The last performance of The Fisher of the James was at Book People, Ruth Erb’s book shop in Richmond. On October 5, it will be at the Gellman Room of the Main Library in Richmond at 2:00 p.m. Scheduling of other performances is pending.
A friend recently gave me a copy of an interview with Phil Shepherd from the recent edition of The Sun magazine. I had heard about the enteric plexus but did not know Philip Shepherd and have ordered his book, New Self, New World. Most of my writing is about paying attention to signals from the worlds within and around us, whether they come from CO2 meters on Hawaii’s Mauna Loa or from a credit card bill. All such annunciations tell us that we are both human beings and human doings, that we do well to want what we have and to have no more than we can care for, and that to find what is just enough is the daily art we all can practice. Every day we have an appointment with what is but more often than not, as Shepherd eloquently says, we miss it by not “listening to the world through the body.”
The central character in the second volume of Frameshifts is an apparently deranged biochemist named Avery Crawley who makes dire weather predictions and sets up a community called The Salvage to pay attention to what is (pp. 20-21 and 15-17). He does this because his research led to the discovery of a virus-like entity capable of amplifying the warning-signals of the living world (pp.213-218). He felt these signals not simply cerebrally but viscerally (“Here! In my chest.” p. 70).
Many of our mythic stories, he says, were warnings about human stewardship (p. 25 and pp.42-43) and he founds a professional community to re-think stewardship. One of them is the narrator, a college teacher named Hank Randall, introduced at the end of the first volume. As Shepherd notes, it is difficult to make the silence needed to attend to the messages from within and around us, but Hank finds silence after the death of his wife (77-79) and joins the community after listening to the explanations of Crawley (87-95) and others (113-117). Hank goes on to become a roving scholar for the community. He travels the country and periodically reports his findings (106-108). Meanwhile, internal divisions arise within the Salvage community. Crawley is interned and interrogated by his rivals, who want to use his viral transmitter for their own purposes (323-329). A new generation of leaders, however, sets a different course (208-209 and 365-376).
Many seek a middle way to a more humane and sustainable society. People like James Hansen and Barry Commoner have used science. Bill McKibben uses social media. The Rob Hopkins’ Transition.com movement uses community work and permaculture. Fr. John Philip Newell’s Salva Terra uses his Anglican tradition and Stephen Dinan’s Shift Network and Darrin Drda’s Global Truths seem to use a new-age amalgam of psychology and spirituality.
Some of course (like my character Jencks) are looking only to their own bottom line. (“There’s always profit in doom,” says the opportunist Jencks, ever ready to gain from others’ misfortunes. p.324).
What I use is narrative—poems, music, and prose, as in the benefit performance of The Fisher of the James I’ve been doing around Richmond. Narrative can shift the frame of reference to the other and makes it possible for us to do the improbable: to change.
Perhaps when, for a moment,
we fully experienced the reality of a time transform
different from our own—a personal disaster, an accident—
a critical point was reached.
A personal disaster always strikes
at the center of a universe. . . (p.356)