In Want of Fox
The Infancy of Language

Letting Language Take Root

 

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It's Digital Detox Week, an annual event sponsored by Adbusters – which for me, along with the unfolding signs of spring (the primroses thick on the hillside now and the daffodils running riot through the woods) reminds me each year to take a look at my online life and my outdoor life, and to make sure these two things are in hózhó, harmany, good balance. This year that's meant pruning back my online presence, limiting the number of emails I can reasonably expect myself to answer each day, and adhering to our household policy of keeping computers entirely off on Sundays. 

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm not one of those people who believes that the Internet is the devil's tool, intent upon destroying face-to-face community and replacing real life with a virtual simulation. It can do those things, of course; and it can also do the opposite: enrich and facilitate community life and our experience of the physical world. Like any communication technology, it depends entirely on how we use it.

 

Mule Deer Child

 

It's not surprising to me  that so many of us in the Mythic Arts field have embraced the Internet so enthusiastically, for as a medium for the transmission of stories and ideas it's not only  powerful and endlessly adaptable, but also remarkably accessible and democratic.  I love the way that young artists (like Rima Staines and Danielle Barlow, for example) and young writers (like the folks at Goblin Fruit) can now find audiences for their work without being dependent (as we were in my generation) on the Gatekeepers of traditional media; I love the blogs (like In the Labyrinth, Grand Tour, and Seven Miles of Steel Thistles) that allow writers to communicate with their readers beyond the confines of a novel's pages; and I love watching mythic artists use modern mediums to keep ancient tales alive.

Overall, I love the Internet. And yet I also know that I have to put boundaries around my use of it.  As a writer, I spend enough time as it is behind these plastic computer keys...and although I do so in order to weave tales of earth and sky and wind and rain and animals and spirits on the printed page,  I want my tales to reflect my experience of the natural world, not replace that experience. As much as I love wandering the woods of myth, as much as I love conjuring those woods in stories of my own, the real woods lie beyond the front door and that's where I must always go first. For my soul's sake. And for my art's sake.

 

White-Tail Deer Woman


In his luminous book Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram discusses the many ways that moving from an oral culture to a print culture has impacted, and even impoverished, our experience of the world around us. (His thesis is a nuanced and persuasive one; I won't try to encapsulate it here, but recommend reading it in full.) As a folklorist, I'm fascinated by David's argument; while as a writer, I find it more challenging, for I dearly love books and the printed page. Yet David isn't attempting to suggest that we turn our backs on literacy now, but rather that we understand its cultural, spiritual, and environmental implications. Addressing his fellow writers, he says:

“For those of us who care for an earth not encompassed by machines, a world of textures, tastes, and sounds other than those that we have engineered, there can be no question of simply abandoning literacy, of turning away from all writing. Our task, rather, is that of taking up the written word, with all its potency, and patiently, carefully, writing language back into the land. Our craft is that of releasing the budded, earthly intelligence of our words, freeing them to respond to the speech of things themselves--the the green uttering-forth of leaves from the spring branches. It is the practice of spinning stories that have a rhythm and lilt of the local soundscape, tales for the tongue, tales that want to be told, again and again, sliding off the digital screen and slipping off the lettered page to inhabit the coastal forests, those desert canyons, those whispering grasslands and valley and swamps. Finding phrases that place us in contact with the trembling neck-muscles of a deer holding its antlers high as it swims toward the mainland, or with the ant dragging a scavenged rice-grain through the grasses. Planting words, like seeds, under rocks and fallen logs -- letting language take root, once again, in the earthen silence of shadow and bone and leaf.” 

 

Deer Mother and Child

 

What does all this mean for me, personally? First, that I try to do as David Abram suggests when I sit to write or paint: to bring the physical world into my work, whether desert or moorland or city street. And second, that I strive to live in such a way that writing and art springs out of my life; it doesn't become my life. And that means turning off the computer every now and again, putting down my paint brushes and pens, lacing up my boots, whistling for the dog, and going out my front door. It means that I try to never forget that “community” begins at home: with my family, with my village, with the inter-species community of rooted and winged and four-legged beings among whom I live on this green hillside. And from this place, with my tap roots deep in the soil below, my “community” can then slowly spread: via books and paintings, via letters in the post, via pixels on the computer screen...to you, dear Reader. And to the land you live on, and the ones you share it with.

The poem I've chosen for today is, once again, by Mary Oliver – a poet who, above all others, reminds me to live in the body and not just in the mind;  who pushes me out the front door. The poem is one I always keep pinned to my studio wall: Five A.M. in the Pinewoods.

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The paintings above come from my Desert Spirits series. Follow the link if you'd like to know more about them.

Comments

I agree there absolutely must be a limit to one's internet life. Of course the social networking sites are important to get one's work "out there," (in the absence of support from traditional media), but it is indeed a time and energy zapper. Being in the quiet of woods or other green is the ultimate inspiration and feeds the soul. Thanks for the reminder.

Your words "energy zapper" ring true to me. I come out of the woods inspired and refreshed; whereas even when I come off the Internet inspired (by another artist's work, for example), I also come off tired. It does suck up energy in some strange way. (Telephones too. I hate the buggers.)

Thanks Terri, being new to the online world, which has enriched my reading experience, I find it easy to become engrossed in all the wondrous information available.

I will sign off after being inspire by you, walk the dog up the street to the bookshop, do the absolute necessary ordering, then select a gem off the shelves and go out to the park to enjoy watching the weeping elms blossom. Thanks again.

Very well put indeed Terri :)
I find it worrying to notice in me an emerging practice of "skimming" online to get through all that must be done quickly to leave time for life and painting. This in turn can mean that a sort of internal "rush" develops, the opposite of just sitting thinking or reading and truly absorbing something, a kind of very short attention span, which is bad.
I join with you in attempting to be strict with the times I switch on the internet treasure chest! Hence too my avoidance of facebook.
Cameras also can make you experience the outdoors too much through a lens, instead of actually "seeing" it!
And we do have the best land to root in don't we :) x

Indeed we do!

This was beautiful to read. I love the fact that you keep the computers off on Sundays! What a great idea.

I find it impossible to stay online for long when the day is sunny -- or, if I do, I start to feel heartsick and fidgety. I need to be IN the sunshine, doing something -- even if that's just reading a book out of doors. But having the computer on is anathema.

What a beautiful post, and something I've been thinking a lot about recently also, I'm always wondering why even though I can be so inspired by other people 'online', through their words and works, I also feel drained when I come away from the laptop... maybe because I wasn't born into the digital age, so I'm still deeply rooted in the earth, thank you for the reminder to revisit that more often!
Also Five A.M in the Pinewoods is a Mary Oliver poem I hadn't read before - it's unspeakably beautiful, so a big thank you for that one too, is being printed off for my studio wall right now, to go next to Wild Geese. :D

Thank you as always for sharing your insights, it's so good to hear that you will be continuing to inspire us all here on your blog with your magical images, articles & links, they are a lifeline for the artist in me, always intriguing and never tiring!

So true, so very very true. I find myself 'skimming' the internet often too, and though I have discovered so much wonder and richness, it also means that wonderful things flit by and I don't have time to stop and take in their meaning or their beauty properly, to let it really sink into my psyche and start to work its alchemy there, activating and reacting with other thoughts and ideas already swirling around, transforming into something new. Language is a great love of mine, but I also hate the way it can be abused and manipulated, or rather, used to abuse and manipulate people. Perhaps the greatest danger is still the idea that the printed word has veracity just because it's printed. Language is as mutable and ambiguous as the human imagination, that's what makes it wonderful, as long as we understand that. It's like everything else, it's part of this wonderful magical changeable, layered world, not above it or separate from it. Poets and writers know this, but I'm not sure everyone else does. A marvelous tool to illuminate the world, rather than control and categorise it. Keep spreading your magic, and those paintings are wonderful!

It is exhilarating but it can also be exhausting to bounce from one wonderful artist to another on the Internet. For myself, what I want to write is somewhere inside and though inspired by what I see or read, I need the quiet time and step backward to draw it out in my own expression. It never pours out, unfortunately. Your post offers good food for thought and a reason to limit some of my random online wanderings while still continuing to browse my favorites :-)

Mmmm - you are right that we draw our strength and inspiration from the real world and need to be out in it. On days like these, it's a joy to be outside, and I've been thinking a lot about medieval poetry, which expresses so well and so frequently the physical relief of the warmth and brightness of spring and the joy of knowing that summer's coming and you've surivived the winter.

Here's one: "Lenten is come with love to town"
http://www.soton.ac.uk/~wpwt/harl2253/lenten/lenttext.htm

A poesy ring for you, Terri
"Faithles to none yet faithful to one" ~ (British Museum 16th to 17th C)

Like Terri, I make my choices as to when and how, and know that I’d trade all those electronic gizmos to open my mouth to drink in the Milky Way and let it sparkle through my veins.Yesterday I finally convinced a film maker to let me bring her through a slot canyon and up into the grand rock formations of Tent Rocks. Her purpose was to interview me about my work with ravens and my relationship with “The Muse.” Initially, she wanted to interview me in my studio or in city parks in Santa Fe, neither of which were my reasons to be here in the Southwest.
While we were out of cell phone range and away from my computer, people called and emailed with last minute requests, obviously somewhat miffed that I wasn’t electronically “available.”
Truth is, I love the world connection that science offers, but it has no relevance when I walk with Coyote and Raven in the desert, where we talk about who really created the Milky Way.

Beth Surdut, Visual Storyteller
www.bethsurdut.com

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