Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Books that Changed My Life

One is Linda Hogan's Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World. I'm not going to go into all that crap about me being a white male and in some way appropriating some Native American culture or religion, because frankly, that's not Hogan's fear. Her fear is no one will listen or be changed by her words--any writer's fear.

Hogan discusses in the essay "A Different Yield" how we need a new language to more deeply get ourselves, the earth, all the others, and the connection of all three. This is the language I see many prose writers--creative nonfiction folks especially--looking for in their work the last few years. Let's face it, if you aren't moved emotionally / spiritually in a piece of writing (on whatever level works to do that--sound or sense, as in poetry), then the writing fails. The art fails. The communication and life fails.

Hogan is talking about how gestures and sounds, the unspoken, is more powerful than our privileged written language (which has, of course, destroyed so many native cultures):

"We have feelings that can't be spoken. That very speechlessness results in poets that try to articulate what can't be said directly, in paintings that bypass the intellectual boundaries [hurrah!] of our daily vision, and in music that goes straight to the body. And there is a deep-moving underground language in us. Its currents pass between us and the rest of nature [....] What we really are searching for is a language that heals this relationship [human and animal /earth], one that takes the side of the amazing and fragile life on our life-giving earth. A language that knows the corn, and the one that corn knows, a language that takes hold of the mystery of what's around us and offers it back to us, full of awe and wonder. It is a language of creation, of divine fire, a language that goes beyond the strict borders of scientific inquiry and right into the heart of the mystery itself."

Sure, a tad romantic, but so many eco writers and theorists call for a new language like this, so many. The status quo ain't working, and as my students read this book they tend to fall too easily into the "we've heard this diatribe rant way too often--save the whales, yadda yadda. And what is she talking about, this whacko Native shaman, mystic woman?" Our language needs to change. I'm more moved by lyrical, creative, honest, direct writing that tells a story in the moment, now, full of passion and joy and regret and loss and intimacy. It's all about telling our stories within the world, something I say when I teach Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried or Dorothy Allison's Two or Three Things I Know For Sure. Story is a ceremony that heals the rifts between us, ourselves, and the world:

"I know this telling is the first part of the ceremony, my part in it. It is story, really, that finds its way into language, and story is at the very crux of healing, at the heart of every ceremony and ritual in older America."

I know she's talking about the oral tradition, but folks like N. Scott Momaday advocate bringing the tradition, healing the rift, of oral into written--to take what's been dominate and subversive and make it subversive right back; this is what so many "minority" poets do when they right in received forms. Writing, speaking, thinking to one's self is all an act of faith and communicating that faith--faith in ourselves, the person next to us, and that everything we sense is equally part of the world. Inclulding us. Equal. Essential. Purposeful.

And as an aside, when people ask me aren't I lonely, why do I like to be alone, they should read this:

"There is no real aloneness. There is solitude and the nurturing silence that is relationship with ourselves, but even then we are part of something larger." When I am sitting silently anywhere, I am overwhelmed. When I am writing, I am more overwhelmed to get everything out that's talking to me, and I often simply overload. And when the phone rings, or a spoon drops, or a truck drives by, I am brought back into an incorrect relation with the world around me. I am broken from myself like a branch in some storm. I'm humpty dumpty. As in poetry, as in all writing, silence is at least 50% of the language, if not far more. Without silence, there is no sound. Without darkness there is no light. Without this blog there is no work getting done.

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