A collaborative writing projectContinue reading
LEAF 1: The Sunflower Dance
I’ve been having these dreams lately, dreams of precious clarity. I am standing in a field of sunflowers and there is a river that runs through the middle, a river of crystal clear water. Even awake I can hear the sweet melody of the water rippling in the sun and against boulders. I am there alone, barefoot and I am at peace, finally. But I am alone, until she comes to me, Granny. She appears and stands right by my side and we stand still watching the shiny water and the golden sunflowers. It feels as years pass us by, and I feel my toes turning into roots, delving deeper and deeper into the ground. Slowly ivy is growing all over, « this is peace » I say to myself. The world has forgotten all about me, but Granny is there with me and as we both turn into trees I wake up.
Although she passed away three years ago, Granny is still the ghost looming over my writing; she’s the bitterness in my words and the hope in my defeats. I wasn’t there when she decided to kick the bucket. I came back from the big city when her health seriously started to decay, I gave her my goodbyes and when I was gone she left too. Deep down a part of me knows that she had been waiting for me to finally go in peace. Granny was a real piece of work and I have heard many times through my life that I had inherited her fiery temper, her knife-sharped tongue, and her bullet-like stares.
I was her pride.
Granny had always been misunderstood, people always took her apparent coldness for a lack of feelings, but she once said to me :
« people like us put on this mask because we feel too much and it would be unbearable for everyone, including us, to show it ».
Granny felt a lot, and in a world where it always felt like I was stranded on a shore, she’d always been my raft. Suffice to say I wouldn’t be who I am today without her. She is both my roots and the flowers blooming in my heart, she’s the one who taught me to run barefoot in the fields to connect with the Earth, and it’s the reason that I celebrate her on every Earth Day.
On top of my bookshelf, there is a pile of journals and books that belonged to her and that have been collecting dust there for years. I never opened them, I barely touched them, I think the last time I dared to was the day I placed them on that top shelf. There is something sacred about books, and journals, at least to me, and knowing that they belonged to her made them even holier, but last march, out of curiosity I opened one. It was an orange, fabric-bound journal with a washed-out orange cover and gold lettering reading the words « Agricultural Diary, 1967 ». I spent a few minutes touching the cover, thinking that she had done the same years earlier, and then I mustered the courage to open it.
It was blank.
I flipped the pages, looking for something, a trace of her, and then I found it.
« March 16 :
I planted my tomato seeds today.
Marcel told me it would never grow, it’s too early.
I’m gonna show him that he’s wrong. »
There was nothing else. Just this. No indication of what happened next. Was she right? I can’t tell for sure but it made me laugh so hard, almost tearing up at the images these words conjured up in my mind. I could see her small figure storming out of her greenhouse, cheeks tainted with red, and mumbling under her breath that she was right and that she will prove it and that she would shut him up. If there is one thing that I’ve learned about Granny was that no one should try to come between her and her garden. Even if sometimes when looking back, I tend to think I might have been the only one who could.
One of my earliest memory I have of her is one that took place in the greenhouse, her real home. I couldn’t have been older than six years old, and I was there sitting on her lap listening to her talking about all of the flowers and plants that she was caring for. I can’t tell you what they were, but I know that this is the day I fell in love with nature. Through the years, growing up, going to her place was my favorite thing. My grandparents were farmers and therefore had a lot of land and plants. Granny and I would walk the grounds together, and she would introduce me to every single flower, branch, and leaf. What I loved the most was when summer was coming and sunflowers were blooming, she would take a piece of fabric and we’d lie beneath them, watching the golden flowers move to follow the sun. Together, we could spend hours laying there on the ground under the yellow hue. In her garden she would tell me stories of witches that grew magical plants; I used to be obsessed with witches at the time and Granny would make up stories about the plants being alive and being able to understand us. We would dance with the sunflowers, laughing ‘till it hurt.
The sunflower dance.
I hadn’t thought about that in years. I would stand on my tippy-toe, hands in the air moving like leaves in the wind, turning on myself the same way the sunflowers did. One day, after the sunflower dance I sunk to her lap, laughing and she whispered in my ear the secret, her secret.
« I’m a witch» she said « the sunflowers dance with us because I ask them too. »
She then went on to sing me the lullaby she had created for me. No rhyme, no rhythm but it was the best. It was, my, lullaby.
« Down by the lake there’s a house where the witches go,
Down by the lake there’s a house where the witches dance,
And the world stops
And the flower blooms,
And the world goes on
And they sing and dance
Down by the lake.
Down by the lake there’s a house you can go to,
When the world seems to fade,
When the flowers cry
And the tree dies,
Down by the lake the witches talk to flowers
And the wind sings back to them.
Down by the lake there’s a house where I lived since I was a girl,
Down by the lake
Down by the witch’s house
There’s a place you can call home »
It all clicked, it was this house, her house. She was the witch from the song, and my eight-year-old self believed it with all his might. But Granny was so much more than the witch from that song, she was a teacher, she taught me the way nature worked and the Earth turned, and on this Earth Day, it is my duty to share it with the world.
When in her garden, Granny had three rules she kept repeating to me.
Number One: You get what you give
The Earth takes care of us, we have to take care of her. If you plant something for your pleasure or your needs, you must plant something else to thank the Earth for giving it to you. It can be anything, anything is valuable because it’s the intent that matters. As long as you want to want to thank the Earth, she knows.
Number two: The Earth is a lonely loving mother
We are children of the Earth. She is a mother that remembers every child who walked her, everyone that ever existed still lives in her heart but she is lonely. People have forgotten about her, and she is mistreated, so, whenever you can, you should walk barefoot. Walk barefoot and let her feel your presence that’s how you show love. It’s all about the energy, you have to connect to the Earth from time to time.
This one, the last one, was learned at my expense. I remember she was showing me around and telling me about a plant she’d been trying to save for weeks. Honestly, I wasn’t impressed, the plant was nothing short of special, and I told her. She scolded me and gave me the third rule that day.
Number three: All flowers deserve to bloom
Just like people every flower is unique and worthy of love. Even if you can’t see the beauty of it, every flower deserves to bloom and live happily on its own.
Remembering all of this, it seemed natural to me, when I found her journal to reiterate her experience. She was the reason I went to buy tomato seeds for the first time in my life and planted them on March sixteen. I have been caring for them ever since that day. All this process made me feel so much closer to her, knowing that I was doing exactly what she did years and years before I even came to this world. It might only be tomatoes but this experience was an emotional rollercoaster. I have been tending to them for more than a month now and they have sprouted, and grown so much, and I can finally say that Granny was right.
She’s gone but she’s everywhere, I find her in every flower and every plant, and even though she’s not here anymore, she’s still the one who’s always right.
In her words,
« Be blessed,
And don’t forget to bloom. »
‘It seems to me that we all look at Nature too much, and live with her too little.’Oscar Wilde
Nature, with a capital letter, is indeed something we look and observe passionately, but merely as a thing of beauty. Treating it as an object and not an ally is what O. Wilde warned us about decades ago. But even then, treating it as an ally is not enough. Another famous near-aphorism states that we need nature, but that she does not need us. It is rather curious how we tend to personify Earth as a she, and yet, to not consider her as more than a just thing, an object or a tool.
In this short piece, I do not intend to distance myself with this problematic human-nature. I am just as guilty. But mentioning it, again, is not enough. Actions do speak louder than words, yet, each year we hear the same hammering of hopes, wishes, and promises from world leaders, politicians, activists, and everyday citizens alike. Sort of like this post. What can actually be done?
A serious emphasis has been put on the benefits of a plant-based diet. To go into detail is not intended here, nor is the idea to sermonise, but the meat industry consumes staggering amounts of natural resources. Eating less meat, or completely stopping it altogether, is something to consider. An entire subject in itself. Along considering reusable bags, recycling, saving on water and so on, they’re all good ideas. Sure. But there is only so much one can do on an individual level. Collectively, we can be an imperishable natural resource.
But I’ve writing so far as if we all had similar impacts on the environment. But linked to the meat industry, all industries pollute in great amounts. In greater amounts than you or me. Some even put phoney half-hearted, half-arsed messages on how nothing matters more than the environment as they proceed to pour toxic wastes into the nearest river. One would think that politicians would have done something, but what came out of the COP conferences? What have our leaders put in place? Maybe actions are not only to be taken by us by ourselves, the common people, but to be decided by those who have the actual means and possibilities to positively impact the environment. If they will not, why cannot we rise to those ranks? Why should we not elect those who want actual changes? Why not knock at the corporations’ doors, let our voices heard by those in power, by those who preach but do not practise? This is not a call to revolt, but hopefully also not another message lost in indifference.
LEAF 3: EARTH SOUND BITES
Can’t you hear her cry?
Can’t you see her pain?
Once beloved and respected by all
Each of her children celebrated as gods and goddesses
Across all four corners of this earth we call home
To Incan Into and Mesopotamian Shapash we owed the miracle of the sun
Chinese and Dahomey thanked Hengo and Mawu for the gift of light within the night
Egyptian God Shu and Celtic Borrum carried our boats with their winds
Romans and Celts revered Neptune and Nehalennia for the infinite source of life found within their seas
Bunzi showered the lands of Kongo allowing for crops to grow
Humble were Hawaiians when faced with the power of Pele’s volcanoes
What has led us to this?
What has led us to now?
How did we get here?
What have we done?
Each day the news heralds in
Yet another fire, another flood, another hurricane
It is Mother Nature’s cry
For all of her children are slowly dying
And it is our hand that is killing
Millions of species are disappearing in order for us to thrive
Or so we think…
This is in fact a suicide.
LEAF 5: My Dear Workers
Like your primate friends, you are on the front line.
Too many times you have been criticised, frowned upon, if not completely ignored: with minimal wage often comes very little gratitude— yet, you know you are instrumental in the survival of us all.
From above I watch you running around, relentlessly carrying food and other necessary goods—sometimes much bigger and heavier than you are.
I see you following strict orders on how to handle them, where to store them, and how fast you should go. I see you step aside when necessary, so your co-workers can carry on with their business.
Each and every one of you has a precise task as regular as clockwork. You all walk, lift, lay down, and repeat—without even stopping for a break.
You always wake up at dawn and start your daily routine without complaining. Neither the wind, nor the rain, nor the snow, nor the pandemic will ever stop you. It is as if those did not even exist.
You are tiny by your status, grand by your devotion.
You are Mother Nature’s creation.
Today, we celebrate you both.
Il n’y a pas de distance, il n’y a que des trajectoires.
Il n’y a pas de limite, il n’y a que des intensités.
Il n’y a pas de position, il n’y a que des vitesses.
Il n’y a pas d’extrèmités, il n’y a que du milieu.
Nous nous sommes imaginés distincts de la nature, nous nous sommes rêvés sur une autre planète. A distance. Hors sol.
Nous avons fantasmé la ligne droite du progrès, tracée dans un ciel vide, d’épaisseur nulle, nous avons cru pouvoir effacer tout ce que nous ne voulions pas voir. Déchets. Rejets. Immondices. Balancés au-delà des mots et de nos villes dans des trous qu’on a voulu croire infinis.
Nous avons voulu tracer la frontière entre nous et le reste. Nous avons désiré que notre magie et nos incantations nous protègent une fois pour toute. Segmentations. Fractionnement. Polarisation.
La nature ne s’extrait pas de la nature. La nature est le milieu et ce qui le constitue. Du vivant chacun de nous est une trajectoire, une intensité, une vitesse. Chaque poussière d’un même éboulement. Chaque extension d’un même rhizome. Chaque instant d’un même temps. Continu. Fluide. Neutre.
Pas de ligne droite, pas de ligne pure, toujours des enchevêtrements. Chacune de nos trajectoires, chacune de nos actions s’appuie sur le milieu en même temps qu’elle y agit. Elles sont le milieu, elles le forment, le déforment, rien n’en sort, et tout ce qui semble s’accumuler dans leurs méandres diffuse en réalité dans d’autres trajectoires, à d’autres vitesses, rejaillira avec une certaine intensité.
Nous ne sommes pas fixes. Nous sommes en devenir. Nous sommes le devenir du milieu qui nous traverse et que nous habitons. Nous sommes une colonie, une multitude, toujours en mouvement, toujours en métamorphoses. Nous sommes le vivant qui cherche à subsister, qui se déploie en nouvelles arabesques à travers le vide.
Que voulons-nous devenir? Sur quelles trajectoires? A quelles vitesses, avec quelles intensités? Voulons nous être le milieu qui se désagrège, qui fuit, qui se recroqueville et meurt?
Quelle forêt voulons-nous être? Quel rhizome? Quel lichen?
Comment pouvons-nous continuer à devenir?
A collaborative project by the UCA Writers’ GroupContinue reading
A series of Shakespearean questions:
To be aware that the virus is not gone or not
To accept the scientific evidence or not
To continue to pay tribute to the effort of health care staff or not
To help limit the spread of the virus or not
To be careful or not
To acknowledge the presence of others or not
To be mindful of a shared space or not
To accept the momentary discomfort or not
To surrender short term freedom or not
BALANCING INNER AND OUTER FICTION
Inner fiction (the means): the details: what are they? What do they do? When and where?
Outer fiction (the end): why are the details there? What do they mean? What is their purpose?
To show and/or tell
To revisit assumptions and quick interpretations
An image can lead from one to the other
I will use this dynamic as a lens to read two elements of our post lockdown-ongoing pandemic life starting with two images:
A monkey climbing up a dead tree/A mask
1- PLANET OF THE HUMANS: the short range/long range
The title is programmatic, and clarified throughout the documentary. The critical review of renewable energies is the means to a larger end indicated in the title: we continue to behave as if the planet has unlimited resources, and current alternative solutions have removed the guilt. They do not really question the status quo—not only in terms of our ways of life but also in terms of the logic of our economy still heavily reliant on fossil fuels. The goal of the documentary is not to scapegoat or target one group or another for the sake of doing so, its point is to reveal that “you cannot rebuild the house with the master’s tools” in poet Audre Lorde’s words. The question raised early on—“can machines produced by an industrialized culture take us beyond that culture?”—launches a very systematic and well-documented critique. Capitalism has hijacked the original vision and resources. It is urgent to come up with new bold ideas. With renewable energies, humans have already shown that they can tap into other parts of their creative powers. As these solutions are not perfect in terms of the impact on the planet, it is urgent to rise to the occasion again.
Beyond the wink to “Planet of the Apes, the final image represents a possible state for our humanity on the planet if we keep on denying the crisis. We will be climbing up that last tree, noticing that there are no leaves and that the landscape below is totally barren, but hoping we can escape to the end of the tree, expecting something better up there for us.
The monkey is about to die under the scorching sun. Until it is rescued, and saved.
Who will rescue us?
The question is for us to consider. Today. When the land is not barren, when trees still have leaves, when we can still live in their pleasant shade.
If we miss the deep underlying question raised in the documentary, we will miss the call to act. Collectively.
There is time still to attend to that tree and to the ground below. Before we are forced to climb up to nothingness.
2-THE AFTERMATH OF THE LOCKDOWN (the short-term/the long-term)
To wear a mask in the open air might appear useless.
But such an analysis confines (no pun intended) the mask to the inner fiction ring.
In the outer fiction dimension, to wear a mask reveals its pedagogic function: with a mask on, we are reminded of the ongoing extraordinary context.
Awareness of the virus must have an impact of on our ways of interacting and socializing. This simple but essential tool facilitates overall social distancing rules in a world that looks the same but is still being shaped by a virus that is anything but gone.
When wearing a mask, we are protecting others. We take care of each other. The mask is only fully operative if reciproquated and framed within the protocol of all the other sanitary measures (hand washing and physical distancing in particular).
A short-term surrender of our immediate and individual comfort.
A long-term collective benefit if we contain the spread of the virus.
What model will prevail on the planet? The mask-off or the mask-on model?