There are two kinds of journeys we all make. The first is the journey you can map. Your destination is clear, the map will show you the shortest way from here to there. The second is the journey where you go by instinct. Not even a compass will help you. (Nancy Willard, The Left-Handed Story)
I have been thinking more about story mind now that all 22 paintings are at the gallery– and no longer can possess me. What is story mind? We are, each of us, born with it. When my three year old said "Oh, I see, in this world the trees are on the bottom and the sky is on the top!" That is story mind. We can all retrieve it, it is always available. But the effort it takes to gather and sustain imagination, dreams, images and another kind of time- is more than I thought– especially for someone who enjoys solitude. A kind of fierceness is required in order to, as Nancy Willard said, "put on your dream hat". I had to renew my efforts each day– but for spells of time I relinquished duty, the trance of information, the comfort of connection to others and everyday routine. I learned earlier in my life, when I was a single mother– supporting two children with my hands– that I could not afford to make excuses. That even though I didn't have time, I needed to take it.But finding time isn’t enough. It must be the right kind of time, and the right kind of time is as hard to find as truffles or wild orchids. The time by which the man in the winged cap and the shy sister in the forest live- that’s the kind I want. And that kind of time knows nothing about schedules. (Nancy Willard, Telling Time)
There are so many diversions available that the "luxury" of being bored, of the long periods of time needed to dwell, to be a maker– remain elusive unless I impose a structure that is secluded, that protects uninterrupted time. The amusements themselves are a kind of spell that can lull me to sleep. And I know from experience that the mysterious world of unpredictable dreams and inner imagery live outside time.
Now let's return to that word, story. The great classics warn us of the danger of "falling asleep". In each case, our hero is on a Journey and meets an obstacle along the way that causes her to forget where she is going– or not even care. All of you probably remember the part of Wizard of Oz where Dorothy, the lion, the scarecrow and the tin woodman are trying to get to the Emerald City and get sidetracked from the yellow brick road by the incredibly beautiful and intoxicating field of bright red poppies:
They now came upon more and more of the big scarlet poppies, and fewer and fewer of the other flowers; and soon they found themselves in the midst of a great meadow of poppies. Now it is well known that when there are many of these flowers together their odor is so powerful that anyone who breathes it falls asleep, and if the sleeper is not carried away from the scent of the flowers, he sleeps on and on forever. But Dorothy did not know this, nor could she get away from the bright red flowers that were everywhere about; so presently her eyes grew heavy and she felt she must sit down to rest and to sleep.
The Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow carried Dorothy out of the field.
And then there's the section in The Lord of the Rings where Frodo and Sam, on their journey to relinquish the ring, come under the sleeping spell of Old Man Willow and are saved by Tom Bombadil. And The Wood Between the Worlds in The Magician's Nephew by CS Lewis, where Digory and Polly are trying to find their way back to Narnia, and are in a place where they are being lulled into forgetting what they are here for:
"There's no hurry," said Digory with a huge yawn.
"I think there is," said Polly. This place is too quiet....You're almost asleep. If we once give into it we shall just lie down and drowse forever and ever."
In each case our hero is entrusted with an important quest, finds obstacles along the way, and help comes, often from the most unexpected places, to reawaken the travelers.
What am I doing here? Am I awake or am I asleep? What do I have to offer, no matter how small? There is a sense of urgency to remember our quest, to reawaken the gift we were given at birth– which contains the seed of what each person in particular has to offer back to this world. Everyone has a gift, and no ones gift is like yours.
In order to pull out of spells of distraction, or feeling disconnected, I have to, over and over, get away from all the mesmerizing forms of entertainment– the many guises of Old Man Willow:
Old grey Willow-man, he's a mighty singer; and it's hard for little folk to escape his cunning mazes.
(The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkein)
Why is story mind important?
Sam: It's like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn't want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it's only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it'll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going because they were holding on to something. (Tolkein)
How do you evoke story mind? What stories inspire you? I'd love to hear from you.