Tag Archives: quest

… story – art – quest for the cypher – symbol …

As painters or sculptors do, I frequently step back from my writing projects, searching for the core, a half imagined essence to shine through and re-animate the creative flow. Skills alone don’t do it, techniques alone don’t do it, nor style. As long as the essence of what I try to express floats in the unconscious, my efforts will baffle and tease me.

Having listened to thousand and one stories during my 30 years of working as a transpersonal psychotherapist, I conclude that when we tell our story to ourselves, or others who watch and listen, we trace a rhythm, a sound, the distant bubbling of a spring – a theme. While sourcing and shaping words we ideally become aware of how we translate experiences, string up memories and weave a pattern that gives meaning, purpose and direction to our story. We may re-weave the past and change how we perceive life. Even a single image, too evanescent to fit ordinary reality, can assume significance. An ideal may sharpen – and with it a vision of what not yet exists, revealed by the imagination.

Sensual impression, dreams, primary images and the love/hate of relationships, present a puzzle we try to arrange in some kind of order, waiting for a theme to become intelligible, and therefore transmittable. Finding a structure to express our experiences through words, images, movements, sounds, music, or numbers is insufficient. We must play with the fragments – take out bits, or add bits, until a satisfying narrative suggests itself.

World objects from my sand tray

Fairy tales, heroes and villains of myth, historical figures, cartoon characters or pop stars may do the magic by evoking a psychic resonance and providing a metaphor, or a precious symbol to ease the pressure of the archetypal demand lurking in the unconscious.

Not only those we call artists, but all creative people respond to what holds sensual and cognitive fascination for them. I include trades, crafts, makers, men and women with affinities to certain elements, who explore the quality and beauty of materials, like weavers, potters, wood workers, printers, plumbers, electricians … I include technicians, engineers, inventors, scientists and mystics. Curiosity and passion for a subject deepen knowledge and intuition as to how things connect outside, and, vitally, how they connect inside us.

Ashen – directing a film in the woods.

My fascination with creating stories was revived while doing a film degree (as career brake) during the late 1990s. I’m curious about consciousness, relative perception of time, and the interplay of characters for which I invent pasts and futures, where ideals are the means to a goal, while as soon as the goal is reached, a new ideal looms over the horizon. If this were not so, evolution, our whole story would stop. Ursula Le Guin once wrote –

‘In eternity there is nothing novel, and there are no novels.’

My ongoing writing project, a trilogy of stories, involves three soul sisters, Ana, Cara and Mesa. The first (already published) book of the trilogy, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ (see book page) narrates the quest of Ana, which is really the myth of the story teller, Cara, whose theme is seeking a balance for the enigma of clashing feminine and masculine principles. The sequel, ‘Shapers,’ (not yet published) introduces Cara in the twentieth century as she follows the characters of Ana’s myth into a far future society where emotional expressions are outlawed until the experiment breaks down under its duplicity.

In a third book, ‘Mesa,’ a work in progress, same characters move to a realm where time has slowed down to such extend that ‘novelty’ has to be rescued for life to continue. This story calls for a deep dive into the heart of my imagination.

I’m once more held in the cocoon stage. Given the ideological power games around the globe, I feel foolish about these musings, since I’ve been sharing the ups and downs of my quest here for the last seven years.

Do you, my reader, recognise the pressure to bring something into existence? How do you search for the cypher (the wild uniqueness in the soul) that informs your creative process?

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A definition of Symbol … from ‘The Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi’ by Henry Corbin, transl. by Ralph Manheim, Bollingen Series XCI, Princeton University

The symbol announces a plane of consciousness distinct from that of rational evidence; it is a ‘cipher’ of a mystery, the only means of expressing something that cannot be apprehended in any other way; a symbol is never ‘explained’ once and for all, but must be deciphered over and over again, just as a musical score is never deciphered once and for all, but calls for ever new execution.

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… what writers can glean from cinematographers …

Like writers, filmmakers manipulate time. They take a story apart and re-assemble it.

Robert Bresson, inquisitor and humanist, stimulated filmmakers and enriched the experience ofrobert-bresson2 viewers. With a tiny leap of the imagination his ‘Notes on the Cinematographer,’ publ. by Quartet Books in 1986, transl. from the French by Jonathan Griffin, also offer inspiration to writers of stories. Here are a few  brief notes I collated during my vocational film degree in the early 90s:

An image is transformed by contact with other images as is a colour by contact with other colours. A blue is not the same blue besides a green, a yellow, a red. No art is without transformation.

For the writer – this would apply to action and reaction, resonance or dissonance, anything that develops the dynamic interactions of a narrative.

img108 adjustedTo create is not to deform or invent persons or things. It is to tie new relationships between persons and things which are, and as they are.

This equally holds for writing. Characters discover themselves through relationships.

Something that failed can, if you change its place, be a thing that has come off.

If a writer’s darling idea distracts in one place, in another place it may earn its stay.

One dismantles and puts together till one gets intensity.

This reminds me of a Goethe quote … Dich im Unendlichen zu finden, must unterscheiden und verbinden … To find yourself in infinity you must differentiate and combine … Details works best if they have a purpose in the protagonist’s quest, especially when it comes to turning points.

An old thing becomes new if you detach it from what usually surrounds it.

This is what creativity is all about. Entrepreneurs seem to grok this.

What is for the eye must not duplicate what is for the ear (within.)

This serves as a reminder not to overwhelm a reader with sensual information.

The cause which makes him/her say this sentence or makes that movement is not in him/her, it is in you. The causes are not in the models. On the stage and in films the actor must make us believe that the cause is in him.

A one-up on the ‘show don’t tell’ writing mantra. Both telling and showing have their place, though we connect to a character more intimately through being shown the interactions with him/her self and others.

The omnipotence of rhythms – nothing is durable but what is caught up in rhythms.

We love rhythm. It measures time and gives coherence, while a counter rhythm can surprise and quicken our heartbeat. In film as in writing this might be the repetition of quirky character traits, tone of voice, tempo, mood, atmosphere, or reoccurring shifts in style and perspective, in the way we enjoy how adagio and presto in music enhance each other.

P1090890 - Copy (2)Translate the invisible wind by the water it sculpts in passing.

This ventures into the domain of poetry …  the ongoing challenge to find ways to express in words or images what rushes past us in daily life, but nevertheless affects us deeply.

The eye is (in general) superficial, the ear profound and inventive. A locomotive whistle imprints in us a whole railway station.

This is about trusting the imagination of the viewer, or reader.

Let the cause follow the effect, not accompany it or precede it.

Robert Bresson shares: The other day I was walking through the gardens by Notre-Dame and saw approaching a man whose eyes caught something behind me, which I could not see: at once they lit up. If, at the same time I saw the man, I had perceived the young woman and the child towards whom he now begun running, that happy face of his would not have struck me so; indeed I might not have noticed it.

Build your film on white, on silence and on stillness.

Profound. Allowing a unique story to emerge requires intuition, and an inner kind of listening.

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A touching interview of R Bresson. And some video clips relating to cinema, including hand gestures R Bresson used in film.

As writers, how do we move a story from one setting to another?

In film, a sudden jump of scene is kind of lazy, unless intended to shock. In writing, too, there are more elegant ways to transit from one place, or time, to another, mainly through matching parallels or correspondences. This could be: A keyword in a dialogue repeated in the next scene, or a similar action, direction of movement, speed, light, colour, shape, sound or mood. It could also be an artificial device, featuring a narrator, or a recurring (out of time) interlude which can form the spine for the narrative.

I have time-jumps in my novels (yet to be publishend.) It remains to be seen whether they work.

Regarding spatial/temporal suspensions of linearity, I remember the beginning of the film Space Odyssey 2001. A victorious ape, having discovered a bone can be a weapon, spins his tool high into the air … time leaps … and next we see a spinning space station, shaped like the femur bone.

More recent, in the TV series The Last King – 1st episode, a time leap works well … The Saxon boy, Uhtred, captured by Danes and taken under the wings of Earl Ragnar, is pushed by him playfully into a river with the words ‘You’re as a son to me.’ In the next scene Uhtred steps out of the river as a grown man, albeit with conflicting localities.

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On a personal note, as my life’s narrative is concerned, having made professional sacrifices ten years ago, in order to write, I wish I could shift to a scene and time that did not involve worrying about keeping my roof over my head.

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… Goats are Goats … part 2

Drenched, we stepped into a steaming kitchen. A sizeable family was gathered for a meal. Men had spread their wet jumpers on chairs near the central cooker. In a nook above the table hung a plain crucifix. The matriarch served food. When she saw our bedraggled state, she dropped her ladle to fetch towels. We must have looked like scarecrows.

‘Sit down, have a bite.’ Her husband heaped roast lamb and spuds on large plates for us. A young girl gawked at our exotic outfit.  We were wedged into benches, flanked by men who, while bashful, beamed at the welcome distraction. As to goats – no luck:  ‘Ja Geissen, di hamma ghabt, aber jetzt nimmer. Dass tut mir Leid.’ The woman was genuinely disappointed for us.

Goats, we learned, were not bred anymore in the area. ‘The effort outweighed the reward,’ said an elder, though unlike the farmer earlier in the day, he did not make me feel a fool for wanting a goat. The brothers were curious and showered us with questions about the outside world, we were a novelty. Ellie kept quiet, struggling with her roast leg of lamb, out of politeness. She was undecided about eating meat. Playing the martyr, I thought. A good hour passed with stories in local dialect. I caught the gist and laughed along, while Ellie occasionally managed the ghost of a grin. When the deluge reversed to plain rain, I grasped the moment to thank our hosts.

‘You could ask the cobbler in the village. He’s privy to gossip from round here.’ The elder chuckled. ‘You’ll find him in the village, next to the church.’

Guided by the baroque spire, I found the church and parked the car in the square. Two crows cawed, debating in a spindly tree. ‘A bad omen,’ Ellie said. 

I was gripped by a compulsion to let her hitchhike home. Her foolish superstition annoyed me. ‘All depends what you project onto crows,’ I countered.’

A lean and nifty man, the cobbler stashed not only shoes but secrets, likely for profit. There was punch behind his words, ‘Your best bet is the slaughterhouse,’ he said, ‘they might have an old goat.’

‘I don’t want to go there.’ Ellie wailed. Her moral conflict over eating meat at the farmer’s table left her feeling woozy. And the crows had put fear in her. Wet through once more, we lingered in the car and gazed at the waters dancing on the tarmac. ‘Maybe you should get a sheep,’ Ellie said.

I suffered the humiliation of defeat, while the slaughterhouse loomed as a last resort. My want for a goat prevailed. ‘I’ll enquire, you can stay put,’ I said, and firmly started the engine, heading in the direction the cobbler had indicated. Another black cloud sailed in. The torrent drummed so hard on the windshield, its wipers slowed under duress. Single drops hit the tarmac like missiles, forming a milky mist.

‘Everything’s against us,’ Ellie said. Here we go again, I thought. Yet I had to admit the dead-end. We would have to return down the mountain. The trouble was, when Ellie slipped into a low mood the air surrounding her became heavy. If I stretched my imagination I could see her succumb to a host of dark entities, hear their whispers. I regretted my decision to take Ellie along. We turned a corner, and, without warning, were faced by a stark scene. In the frame of an open industrial unit animal corpses dangled from hooks like pendulums. That instant a cow’s belly was sliced open. Blood and inner organs poured out and splashed into the drains below. Ellie shrieked and paled. Queasy myself, a vivid taste of iron in my mouth, I turned the car and stopped on the main road.

Numbed, we avoided each other’s eyes, the shocking event lingered. Part of life’s food chain, I told myself, and promptly pictured the cling-filmed bloodless meat in supermarkets.

Ellie heaved a breath. Her hands stopped trembling. She shook her head, ‘Nevermore,’ she said. The gravity in her voice, the burning determination in her eyes, hinted at a deep rage, way beyond her revulsion to meat. It seemed to me her nevermore applied to the shadowy entities that plagued her, and a no-meat pledge served to conquer her passivity.

I liked the taste of meat, but would I eat it if I had to kill the animal myself? A challenge! I reasoned with my conscience and came up with a compromise. ‘From now on, I’ll remember to honour a sacrificed life with a thank you,’ I said.

‘That’s a start.’ The sharp tone behind Ellie’s new credo brought an icy draught on the air. To escape the depressing spot, I made snail-speed through the village. The day’s span had narrowed. Overcome by failure, I gazed into the haze for answers.

… a link to part three, the last instalment is at the top of this page …

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. A wise man does not need advice and a goat won’t take it.   Anon

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The illustrations are by Arthur Rackham and Gustave Doré

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