The Bee's Knees

and The Tides of Manaunaun

In my view from the side of the couch: the beagle, B, lies contended on her cushion beside James, whose leg is outstretched with a frozen coldpack on his knee. I look at B, I look at the knee, the phrase bee's knees come to mind. Speaking of free association, the blue gel frozen pack has the words Cold Froid on it in large letters - to me it says "Cold Freud" - a rich homonym, n'est-ce pas?

The phrase "Bee's knees" reminds me of Flapper talk, and the Charleston dance move that involves crossing the hands back and forth in front of the knees while turning the head from side to side. Vo-doh-dee-oh: the hep and hopping jazz of the 1920s. And Freud? Did he ever see the Charleston? What would he have thought of it all?  Words in phrases with more rhythm than meaning. Sliced bread and the cat's pajamas! 

I think I could decode something from this, if I only had the right key, the right clue.  

There's a kind of thinking that involves patterns, rhythms, lateral inferences and sometimes numbers. This swirl of interconnnections of meanings brings about cluster-thoughts similar to the cluster chords (tone clusers) of the composer/pianist Henry Cowell. He influenced modern composition, based on these chords - and this all came to him. He was impressed by the Irish seer and folklorist, Ella Young, who heard the orchestration of nature. His chords showed the power of the sea and the beings of the oceans. The Tides of Manaunaun.

Sometimes I look at things around me as if they are such cluster chords waiting to be understood. If life is but a dream, as the old old song tells us, then what does the dream-life mean for us as we row the boat gently down the stream? 

Now, you see, because of dreams I'm calling old cold Freud.

Close, but no cigar. I'd rather check in with Jung, who seems to hold more ancient keys. His incredible Red Book, so transgressive for the day, was such a powerful outpouring, and yet somehow he was able to remain a respected psychologist! The Red Book and the cluster chords add a necessary dimension to my observations today. Looks like the clues come from the earlier part of the last century. 

As we know, the seeds of the future are always planted in the past, and may have been dormant for a long time before they suddenly show up on the scene, apparently right on time. So these ideas in the tone clusters and the Red Book were in play long long before they came into view.

So to the knee. Take a knee. Kneel before the king. The kneecap. Pay up or we'll break your knees. Kneel and pray. Wounded Knee. The wounded Fisher King. The bee's knees. Zelda dancing, Gatsby, the days of literature and the great novel. Oops, gone too far, pause and turn back. 

In that pause I get this clue: Ella Young's name is a homonym for Jung. Why didn't I hear that before? The cluster chords, the Red Book, Ella Young and Carl Jung. You know about him, but Ella was also a powerful force in culture; the Irish Rebellion, retrieving and spreading the Irish heritage of folklore as a living reality. Yeats, gun-running, freedom, the dunes, all that. 

Fan fiction: 

  • Mythology Lecture Tour - Ella Young and Carl Jung meet on the American lecture circuit. Shenanigans ensue. She’s raising money for Irish freedom, he’s showing Freud who’s boss.

  • The Invisible Bees - Ella Young and Carl Jung have come to heal the wounded king. Only the faithful dog, B, who lies by the king's side can see them. They conjure the forms of invisible bees, buzzing in the exquisite formations of ancient faery talismans finely wrought in Celtic gold. 

  • Young and Jung - a new Netflix series about a crack detective team, solving crimes by day, dancing to Jelly Roll's ragtime cluster chords by night. It's the bees knees!

The Tides of Manauanaun

"In Irish mythology, Manaunaun was the god of motion and of the waves of the sea. And according to the mythology, at the time when the universe was being built, Manaunaun swayed all of the materials out of which the universe was being built with fine particles which were distributed everywhere through cosmos. And he kept these moving in rhythmical tides so that they should remain fresh when the time came for their use in the building of the universe." - Henry Cowell

There are so many performances of this piece on YouTube: formal, grand, international, recording only (incl. Cowell himself). This version’s personal, anonymous.

Questions? Topic suggestions? Send them to me by Wednesday, I’ll answer it off the top of my head in an upcoming issue. Just reply by email to the last issue.

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Love and Learning...

Accelerated. It sounds so Futurist, their love of speed. But it’s not. It’s to do with education, what’s formerly known as “skipping a grade”. Now I think they have “enrichment” or something else entirely. Anyways, it applies to me, and formed my outlook on life from school days on. Condensing Grades 1-3 in two years made me feel special and smart, but later on immensely self-conscious and oddly out of sync with my older classmates.

The fall of Grade 4, my hard-nosed old-fashioned teacher didn’t agree with acceleration, and she was tough on me. My name was written on the blackboard list of shame every day because of my poor math. The dark shadow of my name on the board made me stupid and inadequate in every other subject, too. I was scared.

But, saved by the bell, we moved, and my “records” preceded me at the new school. Whew! They treated me as if I were smart, and I was in love again - with fractions and grammar. That year my fascination with the planets went to a whole new level. I felt the difference between warm loving acceptance and harsh cold assessment, and I was able to learn.

September = Back to school, so I’m remembering those days. I’m also generally thinking about grades, categories, the systems of organization and preparing minds to follow instructions, blend in. Western imperialism and the conformation of the brain. You know: Pep.

But here’s the thing: I loved learning, still do. I literally love it - that marrying of my mind with a new idea, the exchange of ideas back and forth into new forms, the flash of insight. It’s the flash I love, the info is always just a secondary side effect. Under the pretext/pretense of looking to find out something, I really want that electric flash of a new dendrite or the release of some internal chemical that for an immeasurable moment will flood my brain, repatterning it in a delightful configuration to prepare it for “more of the same, please.”

But, like everything, nothing ever is the same. Look at the same place each day: there is no same place. What we call “time” has its way. Learning in the style of past Western centuries seemed to freeze the mind, not free it. It favoured a worldview that assembled all that could be known to deploy it in service to “progress”, an idea as insubstantial as a king in a Little Nemo comic: only a dream after all. That freezing can’t restrain all those notes in the margin, all that unheard music seeping in, the surrealistic interplay, synaesthesia, or even a retrieval of ancient pre-alphabetic ways, if we’re lucky.

What is considered true is also moving in time, waving like mermaid hair in currents and billows of seen and unseen seas. In linear time, learning, and progress, all the marching soldiers align together moving forward. The Roman legions of the alphabet and moveable type. I was taught that way, and didn’t know any better, so I loved it. In that pattern, I “did well” in school. Luckily my love of learning carried me past that brain training, to discovery, and out beyond it to the unlearning, a sphere of interconnections that can’t be laid out in a single line - they’re just too interdependent for that.

Any topic is always secondary to the flash of connection.

My first teacher took me there with her loving guidance. I loved learning, she loved teaching me. My mum had given me this happy joy before I started school, through loving play, teaching me words and jokes and all the rhymes of our language, connecting me to the dance of the mind.

But do others care about any of my thoughts or memories, ideas or observations? I soon found my classmates didn’t. By the time I was in Grade 7, a year younger than everyone else in a weird and crucial puberty time, I’d learned my lesson. I folded and flattened all that joy and love inside myself; didn’t share it for fear of ridicule, and tried my darnedest to be like everybody else, like we all did. “Back to school” meant the right clothes, the right hair, the right facial expression, a feigned disinterest.

But at the start, first grade, first school, I was accelerated! Alive with the electrical intensity of learning.

Like Hermione Granger, my hand was up and waving, “I know … I know the answer. Pick me, pick me!”

Reader question of the week: “What’s up with that?”

Okay, reader, that’s not a real question, but I’ll play along. Off the top of my head:

  • You’re trying to stump me with a standup lead-in: “____! What’s up with that?” Topic “___” is introduced. The entertainer quips, “What’s up with that?” then riffs with increasingly hilarious punchlines. A cascade of laughs brings on an audience meltdown. You’ve killed.

  • Is this just a reference to the ongoing maybe-not-funny SNL skit?

    Could this be a general philosophical query, a true question, but cloaked? It seems like a joke but, when explored further, every topic shows an underside. Ask what’s up and see what’s under.

Ask away! It’s Q&A!

Special for subscribers. Send me any question by Wednesday, I’ll answer it off the top of my head in an upcoming issue. How do you reach me? Just reply by email to the last issue.

Thanks for reading and subscribing to Personal Papers, my always free and completely non-commercial newsletter. Please forward this to anyone you know who might like to find it in their inbox, too. And if you like this post, click the heart on the page to give it some internet love!

Calling Mr. Tambourine Man ...

I've been thinking

I have a call in to Mr. Tambourine Man - and I hope he’ll be back by morning. Here’s a random group of thoughts, just for the hell of it, while I’m waiting for him to get back to me.

By now we all know that many delicate aspects of the human imagination have been sacrificed. Much of our imagination and intuition has inadvertently fallen into this dark pit, the mass market, a mass grave. Our dreams are turned into nightmares that then come true. After the manipulations of direct micro-targeted segmentation, each part of our formerly active imaginations is set in service to this pathetic public consciousness. It is our new language, and it is a poor one, not ready for the urgency of our times.

We have so much more to work with than just the memes of the day. We have the voices of places, people, plants and animals, of all the great artists and thinkers throughout the ages, not to mention all the original materials that make up the stuff of our daily lives.

I think about my grey leather couch - an unnatural reshaping of the dear cattle who gave their lives in China only to have skin stripped, scraped, dyed and stretched onto a frame, stuffed with je ne sais quoi. And now I sit on this headless legless cow amalgam, a preposterous monster, as I write you an electric message. This is living surrealism, paradoxical absurdity: do I laugh or cry?

Or this: I had a rough painted staircase made from cheap wood. For years, every spring, sap would weep down from one or two spots, leaking through the paint, as if the wood was from a tree sacrificed too soon. The miracle staircase is a form of weeping virgin statue - dripping tears or rose-scented olive oil. I like to think the imagination is like that, and it can return, in stigmata, in miracles.

I think about my pet turtles, who flip out in spring without knowing why. In their own version of Spock’s mating Pon Farr, their usually muted ear colours suddenly go brilliant red. Splashing themselves senseless, they are trying to escape confinement to get out and LAY EGGS GODDAMMIT!

So much of life is invisible even to the finest micro-targeting psychologists that money can buy. Invisible even to the best-selling algorithms turning the great machinery of our mass mind, thinking our mass ideas for us, Metropolis’ false Maria. I believe there’s much more life still to come: maybe in a new form, or dancing within the seasons or a change of the moon. Or discovered through another understanding, developed intuition.

We can do this, even while living in this burning world. The early science fiction that emerged along with the advent of the telegraph and electricity didn’t predict our particular scenario: people living in comparative luxury watching the world gone mad, out of control, burning up in real time on their small screens.

It all comes back home. The garbage we shipped out on the barge was rejected, and returned to Vancouver after a year at sea. Separating glass from plastic is just a ritual act. Will it really help release the children from the cages? Will a gluten-free diet relieve the guilt for enjoying moments of life’s beauty? I am not Nero! Really, I’m not, believe me - but the world burns as evidence to the contrary. Yes, that hideous monster “was inside of us the whole time.” Or as the folksy narrator tells us, “It was right in our own backyard.” As if everyone has a backyard! Or front lawn! (If you do, dig it up and plant some variety there. Maybe food.)

The world cries for us, burns for us, demands us to snap out of the hell-spell. Thankfully, this software lobotomy is reversible. If we ask and if we do it, there’s help from the parts of the world that are not yet burning or melting or gone mad. Our imaginary guide is laughing and leaping like the pied piper, like a tambourine man. I’ll follow that piper - that’s a “like” and “follow” I can really get behind! Let’s go, fellow fools, to dream a new life, then do the work to make it come true, against all odds. Imagine that!

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Ask away! It’s Q&A!

Special for subscribers. Send me any question by Wednesday, I’ll answer it off the top of my head in an upcoming issue. How do you reach me? Just reply by email to the last issue.

Half-past August

The Sun at Seven

In only one week, a lot has shifted and changed. First up is that we’ve turned the corner on summertime. Even when it’s hot we can tell that it can’t last, won’t stay forever. Summer’s already moved to another spot on the dial, another frequency. Combining this with the full moon leaves us in other territory. The sun’s ever so slightly lower at 7pm and this is how I know: I felt it at the end of the aquafit class. (Not aquavit as autocorrect so helpfully suggested.)

Kitsilano Pool in Vancouver looks past the harbour to mountains in the north, and the city below them seems far away and filled with light. The 6-7 aquafit class has so much going for it: the sun’s to the west, and the whole thing is just ecstatic. There’s lots of space to move, and there’s a little white moon high in the blue sky above the instructor’s head as she demos the moves. She is our priestess. When we all jump up with our arms outstretched to the sky, we could be goddess worshippers in the sea. I love it. I have a confession, though. After living in Vancouver for decades, I came to this pool for the first time only two weeks ago. I felt like I’d discovered a secret heaven that I’d been missing for years. Take a look:

Yes, it’s delicious. The image is great, but you have to actually be there to get it. What being there adds to the image is the feeling, but isn’t that always the case? Oh, I’d known about the pool. “Kits pool,” I’d say, like everybody else. But I hadn’t, pardon the pun, had the full immersive experience. Now I’ve discovered it almost too late in the season. It’s half-past August, late summer.

I felt chilled coming out of the water at 7pm with the breeze and that angle of the sun. It was telling me what the trees know when they feel that frequency. They still have green leaves but are quietly preparing for the slow down. The mild foreshadowing breeze told me this.

What’s so wrong, exactly, with being in a cold soggy bathing suit and having some goosebumps on my arms after being in the pool? Is it my mum or my grannie warning me I could catch my death? Towelling my shivering arms and legs, rolling my clammy suit down to my feet, I quickly pulled on my clothes. The crowded change room felt humid, sticky. I shoved my suit and towel into their bag, and got out of there fast.

Damp but dressed, we stopped for a bit to watch two young flamenco dancers on the outdoor stage by the pool. Older, the experienced guitarist and singer sat behind, and the singer’s dark commanding song held them in its spell. I heard her duende. At that angle, everything under the sun was gold.

Thanks to Julia Manitius for her photo of the pool that day.

Thanks for subscribing to Personal Papers, my always free and completely non-commercial newsletter. Please forward this to anyone you know who might like to find it in their inbox, too. And if you like this post, click the heart by the title to give it some internet love!

Ask away! It’s Q&A!

Special for subscribers. Send me any question by Wednesday, I’ll answer it off the top of my head in an upcoming issue. How do you reach me? Just reply by email to the last issue.

First Pass

I've been thinking

It’s the first pass, my first issue, I’m making a start. Bear with me, it’s going to take a few circumambulations before the Personal Papers finds its voice.

Here goes

Tired of the lack of discourse, submerged in the near-cesspool of what’s been called “Zuckerberg’s Follies” I still try to connect with people and ideas that mean something to me. (Paradox disclosure: I have no plans to leave Facebook.) Social media seems to have overwhelmed all my communication, including my beloved old blog which still lies patiently at my feet hoping for a pat now and then. Sometimes any thought longer than a headline, a tweet and a link is beyond me.

So this is how I’m cutting through the distractions that keep our overexposed communal nervous system on high alert. It’s simple. I just write you a glimpse of what I’m thinking and feeling these days. Eliot said, “Distracted from distraction by distraction” - or something like that. (Or was that Lincoln or Einstein? I’ll google the meme…)

I dithered back and forth finding the right name, finally settling on Personal Papers, the category that archivists use for collections of misc. notes, unfinished business, grocery lists - stuff that doesn’t fit anywhere else. The only other title contender was Resonant Digression, a name I’ve had in my back pocket for years - but that seems more of a distant overview, plus it has too many syllables.

Odds & sods

Some say we’re at “peak newsletter” - and I’m late to the party, so I’m even more grateful to you for signing up to help me get started. As the subscriptions came in, with them came the abyss: Not wanting to disappoint you. What can I write for people from different aspects of my life, varied communities of interest, diverse expectations? It may be too short for you or too long; too serious or too entertaining; too woo-woo, too much, too little, too earnest, too superficial. Would I find the right tone - to please you, to keep your interest, so you will like my writing, so you will like me?

Enough of that. In the good company of so many divergent minds, the only approach is to just be myself and do as I feel. I don’t want to turn off anyone by going into odd territory, but unfortunately for the faint of heart, that’s more likely the area I’ll tend to enter. I am, after all, a writer, and writing isn’t satisfying if it’s a rehash of information we already know. Exploring an unknown can be uncomfortable, messy, unresolved or odd. I’m interested in that, too.

If you…

If you find you aren't reading what you’re looking for, just skim and wait for next week’s issue. If it still isn’t your cup of tea, remember the Toni Morrison quote that’s been going around lately and write your own. I’ll subscribe! If you don’t have time to read every week, no problem: don’t open it. (I’ll never know.) If you have some topic ideas, or questions, email or DM me.

Clear the cache

Making it all personal is the only way to handle the intensity of our simultaneous media environment, what used to be called “electric living”. In the blink of an eye I scroll past starving dogs to the oldest tree in the world to an event pitch to horrific corruption to glacier meltdowns, all with high attention callouts and fear triggers (note to self: stop using gun-related metaphors like “trigger”)… what was I saying? Oh right … I’m reclaiming my own mind, fumigating for meme-viruses, clearing the cache of thought for personal expression and getting ready for the demands of these times.

It is a necessary preparation. There’s stuff I can’t see when I'm numbed by too much info and not enough meaning. I think of an instructional pamphlet from the 1920’s with the title “Mental Hygiene” on its faded green cover.

Wave the pennant

Our attention is under attack so I’m waving the pennant for Personal Papers. I’m not crouching down in the foxhole, I’m running through no-man’s land to the unknown. I’ll return with supplies. Thanks for having my back. (drat, that was another gun-related metaphor…this time with added war!)

See you next week.

Thanks for subscribing to my always free and completely non-commercial newsletter. Please forward this to anyone you know who might like to find it in their inbox, too.

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