On Ants and Mothers

The temperature dropped down in the teens last night and might get down into the single digits tonight. That is cold, but even down in the thirties isn’t warm weather. It has been in the thirties for most of this week and is only now getting into those truly winter temperatures.

That is why I was surprised just a couple of nights ago to discover ants still going about their business. Right outside of where I work there was what looked like the creamy/cheezy inside of a cookie or cracker on the concrete. The ants were so determined to get that food into their nest before the full cold weather hit, but it was cold enough that they could barely move. They were going in slow motion, barely perceptible was their movement.

Aesop’s fable about the grasshopper and the ants turns out to be quite accurate. I have new respect for ants. Those little guys just don’t give up, not until it becomes literally impossible for them to continue. They finally had to retreat into their nest, but before that they got some tasty stuff for the winter.

That single-mindedness is impressive. It fascinates me because I can only maintain such single-mindedness for short periods of time. My mind is always being distracted, but the only thing that is going to distract those ants from their goal is the immobilizing power of either cold or death. That single-mindedness seems archetypal in its power.

The last few days I’ve been working extra hours. Coming in early, I see some coworkers I don’t normally work with. One coworker is about my age, but she is a very different kind of person. Like the ants, she seems to be a single-minded hardworking person. She has worked this job for most and maybe all of her adult life. She is a wife and a mother, most especially a mother. She exudes the essence of mother.

I work next to the break room. This coworker came in to eat her lunch. She gets out her loaf of bread, peanut butter and jelly. She makes a single PB&J. Then she pulls out a small baggy full of plain potato chips. And finally she pours milk into a small plastic cup. This is the lunch I had throughout my childhood as made by my mother. It is so simple and wholesome. Every day I’ve seen her eat lunch, this coworker has the exact same meal. It never changes. She never changes.

I was talking to her. I mentioned that a squirrel lived in the tree right outside where we worked, in a lone tree surrounded by concrete. She asked me what do squirrels do in winter. She asked if they hibernate. I said, no, they have nests and eat nuts they buried. I thought this kind of thing was common knowledge. But I get this sense that her whole life has been dedicated to being a wife and mother, any extraneous information has been made inconsequential. Her life has a single purpose and she is fully committed to it.

Even while eating her lunch, she often talks to her children on the phone. She talks with the voice of a mother and she calls her child “Sweetie”. She has a soft kindness about her, exudes a loving devotion. She isn’t a mother. She is Mother.

The ants represent the archetypal force of tireless work. My coworker represents the archetypal force of all things maternal. There can be something comforting about such things (such people and activities) in life, so perfectly embodying a principle.

Trinity In Mind: Rhetoric & Metaphor, Imaginal & Archetypal

Story. Culture. Knowledge.

Two elements: pattern and communication. What are the patterns of our communications along with the patterns of cognition and experience underlying them? How do we communicate these patterns when our very attempt is enmeshed in them?

It’s not just an issue of rhetoric and metaphor. It’s a stepping back and looking for a pathway to higher ground. A meta-language maybe is needed, but not meta in a way of making language abstract and detached. Death can’t speak for life.

I’ve never been in love with language. This could be seen as a flaw of mine as a self-identified writer. Admittedly, language is sort of important to writing. What I appreciate is communication, the essence and the impetus thereof, the desire to express, to be heard and possibly understood.

I have nothing against language. It just is what it is. My lack of love isn’t a hate; it’s a wariness. I’ve often found too superficial writers who’ve fallen in love with language. There can be a trap in linguistic narcissism. Even great writers can get caught up in their own cleverness. In these cases, it’s not always clear they’ve fallen in love with language itself or just the sound of their own voices.

Compelling language takes more than catchy phrasing and aesthetic sensibility. A writer or any other user of language has to first and foremost have something worthy of being shared and to be given voice. Language, however rarely, can touch something deeper. Then language isn’t just language.

It’s not the writer that matters, but the Other that is speaking through the writer. This deeper level is the imaginal and archetypal, the creative source.

Along with my lack of verbal romance, I have other ‘failings’ as well.

I’m prone to anti-climactic conclusions. This is because most of life feels anticlimactic to me. What can I say, I write what I know. The anti-climactic relates to another ‘failing’.

I’m also prone to a passive voice. Every writing manual I’ve read warns against this, but good advice never stopped me. It seems to me that a passive voice communicates something an active voice can’t, and that something obviously isn’t readily accepted by modern mainstream society or at least the English-speaking portions.

An active voice requires someone or something that takes action, but as I see it not all or even most of life involves action that is willed, directed or otherwise caused by actors. Still, the active voice is rooted in traditional storytelling. The question is: Are there other stories to tell and/or other ways to tell stories?

Our language determines our reality. So, what consensus reality is being reinforced by writing manuals? I’m not arguing against standard English writing. Certainly, I’m not arguing against compelling language and the active voice is more compelling; rather, I’m considering what we are being compelled by and toward.

The standard of compelling shouldn’t be its own justification. A soap opera is compelling. In fact, the average soap opera is more compelling to the average person than the greatest of art. Most people are compelled, usually mindlessly, by ideas and beliefs, metaphors and narratives that aren’t necessarily of much worthiness.

How do we judge worthiness? What is good writing versus what is great art? Does ‘good’ writing imply communication that is moral and true, whatever that might mean? What exactly is good and bad about the active versus the passive voices?

The most dangerous part about rhetoric is that we forget it’s rhetoric and mistake it for reality.