A few things have serendipitously come together over the past few days to give me the kick-start I so badly needed.
The first event was arriving at the end of my own stash of English-language books and, despite my best efforts, my French is nowhere near good enough yet to start raiding my fiancé’s vast library of French books. I was getting pretty worried, but he has a few English books that I don’t know. So, I was running out the door to an appointment where I knew there would be a queue (hello, Belgian administration!) and grabbed David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life from the library.
Wow, am I really out of the loop on this one or have people really not yet discovered how this book is both groundbreaking and world-changing? How has nobody ever mentioned it to me before or even Malouf as a writer?! I haven’t felt so profoundly moved by a work of fiction in quite some time. In fact, the last time I was brought to tears by a book was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which I finished in a hostel in Australia almost four years ago. Which is also serendipitous because elements of An Imaginary Life brought back to me the bleakness of the world as presented by McCarthy. What Malouf does, however, is to hold up a mirror to our lives, show us the bleakness and the despair of the human condition, but then presents us with the keys to our preservation and survival.
There are many extraordinary passages in the book but this above is the particular phrase that completely stopped me in my tracks. Imagine discovering between us, without the use of tongue, lips or palette, an absolute communication with which you are reaching out to humanity, working towards a better future, with every syllable a ‘gesture of reconciliation’. Imagine how much further we could develop as a species if we communicated in this way – no language barrier (this one is very close to my heart at the moment!), no misunderstandings/miscommunications, and only the desire to create peace in the heart of the other.
The book is a fictitious telling of the life after exile of the Roman poet Ovid. Malouf imagines Ovid’s exile as the breaking, and subsequent making, of a once-powerful man. Everything he once held dear is stripped bare and revealed for the sham that it was, and he discovers the truth in this world – our being intimately connected with every being and element of nature in the world. It’s a powerful read, revealing the plight of humanity as we now stand. On his path to this discovery, Ovid experiences a terrible fear
I am ‘struck with panic, as if, in losing hold of my separate and individual soul, in shaking the last of it off from the tip of my little finger, I might find myself lost out there in the multiplicity of things, and never get back.’
This is absolutely the clearest expressions of our current socio-cultural position I have ever come across, despite having a masters degree in Public Culture Studies. The fear of losing the Individual which is so valued in Western culture, now holds us back from discovering the immense joy and, more importantly, the safety in the collective.
(Here’s a nice Instagram pic of the blue Belgian sky last weekend because I don’t have many pics related to this post and all the text is soooooo heavy!)
As I finished Malouf’s epic work (which is only epic in the emotional sense and not in length – read it people!), I came across a blog post by Douglas Rushkoff on his experience of the storm that hit the America’s last week. (I feel a need to mention at this point, I’m pretty tired of the massive coverage of New York and the scant coverage of everywhere else affected. I’m not saying that New York wasn’t massively affected, internet trolls…) Rushkoff’s writing and his lectures have caused me to stop and assess many times before but this time it was for a different reason. Although he is the number one advocate for the life-changing power of technology & media, he acknowledged that even this power is limited if we don’t stand together as a community supporting each other.
Rushkoff presents one of ‘the main conceptual challenges facing our society at the dawn of the digital age: Do I depend on the collective, or do I go it alone?’ It completed the thoughts that had been bubbling away in the back of my mind while reading Malouf. I’ve written a number of times about my desire to work in a collective environment and to really explore shared resourcing and shared responsibility. Coming across these two pieces in the space of a few days fueled the fire which had been at a low simmer for the last few months.
So, with all of this in mind, I started making notes today on how I can make this work. The “how” was always my problem but there are solutions coming to light. I’m going to apply to intern in a local fabric shop here in Brussels and kill two birds with one stone – get some hands-on retail experience in textiles and work on improving my French. I’m hosting two workshops next month in Intro to Sewing, which are voluntary but valuable experience of demonstrating in a group setting. I’m determined to finish my Fund It project within the year, all pieces delivered and signed off, so that I have a good base of people who know my work, with which to start networking the other work I’m doing by the start of 2013. And those are just a few things, I have a good list of avenues and opportunities to explore now.
Here we go people, I’m going to make it work!