This was what I posted on the electronic commons: “The last full day of summer is at hand. Tuesday 4:16 Central the eggs can stand on end, the leaves have full permission to turn and depart their branches, the dark comes giddy and soon. Take time to thank your gardens, the beaches and tar, the pop songs that made the summer what it was. Kiss it goodbye. Next year, we'll meet again.”
This was Judy Cooper Lyle response “Do you have to remind us???? I dread winter like the plague!!!!!!!”
Yes, I do. For if nothing else, the turning of the season is about time and the constant ever changing, never changing of essential life.
I’ve talked about this before; in other Equinox and Solstice letters. I talk about time as mythic reality and our relationship to it in my basic storytelling class. So if you’ve heard or read this before, indulge me. Take a refresher moment because I want to spend a little bit of this Equinox missive considering time itself.
This notion of time as seconds, minutes, hours is a construct. But for what or who’s purpose? For the organization of work or the measure of accomplishment; i.e. getting things done? As a way of know how long to bake a cake? How fast we ran x distance? How long to play a game? So we can start and finish together? (Hah, that’s a good one. Even with clocks and schedules, how many classes and meetings begin on time?) As a nod to or a tool of science, the industrial revolution, or “progress”? Would not we be able to bake a cake without minutes? Could we not run x distance without measuring it? Or if we must, why not by the number of strides it took or our shortness of breath? What if teams played until they didn’t want to play anymore?
Time as we experience it is artifice and a perfect example of Joseph Campbell’s dictum that “When you are inside the myth is makes perfect sense, but when you are outside the myth you wonder why anyone would believe that?”
Days are another matter. A day is not artificial. It is a natural construct measured by the earth and sky, sun and stars. It is fluid. Oh I know there is a scientific explanation for the mechanics of day but the fact of day, the observed rhythm of light and dark, sun rise, sun set requires nothing more than observation. For 99% of all human existence, day was and is the fundamental unit of time.
The idea of the week is completely cultural. Seven days? Why seven days? Why not five or 13? And the month is no improvement. Thirty for some, 31 for others, 28 for one poor bastard all in order to get 12 of them based on some mash-up of the Roman Empire’s gods in a row to be named year. One pope tried to fix it but I’m not sure that worked out so well. If we were observant of nature’s cycle, we would arrive at the idea of a month based on the moon’s progression from dark to full and back again. But then, each month would be 28 days for the constancy of the moon does not vary and we would have 13 in a year, if we even had a year. Am I hitting a nerve here?
The year is observable and is the other universal measure of time. The progression of seasons, the movement from long days to short and back again gives shape to human ritual. In every culture throughout time/history human beings have marked the seasons of dark and light, of the seeded life fecund and the harvest. We have built culture, religion, and commerce around annual rituals which invoke spirits to bring that which sustains us (whether it be the planting of maize or the migration of salmon), give thanks for the bounty or in times when sustenance doesn’t sustain, to plead for mercy, miracles or assign guilt and blame as the reason.
For most of human experience time was measured in two ways: first in a natural cycle of days and seasons and in spiritual/psychological terms of now and “then”, with then being a mythic frame of dreams, songs, stories, the province of Gods, sprits and the shaman. The idea of time as divided into past, present and future was largely unknown and not very useful. What mattered was the present as the personification of day and to a lesser degree the past in which the acts of men were intertwined with the spiritual. Even as I write this I realize that it is not quite that simple but rather than get into the exceptions and variations, I’ll let it stand as an indicator of a way of being in the world that for most of us is utterly foreign to our experience.
We live in the world as we find it. The hardest thing for us to do is realize that our relationship to time is unconscious and in the digital world increasingly disconnected from the cultural roots that gave us this odd assembly of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and year that determine our lives. What happens when you become conscious of time? Does the minute or the day get any longer or better?
And yet our best experience of time is when we are entirely unaware of it. When we play or work at what we love and have no sense of time passing. Or when we are acutely aware of it. The way time slows down and seems to expand to let us take in every detail in the moments the accident is taking place. In the glance at the one we love or hate in the instant when we know the other’s intention before the word is spoken or the deed is done. In both the keen awareness and forgetting time is not an external measure, but is in us, with us even as we are in and within it.
For me these seasonal changes are important to both experience and acknowledge. It is here that the face of nature, the blood and bone world that gave rise to human culture might be glimpsed through the veil of neon and the 24/7 news cycle. In sitting down to write about the observed world and my experience of the world I am making a conscious effort to be connected to that long continuum of days and years that is both new and the spiritual then of myth and ritual.
I was easier when I was living on the farm. Sitting in the top of the bluff with the Winona in Mississippi valley stretched below the horizon, Wisconsin before me, it was easy to see the great dome of heaven. Gregory’s faithful photographing of sunrise and sunset over the course of two years to produce the diorama of the solar journey from furthest northern to furthest southern points made clear just how great was the earth’s wobble.
The Winter Solstice was a short day with the wind shaking the few pale corn stalks that stood above the already crusted snow. The night was long and dark, marked by the hiss and spark of the split oak logs in the cast iron stove. On a good year, the Spring Equinox brought plowed fields with the black earth turned to Heaven, waiting for seed corn and rain. Those same fields stood thigh high leaves by the Summer Equinox, growing toward that moment in July when everything was oppressive heat, the hot green stalks sticky with pollen and air itself golden. By the Autumn Equinox, the fields had already begun to turn brown, the weight of the corn yearning for the combine’s passage. We’d be cutting and splitting wood in the warm afternoon, not for this winter but for next.
All around there were clear markers of nature’s time and our place. It was easy to feel the turning world and know that the sun would set between the oaks on Sept 22 no matter what chaos might be the afoot in the classroom or that year’s recession economy.
Living in the city the signs are not so discernable. You have to look harder to see beyond the concrete heat bubble and office glare. The stars are not as visible. The winds blow harder along the glass front towers. Harder yet to tell where we are in the dance of life as you sit at the ubiquitous airport gate looking through the glass at another plane before another flight in a succession of flights. When you land somewhere an hour before you took off it is hard to feel connected to day, much less to place.
Where are you on this Equinox day? What are the markers of change you see and feel? What memories do they call forth? What spirits visit in the twilight hours or do you make offering to?
Here is where I am on this day. Sitting at a laptop on a glass top desk in a moss green room. Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way has succeeded Charles Mingus’ Cornell 1964. The back door was open to let the cats in an out as they please but got closed when a curious squirrel came in to beg for pizza and had to be ushered out again. Looking out the window the garden is in the last stages of blooming. Yellow leaves with brown edges replace the green. The jack pines seemingly unchanged fool the eye into not noticing that the ferns at the base of the trunks hang forlorn.
August was Fringe month. First doing Moby Dick Tonight! at the MN Fringe. Old material reworked and done as series of prop laden rants, jokes and poetic images. Then the IndyFringe, sharing the stage with Howard Lieberman and doing the wild ride of 55 Minutes of Sex, Drugs and Audience Participation. It was life on stage and I am always happy to be in the moment on stage. It was not the best work I’ve ever done but it was good work and I have the digital recordings to prove it.
October began with the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. I’m not telling but I’m going to support tellers I love who are and do a little storytelling business – the 2010 national conference Fringe drawing, a PRO-SIG discussion of emerging and unrecognized storytellers – along the way. Then I’m back to Indianapolis for a conference and maybe end the month with a school workshop in LA. It will be another month of airplanes and hotel rooms.
September is the space between. The getting back to the public policy work and the looking for more training, message framing, lobbying work that literally pays the bills. It is beginning a new Housing Policy class with a very mixed age, race and political outlook group of 21. Beginning the Fall Two Chairs Telling series with a mix of musicians who are inclined to narrative and storytellers with a lyrical bent.
My health is OK. This is worth mentioning because I am struck by the fact that several people I know have suffered strokes lately. Dean J. Seal and Pat Mendoza just this last week. Brother Blue before that. ( and as I post this, the recognition of Blue's passing) Take care of yourselves. Love the ones you are with for life is short. My hair is long, my attitude good. In the middle of the strum and drag of the health care debate, the shame of having Michelle Bachman represent Minnesota and the persistent recession, I am trying to practice Buddha’s counsel “Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering. Some suffer too much, others too little.”
May you be blessed and extend your blessings in return.