The Bell in the Woods

Once there was a wise old woman who found a bell in the woods and it was hanging from a tree.  She knew such a bell had to be important and so she respected it enough to take a seat and wait for someone else to come by and ring it.  And when it was rung by someone else, the man who rang it stood still as it rang inside and out.  The sound filled every space with the brilliance of the sun shining on every part of the sea.  And he fell to the ground with a smile on his face. 

She returned to the bell many years later when she knew her time had come.  She rang it so gracefully that the forest wept a gentle rain. And in an instant so powerful, it felt as if the universe had exploded and collapsed at the same time as she saw the entire life of this husk completed and was reunited with the light shed by the sound of the bell.

I wrote this fairy tale and 49 others in the course of two weeks last year. And I put together a schedule based on three categories that made sense to me after I had written them: order, chaos, and cosmic (a truer unity than order). Each week, I look at the list and post one. By now, I’ve forgotten the list’s order and so every week holds a bit of a self-induced surprise. This week, before consulting the list, I was walking in my neighborhood and heard the bell ring on the campus nearby. Due to the stay at home order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the poem (within a passage included below) For Whom the Bell Tolls came instantly to mind. Two days later, I looked up my story list and it was none other than this one! In the last week, I’ve had nothing but tears for all the stories I’ve heard in the news especially the diabetic ones because I share that affliction (and have suffered through near-fatal pneumonia once). And I hope the suffering only brings to light the strength of our compassion for others and ourselves.

Here is John Donne’s larger section of the meditation (XVII) from which the well known poem is derived (in the public domain from www.gutenberg.org):

Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

sepia shadows

I rediscovered sepia this weekend. I like how sepia suggests that this image is of the past. A past moment suspended in the now. A ’54 Chevy suspended on this page. Lately, I’ve had this recurring thought that wherever I go, the moment has passed by already. And time appears to me like a shadow-line moving over what was in the light and I’m standing at that line mesmerized at the movement itself. Paralyzed by thoughts about the experience of time.

Then the illusion is blown by a row of city bikes in the background. The 1954 feel / time bleeding out of the main object betrayed. I remember the point Roland Barthes made so well about a photograph being more akin to a hallucination than any kind of memory (actually a counter-memory that blocks memory). His quote from Camera Lucida about what a photograph is has always struck me as closest in my experience, “The photograph becomes a bizarre medium a new form of hallucination.  False on the level of perception True on the level of time: a temporal hallucination, so to speak, a modest, shared hallucination (on the one hand “it is not there,” on the other “but it has indeed been”): a mad image, chafed by reality.”

Photographs. Our dear sweet little false memories. As yummy as apple pie with a little hot pepper in it. I’ve always felt this push-pull from photographs. And I feel it when I photograph. Something maddeningly ordinary but also hints of something gone awry. The maddest image tries to tell you that it’s as normal as a car parked on the street. Even objects and places tell us how they want to be seen.

The more experimental or expressive the photograph, actually the less mad it appears to me! Closer to its medium as an image-maker rather than a truth-teller. The utterly mundane being most mad of all. But who doesn’t love madness in art? And that might be why some artists like me tend to be most mundane of all. Blending in. Hiding to better witness the mesmerizing shadow-line of time.

Shadow Pareidolia

What do you see in these shadow figures? I see the Egyptian queen Nefertiti! It has this heavy mythical weight for me even though its just a silhouette of rock formations somewhere in Utah.

Pareidolia happens when I see something like a face in a cloud that actually doesn’t exist. In this sense, when pareidolia occurs, I am seeing my own mind displayed before me.

In this vein, I make other art I post on Instagram (@oneroundcorner) that employs a random process of multiple exposures and mirroring to produce pareidolia effects like the one below. Zoom in and look at the absurd figures that appear. I’m constantly surprised by how mythical and spiritual they feel while being randomly made.

Aperture of a Transcendental Moment

A geyser forms a camera obscura with its steam. In a pocket of time, I fell behind the scenes of what I was chasing after. The aperture of my camera pointed at the pinhole of sunlight and its reflection. What I had been chasing disappeared and I found myself somewhere aside from desire and circumstance – somewhere reflecting the smallness of purpose while magnifying the greatness of existence. As the image slipped away from the steam, only a trace fixed the reference to a memory. What shined through the pinhole illuminated the positioning of the subject and shed light on the futile condition of catching what cannot really be caught. And then the moment unfolded into an object-less arena. A reflexive space formed into a fractal pocket. As if I were in a glass ball within others. Looking at a loose iteration of my activity in another sphere. Inside my camera and outside of my body, floating through a hole in the sky.