Frameshifts: Six Years Later

  frontcover   If you have been following this blog, you know that it began shortly after Frameshifts was published in 2011. In the next few blogs, I will revisit both the book and the writing of it.

     In the genre of “frame books” about travelers or pilgrims telling stories as they go on a journey, Frameshifts consists of poems and stories into which I poured my life and observations over 50 years.  Six years after publication, the “frameshifts project” continues with other related books, poems, music, and this blog, but before Frameshifts was a book or a project, it was a life practice, or way to move through the world. 

     I consider it a kind of divine walk.  Frame-shifting is zooming in and zooming out. To understand this, consider time, because the practice of frameshifts begins with changing how you think about time. We talk about time as if it were a commodity, but what is it?

      Say you’re running, or maybe walking along the street as I do every day. Speed is change of distance divided by time, measured in miles per hour or millimeters per second, or some other appropriate measure of displacement over a duration of time. But what is it that is being used up as you cover the distance? We call it “time,” but I say that time is a fiction. All fiction has its uses, but the fiction of time is like a dangerous explosive, useful in its own way, but personally devastating unless used correctly or defused. 

       Now, the correct way to use it is as a convenience in solving problems in the physical world. A mile per hour is a slow walk, because in the same hour the Earth has rotated through 15 degrees, a twenty-fourth of its daily twirl, and much greater than a mile. My walk of a mile is carried in the twirl and sway and orbit of the Earth around our Sun, and in the swift movement of the solar system, and in the flight of our galaxy from its distant origin in space thirteen billion years ago.  And of course, carried within the Earth and even within me are the movements of animals, plants, microbes, tissues, cells, and organic molecules, all of them taking steps at their own rates as all of their journeys are carried in the journeys of the others.  The idea of time, or duration, seems admirably to account for all of this movement in standard units. But outside its proper use, duration is a dangerous thing until defused. 

            In fact, for our personal lives, duration is a distraction. This is no news to mystics, poets, writers, inventors or anyone else who has ever been passionately and creatively engaged in the life of another person or in the life of a special work, project, or inquiry. In such endeavors we speak of time stopping, dilating, or flowing, but what we are really talking about is not time but the sense of having slipped into a different scale of being. That is,  in moments of intense engagement, we discover that the carefully calibrated steps of clocks are not in scale with our experience. Clocks are fine for managing train service (which is why people originally used them), but clocking is yet another example of an automated convenience which has been allowed to transgress our nature. We are living beings, not inert things. We mistake shifting frames for time.  But time is only a convenient fiction. Time is only one of countless other scales which are available to us. Devotion to it, like devotion to any false ultimate concern, leads to pitfalls,  tripwires, and detonations.To defuse it, make your divine walk as a living being across frames of reference,  not time. This is the practice: Move by zooming in and zooming out.                                                                      (my Mother)

           pix-at-viewing-fifty-glances-back-etc-120 Every human arrives on Earth into a pre-made world that he or she must transform. One receives what comes as given and unbidden and only slowly realizes the need for change and discovers the resolve to make changes. But in your personal studio, where you take steps to transform yourself and the world, you must first master your own materials, one step at a time. 

         This divine walk is not displacement over time. It is a displacement over change of scale. Shall I frame this walk in terms of the twirl of the Earth and talk about “days” and “hours?” Or shall I frame it in terms of the swift movement of the galaxy and talk about “parsecs per eon?” Within one frame, I hurry; within the other, I am immobile. Indeed, the busy, buzzing world of molecules in constant motion all around us seems to stand still because we watch it from such a large frame of reference.

     But we are humans, the beings with imaginations.  Time is not part of us. We may freely choose other frames of reference, other scales with respect to our own steps of transformation. And we may shift frames of reference.  This zooming in and out is the practice of frameshifts. Let me put it another way, in a poem called  “Zoom in and out.”       

By countless steps

and endlessly

coming and going,

all things make their way

at different strides.



All things pass away,

return, step fully

in and fully out,

turn inside out,

and make their way.


Time is not part of this.

Its hours and minutes

are surrogates for framing

stride to stride,

or scale to scale.


No, in your walk,

your divine walk,

keep shifting frames.

Let steps leap nebulae

at solar strides;


or carve nucleotides

at enzymatic clip;

or lift, piece by piece,

at art’s deft pulse,

fragments the conservator


restores. You choose.

I implore you: choose.



 By countless steps

and endlessly,

coming and going,

all things make their way

at different strides,


and that your walk

may be divine,

please choose the scales

your steps define.

Do not defer to time,


for time is not part of this.

Walk by the trickle of blood,

shudder of leaf,

lope of the moon.

Time has no part in you,


being only a convenience

(close to an illusion),

a standard walk

with cesium strides,

for calculations;


but you, a concatenation

of countless chains

of strides, inside and out,

you, you divine thing,

are nothing standard.



Measure your heart

upon gasps of solar flares.

Frame your pulse

within the sudden bolt

of wildebeests.


Shift frames, zoom

in and out. Leave your room.


By countless steps

and endlessly,

coming and going,

all things make their way

at different strides.



Frameshifts, a practice

before it was a fiction,

is zooming in and out,

displacements over scale,

Not Time.


Duration is the thought

of years spent, time left,

time saved, and dreary

time that dribbles on,

but time has no part of you.


You who always are,

make your way,

your divine way,

with countless steps

endlessly becoming,


and join the stream,

matching hearts to hearts,

gifts to gifts—not inert,

walled by routine.

Choose what you make:

 Step out, and lose your hurt.

Step out,  and lose your heart.

So, welcome again to Frameshifts! A book which embodies this practice of the divine walk. A book of stories and poems in forms and genres continually re-framed. A frame book of stories about the journeys of many characters and about Fairall, the strange community in Northern Virginia where all of their inward and outward journeys come together. Why a “divine” walk? Because frame-shifting is a practice of sustained attention and creative engagement in life-fostering concerns, the concerns closest to making our ways through the world as whole beings.

So,  I offer Frameshifts,  a book of stories and poems, but also a book for you about choosing your own frames of reference rather than  taking the explosively fragmenting idea of time to heart.

But before it was a book, it was a practice.

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