Saturday, September 27, 2008


The probable genesis of the association came from editorial focus placed on Brian Fagan's emerging work on the emergence and scope of the ancient people, the Cro-Magnon, some of whose remains were found in an excavation for a railroad station on southern France. While walking Sally in the upper reaches of Hale Park, you come upon the sight of a group of ladies taking their ease, sitting atop the rock fence, refreshing themselves with bottles of Avian water. Your thoughts go back thirty thousand odd years to a group of Cro-Magnon women, drinking water from a sewn animal skin, having worked harvesting nuts or berries in the perpetual search for food, perhaps a giggle or two, a gossip or two, but also some valid information about where to find more nuts or which mushrooms to avoid, in other words something of life enhancing information. Later, they'll go home to their family group and hear tales from the men about migrating herds to follow and possible sources of rocks that can be chipped into scraping tools or flaked off for spear and arrow points.

With no written language, interconnectedness was a major way of passing along the culture of survival. Hearing elders talk of creation myth and stories of hunting and travel also passed along the basics of human and animal behavior. Make no mistake about it, our ancestors, even without a written language, had an enormous amount of information to carry round with them, share with others, and assess. We did not get to where we are on the backs of uninformed people. It may at times seem to us that we did, but this is a cynical illusion; we got where we are because we followed the ones who knew and felt and told stories.

It seems almost like no thing at all for you to be thinking that the women you saw in Hale Park could return home or some wi-fi hot spot to Google for information or check show time for a film, or catch a streaming video of the most recent debate. They could also get recipes, order take-out food, or book a reservation at some restaurants while their husbands or boyfriends could check for football or soccer scores, check the market (such as it is now), or catch streaming reports of CNN. They could engage in checking out blogs, the major point so far being the relative ease to connect with and exchange cultural, scientific, or spiritual information with individuals they know only by sign-in names, individuals they may have never seen but in some ways know as well as some of their real-time friends and acquaintances.

We have come some distance from merely passing information about places to camp, tide charts, herd migration, fishing information, and bird migration. We have gone from which animals are easiest to domesticate to bragging now about how many miles per gallon our hybrid or smaller zoomer get.

We have moved from information to cautionary tale--old Fred, he ate one of those and was toast in fifteen minutes--to admonishment--mind, you need to let your yak have some water once in a while, or, be careful when hunting the woolly mammoth because they can kill you with those horns--to accounts of exploits, technical advances, and how to connect spiritually with the world about you.

From all this information, there were men and women who found ways to weave the information in narratives that not only informed, they engrossed, entertained, made the hearer feel something special, indeed, made the hearer feel special. From the past came the then equivalent of Horatio Alger success stories in the form of ways one of the ladies took some splinters from an elk bone and fashioned from them needles which she used to stitch hides together for clothing or for shelter. From the past came the forbears of those among us who are taggers, brash teenage artists who left signs of their clans or family totems painted or etched on rocks for all who passed by to see.

We story tellers got to be who we are through a bumpy, precipitous road in which we may have been ridiculed or ignored until our predictions, our depictions of the events about us came to be seen as possessing truth, even for trying to define that most abstract of traits, truth. We are exaggerators, transgressors, transducers, betrayers, prophets. We even brought in stories from other groups, other tribes, other languages. Herodotus is often credited with being one of the first if not the first historian. Forget Epictetus then, if you believe that. Forget also the men and women lost to us who told the stories that passed from camp fire to camp fire across the ages and continents before there was thought of writing down or incising or inscribing words and symbols on what passed for paper.

This is not meant to be a story or a definition, rather a call to accounting among the us of the tribe, the storytellers. What do we bring to the story that helps it live. What do we bring to emotional information that makes it as stunningly beautiful and respectful as the drawings of animals found on rocks and walls and incised on remnants of bone and, later, on shards of pottery? How can we possibly match those sweeping, evocative lines of red ocher and possibly even animal blood that join with the charcoal and soot compounds making up the artist's view in the drawings and carvings that remain from those days. Whose hands and words from the past do we touch when we take up a story from the past and make of it something other, something of us?

Heresy is the introduction of change or challenge to an established order of belief. In order to be successful and memorable, writers, story tellers need to present their vision with the awareness that persons they might not even know or ever see will suffer what we think of as hurt feelings or disappointment or possibly even outrage from said vision, simultaneous with other persons they might not even know or will ever see find inspiration and energy from exposure to said change or challenge.

To name only two within our midst, Margaret Atwood and Eric Blair aka George Orwell, she with The Handmaid's Tale, he with 1984, hurt feelings, caused outrage. Each author set forth in story form a cautionary tale of what we could become if we have not already become so. There are those in our midst who have given us Babar, the Elephant, as well as Lyra Belacqua, each a delight to many but similarly a threat to others.

Some days back, you wrote of the domino theory and the notion of story being a series of triggered events, consequential movement to or away from something or someone. Similarly, with this you intend to cautionary tale that advises the author what to do if the story does not progress, seems to stop of its own accord.

Move the heresies closer together.

You are a storyteller, not an appeaser.

What question will you pose today? What rug will you grip by its edges and tug today? What established system will you describe today?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

not an appeaser--I like that.