Tuesday 8 October 2013

the life story of that thing

The question of solutions is a question of scale. In a given situation which is graspable—that can be quite big—there is a solution. But it won’t be a universal solution: it is global solutions that have to be suspected. Why is that? Because to improve something, you really need to know the texture, the life story of that thing.
 John Berger, interview in the Financial Times, June 18, 1999 (Geographies of Hope)

There is a wardrobe in my house. It sits, a giant thing, in my living room. It's dark and sombre and oaky (though in truth, I am not sure what wood it’s made of).  I couldn’t tell you either where it came from originally, except that Dano's great aunt once owned it. Anyone want a Narnia wardrobe? he asked last Spring on the community google group we both belong to. And I said, I do! without thinking.

And so one blustery day he and Roger and Mark wielded this giant through the front door in two halves where it now sits alongside a chest-of-drawers (from my neighbours) and a green velvet sofa (from a Give and Take Day) and other odd junkstore chairs we have been given since we came here, ten years ago.

There are no furry coats in this wardrobe that you might push through and find yourself in a snowy country where fauns and badgers talk and trees watch your every move. But there is something in there worth discovering. In fact the day when Roger's red van drew up, I knew exactly what it would hold in my house:

Dark Mountain 4 will go in there, I said.

So there you go: this dark woody wardrobe does contain a magical door inside. You can find trees and rivers  and animals inside a stack of cardboard boxes, and a winter that feels like it will never end. And if you step further into the pages of the books inside those boxes.you might find how to go about breaking that icy spell we are all held in and how to redeem a kingdom. 

This is a life story about that thing. But as I found out from years of writing about chairs and sofas, from years of exploring dreaming, it is not what things look like that matters. It’s finding out what they contain. 

Dark Mountain have a second auction that begins this week (following on from a very successful first one) and I racked my brains to find what I could offer. Just a signed book didn’t seem enough, and a dreaming workshop rather impossible. OK on the Woodland Stage at Uncivilisation, but would anyone travel across to East Anglia to see me?

And then Lucy told me about Phakama. one of the theatre groups we are featuring in Playing for Time. Phakama sometimes fund raise by having an auction of objects where the giver stands up and performs the story behind the object. So the successful bidders don’t just get a wardrobe they have a wardrobe (or coal scuttle or spoon) that belonged to someone’s great aunt and the story of the aunt and where they came from.
I don't have any objects that tell those kinds of stories. And nor am I a storyteller. But I do know about meaning and belonging and about finding a way into places you might not ordinarily see with your everyday eyes.

In the myth of the Fisher King, even the perfect knight was dazzled by the mysterious parade that was shown him and forgot to ask the question. You can get dazzled by the show, by the surface of things, by the taste of Turkish delight, but the one who remembers to ask, who wonders what lies behind the door, who pushes through the dead and musty things kept in an old wardrobe, is the one who finds the kingdom we hold in our hearts and our imaginations.

For me that's what writing is all about, and if you can find the texture, the life story of that thing you can find the solution for the puzzle that has been itching us all since we were born in this paradise that so often feels like hell. How come we live in a place of abundance and yet be so hungry and alone? How can I experience the full depth, height, breadth of my intelligence, how can I live so the stars turning over my head at night and the oceans and the forests frame everything I do? How can I come home?

So this my auction: I am not a storyteller and certainly not a conventional journalist anymore, but I am good at editing all kinds of prose, shaping, listening, going deep and asking questions. I know how to sit by a tree or a mountain until it opens up and speaks in its own language. I know you can connect with a whale or crow or a snake in a dream and to find words (and sometimes a shape) to record the encounter afterwards. I know ways you can do this wherever you live, on your own and with others.

So if you are looking for some new approaches, another voice, a way to improve your writing practice, some feedback, some dreamwork, or to find out how to work with a flower, so it places its medicine into your hands. If you would like to find a way through to a different country, maybe I can give you a hand (and you can help Dark Mountain).

I can work on line (via Skype or email) with you over a month. Here is a brief description of a plan: 

A Month of Earth Dreaming and Editorial Work with Charlotte Du Cann. Non-fiction prose

Four sessions to deepen a practice of connecting and communicating with the non-human world and to create a piece of original prose (up to 2000 words) that reflects one encounter. We will work together during the month to find (and visit) a place or plant that speaks to you, and in the following weeks investigate, shape and hone a short piece of writing based on your experiences. Week 1) Finding the Territory 2) Reporting the Visit 3) Working with the Material 4) Editing the Work.

It doesn't matter what stage of writing you are at. Most of the people I work with now, in grassroots media or in the collaborative arts world, are non-professional writers. Usually people who have a story or project to share but no background knowledge. That's when you notice that writing really is an art and a skill - something that gets better with practice and certainly through the attention of fellow writers. You also notice that pro writers - most journalists in fact - can lack the depth and empathy of first hand experience, and can be all style and no content.

So do go on the auction page today at Dark Mountain and have a look at what's on offer. We're aiming to reach a goal of £2000 to raise money for the hacked website. 

You can also order your copy of DM4 if you haven't already. And when you do you'll know where it has come from . . .

A Winter's gate: collecting apples from 'Roger Deakin's tree' on Aldeburgh beach; morning glories by the Huachuca mountains, Arizona; holding Dark Mountain 4 just off the press.

Quote originally from Geographies of Hope (The Laboratory of Insurrectory Imagination

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