19th October 2011
Spring in Taswomania; snow, sun, rain, gales, apple blossom; Van Gogh on his knees in the iris-bed; a glory of multi-nuanced and leaping greenery; honeymooning wattle-birds racketing in the grevillea; some of us deliquescing in the pollen / sperm-laden air. I love the antipodal dance between southern spring and northern autumn, the annual ebb and flow of yin and yang. For years I dreaded winter; now I practise the soul-rhythm of whole-heartedly releasing light, sun, warmth to the northern hemisphere, and try to go trusting down into the cold and the dark. Perhaps this is part of what the Algonquin people of North Americacall manitou; the art of living attuned to landscape, seasons the rising and setting of moon, stars and planets.
Manitou is one of the qualities I’m struggling to embody in the business of marketing a book. As A March Hare has been above all an attempt to live what the Buddhists call ‘authentic enlightenment’, which involves in part honouring an organic timeframe; the rhythm of Huon pines rather than industry. The waratahs onMountWellington flower only in their season, as and when they will. I was lucky enough to work with a designer and publisher who supported this framework. We had deadlines, but they were always secondary to creativity and human and ecological wellbeing.
Now, astonishingly, the book is published, and I’m in new territory, in reciprocal relationship not just with readers, but with booksellers and distributors whose livelihood is selling books. Gently, pragmatically they urge me towards book launches, panel discussions, a plethora of publicity which, after weeks of feeling conflicted and logjammed, I find myself quite unable to be part of. I will not be made into an industrial artefact, nor touted, nor will I perjure myself.
Yet I also need to be not naϊve; gardening doesn’t mean sitting around watching the daisies grow. There are three hundred books cached under the spare bed. How do I seed them? Having rejected the known, business model, what’s the way forward? How do I authentically, and honouring the constraints of my always precarious mental health, continue the work entrusted to me five years ago when, in the stasis of physical and psychiatric breakdown, and between one breath and the next, As A March Hare erupted into my psyche, title, concept and all? Many artists inhabit eccentric nervous systems; the madness of stellar writers like Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf is not just a source of endless fascination, but highly profitable now they’re safely dead. How might the book industry respond to the challenge of living clients who also dwell in this liminal territory?
When my first grandson was born in February this year, I was intrigued by the depth of my biological response; I’ve accomplished my work, I’ve given birth to a daughter who has herself given birth. When AAMH was published, just weeks later, I felt above all that I’d completed, in obedience, a task I’d been given. Yet as all parents discover, birth is just the beginning. If the question is – how do I deal ethically and ecologically with the market-place? – these are some of my gropings towards an answer.
- The question itself may be an oxymoron.
- Integral to any journey worth its salt is not knowing what’s going to happen next. So it’s all right to get lost, to go the wrong way. As Jung says, “When in doubt, take the detour.”
- I have to keep radically trusting the moment of vision five years ago that got me to this point. I have to trust both entelechy – whatever it is that enables butterflies to get into caterpillars and back out again – and manitou, the bigger picture in which we’re all embedded.
- Knowing what we have to make happen and what we have to let happen is a minute-by-minute tightrope. The Sufis put it beautifully; “Trust in God but tether your camels first”. Current camels are lobbying reviewers (and encouraging them towards a collaborative review process that doesn’t strip the writer of agency); designing fliers; advertising in ‘Resurgence’ and other kindred journals; writing this blog…
- I don’t need to make a profit. It would be good to break even. The worst that can happen is that in a couple of years I mulch all the unsold books.
- Keep slow, small and capillary-wise as defined by William James: “…I am done with great things and big things; great institutions and big success, and I am for those tiny, invisible, molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many soft rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water…”
- Barter was integral from the beginning; it grew both out of Oxfam goats for Christmas, and from Joanna Macy’s ‘Despair and Empowerment’ workshops whose final session is ‘envisioning the future’; imagine it’s 2030, we’re living on a whole, healed, holy Earth; joyfully brainstorm what it’s like. How did we get there from here? What one step can I take now that will begin that inevitable, impossible journey? Perhaps, just perhaps, AAMH can be a crucible for this kind of thinking and dreaming?
- At this point in time, I’m resisting the temptation to sell AAMH over the internet. I passionately support bookshops, which are becoming an endangered species. Nor do I want to be blind to the environmental impact of the books. According to research published by the American Booksellers’ Association in 2008, the book industry annually devours 1.6 million metric tons of paper and generates 12.4 million tons of carbon. Each average sized book is responsible for 8.85lbs of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Using recycled paper, which we’ve done, substantially reduces the carbon cost. We also chose a local printer so as to cut down on freight miles.
- I don’t have a stance yet on e-books. Personally I don’t have any desire to read from a screen. And before we embrace this new technology I think we need to look hard at its environmental impact; mobile phones, i-pads, computers all contain coltan, a rare element found mostly in the Congo, where the struggle to own this rich resource is driving civil war and associated mass rape; rape victims are ostracised and work in appalling conditions in the coltan mines. I recently watched Gosford Park, an upstairs-downstairs thriller set in the twenties when everyone smoked. The body language of smokers was identical with the twitchy, obsessive body language of mobile phone users. A speaker on ABC radio recently claimed that mobile phones are the asbestos and tobacco of the twenty-first century.
- I love the mandorla both as concept and image; two circles with an area of overlap in the middle which gives the symbol its name: mandorla is the Italian for almond. In western art, the central space is called vesica piscis, fish’s bladder. The mandorla is a Jungian tool for resolving the irreconcilable, paradox; for moving from ‘either…or’ to ‘both…and’. If I were making a mandorla about AAMH, and the paradox I find myself in, I might put on one side creativity and Huon pines, and on the other, booksellers and the market-place. In the vesica piscis I would put any symbol (in Western art, usually Christ or Mary or the sun) capable of withstanding the tension and enabling transformation so the two become a radically enlarged unity.