Carrier bag of gatherings

Wed, Dec 2, 2020 3-minute read

Happenings weave together in curious gatherings. Today, I unpacked Kenny’s Rom a little further and stumbled upon this essay from Ursula Le Guin called “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction.” It is the kind of writing where you have to read it several times to soak it in, let it penetrate your skin and contaminate down to the deepest core of how we imagine, how we tell stories about ourselves.

She writes: “The mammoth hunters spectacularly occupy the cave wall and the mind, but what we actually did to stay alive and fat was gather seeds, roots, sprouts, shoots, leaves, nuts, barriers, fruits and grains, adding bugs and mollusks and netting or snaring birds, fish, rats, rabbits and other tuskless small fry to up the protein.”  

People – often women – have collected food from the earth, often in such abundance that it leaves time to go and hunt animals to come back home with meat and a heroic story. Why do we believe that it is better to tell a gripping tale about Joseph Campbell’s hero, with its action and weapons and spears, with its triumph and tragedy? The story of the hero is shiny and entertaining, it centers the human, the main character and his journey of Adventure! Revelation! Transformation! Triumph! Return!

I have enjoyed these stories, but they are also wearing thin: these linear, clean narratives of heroes and egoes. I’m tired of the great artist. Of conquering viruses, of vengeance and retributive justice, of winning at being good. I want to indulge in the sacred stillness and troubled tumult of the everyday, in the fecund abundance of the quotidian

in resting my cheek on soft fur and and letting vibrational thrum of a purring cat calm
in feeling my fingers freeze from the arrival of the north winds
in the warm glow of a plastic christmas tree with dollar store ornaments
in sensuously swaying my hips with virtual strangers
in the quiet connective magic of gathering, of gatherings and gathering

So Ursula Le Guin proposes the “bottle” as the hero: the container, the basket, the holder, the recipient. The carrier bag that holds what we gather to feed and nourish ourselves, that scatters seeds as we walk and live together. 

“It sometimes seems that that story is approaching its end. Lest there be no more telling of stories at all, some of us out here in the wild oats, amid the alien corn, think we’d better start telling another one, which maybe people can go on with when the old one’s finished. Maybe. The trouble is, we’ve all let ourselves become part of the killer story, and so we may get finished along with it. Hence it is with a certain feeling of urgency that I seek the nature, subject, words of the other story, the untold one, the life story.

It’s unfamiliar, it doesn’t come easily, thoughtlessly to the lips as the killer story does; but still, “untold” was an exaggeration. People have been telling the life story for ages, in all sorts of words and ways. Myths of creation and transformation, trickster stories, folktales, jokes, novels…” 

Today at a gathering, I asked someone a question about his journey, about how he had arrived. He pauses, meanders, laughs, and responds that he doesn’t know – not really. Then he invites an approach from Nora Bateson:

When you think about your story of arrival – just imagine all the relationships that led to the relationships that led to the relationships that led to the relationships that lead to where you are now. 

Now let us witness the astonishing, sacred complexity of the life story.