How we got to Patmos and what I learned on the journey
I was once part of developing a sort of "12-step for Everyone" called False Selves Anonymous that emphasized contemplative practice as well as vulnerability and working the steps. It never really got off the ground, in part I think because the framework of disease and addiction doesn't quite map onto the larger human condition. But 12-Step continues to be a deep well of resource and inspiration for transformational and collaborative organizing models, and I've been a participant in many communities and networks that have drawn from it.
I'm also aware— and this may be a consequence of being in the US vs Europe— that we can fetishize vulnerability to the point that it becomes a wallowing in emotionality, where we lose sight of our ability to respond to challenges constructively and purposefully. I have seen vulnerable spaces that were constructed well, and also some that allowed the creation of collective "pain bodies" (to use a term from Eckhart Tolle)— even when the organizers were expressly trying to avoid that.
None of which is to be cynical about Black Elephant; what you and Rhyd have described sounds quite healthy and powerful. But the organizer in me can't help but be curious about what's under the hood, and I can't quite get a handle on it from looking at the website. Do you know if Felix has any ties to the Relational Gestalt movement?
This is beautiful and it has made me weep this afternoon for so many reasons, some that I can't verbalise. Being open "to the strange possibilities glimpsed through the cracks" I try to remain hopeful as head down I get on with my own little life but when I raise my head, and when I read Akram Khan's quote about what our children will inherit waves of despair come to me. To you and all those who are able to look all this in the face, thank you for shinning through the cracks.
What a beautiful and weepy read to start the morning. I feel like Khan’s story is what we live our lives for if we are open. It’s what I look/looked for as a photographer. I spent a couple years seriously taking pictures to stay sane during the pandemic where I had so many encounters like Khan’s.
A person bought a book in my micro store that had their childhood friend’s name inscribed in it even though they both grew up in another state just days after I read a similar story by Stephen Harrod Buhner. I met a young man named Tal, short for Taliesin, and came home to find The Book of Taliesin sitting on my partners chair. Days later I had a strange encounter with a man named Lazarus. Then months later watched an online talk at the Salem Witchcraft Festival (roughly 1,200 miles away) about the Biblical Psalms only to find out that the Moses who taught the class lived minutes away. Mind you this is a small community and I could go on.
I think I wanted these things to mean there could be some miraculous change or shift, that the situation wasn’t as bad as it seems so I started actively trying to slip out of reality to collect them. I suppose I was experiencing and trying to make something of a photographic Bardskull. Then mundane things took over and I couldn’t or wouldn’t continue and am now sitting on my stoop reading this wondering why I stopped, where to go next, and if I’ve said too much.
Thank you for sharing the origin story of the Black 🐘 and the wonderful start to my day.
There is something of a magic word bearing street sign in this post itself. Like another reader I found myself tearing up, which is odd for me, and not where I would have expected such a feeling. It punches way above its weight as you only hint at what it is exactly speaking toward. Is it because I am bit worn thin by the times lately, in way that isn't weariness or despair but the opposite, the kind of threadbare that lets the light in and out knowing that, though the approaching sadness is real as real, so is the angels and otherlings of flotsam and ruin, natality and newsong that will be our company into what comes. I might be a bit short on sleep from a tough work week but I am gonna watch your space here, friend.
well , after reading this lovely piece which fell on my lap straight after listening to David Bentley Hart and Salley Vickers in conversation, I really do think that those cracks in the world where unexpected surreal human connections happen (and animal ones, if you listen to Bentley Hart a bit) anyway, yes, those cracks are there to show us where to go.
On Holiday, in the ruins.
Thank you for the link to the PM World paper - what larks! It's good to be acknowledged but I'm really glad that I didn't spend the last 14 years writing books and speaking at conferences about Black Elephants™️ while fiercely defending my intellectual property. I'd love to have been there when Felix explained it to you for the first time :)
Dougald - thanks, as always, for your wonderful writing. I literally laughed, got chills, and was moved to tears—all three. A hat trick! The comparison with addiction reminded me of this essay I wrote 6 years ago on the Deepwater Horizon, the Devil Tarot card and Marquez' city of Macondo (also the name of the Deepwater Horizon rig). These resonances are all around us, if only we tune in.
This is a beautiful piece, my friend.