Dance—no one’s watching!
We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
~ Wendell Berry (b. 1934)
~ Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972)
~ Miles Furlong (1890-1994)
True happiness is to enjoy the present … to rest satisfied with what we have, for he that is so wants nothing.
~ Seneca (AD 4-65)
Silver Fox was the only living person. There was no earth. Only water. “What shall I do?” Fox asked. He began to sing. “I would like to meet someone,” he sang to the sky. Then he met Coyote.
“Where are you going?” asked Coyote.
“I’ve been traveling everywhere,” replied Fox, “looking for someone. I was getting worried.”
“Well, it is better for two people to travel together,” said Coyote.
“That’s what they always say,” agreed Fox.
“Okay, But what should we do?” asked Coyote.
“Let’s try and make the world,” said Fox.
“How are we going to do that?” asked Coyote.
“Sing!” said Fox. And with his thoughts he made a clod of earth….
De Angulo retells at least three Achumawi versions of “How the World was Made” on his Old Time Stories broadcasts for Pacifica Radio. One of them is from Wild Bill, one is based on an account from Jack Folsom. The lengthiest rendition he got from Istet Woiche, through C. Hart Merriam’s translation. Common to them all: it seems that thought can provide a raw lump, a clod of dirt. To make it into a world, you have to sing.
This is most interesting if you put de Angulo’s belief—that language is the form of thought—alongside his sense that Achumawi speech is “nothing but a song.” There is a metaphysic here, that thinking and singing and world creation are inseparable acts. This metaphysic might be 100,000 years old. A good study of culture, one that looks closely at lore stretching from India or China to Europe, then in the other direction to coastal California, then across the circumpolar north, might find something. I suspect here a trace of the stories—and beneath the stories, old belief systems—that have been repeated across Europe, Asia, and into the Americas since the last glaciation. Linguists in the past several decades, using computers to analyze related sound clusters, have proposed the existence of a language superfamily. They find evidence that this long-ago kin-group of languages was spoken in southern Europe during the Ice Age, that it reached northwards to Greenland, east across Europe and Asia, to coastal Western North America. It would include languages of Alaska.
Evidently it all began with Silver Fox and Coyote. They are the ones who applied the great metaphysic to that primordial clod of dirt. They did it by singing…
~ Andrew Schelling (1953), Tracks Along the Left Coast: Jaime de Angulo & Pacific Coast Culture. (2017)
Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was a simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy.
~ Terry Tempest Williams (b. 1955)
Wherever I am, the world comes after me. It offers me its busyness. It does not believe that I do not want it. Now I understand why the old poets of China went so far and high into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.
~ Mary Oliver (b. 1935) #maryoliver
The greatest works of art are not found in a museum, but in the natural world outside our doors.
~ Sarah Duprey (b. 1994)
The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.
~ Carl Sagan (1934-1996)
May we live gently as we walk on this Earth,
And remember —
In each action
Not only our fellow man,
But also the brotherhood
Of the wilderness and the wild things.
~ Sarah Duprey (b. 1994)
AMY GOODMAN: How does it feel to be back to fiction? You’ve been writing now for years this book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Talk about how you feel upon its publication.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, fiction was always, in reality as well as in my imagination, my real home. But this time it’s home with the roof blown off. You know, so, somehow, it’s always been the thing that absorbs every part of me—fiction. You know, every skill I may have is actually part of writing this. So, to me, I just feel that, you know, even if in a lifetime you had two opportunities to spend many years lavishing everything—all your brains and your toenails and your hair and your teeth and your gallbladder—on creating one thing, you know, it’s a grace that you should be happy for. Whatever the product is, you know, whatever comes out of it, is such a beautiful thing to have had the opportunity to do, for me.
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve called fiction writing the closest thing you know to prayer.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Because of this. You know? Because, to me, the idea of being able to concentrate on trying to—you see, the nonfiction that I’ve been writing, you know, these are all essays that I—I mean, were urgent interventions in situations that were closing down in India. Each time I wrote an essay, I would—you know, it would lead to so much trouble, I’d promise myself not to write another one. But I would. But they were arguments. You know, they were urgent. They were—they had a definite purpose, a worldly important purpose. But when you—when I write fiction, it’s, to me, the opposite of an argument. It’s like creating a universe. You know, it’s like doing everything you can to create a world in which you want people to wander, you know?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, tell us about the title of the book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, and also the dedication. It’s dedicated to “The Unconsoled.” Who are “The Unconsoled”?
ARUNDHATI ROY: All of us, in secret, even if we don’t show it. Some of us do, and some of us don’t. But I think the world is unconsoled right now. And the title is not—you know, though many think it’s a satirical title, it’s not a satirical title, because it’s a title that—for me, you know, I think, fundamentally, as a species right now, we need to redefine what is being defined for us as the path to happiness or to progress or to civilization. You know? And in this book, it is a specific story and people who understand that it’s a fragile thing. Happiness is not a building or an institution that is there forever. It’s fragile. And you enjoy it when you can, and you may find it in the most unexpected places.