Primarily a writing exercise, this dream journal-inspired blog is a quiet introspective sojourn into the process that we traverse in going from private dream to public art. I see our dreaming as an internalized mythmaking. As I philosophize and expressively exhibit dreams, both private and public, I encourage and delight in creative language as a way to practice experiential metaphors through a “public dreaming." Writing Theory: Creative Dream Fiction

Monday, 6 May 2013

Roots of a Grecian Heart: Seeds of Superstition and Truth

"Even in our day there are plenty of soothsayers and sibyls, and many people still believe in dreams and omens. It is no wonder that the ancients did so, too. But we should keep well in mind that while these arts are now despised by educated people and ranked with superstition they were an acknowledged part of Greek religion." Martin P. Nilsson, Greek Popular Religion

"I woke with this marble head in my hands; / It exhausts my elbows and I don't know where to put it down. / It was falling into the dream as I was coming out of the dream. / So our life became one and it will be very difficult for it to separate again." Seferis, Mythistorema

Sunday April 21 is another afternoon, like any other late winter day in Calgary, where sporadic snowfall lights on the sprawling residential landscape. A few blocks from the university in the northwest quarter of the city, one home opens its doors to lovers of Greek culture, ancient and contemporary. A neighbor walks down the road, on her way to the event, to show a bewildered downtown urbanite the way in a dizzying maze of suburbia. Host Karen Gummo greets at the door, a member-at-large of TALES, The Alberta League for the Encouragement of Storytelling.

The house concert event features Jennie Frost, recently selected in August 2012 byStorytellers of Canada / Conteurs du Canadaas an Elder in Canadian storytelling, a prestigious recognition awarded only once a year. She will be recording for the StorySave Project, which honors and preserves the oral storytelling traditions of Canada. Aboriginal, Irish and Canadian heritages are among the many recognized by Story Save storytellers. Frost, a classics scholar, published her first book, “The Courtship of Hippodameia” in 2005. Frost has performed stories for festivals, concerts, conferences, libraries and over one hundred schools in eight provinces and one territory since 1996. A 2-CD set of her workPygmalion and Other Greek Myths was for sale at the event, along with her book.

The event did not begin with storytelling, however, but a taksim, a term and practice borrowed from other Middle-Eastern cultures meaning the improvisatory opening to a song in Greek music. Calgary Greek music band, Rembetika Hipsters were present to provide dynamic energy to the overall muse and meaning of story in the Greek tradition. Having toured much of Canada and Greece, the Rembetika Hipsters have released three successful CDs. The band continues to receive great recognition in Greece, especially for a video recording of their tenth anniversary concert in Calgary, where they played with a nine-piece ensemble. After performing the first song, bouzouki player and vocalist Nick Diochnos told one of his own personal stories, set during his Greek wedding in Athens, where he bought his first bouzouki with extra wedding money.

Rhythm guitarist and singer Allen Baekeland of the Rembetika Hipsters gave historical background and taught the meaning of the Greek band name. In the wake of the most significant and traumatic period in Modern Greek history, the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922), the Rembetika culture formed. The war, known as the Catastrophe by Greeks, led to the forced expulsion, or “population exchange treaty” of all Greek communities in Turkey, including the notable city of Smyrna. Over one million Greeks in Turkey were forced into exile. As a result, one in five people in Greece were refugees.

With their Turkish-influenced culture, vagrant impoverishment, drug use and outlaw mentality, refugee youth became what in Greek is known as Manges, loosely translated as hipsters. While very popular in the 1920s and 30s, the Rembetika music, likened to American blues, was banned by government authorities. Nick explained that there are two connotations to the word, either it is used between buddies to denote camaraderie, or between parent and child as a means of castigation. Throughout many songs played during the course of the event, Nick would exclaim, “Hey Mange…Opa!”

With a repertoire of over a hundred songs, the Rembetika Hipsters played a diverse selection, not only of Rembetika songs, but also of Greek folk and popular songs. Two songs were especially poignant for their performance, as well as the stories that accompany. Firstly, they sung Sto Perigiali To Krifo, with music by legendary Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis in collaboration with Greek poet, and Nobel laureate, Giorgos Seferis. The work of Theodorakis, spanning from orchestral suites to popular tunes, has also been integral to the revitalization of Rembetika music into post-WWII popularity. Secondly, Ta Pedia Tou Pirea was sung in memory of Melina Mercouri, a Greek actress, singer and political activist, who sung the ode to the beauty of the Greek port town of Pireus in the film, Never on Sunday. The Rembetika Hipsters commented that the port town’s charm is actually a bit more of the rough than the diamond.

Jennie Frost captivated a silent crowd of about twenty keen listeners with stories from the ancient sagas of the Greek pantheon. Storytelling alternated with the music throughout the afternoon. Frost introduced her storytelling modus operandi with a short prefatory anecdote regarding her break from conventional academic interpretations. She gives ancient stories a refreshing new life. During her lively orations, she holds an elegantly crafted wooden cane, in homage to Indigenous traditions of the talking-stick. An elephant sculpture melts into an Ankh-shaped handle, in which are tied innumerable paper-crafted memorabilia from all of the communities she has visited to enlighten through the living tradition of oral storytelling.

With detail enough to craft the most intricate narrative, Frost weaves in and out of character dialogue and illustrates setting with the lithe energy of the overseeing deities she so magically conveys. One of her most memorably enchanting stories drew from Zeus, in relationship with his children, Hermes and Apollo. The visceral imagination of ancient Greek life, as in the story of Apollo’s maturation into his role as the god of music, knowledge and poetry evokes the divine majesty of creative human faculties. Hermes, who ultimately gifts Apollo his lyre in the story, becomes messenger of the gods, evincing respect for the underlying interconnectedness of all great worldly and divine phenomena into a harmonious narrative of familial interrelationships.

Frost told many stories, drawing not only from classical Greece. Her final story revealed a welcome gift for diverse cultural expression. Before reciting a quaint Chinese tale about a half-wit boy named Noodle, who eventually outsmarted the gentry of an ancient city through a spirited affinity to poetic meter, Frost proclaimed to all her enthusiasm for epic storytelling sessions. For Frost, a five-hour long telling passes with sparkling enthusiasm. Nonetheless, Frost finished telling her last line on time to close the three-hour event, leaving all with a smile.

The Calgary cityscape glowed from the picture window behind the musicians and storyteller. The love of storytelling is a common root of social cohesion, yet the traditional arts of oral storytelling are too often ignored with similar cultural dissolution as seen in the disappearance of global language diversity. Storytelling, in the traditional and artistic forms of oration, is not simply a nostalgic reversion to childhood.

The lyrics of Giorgos Seferis speak with god-like insight and metaphoric clarity. Impermanent love, the hasty fool’s rush to consummate young lust, is the subject of his poem Denial, better known as the song, Sto Perigiali To Krifo, sung by the Rembetika Hipsters. In a society dependent on non-renewable life sources, is the consumer resource paradigm of a young nation as Canada not also likened to a parable of the impermanent lust of young love? As Seferis writes in Denial:

On the secret seashore
white like a pigeon
we thirsted at noon;
but the water was brackish.

On the golden sand
we wrote her name;
but the sea-breeze blew
and the writing vanished.

With what spirit, what heart,
what desire and passion
we lived our life: a mistake!
So we changed our life...

Oral storytelling roots people to an inner renewal of life, as innately creative, and in continuity with the most fundamental and longest standing traditions of humanity.

This story has appeared on The Media Co-op and will also appear in the upcoming June issue of TALES (newsletter)
Where are we? Israel? Canada? No, North American Zion!
Zion Canyon by Frederick S. Dellenbaugh
Desolate summer ski hills are lush, verdant with pine undergrowth. Through an open ski lane, gargantuan Canadian flags billow. A park ranger sights us. I escape solo, just barely through a bush thicket. Trailing beside a river’s edge, where I once ogled at two young lovers, the Israeli sky burns with the beautiful bounty of original sin multiplying with infinity at every touch, every sight, sound, smell and every taste of spirit. The racket of espionage flutters in the newspaper wind. I heave a sigh, bitter with unrest.

Fleeing to Sichuan province from Chang'an to escape the violence by Li Chao-tao
Nightfall, the shattered windows and shades of old Brooklyn stare with criminal rites. Anger seethes from the manhole pores of the upended city. A ruinous dearth of humanity bleeds from my open-strung heart down the spinal chords of a silent song: my jungle cage. Television home blink, flicker, there! The thief, drunk, with rapist eyes eyes mine concrete stone grounded roof possessions. A friend points-blank his rifled arm into our pitch fate. The silence groans with inner loathing, like a brooding cancer unknown, deep in the marrow.

An Interesting Game by Frederick Arthur Bridgman
So, morning, we rise with the tide and board a ship set with haste. A vacant room, splotched with growl, we swung with the churning waves, a smiling rat-spawned day. The worst was over. America far behind, Zion of mind and heart derided in a momentary pause, to reflect on the Old World border of genocidal rampage, the forgotten wick, unlit on this Sabbath morning. Two friends, we disappear within a schizophrenic race. Evening fires glow soft with candlelight.

Painting of Dream Figures on Bark by Unknown
Tattooed mistresses, with raised skin, beset with the tribal bond of white scars breathe from lungs rising and falling under the most intricately carved bones. The monarch is absent. Bewildered, the ship sinks like a dead man, flooding as with the inverted pressure of the oceanic ambiance bursting outwards, into the wooden vessel of sleep and need.  
A hyper-ambient, atmospheric guitar & voice elucidation on themes of the variance between the doer and the doing, subject and object, creation and creator. The vocal sounding contemplates the inner nature of human life as the most provident offering back to nature. To learn reciprocity with the entire universe begins by looking within. The word is a gift. "shaped by more hands" refers to the creative act as in step with the dream-notion, going back to Carl Jung, that 'I am not the only one in my house' or that the psyche is full with collective consciousness, that within us is all of us. All things issue through us by way of conscious intent.

In the creative arts, dreaming and waking often cross paths. Is speaking and thinking similar in psychic variance from that of dreaming and waking?This is the question I am posing in the aftermath of the creative process, which led to the track, "shaped by more hands". The question is meant for all to ruminate with thoughtless meditation, through a constant emptying of mind, towards a renewal of deeper intelligence beyond the egotism of intellect and apparent word-logic.

The chapbook, "Seeds and Roots" from the larger collection, Exotic Settlers, contains 9 poems on the theme of cultural metaphors related to heritage, ancestry and the myths and rites of collective human identity. Beginning with simple muses on Jewish cultural roots, I then embellish a transcendence of nostalgia through a regression of biological metaphors.

The root, with all of its instilled metaphors of stability, truly originates from seed. While reminiscent of the old chicken-egg riddle, the seed is a transient holder of sacred inner truth, ultimately leading to a grounded promise of settlement. Yet, in exploring a healthy and holistic mind of settlement, i.e. through the experimental writings found in Exotic Settlers, the more ephemeral or fleeting reality of origination must be kept close at hand. For, in Buddhist terms, the root is the middle way, yet the seed is that ephemerality from which we come and to which we go.

The selected piece for sound art / experimental music works, found on Evocations: Exotic Settlers ( is "Shaped By More Hands" which I find to be a blissful rendering of the beauty of Wu Wei, or the Taoist philosophy of non-intervention with the flux of being and mind, where in the allowance of natural flow is the growth of the seed from the root to the flowering seed.

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