The Sum It Up Parlor on the Narrative Otherways


When I wrote this weblog from mid-2010 through 2012 it was my first expressive foray into the cyber sphere. It was written as my main contribution while being a Board member of Women In Film Seattle. I owe a debt to that group of women. Their willingness to give the weblog a home within the organization legitimized it, gave me a reason to go public in my explorations as a writer. A gift.

A parting thought.  Perhaps it’s obvious to you from a quick glance at these screenpages but unless you’ve a want to settle in and slow down, which I myself struggle to do when engaged with this rapidly mutating digital medium, you may think twice, or less, about entering here.  The filmstories taken under wing in these writings are, to my mind, engaged in a practice of evolving meaning.  Such evolution is mostly glacial, having an effect as drops of water into a sea on the amorphous “OverNarrative” that is continually beating the drums all around us and through which we try to define ourselves and derive our reason for being.


In which I explain what I mean by this term the “narrative otherways.

In truth what follows here in our final Parlor belongs at the beginning.  It takes a bit of getting used to, the directional momentum of this weblog form that forces what is written first to the end of a potentially endless “page” and out of sight.  In the oldworld of print (my youth) what I write now would have been first to be read, before all the rest.

Sidse Babett Knudsen & Mads Mikkelsen in After The WeddingThis is a long way around saying the first pieces I wrote for this Salon&Parlor, the underpinnings of the theory constructed here, have long since drifted to the bottom.  This is because the original and still primary reason for our digital push is technological innovation.  The highest value yet being placed on the very latest, the most new and shiny surface.  So when it comes to writing, that practice which predates the digital, the once dependable linear development of a body of thought is tossed and turned.

I in no way feel this as all loss.  The writing here reflects my learning the curve of the digital steep.  It has allowed me to build my thinking through time, piece by piece with all the side bars and discussions and suggestions of filmstories in between so that the ideas here have been field tested in a sort of practice as you preach method.  Instead of that once familiar steady progression of thought page after page the act of writing this weblog became to my mind, especially in the public, egalitarian crowd nature of it, more spherical, akin to those animated models of viruses – the ones with the prongs all round like deep water mines.

Oh dear.  Now I’ve fallen quite off the spine.  So to get back on track we will begin…er…end…er…begin the ending!

It must be said that I, a mere pamphleteer, an eager humanist, write with nothing to lose.  I am by choice a provincial – ever attentive to the deep of the cultural stream – but a provincial nonetheless.  A woman at late middle age, I realize now that as a writer I have sought neglect.  However that may influence my perspective, I first want to directly address:

What the word “narrative” means to me. 

To me narrative is all we humans tell and retell and riff on in the infinite variation of our profuse flowering through time that speaks yes, we were here and this is what we thought here was; all that is embraced by our voluminous expressing across cultures and epochs ever-being-spun out of our compulsion to tell stories about and to one another.  In this telling we sort and explain our existence and in doing we all together evolve consciousness – our work to do here on earth; part of the pact of our being and purpose from the earth’s point of view.  Our narratives and consciousness, in my book these two walk hand in hand.

This cacophony of giving form, this collectively held narrative commons made from our exploration and invention – religious, creative, scientific, technological – of the meaning & reason of human life is our grand inheritance.  It is gifted by those immeasurable before us, belongs to everyone as long as they live and is to be passed to those not yet born.  Personally, I am soothed by this inheritance.  It keeps me company.  And I am encouraged to think that this, what we tell one another about what we conceive our meaning to be, evolves.  Just like all else organic in origin.

This Salon&Parlor weblog is an attempt to disentangle a few of the forces pushing for evolution in our narrative commons and to identify what other currents of giving form are in the making.  For this I have taken permission to cherry pick particular screenstories and read meaning into them.Paul Dano & Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood

Here I’ve named as the male narrative the way of perceiving & telling that has, in the main, defined our being’s reason since, well, the cave.  This way of perceiving frames the human animal as forever trapped, more or less, in a cross the eons fight for survival. This framing has been excuse for all sorts of predation practiced by one tribe, clan, country, nation-state, economic system, race and gender upon an other set up as the fall guy.  Just the idea of this predatory bit of code in us being tagged as our overarching reason, our human a priori state of being, our most told story makes me sad.

Not to mention I consider this way of framing life as a fight for survival to be in our day, knowing what we know now, should we choose to know, coupled with the tools we’ve so marvelously evolved, to be precisely not the way forward for our survival.

In fact, I consider this way of framing us to be, now, the primary threat to our survival, as heroic as it may make some of us feel.  Further on the morphology of the male narrative here.

What I mean by this term the “narrative otherways.

We turn in search of other ways to perceive and explain being. This turning is given wing, in that serendipitous way of these forces, by converging shifts.

As is generally acknowledged we are traversing a moment of technological crux.  Our digital tools speed along in synapsual rhythm with our brains even if the exponential invention may be outpacing our hearts some.  As is often noted, the unfolding impact on how we read our meaning is of the magnitude brought on by Gutenberg’s movable type, that work of books which ignited a cross centuries wildfire of literacy and consequent epidemic of thinking spun out until and into the present.  And now, from our time’s digital stew another narrative way of perceiving & telling is emerging, a child of the clamor.Photostrip stills from Queen to Play

My name for this clamorous child is a narrative otherways. The proliferation of digital tools into the means of cultural production and its effect on how we gather evidence about ourselves and speak to one another about that evidence has created an ever mutating, moving target that so far eludes containment or hoarding.  In fact built within this unscrolling is a Michelle Williams in Blue Valentinestubborn will against containment.  This stubborn will for escape is part and parcel of the nature of the narrative otherways, but it is not to be mistaken for that worn out, entirely weary leather jacketed axiom of the male narrative – rebellion so intractably rooted in finding definition through opposition.

Converging with and encouraged by this proliferation of tools, this moving target that eludes containment is a radical re-conception of gender.  This is being instigated by an ongoing redefinition of what it is to be born and live female.  Robin Wright and Keanu Reeves in The Private Lives of Pippa LeeWhile this re-visioning is sheltered by the digital running roughshod over established social definitions, it is also and most fundamentally born from reproductive “control” being put into the hands of women for the very first time in all of time by our collective commons of medical science.

This re-conception is releasing the female from narrative containment within woman as body, only the term I’ve used for it here.  In this essentialist representation of woman reproductive function trumps all; the meaning, the reason for femaleness being conceived as human vessel first and foremost to the exclusion and suppression of all other attributes.

Kate Winslet in Holy SmokeThis release has triggered a quake within the narrative conception of Woman as the original and most fundamental symbol for representation of the Other.  The Other against or for which the One (man) at the center of the male narrative acts.  The Other whose negative void floats a ghostly lesser to the substance of men, even the least of them, having redirected her radiant light from herself to shine on the One for his definition which still so precariously hinges on not being a woman.  I am not that. I am man.

So. What might be the ramifications to our stories’ topography from this fallout of digital proliferation and revolution in gender-sense?Image from The Piano

What might be done with this escape?

If all action, all life of all Others is channeled into the uses of the One as the defining mechanism of our narratives up till now, imagine a narrative other way that holds the possibility of a symbiotic mutualism in how we give and take definition to and from one another.

By expressing belief that our inherited conceptions of self and self in the world can change and adapt, such a narrative encourages our ability to generate self-definition, to cherish that shine and cultivate our own use of it – being’s audacious, radiant source sheltered within.  This permission to cherish casts light by contrast on our addictive dependence on the energy of oppositional being and thinking – I am not that; helps us recognize when we are acting parasitically, draining the Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattooenergy of an other for our own, larcenous uses.  And the dangers of that.

Helen Hunt and John Hawkes in The Sessions

Connectivity is a vein of exploration in a narrative otherways because it is through relation new matter comes into being.  Beyond birth from procreation, the obvious symbol of it, the sizzling as well as mundane energetic exchange between selves is the essential ethereal component of creating life beyond the corporeal.

This sizzling/mundane builds within us a powerful knack for bonding, a holding tight through the push and pull of the emotional fission of our differences.  A spurt of emotional growth in one can cause a stir if not downright resistance in an other.  Because when we change, those connected to us through our relationships must change too.  Stories of an otherways trace along this tissue that binds to encourage, allow, demand and catalyze the difficult, endlessly engaging work of emotional growth in one another.  Because we could let ourselves believe humans are capable and responsible, that we do not need to displace our creative abilities or destructive acts onto deities.  How else to fulfill our promise to become adults? (a heaven of the here and now.)

Coupled with the realignment of reproductive control is a lifting of the burden on all of us for birthing enough.  The survival of the human animal is at last (at least from forces not set in motion by our own actions) no longer nip and tuck.  Quite the opposite.   As we work together toward adulthood we stand a chance of recognizing that in the biological choice to birth & raise children is the consequent responsibility of allocation, at long last, of the deep emotional resources each of us needs all lifelong.  If we’re to be honest about it.

We harbor an unrecognized antibiosis in our resistance to perceiving the real; we cling to what is already becoming what was.  Ours is a tired child’s anger at the continual upheaval of the organic truth that to live is to change and that our lives unfold into the mostly unknown.

Stories of an otherways untangle the reason of this resistance to be rooted in, naturally enough, our fear of death – the last step; otherways stories hope to guide the exploration of our great sadness that in the end we lose each other and our selves, those very selves we’ve worked so hard and long to acquire.  That all we know slips away.Annika and Corrine in Higher Ground

Sometimes an other is a light too bright and blinding, too tender a reminder of our own not always bearable & transient magnificence.  To fully perceive our wondrous self of this fleeting brief makes it harder to let go, inflames our impulse to cling, protect and deny.  As if we could. Instead perhaps we might find and take solace from stories speaking release from our illusionary efforts to contain and control the uncontrollable, stories that remind us we have so much yet to discover about ourselves and one another.

There’s much work to this try to tread with comprehension our continuous unfold.  We request a deep dug narrative that at last speaks honestly of our connection with and dependence on not only each other but on this earth. We are all of the same matter of creation, all with a span, an arc, a beginning, a middle, an end.  This earth that is not separate from us is not disposable, endless or infinite.  This fond orb necessitates stories that help us acknowledge it to be our source of origin and entirely entwined with our survival. Not separate.  Not Other.

Perhaps stepping into the continuous unfolding is in fact our chance – just as in fear and its damage is the permission to let go. The purpose of the stories we are telling one another might be to help light and give form to an allowance, a leaning toward even, of that.  Is it not in the walking, a cure to our lameness?

We are perplexed.  Not sure how to cultivate forgiveness or healing or truth.  Not sure how to understand the miracle beneath our feet, on the horizon, in the air being pulled into our bodies in this pilgrimage of spirals. from Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Penquin Books, 2000 p 146-147 We do find our end, each of us alone.  But we do not act alone, exist alone while here on earth spinning away in goalless arrival, in our trek of continual transformation.

I want a narrative of stories that tell me of that, keep me company in that, give me energy and life for that.

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