Browsing the WordPress reader I was pleased to be reminded of Duende by blogger Jaq who has a great blog at Ars, Arte et Labore.

Jaq links to a lecture on Duende by 20th century Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca:

“In his brilliant lecture entitled “The Theory and Play of Duende” Federico García Lorca attempts to shed some light on the haunting and inexplicable sadness that lives in the heart of certain works of art.”

I am not familiar with Lorca, but enjoyed reading his lecture on the Duende so much that I thought I would post the links here and say a little bit about Duende.

Lorca begins the lecture by quoting Manuel Torre:

And Manuel Torre, a man who had more culture in his veins than anyone I’ve known, on hearing Falla play his own Nocturno del Generalife spoke this splendid sentence: ‘All that has dark sounds has duende.’ And there’s no deeper truth than that.”

Duende is associated with dark spaces, dark sounds, tragedy, wounds that never completely heal and only appears where there is the possibility of death alongside life:

“When the Muse sees death appear she closes the door, or builds a plinth, or displays an urn and writes an epitaph with her waxen hand, but afterwards she returns to tending her laurel in a silence that shivers between two breezes. Beneath the broken arch of the ode, she binds, in funereal harmony, the precise flowers painted by fifteenth century Italians and calls up Lucretius’ faithful cockerel, by whom unforeseen shadows are dispelled.

When the angel sees death appear he flies in slow circles, and with tears of ice and narcissi weaves the elegy we see trembling in the hands of Keats, Villasandino, Herrera, Bécquer, and Juan Ramón Jiménez. But how it horrifies the angel if he feels a spider, however tiny, on his tender rosy foot!

The duende, by contrast, won’t appear if he can’t see the possibility of death, if he doesn’t know he can haunt death’s house, if he’s not certain to shake those branches we all carry, that do not bring, can never bring, consolation.

With idea, sound, gesture, the duende delights in struggling freely with the creator on the edge of the pit. Angel and Muse flee, with violin and compasses, and the duende wounds, and in trying to heal that wound that never heals, lies the strangeness, the inventiveness of a man’s work.

Those dark sounds are the mystery, the roots that cling to the mire that we all know, that we all ignore, but from which comes the very substance of art. ‘Dark sounds’ said the man of the Spanish people, agreeing with Goethe, who in speaking of Paganini hit on a definition of the duende: ‘A mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained.’”

Storyteller Michael Meade, who I first heard speak and tell stories at conferences with James Hillman and Robert Bly, works with at risk youth by connecting them back to myth, ritual and story in their own lives. He has written some very good books and has lived an interesting life that includes spending time in a military prison for declining the opportunity to fight in the Vietnam war. He writes of Duende:

File:Archway in Paigah tombs.JPG

“Duende is power, not simply work and not only thought, but a struggle with spirit in the blood. Not a question simply of talent given or skill earned, but an issue of genius entering life at the moment of birth and continuing to whisper dark notes to the mind and the heart. More a matter of true living style, of style written in the soul and born anew each time the self is willing to die again. Duende is the power that compels us to sing the song within despite and because we are torn apart by living. It is a sacrifice growing within, a tragedy pursed at the edge of knowing, a little dance with death that make life more than simple possibility.”

Duende helps me understand (on a good day anyway), that there’s value in the wound when we can make room for the gifts that come out of woundedness that is suffered both from personal tragedy and as a condition of life. The suffering that birth exposes us to along with life’s tragic experiences that are common to all although dark in nature, create an opening and a space. The darkness, when experienced through woundedness makes an opening that is the space in which creative energy wells up from the chthonic depths deep within the earth.

“Duende is the wound-womb we cannot hide and only suffer more each time we try to cover it over. The wound burdened with its songs and mysteries, always on the verge of reopening, perpetuating the specifics of sorrow, drawing us to its dark waters, creating out of painful necessity all the arts of healing.”

“The real dilemmas of life are never solved; the darkness between notes is never relieved, for each art and each life arises from that ancient ground- the mud of all creation, inviting us into the fervid dance that eschews progress in favor of being. The deeper song of life and death intoned again through us; the requirement that those who receive the gift of breath fashion the world over again.” 

A link to Jaq’s blog:


And to the Lorca lecture:


Photo from Wiki Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Archway_in_Paigah_tombs.JPG

If You Could Read My Mind

“Whatever is not being said is not being thought…and if it’s not being thought it is lost, and it is just those things that are lost that we need.” Michael Meade

Somewhere in my late teens, I began to struggle daily for that feeling of peace and belonging I was sure everyone else must have. But more than that it felt as if I were losing the sense of the familiar in the day-to-day of living, including the natural ability to use language. People would talk to me and all I could hear were the sounds. Yes, it was scary. People Talking Clip Art

It came and went over the course of a few years, ebbing and waning during the period of my life where the sense of my identity seemed most fragile. The experience changed my relationship to language. It was as if the location of my awareness had slipped far beneath the surface where language was once readily available – and in order to feel at ease with language I had to learn to translate non-verbal awareness into words.

This sensation of perceiving from some deeper non-verbal place of awareness, remains with me to this day and in some ways still hampers, or at least slows, both my ability to write and to speak. I am an incredibly slow writer, and editing is most of the work. Reading back what I’ve written invites the chance to refine what is being said, forever reaching down into the well in the hopes of bringing to the surface what seems hidden.

But along with the practice of writing, what continues to bridge the verbal and the non-verbal world is the practice of reading.  It is through developing the skills of language that a renewed understanding of the nature of the world and a broadening of the sense of what is possible is continually enhanced.

IMG_20130824_091312_984During my struggles with language, I picked up one of my favorite childhood books, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and started there. It took a couple of months until reading felt seamless again, and it renewed in me a curiosity for ideas and knowledge that have not left me since.

Reading set me on a quest to want to know everything about anything. How did we get here? Where are we? What are we? Why do we have a level of abstraction that seems far beyond what is necessary for survival?

Perhaps the reason we talk is the same reason that birds sing. Auntie and Uncle 1663

But all language, by its very nature constricts, defines and narrows. All language comes through the context of the writer or speaker. Language can never, by itself, say all that the world is. And yet, without it, how diminished our world would be!

Perhaps that is why we keep on talking, writing, reading, to ourselves and to each other. We never quite get around to saying exactly what we meant to say. There’s always more ways to say more.

And that is why by myself, I will never be enough, but need you, dear reader, dear fellow writer. Our language may never be quite the same, but when we get close enough to rub shoulders, feeling touched, we know we are not alone.

“In a castle dark or a fortress strong
With chains upon my feet
You know that ghost is me
And I will never be set free
As long as I’m a ghost that you can’t see” Gordon Lightfoot

Muir of Ord

This weekend I won’t have much time to write. I’ll be off enjoying a weekend of pipes, drums and good friends.

“There’s an African proverb: “When death finds you, may it find you alive.” Alive means living your own damn life, not the life that your parents wanted, or the life some cultural group or political party wanted, but the life that your own soul wants to live. That’s the way to evaluate whether you are an authentic person or not.” Michael Meade

Droid_01-10-2010 033What feels authentic for me is doing the things that I love. One of those things, which took root around the age of four, was the desire to drum. As a child I quietly obsessed over drumming, doing everything I could to learn by proxy, because in the 1960’s the idea of a girl playing the drums did not sit right with my parents, especially if the girl was me.

Except for my dear Grandpa, I was pretty much discouraged from playing drums until Karen Carpenter came on the scene and my parents had to concede that just maybe it would be okay for me to take up drumming. By this time I had already made a drum kit in the basement using cardboard boxes and my dad’s table saw blades for cymbals. I was ready to be taken seriously.

243Through the years, I have been drumming on and off on a casual basis, jamming with friends, occasionally playing out at parties and public venues.

For the last five years I have been playing side drum in a bag pipe band. It’s a very technically demanding sport and you must be able to endure the kilt, the pipes, marching in long parades and a lot of memorization of scores. We get to play some pretty amazing gigs – college graduations, fairs, memorials, parades and even once played for Billy Ray Cyrus’s television show “Surprise Homecoming.”

So, I am off this weekend to play once again with the Oregon Defense Force Pipe band at the Portland Highland games and then again on Sunday at the Salem Art Fair. Happy weekend everyone!

Here is the band at a recent gig at the Newport Celtic Festival:

…and one more featuring me along with my Pipe Major playing my 2/4 competition score, Muir of Ord:

Below is a photo of us during the recording of “Surprise Homecoming.”


Carry On

“A certain kind of courage is required to follow what truly calls to us; why else would so many choose to live within false certainties and pretensions of security? If genuine treasures were easy to find this world would be a different place. If the path of dreams was easy to walk or predictable to follow many more would go that route. The truth is that most prefer the safer paths in life even if they know that their souls are called another way.

In this life a pious journey is required. It is pious in the sense that a genuine path brings out our devotion, but also because it cleanses and clarifies our sense of self. The result may be pious, yet the process may look and feel like a stripping down to bare bone. From the common comforts, we must go to the edge of life; from simple self-assurance we must go to the extremes of our nature.” Michael Meade – Fate and Destiny

Of the many people who inspire me to try to be true to what calls and carries me, Michael Meade remains a special gem. He reminds me that the struggle to follow your calling, not being afraid to live life deeply and meaningfully, brings the unique gift each of us has to fruition. I am grateful to have heard him speak several times.

Admittedly, there are times when I would rather not feel that I am frequently swimming upstream in the cultural current. Times when I think perhaps life would be easier, if not for me then perhaps for my friends, if I could learn to just shut up and shop, watch the game on tv, and not be, well, so selfishly complicated. Some people seem to find their meaning and purpose without so much mess.

But, we all walk through life with our distinct perspective gathered from our unique circumstances and struggles. And whatever path we’re on with whatever wounds, loves and obsessions we have, we will always find others along the way who share in both our wounding and healing.

In these dark times, where talking and listening can be so hard, it’s easy to miss the mark, to misunderstand and to be misunderstood. So how to carry on…and to the best of our ability keep digging deep for the gifts we’re here to give, even though we often don’t know what gifts or wounds we give to others?

A good chunk of my life has been spent trying to digest, who I am, who you are, how is it that we’re here, and what it is that we live for. It’s not an effort for me to ponder these things, it would be an effort not to. In finding others, like Michael, who help point the way or affirm the conviction that reflection brings meaning, especially to our suffering – by allowing our gifts to surface, be shared and passed on to others. In this I am both comforted and affirmed.

He reminds us that we’re here, each of us a unique self, called to be uniquely who we are, so as to become gifts to each other. Our job is to live our struggle authentically enough to let the gift shine and perhaps even to pass it on.

Michael tells his story here. It’s a bit long, but absolutely from the heart. He recounts his troubled youth and experience in the military in which his defiance and refusal to become a warrior in the Vietnam war, lead him to become a warrior for meaning, sanity and even life itself, as he recalls time spent in military prison for his inability to follow orders to.

I hope you give it a listen:

Thanks again to CSNY for the theme song.

“Girl, when I was on my own, chasing you down,
what was it made you run, trying your best just to get around?
The questions of a thousand dreams, what you do and what you see,
lover, can you talk to me?

The trouble with you is the trouble with me

It would not perhaps be fair to place too much blame on Taoism, Zen Buddhism, eastern spirituality for a lack of contentment that remained my constant companion, but the depersonalization I absorbed from eastern ideas mirrored my sense of disconnectedness. Intellectually, I may have found comfort in eastern ideas, especially Alan Watt’s idea of the individual ego as fake or illusory. My unsettled sense of self and inability to feel authentic enjoyed Watt’s disparagement of the ego. I suppose that ideas of every persuasion have their abusers.

We suffer not only from the pain of a wound but pile suffering upon suffering because of not wanting to suffer, and for wanting to be anywhere but where we are when we are suffering. What a leap from simply suffering, with a seemingly endless rippling effect.

But, I think suffering wants something from us.

Suffering can move us through, relocating us to some new way of seeing, even if reluctantly, and makes us more aware that we are alive, not able to go about the day in our usual fashion. We sometimes ask, why me? We find the limits of our control, over both ourselves and others. All the more so in proportion to how much control we are accustomed to assuming we have, or would like to have, both over ourselves and others.

In eastern thought, I think the aim is to be one with life and to live without desire and attachment in a way that conflicts with the separateness each of us knows in our lived, historical, and perceived individuality. Oneness or unity may be inviting, or a vision of a reality beyond us, or desirable, as selflessness promises the release of the tension felt in the ontological fright of being alive now, but will never erase our knowing that we were not always alive and won’t always be alive, which is, in all honesty, an inescapable reality of our individuality.

It is in the day to day living, leading one day to our death, that truly makes us alive and aware of our separateness. It is as persons, uniquely moving through time and space, in relationship to all else, that we create or discover meaning. Michael Meade says, “there is no way not to be who you are and where you are right now.”

There is an inherent tension in being alive because we know we weren’t always here and we know we will die. How baffling, how terrifying it is to know that we are finite, and yet to be given the awareness that transcends our personal historical time, and more space than our single lives occupy. We live multi-dimensionally through the bounty of memory, images, time and space and with whatever powers that influence us.

During the time I was attracted to eastern thought, the thing missing most from my life was both an understanding and acceptance of what it is to be “in relationship to”, whether to others, or to myself. Running away from my individuality was an attempted escape from fear and conflict that I experienced with others.

To be in conflict, both internally and externally, created a desire to move beyond the uncomfortable limits of personhood, and perhaps attracted me to reach for something that relieves the tension and conflict of being-in-relationship. Who wouldn’t enjoy the security and wisdom that an infinite and omniscient being has? A worthy striving, or unstriving, however one imagines the path toward that state of being. And before I understood clearly that there are limits to knowledge, I believed that it was just possible to achieve such a state.

Looking at the mess that being finite, limited individuals has wrought, I wanted something else, some other way to be. But, what if our lives as individuals are God’s idea of extravagance and necessary because relationship is part of the motion of the universe? The mess is okay, but wants something from us.

Many a disillusioned westerner will do anything to run from or disidentify with the mess of the world and especially the burden of history. The danger being to reject western culture without enough reflection to know what is that is being rejected.

And so, a tone of complete rejection of Western culture dominated my thoughts and studies for several years. Little did I understand at the time how common was my thinking even when I was feeling the pangs of my own personhood trying to be born.

First things…

It’s been a busy Independence Day weekend. In between playing side drum with the Oregon Defense Force Pipe band at 1) The Hillsboro 4th of July parade and 2) Patriot’s Night at Volcanoes minor league baseball game, I have been working on transferring some cassette tapes of James Hillman & Michael Meade’s “Character, Fate & Destiny” conference (Seattle Art Museum, 1996) to mp3. It’s been great to have a little extra time in the form of a four day mini-vacation from work to finally start the transfer project. And, I can happily report that the final product is now in the cd player and I am listening to it. Michael starts the conference out with this: “Whatever is not being said is not being thought…and if it’s not being thought it is lost, and it is just those things that are lost that we need.”

The over-riding theme of the conference, through the use of poetry, myth, discussion and music was to provoke thoughts, ideas, discussion, feeling, being, and to look at ourselves, our culture, our place in time and history and to deepen our ideas; of who we are and where we are going. In 1997 I attended another conference featuring Hillman, Meade & Robert Bly. I have that on cassette tape as well and it will be the next transfer project. Although I cannot subscribe to all of Hillman’s world-view, his writings remain of primary significance in my life – the message being- live life as an adventure in soul making, continue to deepen one’s ideas in the hopes of greater understanding of one’s relationship to life and of those other souls we are fortunate enough to make contact with.

I stumbled onto Hillman’s writings back in the late 1980’s, when I found myself stumbling into my 30’s, “blown out on the trail,” you might say. Looking back, that period of my life marked the beginning of a huge movement into the dark, cavernous reaches of both my being and my relationship to the bigger world. I tried to get lost, moving 3,000 miles away from my hometown of Patchogue, NY, and to some extent succeeded. The distance gained allowed for a lot of indulgence, both in lifestyle and in soul-making.

It’s so hard to be human, yes? We’re not handed a life manual at birth, and yet, one’s past and family provide the basic template for our life that structures the world we reside in. Never to be fully comprehended, we seem only to be able to peak through the windows that open through time and experience. It takes a leaving, a journey away from home, to get a glimpse of who we are and where we’ve come from to see more deeply into the somewhat dark journey onward.