Yin

But what about yin. In my later years as I start to practice yoga with more determination to stretch further, I realize that I am more of a yin than a yang person. In fact, as I look over my writing I realize that this concept of yin dominates.  I recently observed to a friend of mine, “It seems like my character always ends up, alone, in a room by him or herself thinking about life”. Without fail, my introspective nature leaches into my writing. If I wanted to write poetry, this would not be a problem, however, for the past couple of years I have been working on a novel.

Traditionally speaking, novels are yang. Think about it. Take the basic plot that you learn in elementary school. You begin with an initial incident, develop setting/character and establish conflict. Hopefully, you get all of this quickly because if the reader isn’t hooked within those few pages then you’ve lost your audience. Everything in your story leads to that final scene where the protagonist battles it out to the bitter end. This scene will be fraught with action, emotion, and near death circumstances.

Joseph Campbell took that basic plot pattern a step further when he developed his theory about the heroic journey. This monomyth is an archetypal one which runs beneath the surface details of all stories and, as Joseph Campbell points out in his writing, also runs throughout our lives. Perhaps, this is why it is so powerful and why Hollywood does so well at the box office. In spite of the superficial nature of many of these movies, action adventure stories still predominate the main stream. Heroes continue to defeat the “dragon”, win the girl, gain the riches, and return home “kings”of the world. The classical hero lives.

But what about those other stories, you say? The unhappy stories. The tragedies. The antiheroic stories. The fallen hero stories. What about Trainspotting, MacBeth, Catcher in the Rye, or even Batman, the Dark Knight Rises and Watchmen. Lord of the Flies. The Walking Dead. Breaking Bad.

In many ways, these stories break out of the Monomyth pattern. Quite often, there is no happy ending. The hero does not get the girl. Nor, does the hero gain riches or return home a winner. However, if you look closely at the stories you will notice a couple of things. First of all, they do fall within the cycle even if they don’t fulfill the entire pattern. Antiheroic stories for example, exist within the “abyss”.  In this dystopic world the hero is stuck and is unable to gain his revelation which can lead to a transformation. Even though antiheroic stories end with the hero being unable to effect his own life, the people surrounding him, his government, and his world the stories generally contain a yang element because the hero tries to create change.

If Yang is the masculine principle. If it is light, active, outward and upward moving then what does that say about the literature we read today? Have we been conditioned to read from a masculine point of view? If so, what would happen if the writer were to write a story using a yin perspective? If a story was developed upon the feminine pattern? Or the goddess archetype?

According to yinyoga.com, yin describes things that are relatively dense, are heavier, lower, more hidden, more yielding, more feminine, more mysterious, and more passive. A person practicing yin yoga strives to hold a stretch for 20 minutes or longer. The goal is not to move swiftly from one pose to the next, rather the goal is to release the tension in the muscles so that you can give into the stretch. Thus, the strength of yin is to absorb the pain and move beyond it.

I have encountered stories that are yin.  At least, they dwell longer on the yielding to life, rather than the “doing” in life. Life of Pi, Griffin and Sabine, The Tattoed Map, Orlando, and The Grand Budapest Hotel come to mind. Looking at and contemplating my list, I realize they all have certain things in common. An Eastern mindset or influence. A vast landscape upon which the hero enacts his/her story. A broader sense of time. As more of these stories make it to the big screen, and capture the attention of mainstream audiences I wonder if this type of writing will gain in popularity? Have we had a surfeit of yang, and are we now looking to balance our lives with a little bit of yin?

When I consider stories like The Grand Budapest Hotel, however I appreciate the brooding mysterious nature of time that never seems to change yet, I also love the adventure. I enjoy the characters’ moral evolution in The Walking Dead , but would this exploration be as interesting without the zombie battles? In the end, Pi’s life boat makes shore and he reconnects with life, and Griffin leaves the comfort of his home to find Sabine.

Where does this leave me with my own writing? Perhaps, it is time for my characters to leave the room. As Taoists would point out Yang cannot exist without Yin, Yin cannot exist without Yang.

Am I Preaching to the Choir?

When I was taking my ESL Part One course this fall, one of the questions we were asked to consider was, “Are students who may be reluctant to talk in class in front of others more comfortable engaging in electronic “conversations”?”

As the Technical Resource Teacher in our school, my answer is a resounding, “Yes”. Computers do assist with learning on many levels, from delivering a variety of content, to practicing skills, to enabling communication, to teaching responsibility. Computers do not teach, nor do they solve all problems, but they can help us to look at curriculum in a different way; they also encourage us to create a layered way of thinking.

Computers, on a very basic and practical level, force us to think sequentially. Just think about all of the steps you go through to find that file you need to upload to your blog. For ELL’s and every other learner, using a computer requires that you can follow written, oral or visual instructions. Often, the path to creating a document, editing a photo, or finding something online is not always as straightforward as you would assume if you knew nothing about computers. Simply creating a document in Word is a good way to test students’ comprehension. Either they do it, or they ask for help.

While on vacation this Christmas, I’ve had ample opportunity to consider how computers can also assist with the creative process. The question came up when my sister asked me what on earth I was doing on my laptop, iPad and iPod for so many hours in a day. (Honestly, I didn’t realize that I was glued to my devices for that long. I have gone skiing, attended 2 bonfires, a book making workshop, made 5 wreaths and several other gifts, watched a couple of movies, indulged in many interesting conversations with real people, and even gave my dog a haircut.) However, in comparison to a sibling who spends relatively little time on computers, I guess the question is valid.

As a writer, I can honestly say that I would not want to go back to the pen and paper method of recording my thoughts. Yes, I do jot notes and sketch diagrams of ideas but when it comes to the nitty gritty of painting an image or developing an idea it’s the computer and nothing else for me. I love the swiftness of recording my thoughts, the satisfying click of the keys and (a little anal here) the cleanliness of the white screen. Unless I choose to use mark-up in Word’s review pane, I experience the absolute joy of an untouched document. Visual perfection.

Another added benefit to working on a computer is, of course, the value of saving multiple drafts. Of course, with that privilege comes great responsibility. Experienced drafters will shake their heads when I admit that I committed the ultimate sin when I first started work on my novel last year. Yes, I created more than one draft but if took a while for me to remember to number and date my work. It didn’t seem like such a big deal until I took a 6 month break from the work, and then tried to pick up where I left off yesterday. Needless to say, I spent a fair bit of time sorting my files into folders. I know. Computer Survival School 101. What can I say except that I was so caught up in the creative process that my usual neat-freak went on vacation.

Lately, I’ve been sampling and following a lot of blogs. Also, to my pleasant surprise, I have found that people have been following me. In spite of my sporadic posting it would appear that I have something to say that other people want to hear. Although I do enjoy a great dystopic novel, I must admit that I am a fan of a computer driven society. Where else would I be able to meet, carry out a conversation, share ideas, and learn from others with the click of a button?

Essentially a logical/sequential platform, computers teach layered strategies of thinking, creating, communicating which can add to our understanding of being.  I would even go so far as to say that my imagination has grown because of the interactive nature of computers and the internet.

“Ji siix-mukws n̓iin”

My clearest memory of school when I was a child is the yearly project on culture. I say, yearly, because it seems like every teacher in the world thinks that they have developed the “BEST IDEA” to get kids to not only explore their personal histories, but to appreciate the cultures that they come from. I wouldn’t say that I was a cynical recipient of the ever-present “culture” project, but I wouldn’t say that I was enthusiastic either. In fact, my general thought was that my culture was pretty boring, and I’d really rather study someone else’s culture. Any culture.

Paper That Makes You Want To Do Something

Dutiful, obedient, compliant – I would trudge to the front of the room to collect the large sheet of white paper that my teacher wanted me to fill with the patterns of my cultural background. Then, there I would sit, wondering just what was my culture? As I had already done this project the year before, and the year before that, and the year before that I already knew what my mother would tell me when I asked her for help. “You are Canadian,” she would say, “just show what it means to be Canadian”. And I would sigh and stare at that big piece of white paper. Are we Scottish? Irish? English? Continue reading

The Medium and The Message

I’m pretty sure that when Marshall McLuhan said that the medium was the message, he was thinking more about social media than about poetry. However …

Marshall McLuhan

I’ve been playing around with my  ode, and observing how this is so true of writing. While experimenting with free verse structure and language, I’m noticing how much more approachable the subject appears to be. The changes really aren’t that drastic, yet they make a significant difference in the way you read the poem. In this case, the formal elements of classical poetry distances both the writer and the reader from the subject. My students also noticed this. Some were stumped by the challenge of writing within a specific framework; some found the task an inspiring challenge; and some chose to ignore the structure completely in favor of simply “getting the poem out”. While I prefer the simplicity of free verse, I enjoy the mental challenge of implementing classical structure. It teaches me more about language; keeps my vocabulary fresh; and surprises me with complex thoughts that may never have surfaced if I had written in a freer medium.

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Reflections on “A True Story” by Lucian of Samosata

Link to “A True Story” by Lucian of Samosata

It would be only too easy for a contemporary citizen to idly pick up “A True Story” and judge it a trivial fantasy of no consequence. Lucian’s mock epic style invites criticism from a reader honed by YouTube, iTunes, and Facebook. Yet, Lucian warns us at the very beginning of his work that he wants to provide more than just “pure amusement based on wit and humour”, and that his work also “boasts a little food for thought that the Muses would not altogether spurn (p. 249).” As all truly great literature does, “A True Story” delves into the mysteries of the human condition, and forces us, as readers, to think about who we are as human beings, to test theories, to alter our own perspectives about our lives, society, and culture. Should “we just resign ourselves to an exterior will and give up our personal responsibility entirely?”

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“Where No Man Has Gone Before”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Satanic Hero is a fearful one because he would destroy everything to gain Something. He is Orc who sets fire to the world and who tears Urizen from his throne. He doesn’t care that Innocents will die to bring about the new world. Out of this destruction arises Albion, a wiser, better leader who is a man of compassion as well as action.

I guess the BIG QUESTION is: Would Gary Mitchell have evolved into Albion given time; and would the destruction of the galaxy be worth that transformation? Or, is Kirk right to finally bring about Mitchell’s death because his Otherness is not leading to regeneration. Is Mitchell Orc? Or is he Urizen?

“The Literature of Change” by Christopher McKittereck struck a resounding chord in me for a variety of reasons, but most specifically because of McKitterick’s definition of science fiction as being a literature of change rather than of science. We use science fiction as a vehicle to explore who we are as human beings, to test theories, to alter our own perspectives about our lives, society, and culture. We speculate. Think about “Where No Man Has Gone Before” for example. STAR TREK definitely fits our popular conception of science fiction because of its futuristic setting, alien beings, and use of technology. I don’t think this TV show would have gained such popularity however, if it had not also speculated about the human condition, social change, and the effects of science and technology on humanity.

In this particular episode, the characters are faced with the question, “What will you do if you are given absolute power?” Mitchell gives in almost immediately to the alien power he is given, practically throwing away his humanity in exchange for something more. You have to ask yourself why he would be so eager to give up all that he is to become something alien.

The transformation in Dehner is not as swift, nor is it an obvious conclusion that she is eager to give up her humanity for power. From a sociological perspective, this is unusual because in the time that this script was written women were just gaining power and one myth tied to the women’s movement is that minorities would not know how to use the power that they were given and would abuse it. Although Dehner’s fall is inevitable, it is surprising the writers choose to mask her changes while allowing Mitchell to tumble from grace so quickly. The first hint of Dehner’s inner transformation is her response to Kirk’s query about Mitchell’s ability to control key ship’s functions through ESP. She responds by saying, “No one’s been hurt, have they? Don’t you understand? A mutated superior man could also be a wonderful thing. The forerunner of a new and better kind of human being” , and thus reveals her achilles heel – curiousity.

Archetypally, Dehner’s character seems to be following the pattern of Pandora, Eve, or Delilah — all women who are connected to the ideas of temptation and deception. In comparison, Mitchell’s archetypal pattern is that of fallen heroes like Adam, Lucifer, or Dorian Gray, all of whom gave up their positions of Grace for personal gain or knowledge and in so doing became monsters. In fact, Mitchell even says that the majority of the crew view him as a monster. Historically, Elizabeth Dehner is echoing Nietzche’s concept of the Ubermensch in his book, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. Roughly translated as Overman or Above-Human or most commonly as Superman, the literate reader/viewer of Star Trek would naturally make the connection to Nietzche, and from there to a new Garden of Eden story.

The split between human and other is paralleled by Spock’s and Kirk’s responses to the situation. Spock logically assesses the situation and recommends that Kirk either abandon Mitchell on Delta Vega, an isolated planet or that Kirk kill Mitchell right away. Reasoning that Mitchell’s abilities are multiplying incrementally, Spock hypothesizes that sooner rather than later the helmsman will view the crew as little more than white mice for his experiments. With this future in mind, Spock recommends that sacrificing the one for the many is a viable solution. Kirk, on the other hand, calls for a more compassionate solution and cannot divest himself of his human emotion of “love” for his crew member and former student. Kirk chooses a path taken by many other captains and refuses to leave a man behind, unless the cost to his ship and crew is irrefutable. Further revelation of Mitchell’s deterioration comes when he mocks Kirk’s decision to try and save him, telling Kirk that “command and compassion is a fool’s mixture”.

In the end, however, compassion is what saves the day. Dehner listens to Kirk’s plea to hold onto her human self long enough to defeat the monster that Mitchell has become. What makes her listen to Kirk? Is it the psychiatrist, who has witnessed the nightmares of humanity? Is it the woman who feels for those who are weaker than herself? Is it the “mother” who will fight to the death to protect her children? Nevertheless, without Kirk’s influence, her response would not have been the same as she had already admitted that, “Earth is really unimportant. Before long, we’ll be where it would have taken mankind millions of years of learning to reach. “

Christopher McKitterick ends his article with the line, “Science fiction is a discussion about what it means to be human in a changing world, and everyone is invited. Welcome to the conversation”, which inevitably brings to mind many late night conversations with fellow Trekkies as we dissected each episode. If I were to identify with a character on the Enterprise which character would I be, is a question that I’ve asked myself more than once. I remember watching, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, as a teenager in the 1970’s and I must admit my sympathies lay with Gary Mitchell. There was something compelling about the acquisition of power, especially the power to control things with your mind. His alpha male persona, obvious connection to a male hierarchy, and his good looks swayed my sympathies, I’m afraid, and I spent many an hour re-writing the ending to the episode. To my credit, however, my new ending did include a complete character transformation in the helmsman turned god. Heart of Darkness  comes to mine as I  ruminate upon the quandary of the characters in “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. Literally, the entire crew journeys each week into the heart of darkness and is tested like the Knights of Arthur’s Round Table for courage, loyalty, faith, love, honour, truth, generosity and goodness. Star Trek explores the chivalric code in modern terms, sometimes upholding the values and sometimes debunking them when they become too rigid and the “knights” lose sight of their purpose for following the code. I feel for Kirk in his position as captain, simply because the final decision regarding Mitchell’s fate is his alone to make. He can take Spock’s counsel, and listen to Dehner’s as well but in the end Kirk is the only one who can decide if Mitchell must be saved, killed or exiled. In the same way that King Arthur must lead with strength and judge with compassion, so too must Kirk.

This role of wise king can be compared to the Freudian theory of Id, Ego, Super Ego. When all three constructs work together then their roles in the psyche are balanced. For example, when Mitchell is performing his normal role as helmsman, and Spock is doing his job as Science Officer then Kirk is free to perform his duties as captain. The routine of the Enterprise runs smoothly. However, when one of the constructs is given too much power, as happens when Mitchell’s ESP capabilities are boosted then chaos erupts. Spock, the Super Ego, counsels dire measures to contain or eradicate the out of control Id (Mitchell). Kirk (Ego) must balance Spock’s advice against his personal relationship with Mitchell. Only when it is obvious that there is an irreparable imbalance can Kirk (or the Ego) act to destroy the out of balance Id. If the story were to end at this point, however, Kirk would never regain his position as wise king or balanced Ego. The Super Ego, Ego, Id relationship must be restored in some way. This is accomplished when Kirk makes a notation in the ship’s log that Mitchell died during the performance of his duty, because he didn’t ask for what happened to him. Spock takes on the role of Id when he agrees with Kirk by saying, “I felt for him too”.

So … what do I personally learn from “Where No Man Has Gone Before”? Maybe that power is a force that must be respected at all times, and that there is a strong need for balance in our approach to life. Thought becomes action; action creates thought. If I consider my need to balance my spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical needs then I am more likely to make wise decisions rather than spontaneous reactions to random stimuli. When I ignore the signs of one sphere being out of balance, then resentment will build and arguements/fights/alienation will occur. Have I experienced a Spock-like desire to execute an errant thought or irrational act. Yes. At times, this decision was the right one, and like Kirk I managed to save my “ship” by sacrificing the out of balance construct.

Thoughts become actions.
Actions become thoughts.