Stone Riley's Blog: Stone Riley's Shoebox, page 5

June 20, 2017

An Experimental Couplet

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It's sometimes said that song precedes the other forms of human speech. According to this idea, the first words spoken by our little babies, and probably the proto-speech of our early ancestors, can best be understood as song. For me this has always seemed like an interesting and worthwhile proposal but two experiences recently have made me want to make a case for poetry instead.

Three weeks ago I was standing on a hillside with a little child, a grandson just then coming into speech, hardly taller than my knee, when he looked down to the hillside's foot and saw his mother was arriving home. Everyone knows she is an excellent mother but this was the first moment when I understood she is a great hero to the boy.

I understood this by a poem that his heart gave to his lips, the one word “mommie” repeated several times, all with a consistent two-beat rhythm, rising out of whispered awe into heroic timbre, with the classic gesture of the speaker's arms rising and opening toward her.

mom-mie … mom-mie … Mom-Mie … MOM-MIE”

This was not the hill above Ithaca and not the battered ship of Odysseus blown into port below at home at last. Instead this was a city lot behind their house and the good woman was emerging from her car just then driven in beside the house, arriving from her day at work.

But our local city is an ancient landscape of steep hills beside a long deep water valley. This was one of countless lots where a little child must truly struggle climbing up to their back fence where he and I were standing. And our high perspective, with our location shaded by a big green summer tree but with the lady lit brightly in the sunny afternoon below, made her look quite far away. And the child's dramatic gesture even gave a small aesthetic revelation, reminding me that this universal reaching signal by a baby is also our classic human reaching toward a savior god.

So to my astonished eyes and ears this primordial moment was revealed to be a perfect poetic recitation. It's true his broad melodrama style is out of fashion now but an actor in Shakespeare's or Sophocles' company would have been glad to have it on their stage. Of course, for them the fine art in it would have been to struggle through the entangling confusions of adult life then finally arrive at the vivid perspective of the child. But still, I am not here to grade the child's artistic achievement, only to propose that his behavior was poetry instead of song.

The difference between poetry and song is melody. And we may be accustomed to feeling that it is melody which can lift your heart or dash your hopes to dust within the time a few breaths take. But in that moment there my windows of perception were flung open, and ancient epics were summoned into view, by my grandchild calling to his mother with deep emotion and with a multi-layered rhythm but without melody.

The other recent happening was last Saturday, in a different setting, with a girl who looked about five years old. In this new moment I was watching the child's reactions while I improvised an experimental couplet. In general it was a sort of thing that I do now and then, trying to understand childhood thinking by saying something with the Childthink point of view, hoping for a bit of candid and informative chat. But this moment was a big step up, my first such attempt with a Childthink poem.

And I was on the spot, pointed at and asked for an instantaneous free sample poem by the impatient performer on a tiny stage at an audience participation intergenerational literature performance, in a small tent at a festival, where I had found myself among the front row audience along with my front row neighbor there, this unknown little girl. She had riveted my attention. The child was thinking very energetically, showing a remarkably active alert acuity for the performer's storytelling work.

So when I was suddenly pointed at to speak in this audience participation show, and told to speak a poem – which I felt as a proper challenge from my fellow performing artist on the stage – my curiosity demanded that I take a chance. The child was such an active thinker and so conscious in the moment. If I could instantly roll out perhaps a couplet that had the Childthink point of view and was seriously artistic, her reactions might confirm or deny my recent suspicion that infant humans know profound poetry.

So the couplet that came to me to recite last Saturday in the front row of this audience participation intergenerational thing was this:

“I went OUT to WALK be-SIDE the SHORE // the wind came and said “FOR-EV-ER MORE”

You understand that my occasional habit of talking to children in a Childthink mode, hoping to purchase some candid conversation, demands profundity. It's no good being stupid or inane. You must offer something interesting. You're bartering for an honest chat with someone who is rightly suspicious of your adult thinking. Not only are your kind of people habitually manipulative, but also adult humans even have a different set of instincts than a child. Or at least I think so.

I am a Darwinist. Darwinism says there was a natural way of human life, a stable way our ancestors lived on Earth for a quarter million years or so until the last few thousand years when we took up civilization. Any animal's mind is grown from the universal consciousness of energy and matter, given shape – that is to say, given the abilities and voices we call instincts – by each individual's chemical heritage from their parents, a heritage selected over many generations by the opportunities and requirements of the way their species lives. This enormous process of evolution on our Earth is fantastically creative so of course the instincts it has given human beings are richly complex and useful adaptations for our ancestral way of life in that quarter million years.

During the sixteen decades since Charles Darwin's books began appearing – thus sparking our development of this huge theory – much research in many fields has coalesced into it. Thus the Darwinist theory has become very useful for our understanding of life on Earth, including our understanding of ourselves. In particular, many lines of study have clarified that quarter million years or so when a stable way of human life shaped the instincts that we find in our minds today. It has now reached a point where a serious and careful amateur can be well enough informed to make credible speculations about our instincts.

So, one speculation I am offering is this: adults and pre-puberty children have different sets of instincts. (For an example showing this is possible, simply look at the different behaviors of a caterpillar and butterfly.) To picture how this happened for us, to picture our ancient way of human life, imagine a kind of camping trip that never ends. You and I live with a small family band who move from time to time around a territory, seeking limited resources that Nature makes available here and there. And sometimes we must push on to somewhere else.

It is true that in this setting people of all ages live together but adults and children face different filtering by evolutionary processes. Adults evolve mainly to create and nurture children while young children evolve mainly to personally survive and grow. So says my proposal. And if there is truth in this, the processes of evolution have given us different tool kits for thought and action during those different parts of our lives.

So there you can see the fuel of my burning curiosity to strike up candid conversations with these aliens in our bosom, our young children. I delight in teaching children well so I want to know what life is like for them, beyond my accustomed limited perspective.

“I went OUT to WALK be-SIDE the SHORE // the wind came and said “FOR-EV-ER MORE”

During the long minute when I first heard my fellow artist on the stage issue a bardic challenge, then decided I must accept it, then held up my open hands and cast my eyes back in my head to beg for patience, then crafted up a list of the couplet's technical requirements, then felt the grinding of the mill come up to speed, then felt the couplet's arrival, then opened my mouth to speak, I was sweating bullets. I have been embarrassed in live performance art more than once before and I dread it.

One thing had been certain in the instant when I framed my technical requirement list. The couplet must breathe the heartbeat rhythm, the one-beat “da‑DUM‑da‑DUM” that appeared in its first line so clearly. This was the tip top requirement on my list. If you want profundity and want it quickly then you must have beauty strong enough to compel the mind's participation. Yes, I know that first line is ugly and dead boring if you are adult. If you are adult the hollow “da‑DUM‑da‑DUM” monotony of that first line absolutely needs a pull and twist perhaps an inch before its end.

But here's a thing you've seen in children of your acquaintance. They can take peculiar comfort and delight in endlessly reciting the alphabet or endlessly counting numbers or endlessly repeating some simple lyric, or such as that, in that unbroken heartbeat rhythm, and the longer it goes on the better. Me thinking as a Darwinist, I guess this peculiarity arises in a child's instinctive deep commitment to personal survival. I guess the one-beat is so powerfully beautiful to us at that age because it opens our consciousness of the heartbeat in our chest, reassuring proof that we are alive and calm.

I felt sure that for the couplet to succeed it must have the one-beat as its pervading state of consciousness, its mathematic. So I wrote that requirement first on my mental list submitted to the magic mill and then was not surprised to hear the first line's “da‑DUM‑da‑DUM” rhythm coming from my lips. But then the second line's surprising transformation of the beat seemed marvelously ingenious.

“I went OUT to WALK be-SIDE the SHORE // the wind came and said “FOR-EV-ER MORE”

That flip into a 4:1 beat, if we may call it that, looks very odd. But the human ear can hear more varieties of rhythm than poets ever use, many more. After all, our sense of hearing probably evolved to interpret birdsong, in a broad landscape with a multitude of birds all prone to bursts of noise. Their cries and occasional cacophonies would offer a treasure of information on what was happening out of our sight. So says a leading theory on the evolution of our hearing that I find vividly convincing.

I think the birdsong proposal very well explains our ability and eagerness to hear coherent signals in an immense variety of overlaying sounds. Finding a rhythm would be the way to pick a single bird or pack of birds out of the distance or the din so we might guess what they are saying to each other. Furthermore, it very well explains the compelling visual imaginings we can experience from hearing rhythms, imaginings that can compel us with the strength of instinct toward various actions or emotional desires to take action. In the setting of our old ancestors' lives, believing a mental picture that arises in our ears from birdsong might often let our family escape a predator or eat instead of starving.

For one thing, I guess the couplet's second line symmetrically fulfills the rhythm of the first, not breaking but enhancing the first, perhaps turning it inside out in our mental sensation of the mathematic, making what the computations in the human ear decide to be a symmetrically completed bird call signal. Both lines have the same count of syllables, and the same counts of hard and soft, although reversed, but the complete rearranging of count and stress demands attention, offering perhaps a visual thought that something has definitely changed in our imagined situation.

And certainly there is something strong changing in our sensation of the mathematics – by which I mean our pervading sense of consciousness – when we hit the second line. I feel like it is our understanding of the geometry of space around us that suddenly strongly changes and I feel this compellingly coincides with the imagined mystical experience offered in that same mental instant by the couplet's storytelling words.

With the first line, in my mental eye I saw us walking step by step through some close space, like a forest path or a path between big rocks or through concealing head-high seaside grasses, aware of step by step. Then a syllable that should be stressed has slipped away. Suddenly there is a kind of mathematic cubing of the rhythm and immediately a mention of the seaside wind suddenly leads me to look and see the sky above and the panorama ahead of us have rushed away into infinity. Then inside this echoing space, in the vast hollow cawing of the seagulls, the penetrating wind comes telling me an awesome intimation that infinity is in me and in everything.

Nor was I the only one to gain a startling and interesting experience as the couplet's words rolled from my lips. I was speaking directly to my neighbor little girl with the kind of clear enunciation that instinctively denotes a poem and she had closed her eyes to better see whatever mental pictures might arise.

“I went OUT to WALK be-SIDE the SHORE // the wind came and said “FOR-EV-ER MORE”

While I watched, the good child's face showed gestures quite in time with the imaginary sensations I was feeling. First there were the small movements of her eyes behind her lids that seemed to fit the walking I imagined. Then there was a stress of indecision with the morphed rhythm. Then after the speaking stopped, during the instants while I felt my computations going, her face was stilled into a kind of interested waiting. Then – an instant after my own astonishment to see the imaginary sky and horizon have receded, and to feel infinity in the wind of seagull cries – I saw an impact of shock and then a smile of aesthetic pleasure on the little girl's face.

Later, at the festival's open air lunch, her mother and I had a nice chat. The lady revealed that she often reads poems to the children. It occurs to me, thinking as a Darwinist, that the lady's very excellent household custom recreates something in the ancient human way of life. I can easily picture our ancestors at their work or leisure, now and then, often for the children's pleasure, rolling out speech in complex artistic form. In any case, I'm sure that hearing poetry at home awoke and nurtured this child's natural ability to experience it so well.

I should mention how the seaside came into the couplet. It was the second thing on the list of required features that I submitted to the magic mill. Obviously I hoped we would work up to some punchy intimation of Infinity, of course, and I needed an intimation of Infinity that is commonly available to young children. My wife's passionate recollections of her childhood by the sea leaped into mind. There followed my own family's infrequent visits to the shore, and the fearful sense of alien danger I felt there, and the time much later as an adult when that fear was calmed. So this was obviously a good idea. I added “seaside visit” to the list and it emerged as the little poem's story track.

So now I should mention story, what it is. As we humans have a sense of rhythm, so we have a rich, complex and useful sense of story, which was running in my mind simultaneously with the rhythm. It seems certain that story has a strong evolutionary value because it is just as powerfully linked with its own modes of comprehension and emotion as are the senses of rhythm, touch, smell, vision and all the rest.

Perhaps story's best value might be resolving life's confusions. We hear there was a person; we hear the person did something; we hear something happened in response; and we become in some way positioned or even satisfied with these imagined facts. This story sense contains practical lists of characters – humans, plants, animals, animate forces – with their possible interactions together and with suggestions of how we should therefore feel or act.

But in this couplet's little story one of the characters is Infinity – or Spirit or God or Ghost or whatever you would name it – and in the moment of the story we feel this is a genuine character, one our story instinct recognizes, one who can even speak to us. What is that about? Why has evolution given us that?

I guess we humans have this story character “Infinity” (or Spirit or God or Ghost etc.) because story – a mode of comprehension and emotion where you pretend – is a good place for us to exercise our valuable psychic senses. Pretending is a big help when you want to mentally step from ordinary physics – where cosmic consciousness, telepathy, precognition and the rest are ridiculously impossible – into quantum physics where they are ordinary, useful and valuable abilities of the human mind.

In other words, I am guessing that “Infinity” (by whatever name) is on our instinctive list of story characters while our list of available interactions with the character includes “intimations of infinity”. Also cosmic consciousness, telepathy, precognition and the rest are on that list of available interactions. My personal sensations do seem to fit this scheme.

But also personal experience has convinced me that once we get into our scenes of pretended mysticism we can then stop pretending. This seems to put me firmly in the camp of believers who believe that direct unnamed experience of the Infinite Divine is more realistic than all our holy stories. And I feel sure that one path into that unnamed experience, for me, is through loving children. And a way of loving children is by using stories.

There are other curious subjects that I have discovered here but will not explore. What are beauty and aesthetic pleasure from a Darwinist view? What is the creative “magic mill” that I experience? What is melody? What is that desperate “bardic” competition thing among performing artists? Maybe some other time and place.

But I will try to complete the story track of this essay with a final incident. I had lain a couple of books – my novel and my big compendium of pictures, poetry and stories – on the festival's free giveaway sharing table. (Dark of Light) (Tales of Men and Women) After the nice outdoor lunch, when the good lady and her husband and their kids were packing up their shoulder bags, I noticed that my books were now among their gear.
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May 21, 2017

Seeing Dark Of Light

A memoir of making a novel
(Recollections of creating the novel “Dark Of Light”.)
(Link: Dark of Light )
[*See Footnote 1]

In 2004, with motives I do not fully understand, I undertook to write a deeply researched and deeply convincing novel of ancient religion, seeking the kind of careful but intimate familiarity I feel with the religions of our time. Was it just from curiosity? Once the idea was conceived, I felt a passionate hunger for the challenge and conceived a hope that it might do some good. However selfless or self-indulgent it may have been, I am sure that I was acting in a love for wisdom.

Being then more of a painter than a writer, I felt no loyalty to any particular form of novel. In our culture we believe a good painting will make the viewer conscious of the workings of their mind, and we prize that kind of revelation. So I experimented freely as a good painter must. I schemed to use a writing style – plus lots of deeply accurate historical information – to give the reader a conscious experience of an actual religion that would be very spiritually true and very foreign, in hopes that something good for us today would come from it.

But really why? Which may be to say, what did I mean when I boasted to myself of seeking “spiritual truth”? I began with just a vague conception that spiritual truth is something like the psychological truth that a fine painting sometimes gives. And I hoped to finally finesse this hard question by making the thing convincing, thus recruiting the reader into making that judgment while the pages turn in their eyes. But of course the reader (the first of whom would be myself) would judge that question – the nature of spiritual truth – from the moving picture show presented by the novelist.

So I wanted at least a fair sketch of my answer as soon as possible to guide my study, and much more than that when work eventually began to draw the novel's characters, compose their lines and set the props. I felt strongly that the ancient Greek Mysteries of Eleusis could be the setting for a novel such as this but I did not know what universal truth about our soul life could be discovered in that distant place. I must hold that central question – supposed to be my main purpose in the work – clearly in mind as I plunged into the two years of research.

Meanwhile, the thing which gave me hope that such an art work can be done was Shakespeare's comedy “Midsummer Night's Dream”. Most importantly, I'd seen some impressive movie treatments through the years, the first one in a childhood afternoon with a TV show of classic movies. I still see Puck peeping out through forest shrubberies, spying out from the small gray screen in our family's living room, watching my world and me with feral curiosity.

With age and art and adult study I had learned to trust the Bard as a great model, learned to imitate his courage. So when this project was conceived I could take to the script and appreciate that in “Midsummer Night” Shakespeare brought ancient Hellenistic faith – the faith of Eleusis more or less – out of Europe's memories where it lay, up into the intensely conscious presence of a beautiful, moving and insanely confusing stage performance. Perhaps a book full of words developed by a painter could try for similar effects.

I did steal one specific trick from the play, its deliberate bewildering jumble of time and place and the characters' identities. The trick is supposed to bring the audience to the mental state of an intelligent and curious little child, a child in a house full of lively and welcoming adults, at the age when language is almost but not quite grasped.

When you are that child, human instinct impels you to a powerful fascination with learning, with trying and exploring, and you feel a wonderful opportunity. Among the arts, we most often achieve that sensation through music but “Midsummer Night” does it so well with this literary trick that I guessed it might be worth a try.

By some accident of literary history, Shakespeare's old technique began to shape a style of novel that is called “post-modern”. I read a few of those to check and thought it was okay. I also took the science fiction trope of parallel time lines and the familiar sci-fi device where you have a character undergo instruction somewhere, as a means to give the reader information. And lots of the action stuff was “ripped from the headlines” like adverts for crime and spy novels say. And there are cowboys. And definitely there are some juicy bits from romance novels.

From Mary Renault I was not able to take much except a hope to somehow emulate her realism. [*2] Renault's books, in my memory of the ones I've read, throb with glorious deep harmonies of violin and cello, all of one multi-curving piece with gleaming light pooling on their surfaces. To me they make a kind of sleep, a dream demanding to be dreamed again. For me their beauty stops the breath of thought and satisfies instead of leaving curiosity behind.

Perhaps a single chapter in my book approaches Renault, one in which I especially loved the people. [*3] But I thought, her fully opened breathless heart is only one mode of humanity's religions. Her artistic achievement gives me hope but I need some other kind of realism. And anyway, for Eleusis we do not possess the mass of straightforward detailed historical information from which Renault wove her gleaming fabrics.

I did misappropriate “cultural equivalence” from Mary Renault's tool kit. That merciful principle says you are allowed to just say “bucket” when your story needs a bucket, not required to pause the action and describe an oak or horsehide object, allowed to let your reader blithely and half-consciously picture the plastic bucket which they are familiar with, if your story simply needs a functioning bucket.

That principle of cultural equivalence did not properly fit. Instead, I wanted the reader to be very conscious of their inner mental doings while taking part in ancient scenes that I accurately depicted somehow, without me tiresomely insisting that the objects there are oak and horsehide. But post-modernism provided adaptations. The cowboys are there, for example, by way of their real historical equivalents in ancient Greece.

There was one failure of that technique which I regret. At the time I was writing, our society's rulers had outlawed psychoactive drugs in a war against the people, as a punishment for nonconformance. Meanwhile, of course the ancient Mysteries of Eleusis used a careful dose of a psychoactive at a crucial moment in their sacred soul-opening ritual, probably an extract of ergot or agaric. I tried to join these broken pieces with my novel's version of cultural equivalence but had incomplete results.

Of course the key to all of this stylistic puzzle must be the same as any good novel. The characters must behave and think and feel like people actually do. They must be strongly motivated, complex and familiar. The novelist must love them. I felt well equipped for that part of the challenge. Besides the wide variety of people whom I'd met in the rather wandering life I'd led, there were my many years of work experience in fortune telling.

Try using Tarot cards, or any one of humanity's similar genius tools, to counsel your fellow human beings in their troubles. Accept this employment from anyone who brings their life to you in earnest sincerity. Try doing that for years. Nothing else can teach so much about human life. You may find yourself in love with them. Then write a novel. I expect its characters will show themselves to you as quickly as mine did.

But here I've skipped right past the months of study in the ancient Mysteries of Eleusis. Fortunately I had sufficient income as an engineer to buy obscure books which I was therefore free to scribble full of notes. And fortunately the accidents of history provided Karl Kerenyi, the perfect source for me, who did a big solid block of intensive marvelous scholarship just before my time.

Karl Kerenyi was an anti-Nazi European intellectual, swimming in the same current of meticulously careful pro-human thinking as Carl Jung and all that crowd, but an eloquent writer and a historian who specialized in the ancient mysticism that I wished to understand. I bought and read most of Kerenyi's books that were available in English in 2004 - 2005. There is one in particular I really scribbled full of notes, his book specifically on Eleusis. [*4] It is the central basis of my book.

Perhaps there is my motivation. As I and many others will tell you, creative ideas sometimes have a real life of their own, somehow flying through the psychic atmosphere, offering themselves to artists here and there, until their offer is accepted. Many artists will swear to this from personal experience if asked. Perhaps that book by Kerenyi whispered in my ear before I even knew that it existed. Or perhaps the goddesses whom it tells of did. They do portray forces of creation.

The history of ideas in our modern age is a history of Destruction devouring Creation while Creation struggles to give birth. Brutal proto-Nazi fantasies brewed in imperial Europe for a hundred years before World War Two, even while the humane kind of thinking embodied in people like Kerenyi flourished into new vibrant beautiful living shapes. Hitler and Van Gogh were both modern Europeans. Van Gogh made beauty; Hitler ate it.

Something comparable but very different can be said of the old Greek world where the Mysteries of Eleusis flourished. There the Female spoke for itself. In that culture men customarily succumbed to fits of cruel passion, abandoned all and ran away to piracy or war. But Eleusis stood as an inviolable place of sacred home and hearth fire. There girls and women led the search for wisdom for many hundred years. Their spiritual truth, whatever it may be exactly, demanded peace and acceptance of our common rootedness in fire and earth.

When Kerenyi found that very foreign and beautiful place, that very different arrangement of the Sacred, he had a duty. As a pro-human modern European, his duty was to clearly show with facts, proofs, evidence, and grace that Eleusis was made and kept by ordinary human beings for ordinary human reasons, as mysterious and beautiful as that may be. The sacred mysteries of ancient times were not made by fantastical racial supermen in a fantastical golden age like some people do claim.

For me, when Kerenyi's book led me to Eleusis, I was a modern American Pagan. By that time our movement had sorted through its intellectual inheritance and firmly chosen a pro-human pro-Earth anarchism. We had given up old claims to be a corps of elite initiates. We decided each person should follow their own loving heart toward Wisdom of Nature. And this is a revolutionary doctrine in our country, a claim that radical spiritual freedom is a fact of human nature, that the human soul in fact is free to be itself. But our claim was lacking clear support from ancient sources despite our long and earnest searches for it there. [*5]

So suddenly, when the gate of Eleusis opened for me in Kerenyi's vision, my vague concept of spiritual truth found a usable shape. It took the same shape as our human soul, perhaps as through a mirror. I mean to say, Karl Kerenyi's urgent proof that ordinary human beings with ordinary human reasons made and kept the Mysteries of Eleusis, this pointed toward a source that was very ancient in their time yet with them there and still with us today, and filled my need for a valid perennial anarchistic mysticism.

I mean that human nature is, for us human beings, a shadow image of the Sacred. I mean that Living Earth, who evolves us in her mirrored image, is for us the Sacred. Among much else, I mean that the sensation of awe and reverence and revelation that we feel toward Living Earth is fundamental and central in our consciousness, bred in our bones and neurons. And our lives are threads of Living Earth. So we must know ourselves, and know ourselves quite well, and have respectful courage, and through our true sensations in this life we find the Sacred. It is so here today and in Eleusis.

I must explain that our modern Pagan movement is very mystical, very much a thing of opening your natural soul. We rely on mysticism for quite practical purposes in daily life, believing that Infinity's subtle touch is as normal and natural as a bite of food or breath of air.

And it's no good telling me we are mistaken just because you don't know how to think it. For an intimate example, me being one of our countless psychic counselors, mystic experiences are so ordinary in my life I cannot possibly regard them as incomprehensible or fantasy. It is a standard part of counseling for me to talk with dead people when required, to glance into the client's mind or glimpse their past and future. These are skills evolved in human beings by our life on Earth as much as following a rabbit trail or throwing rocks or making love.

And now Kerenyi, this most excellent scholar, was telling me that my mysticism is basically the same which shaped the Mysteries of Eleusis and kept that religion going as a useful institution for many hundred years. He made me feel that I, a wanderer, had found grandmothers in my faith.

Of course it's true that I do not entirely understand our religion in our time – how could I possibly? – but probably it would be possible to find post-modernistic ways to write about it well, woven in with the realistic cowboys and juicy romance bits and all. And this echoing of mysticism across the ages might add deep dimension to the weave, deepening the psychological realism – which I began by hoping for – perhaps into a kind of mental symphony. Perhaps.

So a convincing show of the infinity in our ordinary lives might be offered. And I could hope the novel's reader finds some spiritual truth.

[*1] “Dark Of Light: a post-modern historical romance novel of the ancient mysteries” by Stone Riley, first edition 2006.
Link: Dark of Light
The title refers to the transcendent act of looking directly at the Sun, in which its center appears to be a kind of shifting darkness, proof that reality goes far outside our knowing.

[*2] Mary Renault wrote 8 novels set in ancient Greece, all famous for their exquisite romantic realism. None of them focus centrally on religion.

[*3] That chapter is titled “Also The Dancing Ground Again”. It first appeared in “Dark Of Light” then was included in “Tales Of Men And Women Edition 7” in 2017.
Link: Free Pdf File

[*4] “Eleusis: archetypal image of mother and daughter” by Karl Kerenyi, first English language edition 1967. This fine history book was a central basis for “Dark Of Light”.

[*5] Modern Pagans have deeply researched the ancient magics of Celtic Europe, Buddhist / Hindu Asia and shamanism worldwide. In this author's opinion the understandings produced by that work are extremely valuable but do not entirely fit the mysticism that is most needed in our time and place, this sharpening the author's interest in the Greeks.
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Published on May 21, 2017 08:19 Tags: fiction, greece, historical-fiction, pagan, religioin, writing

April 26, 2017

A Roughly Tended Woods

(C) 2017 by S.Riley

This year I was old and it was rainy, so I celebrated Earth Day after the sun came out, alone and one day late, in the 90 acre woodland of our bucolic small old Massachusetts town.

I chose the most convenient spot to walk, not the big tangled berry thicket in the tall trees out behind our house. Instead, I took the car out to a corner of the woods just down our road, which was the Boston / New York postal rider's trail 250 years ago, but now leads past our neighbors' modest houses and the Polish cemetery. Just then there comes an inconspicuous sign in a little spot where you pull off sharply down the roadway's bank then brake and park and stop the engine.

It is a roughly tended 90 acre woods, challenging or even dangerous for a geezer who's gone wobbly around the knees from a winter's close confinement. Even here, in a corner of it designated for the public to go hiking, the trails appear to be simply dragged out by a tractor now and then.

These trails are wide but rocky where they are not mud. They give you curious ways to stride, first down to a big broad green algae pond utterly alive with darting insects and rotting trees fallen in, then round about to the surrounding low ridges of sunlit pale ghostly gray boulder field glacial moraine, a skeletal form of land whereon the trees and shrubberies grow thin.

I have come to love this beautiful and puzzling place. Global warming drives me mad with sorrow. Here there is a plague of ticks.

My habit of this lifetime is to urge children and their parents out toward Nature. I've done that countless times. Now it feels as if the outdoors has betrayed my loving trust.

Further north, up in New Hampshire where we go visiting sweet friends often, there the ticks are killing moose – yes even great moose – the huge wild cattle in their woods. Winters were formerly waves of frigid searing cold that killed the bloodsucking bugs in their hibernation. Now with worldwide climate change winters have become just seasons of cool wet heavy snow. In New Hampshire now, moose with ticks thick as fur on them stumble from the woods and die.

There are not near so many ticks as that with us here, but quite bad enough to worry. Their bite can bring disease, a disease of painful agony that stays for years. Last week we found one on our daughter's kitchen table, brought in on someone's shoe I guess, then climbed up and scampering across like a tiny spider till I crushed it, there with her little children in the room. I feel the outdoors has betrayed my trust.

I have prayed and dreamed on this before. Right now it's night but in the morning I expect to drum and sing and read the cards then write. If I were smoking ganja in these years, I'd take a pipe out to our backyard shed and do the drumming there. I cannot say some other god besides my god is doing this, pretend some other god has interposed itself between my god and I. Nor do I see sufficient cause for blame here in my self.

Back at the car below the road, an hour gone, I inspected my strong old walking stick very carefully for ticks and laid it in the boot. Then all the rest was checked: my scalp and ears, my clothing, arms, legs, shoes.
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Published on April 26, 2017 09:23 Tags: climate-change, forest, hiking, nature

April 23, 2017

Climate Confusion

(C) 2017 by S.Riley

First let's admit that man-made climate change is preposterous.

If the idea is not preposterous then why don't any ancient books mention it? It is not mentioned in the Bible, nor the ancient Greek authors, nor the Norse sagas nor Aztec inscriptions, nor old Chinese scrolls so far as I have ever heard. All of that is a vast and varied catalog of human thoughts where the idea of man-made climate change apparently does not appear. Though I am not a scholar of science fiction, my impression is that it did not even appear in science fiction until it first became well known science. It looks like this possibility never crossed our minds before.

So let's agree it is preposterous even though we know that it is true, and let's admit this is a difficulty.

Next let's admit that for the great majority of Americans today, their personal experience has not yet produced solid evidence. Even if a storm or drought or wildfire has destroyed their livelihood or their home and people, let us admit that a typical American's personal experience does not so far logically add up to this enormous proposition of man-made climate change.

For contrast, consider an old American person who has carefully watched the weather for decades, maybe a wise old farmer, sailor or aviator. I am sure they have personally observed sufficient evidence over the length of their lifetime. Otherwise, most of us in our country are so insulated from Nature that our life experience has not yet been enough to clearly show the climate curve.

Now moving on, let us reluctantly admit that you and I – although we know man-made climate change is real and a pressing threat to humanity's survival – on those occasions when we find ourselves talking with a skeptic, we haven't got the slightest notion of how to be persuasive. We will likely wander off into a vague search for what to say.

One cause of that difficulty can be quite embarrassing. If the skeptic who we're talking with is well prepared, it quickly becomes obvious that we have not kept up with the flood of pertinent information. Do solar panels or fracked gas cost less in dollars now? Does the newest design of windmills still slaughter birds? Given the recent observations in Antarctica, how fast are the oceans rising? What about sun spots? In a conversation with a well prepared skeptic we're always wishing for some piece of information that we haven't got.

Another conversation stumbling block: there are many other apocalypses in America's imagination. So how should we reply when a skeptic mockingly compares climate change with the zombie apocalypse? More seriously, if your skeptic worries most about overpopulation and resource depletion leading to nuclear war, do we have some strategy for adding climate change to their urgent list? What if biblical Armageddon looms large in their thoughts? What if they expect a final race war to solve it all? What if they cherish faith that billionaires will swoop like superheroes to the planet's rescue?

There we've reached the hardest problem: political deadlock. In America right now, the faiths in (1.) Biblical Armageddon, (2.) Total race war, and (3.) The virtuous triumph of greed, are very active political forces. These three old fantasies rise from deep in America's long choosing to be either fascist or free. Currently they are spun into the warp and weft of our urgent struggle between totalitarian capitalism and democratic socialism. And those three fantasies weave a fabric of illusion that resists our demand for America to face reality.

But now, since I'm saying it is good to face reality, then what about the other hardest problem? The one that you and I don't like to talk about: there is a very hard truth that deeply motivates a lot of climate skepticism, a piece of reality which we climate realists almost never mention: the lonely grief of losing Earth.

Many climate skeptics feel we are accusing them of murdering Mother Nature and they deny the charge with any arguments that come to hand. Meanwhile, we realists often react to our growing personal sensation of horrid anguish – and our own personal portion of the guilt – by displacing desperate anger onto our opponents. And overall, America is so divorced from Nature, so unfamiliar with instinctive human pagan animism, that we have no words of our own to talk about this spiritual agony.

What else should I say? Now that some disconcerting difficulties have been listed, what proposals do I offer?

A first suggestion is quite easy: we do not need to convince people that man-made climate change is real. That is not necessary. Let me repeat: it is not necessary for you or I to convince anyone that man-made climate change is real.

Instead, you and I should do this: first study what changes in America the experts on our side are now proposing as response to climate change. Then, do our best to persuade people that those changes will help with America's other urgent problems too.

Check back with the difficulties listed above and you'll see that this conversational gambit would help with several of them. It will also be easy for us to do because it's true. A host of lovely and practical improvements in our country are now being proposed as serious response to climate change, everything from just really practicing democracy wherever we can, to eating good food and being neighborly. We will even be getting with our team when we use the conversational tactic of emphasizing this, because many experts on our side are already using it.

Then what about the flood of climate change factual information, the fact that you and I cannot possibly keep up with it in its huge complexity, and the humiliating way a well prepared skeptic can run rings around us in conversation by using lies and misdirections that are simpler? Is there some way to bandage this embarrassment?

A conversation with my dear father forty years ago – he being then a wise old farmer and aviator – has given me a very simple proof of the reality of man-made climate change. This is not to say it convinces well prepared skeptics, but so far I have found that it has always made them feel a hole has been punched in their carefully polished armor of falsehoods. It is true and it is obviously true and it works like a straightforward end run around their line.

All you say is this: “Ever since modern industry first began – for the last few hundred years – our society has been pumping vast amounts of smoke into the air, and doing so at a constantly increasing pace. Now the idea that ALL THAT SMOKE has somehow NOT changed the weather is ridiculous.” Say that clearly, enunciating clearly, and at least you'll see them stop and catch their breath and suddenly dodge.

Now it's time to bring this little essay to a close. I will undoubtedly find more to say in other places about these perplexing difficulties that I've listed here but at this time I am seeing just one of the items above that must be the subject of this essay's closing paragraph.

The bewildering and increasing spiritual agony of losing Earth: what shall we do with this? This is a subject for the arts. This is a hard problem requiring multiple leaps of deep awareness, exactly the kind of problem of cognition that has forced our species to evolve the ability of doing art. Me, so far I am composing a one-act play, perhaps including music, to explore this foggy ground. I've also written here and there about it, and read a bit of that material with an audience. I hope you will accept this challenge in whatever work you do.
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Published on April 23, 2017 10:35 Tags: art, climate-change, politics, war

April 15, 2017

Drone Strike In North Waziristan

(A painting and poem)

Alright, so it's April 15, 2017, a sunny morning, and WAR – cruel stupid evil WAR – is with us. Long ago I resolved resistance to war with every strength I can muster, resolved it solemnly half a century ago at the entry to my adulthood. So today here I am again offering you one of my best pieces of war resistance art, even though I mainly mean this blog for publishing new material. The poem is below the picture.

Drone Strike painting
"Drone Strike In North Waziristan" painting by Stone Riley (C) 2012
This painting is often shown at the artist's anti-war poetry and story performances.
The Painting's Website ... ... ... A Small Poster

Drone Strike In North Waziristan – The Poem

My son and his wife just had a baby, a beautiful new astonishing human child.

Last month two women went out to a water well at night and were rendered into bloody pieces.

I cannot pretend that these two things are different sorts of things, pretend that they are not the same type and quality of fact, for they are human facts.

I cannot say, Oh one is mine and one not mine, for my one human heart strains to encompass both

and strains to examine them with the fear and hope and joy and shame and trembling pity that are all alike the province of one heart.
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Published on April 15, 2017 04:39 Tags: drone, resistance, war

April 10, 2017

Shock And Awe

(A war poem in 2003)

Here's a poem I did in 2003 a little after George W. Bush's criminal invasion of Iraq. I'm posting it now, just after Donald Trump's criminal bomb attack in Syria, as a flashback reminder that a huge disaster ensued.

Here's a combat story from Iraq that I heard on National Public Radio one morning.

The report was very brief so please forgive me if I have to fill in some details. That's really what you do with a radio story anyway and the incident apparently was pretty typical; so I probably can't go very far wrong.

Anyway, the lead point element of one of our mecha­nized divisions has reached their current designated spot on the road to Baghdad. They halt, drive off the road and they form up their vehicles around the landscape like they should. The commanding officer of course naturally sends some guys out in tanks and Bradley armored vehicles to scout ahead a certain distance up the road. The radio reporter happened to be a passenger in one of those particular Bradleys so he tells about this.

So pretty soon they spot a major ambush attempt. Our guys, well trained and still alert despite the sleepless grind, see it in time with their computerized vision screens. The enemy has put some tanks, maybe half a dozen tanks, probably big T-72's I guess, lying in wait, hiding in among the little houses and the little mosque and palm trees of one of those dusty little adobe desert villages.

Our guys stop and deploy and – while they're still man­eu­vering outside of the enemy's effective range – they pop all the enemy tanks with one round each. They all explode and burn. That's good shooting. And pretty quick our guys are on their way again.

Now here's the thing. They go as far forward as they're supposed to go and turn around so now they're rolling back. They reach the ambush site again. Now here's one single enemy soldier left alive, all alone on foot, and he starts shooting at their armored vehicles with an ordinary AK47 rifle.

They pop him with a cannon round.

That's what we're calling “shock and awe”.
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Published on April 10, 2017 05:29 Tags: war

April 9, 2017

Our Imperial War Machine

(A song lyric on April 9th 2017)

Our imperial war machine is full of stupid people doing stupid things, this explaining why we have been losing all these wars for all these years and begging us to ask which of these failures will at last destroy America.

Of course we might look deeper for the reasons. Did the Babylonian Empire fall to the Assyrians just like this? Or does Caesar in his Chronicles offer better explanations? Or Shakespeare in Macbeth? But really: Why are so many stupid people here among us given the ability of doing horrid things? So really: We Americans might try looking in a mirror, and blink our eyes to come awake.

We have not loved enough; we only recently became a post-slavery society. Or not even that; In fact, our Constitution still has slavery ascribed as punishment for crime and so it is ascribed, a thousand times per day, and crimes invented for the purpose. So in this habit we regard the world: We claim “white” and claim God loves our “white” so we must kill to keep reality away, and we must fear so as to kill – quite like the overseer, shotgun loaded on his lap and trembling alone all night because the “darkies” sing beneath the moon – and such are we.

We have not loved enough; the soldier trembling in his bunk paralyzed with horrors while the general, worlds away, smiles and drinks and prays with congressmen. No care has he for the exploding packages and rapidly repeating bullets. The world has thrown away its Age Of Empires; nowadays, out to the furthest edges of the world, the last remaining swords and spears have been traded in for the exploding packages and rapidly repeating bullets. The general, worlds away, prays for another star sewn to his hat and throws the soldier's soul onto the gaming table.

We have not loved enough; money does not love us back. Money is, you know, a fantasy addictive substance yet some misadapted instinct in us shouts that it is very beautiful and very real. Still, it does not matter how you pet and preen it, with whatever artistry you earn it, nor how generously you scatter crumbs of it before the poor, nor however many dirty losers you may smash deservedly into the dust, you will never have enough. In these decades now the owners of our country fantasize they own the world and they are running mad with money lust. We admire and follow.

We have not loved enough; we rape our Holy Mother Earth. No words come to my lips for this; my heart is stopped with grief. ...[ an extensive musical passage here ]... But only this: We rape our children and our children's children as a strategy of rapine war.

Our imperial war machine is full of stupid people doing stupid things and we allow it. We let them steal our money for it. We enslave our minds and hearts and souls to them in trade for thrilling lies and blingy trinkets. We hate when hate is on the bill of fare their server hands us. We do not ask which of these stupid wars will kill us.

Or perhaps we will awake in time.
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Published on April 09, 2017 11:03 Tags: empire, money, poem, poetry, racism, war

April 2, 2017

Beginning A New Drama Piece

I did a lot of stand up storytelling in the 1990's, the best of it actually one-person one-act dramatic plays. The storytelling form was very popular here in New England in those years and our threadbare bold adventuring Pagan movement here – with our high literacy and our lust for primary true experience – reached high levels of connoisseurship. In performance, Pagan audiences were quite conscious of the psychic field so even the deepest classic ancient mythic material could be explored properly.

Now just this week I have begun composing another of those one-person one-act dramatic plays for performance with a Pagan audience, the first in all this time, and it's developing well. It seems to have a threshold / verse / chorus / coda structure, the threshold is firmly in mind and it feels compelling. My purpose in the piece seems good, clear and necessary. Several current strands and intimations are coalescing into it. I even put a bid in for performance space at a popular Pagan event twelve months from now.

But this time I am feeling it is different. I could name a string of things, of course, that are different after twenty-something years, but it seems like what I need to do is pinpoint some difference between the 1990's and today that I haven't thought of yet. I'll even bet good money that it's something big I must discern before proceeding from the threshold into the play's first verse. Maybe I can find that thing here on this page.

Alright, something leaps to mind. (Only ask clearly and something leaps to mind:) The youth. Our youth. My guess of their position in the play seems wrong. It is wrong. I had in mind to teach them. That is ridiculous; I must recruit them into teaching me like was done with audiences before. But our youth are tired of us imploring them, imploring them, imploring them, where twenty-something years ago we ourselves were feeling primed and ready for the action. So how to recruit them now? By misdirection and surprise?

A synopsis of the play: It is one hundred eighty years from now. An Old Man Witch, staring through a sheet of broken glass, desperately tries to conjure the spirit of his grandmother in the magick healing arts for an urgent consultation. (We are told she is a young women present in the audience.) He lives in the Good New Age, but it is still an initial foundation phase. People there are struggling with tremendous grief for everything that is being murdered now in our time. We come to understand that he is bringing one of his own great sorrows to this consultation.

The play is titled: “You Are The Future's Past”.

In other words, we must persuade our children of today – sitting in the audience of our struggles – to accept the role of ancient guiding spirit whom our great grandchildren – there in the future – are already conjuring for essential help. And we must let our children of today say how their work is to be done. And this one-act playwright is to actually do at least some quantity of that inside of thirty minutes.

By misdirection and surprise? Perhaps, for there is this: Day before yesterday I sat with an eight year old child in counseling for a sorrow. He was quite surprised, indeed, as our roles became reversed but then he was very helpful to me and very good and I love him deeply.
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Published on April 02, 2017 05:10 Tags: counseling, drama, future, grief, new-age, past, play, sorrow, stage, storytelling, youth

April 1, 2017

I Want An Art Teacher To Review My Book

I want an art teacher to review my book.

But why an art teacher? Why is that the ace qualification on my list? Because this book is outside the scope of things people are currently familiar with and very beautiful; pretty much the situation an art teacher faces constantly. Me recently for instance; for little children in our family, I am their first art teacher and I am currently introducing an 18 month old grandchild to the piano in his living room even though I do not play the instrument myself.

Thanks largely to advice from a flutist friend recently on a different problem, our little piano lessons are going well. We don't meet often, the flutist and I, but this was at the memorial service for a very beautiful person who had led a very beautiful life and I had read a poem that is in this book. After, at the meal, this fine musician let me know the poem had been beautiful. So I gave a copy of the book and ventured to ask for the advice which has proved useful.

You understand, I asked the advice on a different topic: my fledgling project to invent experimental music on harmonica. (Harmonica is actually, although not mechanically, a kind of flute.) With this profoundly personal motivation, I asked how to take my project farther, how to put the pieces of the music I have found together. The musician told me I ought to do this: compose a poem with it. And that has served us well, the child and I, in our piano lessons.

Why an art teacher? Because experimental art needs a teacher to explain it. In fact – quite perplexingly to me – nearly never has anyone dared write a review of my work, the one exception so far being a high school literature teacher friend for whose students I did a talk on Homer, after which she felt indebted. And her review taught me things about my work.

Our little piano lessons are doing like that talk on Homer did, like the funeral poem reading did, like the weekend art shows in the park (in the years when I was showing paintings) did and like the stage and museum work and all the rest has done whenever it was going well: You play duets.

You converse with people. You talk with people from your heart so they open theirs, and so the natural art of human beings makes a poem. That is how I learned to write and paint and all the rest. That is how a proper teacher works. That is how I hope you feel when you read the book and when you tell about it.

So perhaps you are an art teacher.
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Published on April 01, 2017 03:05 Tags: art, art-teacher, conversation, flute, harmonica, piano, poem, poetry, teacher, teaching

March 24, 2017

My Influential Poets

“Gettysburg Address” by Lincoln plus Shakespeare's plays are my great models while Dickinson is a fascinating kind of contrapuntal voice, like a Shakespeare character herself.

I became a lover of “Gettysburg Address” in the seventh grade of school, age 13 or 14, when I performed it for our little class during our Civil War history studies.

You understand, Lincoln wrote that poem after Shakespeare's plays, which I was already familiar with from movies on a classic movie program on TV. Of course the content of the plays went way over my head at that age, sitting there with ears and eyes and brain glued to our small gray TV screen in my family's home, but the lines were all spoken by fine actors and it seems the way to do it stuck.

Furthermore, this was personal. That was Houston in the age of jim crow racism and we in that school were classified as the superior “white”, which creates a lot of spiritual pain. Naturally, since Lincoln's piece is exactly about precisely that pain, and since it is perhaps the best piece of verse in modern English, that pain went into my performance in our little classroom and the intense power of peace and love that it had among us was a lesson to me.

So imagine my disgust and horror then, a few years later, when our high school literature lessons said the Shakespeare plays are, of course, great performance pieces but they are badly structured poems and, all in all, an uninteresting and inferior kind of poetry which we should not emulate. And, to make this matter even worse, there was not one single mention in my high school – not the slightest mention – that “Gettysburg Address” even is a poem.

Now, Dickinson came into my consciousness much later, around 2005, through Paglia's book of criticism that finally demonstrated the Belle's work to me. One particular visual image from Dickinson, that Paglia has shoved into my brain, looms very large: I see the poet staring out through broken glass. This seems of extreme importance to me, and it waits for its place to be found in my work.
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Published on March 24, 2017 02:38 Tags: dickinson, lincoln, paglia, poetry, shakespeare

Stone Riley's Shoebox

Stone Riley
A poet writing essays. Why the title? You know you keep a large size shoe box with all those creative ideas and suchlike stuff scribbled on the back of electric bill envelopes?
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