Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lost pt 3

Within the body of a healthy adult, microbial cells are estimated to outnumber human cells by a factor of ten to one. These communities, however, remain largely unstudied, leaving almost entirely unknown their influence upon human development, physiology, immunity, and nutrition. 

So who am I anyway? Who are you? The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) currently lists 12,328 micro-organisms in their catalog (ranging from Yersinia pestis to Anopheles gambiae.) These are organisms that have been cultured and made available for research and by no means a complete list of the micro-organisms constituting the Human Microbiome.
I drink my ("my"?) morning cup of coffee. But who lifts "my" hand to the cup? Who is sipping, swallowing, and absorbing the liquid? I suddenly felt like a massive manikin being operated by a confederacy of diminutive creatures. 
Then the kitchen sink became clogged. A dingy pool of water sits over the open drain, stagnant. I take the plunger to the sink and plunge away. A gurgling expectoration ensues and the deep pipes belch up a greasy stew of undigested scraps. The pool slowly (over night) seeps back down and out of sight into the narrow capillaries I imagine that are formed amidst the  waste coagulating in the plumbing.
I run a metal "snake" into the drain and twelve feet down. The clog resists. I go to the hardware store and shop for a longer, thicker, snake to use. While there, I spy a biochemical drain clearing solution. A blend of natural bacteria and enzymes. I dose the drain and wait over night.

That night I meditate on the microbiome of my body repossessing my tooth while the microbiome of my kitchen sink suffers from constipation.

My wife is big on probiotics. I get it. We feed ourselves micro-organisms to keep our microbiome healthy because, after all, not only are we what we eat, we are what is eating what we eat.

The biochemical drain treatment failed. I got a bigger snake. No success. Finally I called the doctor (aka the plumber.) I realize that the plumber is essentially the house doctor who makes house calls because the house can't fit in a typical waiting room for treatment. The plumber performs his version of a household colonoscopy using a very big snake. The drain is clear. 

The money goes away with the problems: to the plumber and the dentist (and the repo man.) I am still confused about where I begin and the world ends. Not only am "I" an expression of millions of micro-organisms outnumbering my human cells, but I am a component of an even larger organism called a house, which takes in food and other materials (the paint I brushed onto the bedroom walls,) processes it through me ("me"?) and the rest of the family and then eliminates it through the various pipes that link it to the larger biome of the neighborhood, the city, the endless infrastructure and skeletal schema of the world.

continue to "Lost Pt. 4" a.k.a "Found"

Monday, December 30, 2013

Lost pt 2

Novak is a Bohemian name meaning "New Man" or "New-Comer." Bohemia is "the home of the Boi," encompassing a large portion of the modern Czech republic, including Prague. Bohemia appears to have been settled when the Romans drove the Boi out of Northern Italy in the 2nd Century BCE. The Boi appear to have been a large Celtic nation, the name meaning variously "cow-herder" or "warrior." It is likely they were ancient cowboys depending on agriculture and warfare to survive.

They may be related to the Boetians of early Greece.

So, the Novaks are "New-Comers" from an ancient race of wandering Celtic cowboy warriors with ties to the early Greek civilization. Wild.  This much I know: not one generation of Novaks that I am aware of (in my family tree) has remained in the place they were born. We are perpetual new-comers. Strangers.

It is highly likely that the Novak name became so widespread - it is the virtual "Smith" of Bohemia - due to the Christianizing of Central Europe. As previously pagan peoples were converted to Christianity, they were made "New Men" having been "reborn in Christ."

Either way, the name carries a story. A story of constant motion and newness. A narrative in which it is easy to feel lost, or at the very least, far from home. Non-indigenous. An invasive species.

So I'm lying in bed with a toothache and this is what is going through my mind: dissoluti0on and invasion. The discovery that my pain was due to resorption made the conflict internal: I was at war with myself.

I could practically hear my body arguing with itself: the tooth attacked by the mouth, the belly angry with the mouth, the limbs impatient with the belly, the mouth, and the tooth.

It was like the old parable: the limbs go to war against the belly, thinking it lazy and greedy, getting all the goodies while they do all the hard work. Finally the entire body begins to starve and must learn to appreciate the different functions and responsibilities each has for the survival of the whole.

[The parable has long been used to describe the socio-political functions of the state - the "body politic."]

So my dissolution continued down to the microscopic level as I realized that my "body politic" was like the early Greece of the Boetians: a loose coalition of independent city-states.

Then I made a disturbing discovery: My body's coalition included a vast nation of non-indigenous micro-organisms. In fact, they were the majority.

There are 10x as many micro-organisms in the human body as there human cells.

So who am I anyway?

continue to "Lost Pt. 3"

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Lost, pt 1

I lost myself. It started with a toothache. A back molar began to throb. I dosed myself with Tylenol and lay in bed enduring the deep dull pain and wondering what to do. No health insurance. No cash. So, until I  could afford a dentist visit, I would floss, rinse, dose, and concentrate. The tooth was commanding my attention. I could picture it, growing in my jaw; an infection developing from some foreign strain of opportunistic bacteria. An invasion. The root reaching into me, a kind of plant, a growth, an entity separate from me. I felt invaded.

There are trees and grasses and flowers in my yard. They all put roots down into the soil. They sometimes are invaded by pests and bacteria. That was happening now in my jaw. Why did I feel the pain when the "plant" was attacked in my jaw but not when the plants are attacked in my yard? "My" is such a relative term. "My yard" because I am the putative possessor of the territory (though the land as well as the bank would disagree.) "My jaw" because I am more than the possessor; the jaw is me. Is the tooth? The tooth is mine. When a tooth falls out, we say we lost a tooth, a thing once in our possession. So, now, this tooth of mine is causing me pain and I am ready to lose it. Will I lose me in losing my tooth? Am I an assemblage of parts? Where is the me that is the possessor and the experiencer?

An Alan Watts limerick comes to mind:

There was a young man who said "Though
it seems that I know that I know,
what I'd like to see
is the "I" that knows me,
when I know that I know that I know."

I was falling apart. Literally. I finally got to the dentist (deferred payment for a week) who looked at the tooth and said it was not an infection but a resorption. Root Resorption. The body was repossessing the tooth, resorbing it.

Medical Definition of RESORB: 

to break down and assimilate (something previously differentiated.) 

Last fall my car was repossessed, resorbed; the bank no longer wishing to play make-believe with me. ("Make-believe you own this.") This happened mere days before I was to appear at a major job: the National Storytelling Festival, which, as it happened, was the Universe's way of getting my car back after hefty fines.

"My car."
"My tooth."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Complete Creche Songs

Crèche Songs 
David Novak 


If you tell the story often enough 
You begin to believe it. 
Of course we had been the City of David, 
Which put us in the running. 
Location, location, location. 
The details helped: 
The star, the kings, 
And that bit about the census. 
An anachronism, true, but what of it? 
Science indulges in far greater margins for error 
And as storytelling goes, it’s nothing 
Compared to what they did to Nicholas of Myra. 
Good press for the North Pole 
But tough luck for Myra. 
So all in all we are happy 
To be the place where it all started. 
Not bad for a little town, huh?

The Ass 

Time was, 
I could chew a blade of grass 
And gaze lazily into the distance all day. 
My mouth would sing with juices, 
My back would hum in the sun. 
But I was taught to carry. 
And if I should drift away to gaze again into the distance 
I was always reminded of my burden and my task: 
To carry, and to wear so many cares. 
In time, 
My cares became me 
And I ceased to seek a heaven in the idle act of living. 
I did not ponder this 
Until that time I carried into Bethlehem 
An unborn child 
Who, likewise, 
Gave up his bliss 
For burdens.

The Bitch 

These people dismay me. 
How is it that such fundamental things 
Are so difficult for them? 
If I had not been there, they had been lost. 
The man was useless, 
The woman was helpless. 
But birth is ordinary work for me. 
I, it was, who licked the baby clean 
So his eyes might open 
And his lungs might breath. 
(And when they did, what a howl! 
It sounded the world’s sorrow. 
And when he slept, all the world was peace.) 
I gave him breath. 
I gave him my manger too, 
Already warm. 
The couple looked on gratefully 
And helpless.

The Spider

I taught the fisherman my art 
Which comes down to this: 
Much work making ready the lines 
Then much waiting. 
Flies, like fish, are drawn to bright lights. 
Any brightness, no matter how far off, 
Will make a migration. 
The trick is to run the lines between 
So thin and fine that they, 
Gazing far off, 
Do not see what is right in front of them 
Until it is too late. 
The hunting was good that night. 
I laid many stores by, 
Some still straining their wings 
Unaware of being caught. 
I however, being sated, 
Was at peace.

The Cow 

I groan with milk 
And yearn to nurse. 
My calves do not stay long enough. 
Too soon they are taken from me, 
And I must yield my teats to strange hands; 
A forced expression, but a relief. 
I have learned to be content 
With mothering others not mine. 
Mothering is enough. 
More, it is a desperate need. 
A longing. 
Come to me, feed of me. 
Take this my body unto you. 
Take this and think of me 
And we will become one. 
I am all communion 
Or nothing. 
Now, even as the human calf calls, 
I let down 
And groan to nurse.

The Camel 

You would if, like me, you were choked 
With desert dust. 
Out here every slight movement 
Makes the air thick, 
Makes the breathing hard, 
Makes me want to spit. 
That night we arrived 
And stopped at last 
There was stillness enough for the air to clear. 
How sweet the clear, still air is to me. 
Sweeter than water. 
Water is defense, but air is heaven. 
My breath was easy, 
I sipped the air like nectar. 
What was most rewarding that night 
After so long a sojourn 
After so many days and nights 
Of cloudy way-making, 
Was watching the dust settle. 
Sparkling motes of starlight 
Slowly sinking back to earth 
Into stillness. 
Into a truly silent night.

The Father 

Love, brimless, impelled me here. 
All fear, like shade, made light 
In Love’s bright promise. 
We said “Yes!” 
Now I am here. 
No home, no prospects; 
Danger imminent as night. 
Love’s bright promise recedes. 
All I see before me now 
Is needy mother and helpless child 
And a life of selfless labor. 
Such is Love’s assumption: 
Without profit or reward 
To give and to give over. 
The child of such Love must 
In his own turn 
Likewise give over. 
What black night is it 
So deep, so hungry, 
That feeds on all light, all sound 
Yielding only Nothing?

The Goat 

No beginnings but presage The End. 
All life feeds Death. 
My milk, my meat, my skin 
Will be taken. 

Even my bladder 
Will yield a plaintive bleating. 

Of all my uses this, my song, 
Most endures 
To voice the desperate futility of Being. 

Gone gone 
This wine becomes piss 
This flesh, clay 
This hope? 

Even this child of Joy and Light 
Shall be larded for Lamentations. 

In the end my song 
Shall be His. 

The Star 

Its funny 
That an event a billion years past arrives in view of these people 
And is taken for a sign. 

Beings that seek significance in events 
Will see significance in events. 
If it is there it has meaning 
If it is not there 
Still it has meaning 

Where I am 
Event is all 
But to those that seek signs 
There must be Time as well 
Time before and time yet to come 

And in the events 
The sign most often seen 
Is one’s self 

It is not enough to happen 
They must be assured that 
They were 
They are 
They will be 

Its funny

The Innkeeper 

Everybody needs something 

These are the things I provide 
Even when I don’t have them 

You find a better solution, go ahead 
In the heat of the moment 
With everyone clambering for your attention.

A stable is a good warm place. 
In truth it is often my extra room 
During high season. 

The storytellers pounced on it. 

Everybody needs something 
A stage for their little drama 
A chance at immortality 
Something to give them hope. 

I’m just the guy who is trying to get what he wants 
By giving others what they need. 

The Midwife 

There were many births that night. 
By the time I reached the stable
The old mother dog had the baby well in hand. 
I cut his cord and swaddled him, 
Then attended to the mother. 
I cleaned her and brought the babe to her breast. 
The father was kind and gentle and not at all reluctant to help. 
Of course I had heard the rumors, 
But I am skeptical of virgin births 
And the assumptions that go along with them. 
All children are sacred 
And the loving union of man and woman is divinity enough. 
What god requires such miracles to prove himself? 
An insecure one I’m thinking. 
If you doubt me then tell me 
What other than an insecure god would allow all my babes 
to come under Herod’s sword? 
Don’t get me started. 
All I have to say is 
He’d better not show himself to me 
If He knows what’s good for Him. 

The Sheep 

You tell the story 
And have placed me in it, 
Albeit in the background. 
If I had your sensibilities I might complain. 
But such things do not concern me. 
I was there before and remained there after, 
While your story only passed thru for a short visit. 
Long enough for wanderers to wonder. 
But I have no need for the extra ordinary. 
To me the stars are always bright 
The days always prophetic. 
Bliss is no special occasion. 
Mere existence, 
Sweet grass, sweet rest, 
Is all one and enough for me. 
For your sake the story calls attention to these 
Ordinary things. 
And if attention is paid, 
Treasure will be found 
Better than any wandering kings 
Might carry.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Creche Songs

About this time several years ago I suddenly had a poem. It was the voice of the Ass - as in Donkey - in the Christmas Creche. That started a flood of voices coming to me as poems. I have since collected them in a group as "Creche Songs." Here is the one that started them all. More to follow:

The Ass 

Time was, 
I could chew a blade of grass 
And gaze lazily into the distance all day. 
My mouth would sing with juices, 
My back would hum in the sun. 
But I was taught to carry. 
And if I should drift away to gaze again into the distance 
I was always reminded of my burden and my task: 
To carry, and to wear so many cares. 
In time, 
My cares became me 
And I ceased to seek a heaven in the idle act of living. 
I did not ponder this 
Until that time I carried into Bethlehem 
An unborn child 
Who, likewise, 
Gave up his bliss 
For burdens.

Monday, November 4, 2013


At the National Storytelling Festival last month, I performed an hour long "set" of stories on the problem of feeling like an alien on Earth. The response was mixed, some folks drifted away because I was not funny enough. Others, however, were visibly moved. For the second group, I hit a nerve; I found my tribe.

What was it about? It came from the sense I have that we live on earth as if we are not from here. All my life I have been "not from here." The name "Novak" means "new comer" or "new man" and the name comes with a deep felt sense of strangeness.  As a child of the Baby Boom, raised during the Space Race, it was easy to imagine that Earth was some kind of cosmic way-station, the place we were stranded while repairing our spaceships. Our religious cosmology certainly reinforced that notion, characterizing our time on earth as some kind of penance for unforgiven sins. Such was the story that raised us, that goes deep in Western Civilization and finds new iterations in the present day. Whether you are awaiting the Rapture or simply looking to be retrieved by our sundered extraterrestrial ancestors, the attention is directed away from Earth.
But there are other stories. My favorite is the Maori story of Tane (recounted below) which suggests a different relationship to Earth as home. The recognition that Earth is our home has been rising in the mythic mind of the West ever since we saw ourselves from the moon in 1969. That mythic realization is finally showing up in our popular imagination as well. I recently saw the new film, Gravity, and saw very clearly a myth of return. It is time to get back down to Earth and stand upon it as true children rather than cosmic orphans.

So I am re-posting an earlier blog on the topic:


I find it interesting to compare two stories of the separation of heaven and earth:

First is the familiar story from Hesiod's Theogeny, concerning Ouranos, Gaia, and Kronos. Ouranos, father sky, and Gaia, mother earth, are separated when Kronos castrates Ouranos with a scythe he received from Gaia. Thus begins Time according to some who associate Kronos with Chronos, though this is disputed.

Second is the Maori story, from New Zealand, of Rangi, father sky, and Papa, mother earth, separated by their son, Tane. Tane separates them by placing his head upon earth and feet upon sky, then pushing them apart and becoming the first tree. In this way, Tane, the tree, separates heaven and earth and holds them together at the same time.

It is meaningful that in the first, separation is caused by violence - cutting and castration, whereas in the second the separation is accomplished in a more gentle, and conciliatory manner. This certainly presents inherently different cosmologies. It is worth noting that trees play a role in creating an atmosphere and thereby separating earth from sky (space) making life possible. It is also worth considering how the notion of psychic separation from spirit and matter creates an alienating sense of self moving through time. Without a sense of time, narrative could not exist.

But the thing I think about most, lately, is how Tane becomes Tree by putting his head upon his mother's breast and feet against his father's chest, stretching upwards in a deep-rooted head stand. The storyteller could have had Tane simply stand on earth and push on sky like Kronos' younger brother, Atlas, holding up the sky. But the story has the head of trees in the earth. As I look out at the trees, I imagine them that way. The visible part of trees is only half the whole, waist to toes if you will. The head and arms are below ground.

If the Western Mind, inheritor of the Greek cosmology, is alienated from earth and sky, perhaps we would do well to take an idea from the Maori and turn our heads around.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ibis and the Origins of Writing

This is a re-post with emendations.

Last week I received a call from Susan O'Connor at the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, TN. They produce a weekly teller-in-residence program and the week's featured storyteller, Willy Claflin, had to cancel because of illness. Susan called to see if I could fill in for Willy. I rearranged my schedule and managed to cover 5 of the 7 scheduled performances. [BTW, Willy reports feeling much better and ready to roll!]

The opportunity to tell stories for an hour every day invites invention and the rediscovery of old stories in new combinations. Each day I endeavored to find a fresh prompt to begin my discourse. On my last day (Friday) I decided to share a simple trick I learned from my mother re: tearing paper. [Mom is now in a memory care facility in Asheville, where I can visit her often.]

This thought connected to a conversation I had with my mother while folding paper cranes at her condo in south Florida many years ago.

That thought connected to the first trip we took to the Everglades when I was quite young and my mother (a New Yorker) was quite naive about the region. For her it was a trip of high anxiety and crisis management with 4 children, little gas, no money, and no idea where she was. For me, it was an introduction to the wonder of wilderness.

At any rate, while I was off in the wings of the ISC Storytelling Theatre, thinking of these things and folding a paper crane, I found my thoughts connecting with the ibis of the Everglades and the bird's long history in the earliest civilizations of Sumer and Egypt. The paper crane in my hands, I saw, could morph into an ibis in a few extra moves. In the same way, I saw I could connect to the origins of writing in a few extra moves from a childhood in Florida, to the Everglades, to the wetlands of Sumer (Tigris/Euphrates delta), to the Nile delta.

Here is the paper ibis I invented, and here is the re-post of an earlier article on the origins of writing:

I always enjoyed watching the ibis in Florida poking about in the mud flats. It makes perfect sense to me that the Egyptians chose the ibis for the god, Thoth, who invented writing. Ibis mark mud flats in a way very similar to the earliest examples of writing we have: cunieform. That suggests to me that reading as a behavior for attending to the world around, precedes the concept of writing as a behavior for recording narrative. For example, a hunter "reads" signs such as animal tracks. We "read" the sky for a sense of the weather, and so on. That the Egyptian god, Thoth, Ibis-headed, invents writing may come from close observation of ibis and the marks left behind after the ibis passes through.Though Thoth is Egyptian and cunieform is Sumerian - both regions share a similar landscape of wetlands, delta, and mudflats. Habitat for ibis.

Sumerian cunieform writing results from pressing wedges of reeds into soft clay.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


In this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come— Or for night to fall.” -- Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

Are you sure of yourself? Ever think I've got this under control, just before blundering badly? In stories, the moment everyone is sure, things go wrong. Curiously, blunders can be blessings. Blundering brought me to storytelling. Thinking I knew what I was doing, I was blind-sided by storytelling. It's a common storyteller's story, a type of “naive epiphany.” It goes like this: “I didn't know I was a storyteller until I did.”

Storytelling is a wayfinding art. Today, we cling to certainty and eschew “hypotheticals.” But storytellers deal in hypotheticals. What do I mean? Hypothetically, we try to find our way by standing, however momentarily, upon narrative suppositions, a.k.a. Stories.

Storytellers are often concerned with analyzing folktales. That is important. But, also, folktales are useful for analyzing experience. Early in my career I got by with stories sure to entertain. Given my training in performance, I could “hit the mark” fairly often. After awhile, I asked: “What do I have to say to these folks here today and why?” Then I set about answering my question one story at a time. Sometimes I blundered badly. But sometimes I found new insights, connections, community, and love. Really, love. How? I'm uncertain. It has something to do with finding my way out and then in. Out of the narrow anomalies of daily life and in to the ocean of story that evolved daily life. What does that mean? It's a forest-for-trees kind of thing. News stories need new stories. Stories of the moment. But daily stories are expressions of a larger Eco-system just as trees are expressions of forest. (I've jumped from oceans to forests, stay with me.) Like tree-huggers we cling to our news stories. That kind of makes sense, you can hug a tree more easily than you can embrace a forest. This is what I think I see in the fixation on “true” personal stories (all “narrative suppositions” IMHO.) Me too. Swinging from moment-to-moment, tree-to-tree, it is easy to think my troubles are mine alone, you wouldn't understand. But down under the trees, we find the vast biome of forest, and earth. And beneath our isolating, first-person troubles, there are collective stories. When I lost my house in the mortgage collapse, I looked down and saw Parsifal. I did not find answers. In fact Parsifal showed that things were about to get much worse before getting better. But “better” was a distinct possibility. When three women escaped that Cincinnati basement, The Giant with No Heart in his Body rumbled beneath me, telling how, needing a surrogate heart, he held a princess in thrall.

So what? This is our function as storytellers. Navigating uncertainty. Telling is our action, and telling means finding out. That's the name of the game and it starts with not knowing. When a speaker addresses me with answers, I have two options: take it or leave it. But when a speaker approaches me with questions, I become involved. We involve our community by posing questions and finding out stories underneath them. The answers, if any, come later. The uncertainty is what calls us. But I don't know...what do you think?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Tangram Effect

"Who are we, who is each of us if not a combinatoria of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined?  Each life is an encyclopedia, ... and everything can be constantly shuffled and reordered in every way conceivable." –––– Italo Calvino 

Lately, I have become obsessed with tangram puzzles. I think that the challenge to make endless configurations with a limited number of shapes is good training for coping with the uncertainty of the times. The more I work with them, the more clearly I see the inner patterns of various shapes, and the possible ways the smaller shapes fit into the bigger picture. That gives me a powerful metaphor for handling experience: finding the “fit.”

Originally developed in China, a Tangram is a square composed of seven shapes called tans.
The seven pieces can be rearranged to form thousands of shapes. They have long been used in storytelling and I am using the pieces on an overhead projector for some of my preschool stories.
I’ve been playing tangram games with my 4 yr old, Jordan. (There are a number of free tangram apps for the iPhone and iPad. But I also like having the pieces in hand and shifting them across a table-top into various forms.) I notice that he is noticing patterns more frequently now. It may be a simple developmental step - the sort of thing you expect at his age - but it may be the tangram effect. Anyway, the other day, we were playing ball in the backyard, when he announces “One plus one plus one plus one is four.” I agreed, and showed him my four fingers as example. But he pointed behind me to a row of 4 tall pine trees standing in the distance. “See?” He says. “One plus one plus one plus one.” 
This morning, in the kitchen, (we are often in the kitchen circa 7am) he starts counting the rectangles inset in the kitchen cabinets: "One, two, three....” all the way to 12. We spent some time working with the pattern: how many rows? How many in each row? etc.. The tangram effect.
I find the tangram effect in the combinatorics of storytelling. Certain arrangements of short stores can form larger story shapes, entire programs. The same stories can be re-assembled with different elements emphasized for various intentions. Telling stories is a puzzling business. We tease out meanings and possibilities, finding the fit for the story.
Recently, as I was lying in bed, I felt a mild oceanic sense of being a small piece fit into the cosmic shape of the Universe. (An echo of Bucky Fuller here.) It was somewhat thrilling, but also empowering and reassuring. I felt as if the “I” that was thinking was in a much greater position than the mere “I” that was lying in bed. I felt I could incorporate everyone and everything else into my sense of Self. It is an exercise I intend to repeat until, as with  tangrams, I can sense the fit all around me.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Dish of Lime-Vanilla Ice

Lime-Vanilla Ice
“Where would you like to go first? I can take you there. I can weave the spell.”
Bren & Lucille Brenemen with Jackie Torrance, 1984 
So says Helen Loomis to Bill Forrester in a chapter of Ray Bradbury’s novel, Dandelion Wine. So said Lucille Brenemen to me as we together told the tale. Lucille was a great fan of Ray Bradbury’s work in general, and Dandelion Wine in particular.  With his permission, she shaped and edited it for our tandem telling at the National Storytelling Festival in 1992. I met Lucille a few years before. She and her husband, Bren, relocated to San Diego from Honolulu when Lucille retired from 35 years teaching in the Speech Department of the University of Hawaii. The two of them were well-known for their excellent adaptations of literature and a charming tandem storytelling style. (They were featured at the National Festival in 1988.) Their book, Once Upon A Time: A Storytelling Handbook, remains an excellent  text on the art and craft of storytelling. I first saw them tell Andersen’s It’s Perfectly True. The storytelling was witty and charming, and immediately won me over. 
Lucille Brenemen
Lucille was a poised, intelligent, and attractive woman who loved life and greeted each moment with an open heart and a ready smile. She had what we used to call “class.” Outwardly she was cultured and delicate, with an easy grace. Yet within, she was strong as steel and nobody’s fool. Born in Texas in 1914, she went to Baylor University and thence to California to earn a Masters in Speech and Drama at UCLA. Considering the times and the status of women, this was no mean feat. She made a career of portraying another strong woman as Ramona in The Ramona Pageant, a romantic melodrama of the Califorinio era. In Hawaii she continued to appear onstage in roles as diverse as Medea and Emily Dickinson. Her tandem work with Bren was expertly crafted. Bren had an impish, earthy quality, coming across like an Irish Seanachie, and Lucille was his Faery Queen.
Lucille approached me about working on the story she called A Dish of Lime-Vanilla Ice. The confection represents a taste for the extraordinary and adventure. In it, young Bill Forrester is befriended by Helen Loomis, age 95. During visits over tea, Helen takes Bill on virtual excursions to the exotic places she visited in her youth. The storytelling sweeps him away. 
I loved my afternoons with Lucille. When I learned recently of her death last October, I was saddened; not only at the loss of her, but at the lost years since I last saw her. Yet I do not grieve for her. She showed us the way to live life fully. With her second husband, Richard Koproske, she spent a joyous time traveling, dancing, laughing, and befriending everyone. She outlived Richard as she outlived Bren, and I daresay, she out-lived many of us.
In the story we shared, Bill was a newspaper man, a reporter. Through her character, Lucille showed me that telling a story is more than giving a report. The true storyteller gives an experience, and experience endures in the heart longer than any report. Just so, Lucille endures in the hearts of all who knew her and were drawn to experience storyland by her enchantment.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Sea Changes/See Changes

Buckminster Fuller came back into my life in a big way last year. I was invited to portray Bucky in a solo play written by D.W.Jacobs called "R. Buckminster Fuller, The History (and Mystery) of the Universe." (Doug is the former Artistic Director of San Diego Repertory Theatre - one of many strange synchronies to this business.)  Bucky's words and insights have great relevance and immediacy to them. I will write more about him and my involvement with his work over time. This thought of his about seeing changes keeps coming back to me lately. In his book, Critical Path, Fuller writes:
"Most of the important trend patternings are invisible - ergo, their eventuations are unanticipated by society [...] When humans cannot see something approaching to destroy them, they do not get out of the way.
"Question: Is there not an instrument that can inform humanity about its invisibly trending evolutionary challenges - and do so in time to allow them to satisfactorily anticipate and cope with inexorable events?"
Bucky's answer is the Geoscope, a brilliant effort to create a full view of our Spaceship Earth employing his Dymaxion Map and a Geodesic Sphere coupled with all current data on Earth processes such as energy consumption, enivronmental change, population, etc..
[As a relevant aside, the National Climatic Data Center is located here in Asheville, NC, and providing the National Climate Service and many useful data streams.]
Out of this concern, Bucky developed the World Game.
All of these projects and efforts address the physical changes we are facing and attempt to bring us to see the invisible "trend patternings" approaching us. BUT Bucky often spoke of common structures to both Physical and Metaphysical reality. Can we answer his question in regards to Metaphysical "trend patternings"? If so, how?
What comes to my mind is: Storytelling. What do I mean by "storytelling"? The word is too easily thrown around and has many uses. Here is what I mean: Story + Tell. While that is obvious, what we often overlook is the meaning of "Tell." Tell is related to Tally inasmuch as it involves counting and recounting. The physical data streams accessed above are tallies. A narrated story likewise requires a tallying - recounting - of events. But Tell has another, less denotative, more connotative, meaning. Discern. This is how we use the word when we watch for the "tell" on the face of a poker player or when we ask a doctor to "tell" the cause of our suffering. Storytelling, then, is the recounting of events AND the discerning of those events. When we tell history, we are not merely reporting the data count of events, but we are attempting to tell it - that is, to understand it.
So my answer to the metaphysical half of Bucky's concern is: Tell Stories. Tell Histories, personal, social, and global. But also tell myths, legends, fairy tales and fantasies. For these are all made up of patterns which will help us to perceive (discern) the "important trend patternings" approaching us to change not only our physical experience, but our souls.