplicity which knows no hesitation.
 
It is a marvelous meditation on the reality of things like the will.  We think we can control things through our characterizations, but if the things we would characterize are substantial, they are real, and if our characterizations don’t fit, we pervert reality.  And this affects our will, our ability to love, and etc.

The film emphasizes the ambiguity in just seeing and hearing things, and ultimately in just feeling and thinking things as well. It cultivates this ambiguity by taking this guy out of the range of characterizations, by calling characterization itself into question. It  makes us watch things without our usual characterizations insulating us. As the character faces the hopes and anxieties of the first meeting of someone who might embrace him in spite of all he fears he is, who might want him as he is, we are with him in a world open to all of its own essential energies. We are standing with him without the higher ordering thoughts to flatten the experience into names. We are, as he is, involved, taken up, participating. The world once again seems a place of possibilities.

The film is at its funniest when the experience of love is characterized in its first completely disorganized sensations. The new couple has rendezvoused in Hawaii – a wild thing for either of these two people to have done – and they are kissing. He stops and says, “I’m sorry I forgot to shave.”
To which she replies: “Your face is so adorable … and your skin and your cheek… I want to bite it… I want to bite your cheek and chew on it, it’s so [] cute.”
He nods and then says, “I’m looking at your face and I just want to smash it. I just want to [] smash it with a sledgehammer and squeeze it, you’re so pretty.”
She: “I want to chew on your face, and I want to scoop out your eyes … and I want to eat them. Chew them and suck on them.”
He nods again and says: “Okay. This is funny.”
“Yeah.”
“This is nice.” They kiss again.

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