Memory & Adventure 3: The Whole Miraculous World

Image courtesy of Groman 123

The following exercise comes to us thanks to the amazing Melanie Rae Thon, who has generously provided me with an expansive set of exercises that will be published here over the coming weeks. This particular exercise is the third part of a mini-collection, and the first part can be found here. They are meant to be completed in order, so go back and finish the first two parts if you haven’t already. Enjoy!

Loving the Whole Miraculous World

I have come to believe in the underlying interdependence of all living beings through time and across space. Thich Nhat Hanh shows us that no matter where we begin, even if it is with something as ordinary as a piece of paper, we will be able to find a pattern of inter-dependence that connects this being or this object with every other being or element or form in the universe! In the film What Darwin Never Knew and in the essay “The Germs of Life” we encounter the idea that every life form on earth is a biological relative of every other form!

Wherever you see life—that is you! The dissimilarity, the strangeness between humans and other creatures is here removed!
~ Albert Schweitzer
from First Sermon on Reverence for Life

In The Tiger, John Vaillant investigates a complicated web that includes the ways political, environmental, spiritual, technological, and historical circumstances ultimately influence individual lives (tigers, trees, humans, et al!) in a remote area of Russia.

But even as we acknowledge and celebrate these bonds, I think it is also important to illuminate diversity! The piece of paper is connected to the sun and the logger, but they are not the same. We are related to fish and bacteria and tigers and gyllacridids, but each living form is unique and miraculous! I would identify this as the other primary theme of our explorations, a counterpoint of the idea of interdependence—not a contradiction, but a mysterious complication.

Everything happens in the context of a specific environment. Your experiences from Parts One and Two of this exploration occurred within a complex biotic community, at a certain time of day or year with particular light and weather, in the presence of land forms (mountains, canyons, sand dunes, caverns), in the presence of water or in startling awareness of its absence . . .

You as a Human Being are part of a System which is not just about your needs and your concerns. Like it or not, you’re part of something immense and very mysterious. Page Three of your explorations should be an extensive list of all the living beings and potent entities you might wish to include in your “Close to Death” and/or “Moments of
Wonder” stories.

“List” is a key word here, but you can also be precise! For instance, if there are birds in your piece, you should try to learn their names and/or remember (or discover) something distinctive about their appearance, behavior, flight, songs, etcetera. Active verbs will help you feel the beings and entities are alive and potent, not just static forms serving as “landscape” or “stage setting” for human adventure.

Example (from my own work, just a list slightly enhanced with details and verbs):

The cactus wren flies in and out of her nest between fishhooks and barbs, needles and nails, flits
unharmed through spines of the cholla.

Ocotillos fifteen feet high, clusters of long stems, tips inflamed with red flowers

Iridescent birds flashing in and out, the smallest on earth, green and violet, hummingbirds
hovering in space, stealing nectar, tiny hearts fluttering twenty times per second

A row of palo verde trees, green skin, yellow blossoms
Prickly pear bursting into bloom
Piercing light, my father driving home (light stabs his eyes)

Thirty scarlet hearts, the claret cup breaking open

The creosote blooms 10,000 years, casting clones of itself in all directions. Roots of the Joshua tree tap dry earth, sensing water. Nine hundred years old and still it grows down in the dark and up to the light, lifting leaves eight inches long, thin and stiff and sharp as daggers.

Your list need not look anything like mine! I just wanted to give you a few ideas about what I mean by adding action and detail even when you are “only” brainstorming.

I realize the words “biotic community” may not apply (in an obvious way) to everyone’s fictional or autobiographical experience! Please (please) consider the idea of “environment” in any way that makes sense in the context of your unique (and entirely surprising) explorations.

Melanie Rae Thon Author PhotoMelanie Rae Thon’s most recent books are Silence & Song (September 2015) and The 7th Man (November 2015). She is also the author of the novels The Voice of the River, Sweet Hearts, Meteors in August, and Iona Moon, and the story collections In This Light, First, Body, and Girls in the Grass. Thon’s work has been included in Best American Short Stories (1995, 1996), three Pushcart Prize Anthologies (2003, 2006, 2008), and O. Henry Prize Stories (2006). She is a recipient of a Whiting Writer’s Award, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association Reading the West Book Award, the Gina Berriault Award, the Utah Book Award, and a Writer’s Residency from the Lannan Foundation. In 2009, she was Virgil C. Aldrich Fellow at the Tanner Humanities Center. Originally from Montana, Melanie now lives in Salt Lake City, where she teaches in the Creative Writing and Environmental Humanities programs at the University of Utah. She is a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow in Fiction.