Monday, October 26, 2009


Last week I went to a Contra Dance & I've been musing on the geometry we dancers were "writing" in our movements to the caller's instructions. I found myself inside a new experiential relationship to the Celtic knot work which I've studied & used for so long it has become a structural part of my design language.

I understand for myself that there is a deeply ancient, broadly pragmatic, sub-verbal, mostly visual "alphabet", if not actual language. I have found, for example, identical knot patterns in Chinese bronzes, Aztec decorative work & Celtic illuminations... seeming to be a glyph of an idea. One sees it labeled as a "endless knot" or "treasure knot" in current marketing of imported oriental goods. I would observe that its real treasure is perhaps hidden in the roots of what must have been some proto-language, useful to form & hold an idea so fundamental to human consciousness that it gets submerged under what developed into the more iconic glyphs we use to denote spoken & written communication.

It seems the "idea" of an idea... not yet a symbol nor even a glyph... a path, perhaps, through the earliest brain. I sense It as spatial thinking which can have parallels to written language while yet having more to do with actual or implied manipulation of material. a practical communication born of the fingers as much as the mind. It is one way makers still think. It is showing an explanation before the meaning of words can have any basis to compare & communicate the abstraction. It has much to do with the prepositions of demonstration: one makes a knot learning what "over" or "under" looks like. What it feels like as one turns it over to verify what must otherwise be extrapolated. We still say a picture is worth a thousand words... artists might quip that we might have saved a lot of effort if language had not become the defining human accomplishment!

Maria Gimbutas has done work of an incredibly more evolved system of such notion. Her books are a wonderland of drawings of prehistoric pottery & stone carvings she catalogues into a visual glossary. I've found inspiration in them at a similar level. I have used her concepts of such iconography even more than the richly drawn illustrations of those archaeological images to inspire my work.

While Jungian archetypes dance more conceptually in similarly deep territory, they always are layered over with much complexity of history in verbal & written language. While each of the dancers last night exhibited archetypes of personality, we were involved in learning to be parts of a evolving concept of geometry... each learning the path of a pair of lines [remember learning to line up with your kindergarten [now preschool] mates? Remember also the rudimentary sexual education begun in identifying boy/girl, boy/girl?

That is the beginning lesson to contra dancing. Two lines of humans facing each other boy/girl boy/girl, partnered to the one across & neighbored to the one above... the top being the end of the floor with the musicians & the caller... two couples making a square. We eventually accumulated four squares,

Pattern begins as perception of simple formation, often linear, so we have now the conception of a warp, the parallel cords over & under which the more active weft cord is woven to make textile. Basic polarity in action toward function. Simple utility inviting new interaction into what is straightforwardly implication of further complication. We learn simple steps, spinning ones partner, then spinning ones neighbor before crossing the square with our four left hands while turning in a circle before changing partners in a do-se-do, for the repeat of what becomes a social braid of subtle complexity inside communal effort to understand bodily the pattern of those who hold thrall for this musically driven instruction.

I came to this train of thought as I began looking from inside our effort to see familiar visuals in this line dance. It was as if there were those kind of footprint illustrations, explaining with arrows the dance steps we made over the progressing course of a song... I saw we were tracing the pattern of a basic Celtic knot work border... I was dancing the wedding rings I used to carve.

Such activity is something far from my usual. A new monthly event instigated on the Island by some remarkable folk, one of whom has become a good friend. [I must write about Tom one day.] They have also begun our local Free Range Folk Choir. I was not the only novice. The form of this old English tradition seems always to have that basic social educational aspect. Its currency in this new time rather requires bringing almost childish reminders of wonder to aging adults like me.

We all were learning simple skills: basic steps, then making them again & again into processional progression. Some of us had to take remedial lessons... again!... in learning our left from our right hands, or which way the clock's hands go. Most must have, like me, reacted variously to being called tops or bottoms. Several women tried to break in while another friend was giving me a waltz lesson, whether desiring the fun themselves or believing I might prefer to not be following the lead in another man's arms, I'm not certain, but I taught my own lesson when I declined to stay with my partner. ll was all good natured, of course.

I found this happy description on the web:
... Contra dance is Real People in Real Time with Real Music. It is Real Life. You cannot experience this while sitting on your duff, VR helmet or not. Get out more often! You know you spend way too much time in front of your computer and/or TV. In other words, it is impossible to record the incredible synergy and spirit that occurs when you combine enthusiastic, connected, happy dancers, hot musicians and swell choreography. It would take quite a talented multimedia author indeed to capture just a tiny slice of that magic that takes place.

On the way to such spirit, our group experienced the curious vicissitudes of polarity, beginning with a lack of gents enough to pair everyone by external gender. Some ladies necessarily became honorary gents. While such unequal proportion too seems part of dance tradition we needed to be aware which of us were temporarily trans-sexed as we dance boy/girlboy/boy/girl. The confusion brought us to laughter any times.

Saturday, October 10, 2009



I find myself piqued to quill by a questioning post on cousin Anjana's blog... was the bride of the wedding which we went to India to celebrate...

How much do you want to document your experiences ? Will recording them help you make better sense of your own evolution ? Has it helped you evolve in the future ? How much do you [return] to the documentation and is reviewing it interesting enough that it was worth the effort?

How much nostalgia is healthy and appropriate for you ?

I've kept a rather regular journal for most of thirty-five years, beginning seriously when at 30 I embarked on a rare journey of rich exploratory travel into a new period of my life.

While there are several other small volumes with some few pages written during my late teens, such attention was obviously short lived... only beginning dreams toward this time of my turning 30, leaving Denver, evolving toward a less urban, more solitary mode. I was ready to bring new maturity to the process.

What began as a typical road-travel diary came to include the I-Ching readings I made for contemplation during this extended solitary road trip. I was in a Jungian stage of individuation. I was working with an already well developed ego & had the time to indulge myself in deeper work, much of it dancing out of my involvement with a play therapist named Austin Delaney, making two dusty drives down to his remote retreat in Baja to spend time sifting & soaking in sandbox symbology.

My use of words like "play" & "dancing" for describing such adventure of my life began then & I celebrate that they still are some of my most preferred & useful verbs.

I now have a trunk tightly packed with the collection of bound volumes accumulated over these years, plus another matching trunk of photocopied letters written back when I tried to share similar writing with family & friends. I consider these papers part of my journal.

All these pages are handwritten, usually in the india ink [I wonder if I am I a fan of India first by default of a misnomer?!!] from the rapidograph technical pens to which I was so long addicted... reassured by the sense of permanence that ink suggested. My fingers became almost as permanently stained. Flying with one of them was quite an adventure, as they often reacted to the changing cabin pressure by leaking or even burping exuberantly... I dedicated myself to the ritual of holding the uncapped pen bedded in a handkerchief during takeoff & landing to prevent the cap from filling with that dangerous black to ooze out when next I wanted to write. A handkerchief which long lived inside the book's covers became an archive of marks & blots from years of grooming the nibs of those tetchy writing instruments!

I've had sleek leather slip covers [barely seen in the photo above as background for a datura blossom] made to hold my chosen size of standard blank books, one for each, writing & drawing.

I became quite serious about my journal & perhaps, even obsessed!

i developed the calligraphic block style of my handwriting from my father's curious mix of caps & lower case handwriting & my art student's fascination with the rather standard draftsman's block style & those old speedball pens we used for making posters in high school. I lettered myriad signs for the department store where I worked during High School. I abandoned cursive when my handwriting was quite young, as can be seen if I try to use that form now. After years' habit & development, my handwriting has developed a strong familiarity as part of my identity & even a certain fame.

Long before any sort of writing style with the ideas words can convey, I was developing a sense of how they should look... indeed, that is no small part of how I think with words now. Committing one's everyday thoughts to such ink invites fastidious forethought... even as the first mandate is to capture the moment.

I wanted it to look good as well as being legible. At first I tried the notion that each page was a calendar day, but the accumulation waste of paper quickly became evident as I would almost never finish writing that much in 24 hours... even as I attempted using the blank trail to guilt-trip myself into more diligence.

I began to read the unwritten tales of some pages... analyzing my state or mood by the slant of the lines. I sometimes tried to project my life through it, making affirmations. That was as iffy in ink as it is in the ephemeral world... but I appreciate the clarity of idea that notion teaches: "Be careful what you wish for..."

I studied my calligraphy, practicing nuance to reveal or disguise the word's wells & walls, to enhance one glyph's relationship to its neighbors. Early on I needed to consider whether I would draw in my journal, or reserve it for words alone. I love that the proper verb for making an Icon is "to write" rather than "to paint"... so I appreciate how drawings can be "literal", but I decided that the obviously more messy process of drawing was better kept out of these pages... I maintain other books for that kind of thinking. Still my love of symbols & glyphs required some visual notes.

I played with my journal. I studied myself inside it. I was often literally living it.

Over the years the questions about to whom & for what I'm making all these words has been omnipresent & never quite answered. Writing for oneself must be what brings one to writing in the first place. Before writing what one wants to say, one must say/write those things to oneself. God knows I often sermonized & still can. I veer not enough toward poetry. I write dialogue between parts of myself & with a second person, trying to clarify what I do not say so easily in actual conversation.

For all my lack of it, I practice to simplify & clarify... realizing that is a life's work. I long wrote in curiously punctuated [or often not!] stream-of-consciousness rambles: Sentences full of parenthetical wanderings [inside more & more brackets... ] strung vaguely out between a noun & its far flung potential verb, which needed to change tense several times for all those clauses. It has taken me years to learn to think in paragraphs... indeed, my early journals & letters were often nightmare rides through my immature mind!

Because I wanted to watch the accumulation of words representing myself in ways unlike, if parallel to, my visual work, this archive has often been useful to help me see myself more honestly. As I write toward Anjana's questions about the values of the journal processes to explain one's experience, I feel my own sense of those values. I'm obviously still doing it, so I believe in it even as i must suppose I will never know the end of its story. I've heard stories of the destruction of journals in apocalyptic ritual or fits of pique & fear. I'm happier never yet to have had one of those.

I've always had faith this trunk of books would find its own journey into the unknown after me, my gift to the plague & blessing of words humans have unleashed as history. Accepting as well that they might not make it beyond the next flood [in spite of that potential protection of waterproof Indian Ink!] or fire or a slide over our edge & down the cliff, much less into another century. As an art history lover I've always wanted some of my own work to pass the test of the ages, being chosen again & again to save. I peg my second chances on my journal...

I do occasionally go back to read in the writing, especially when I'm trying to remember some detail of time or relationship... but I've learned that I often do not write what I would want to read later, being so busy with the doing that I did not have time or presence of mind to write much at all in such memorable times... I trusted to unsupported memory itself the very things I later wish I hadn't forgotten. To my frequent dismay I find boring menus or guest lists rather than the spark of excitement I want to recover. So the process is inevitably flawed, or at least, incomplete.

I have found it useful & fun to read from my old journals to someone aloud sharing selected notions of my earlier life. I see change & growth. I see ever old habits & ideas cycling new through the sense of time which has days quite full of words & those left inexplicably equally blank.

Journalizing renders present into immediate past while inviting past to remain present toward the future.