Looking Down From the Mountaintop: Remember! Opens a New Season

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August 22, 2015 by katmcdaniel

Last Saturday, synkroniciti opened a new season with Remember!, an Open Mic devoted to the theme of memory. Guests came from Houston, Kingwood, and as far away as Austin. As usual, Lisa Sasabuki was on hand to greet and socialize, and Yuri shyly showed his face.

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Lisa and Charles are ready for the Open Mic to start.

After getting acquainted, we sat in the living room to start our exploration. We began with a memory game. Ophelia provided us with the theme of “mountain” and we each related a memory that had something, even if it was remote, to do with that theme. There were nostalgic stories that took us back to childhood: sliding down epic mountains in the snow and hiking with family. There were mountains that circled home and made us feel safe and mountains that taught us about setting goals and bringing them to completion. Humor entered when epic mountains were revealed to be baby hills and when we climbed to find cheeky ground squirrels begging for nuts and forest service employees killing innumerable flies.

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For some, mountains were an idea more than an experience. There was a little girl who got so carsick that her parents made sure she was asleep when crossing the mountains, and another girl growing up in a place named Beautiful Mountain (Beaumont) which contained no such feature, unless the clouds decided to play jokes on the flatland. We paused on the dazzling heights of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, where altitude sickness causes disorientation and hallucinations, and held our breath at the miraculous and dangerous beauty of Crater Lake, where the water is so clear and still that it becomes impossible to tell sky from lake. We smelled the scent of mountains, clean, pure and inviting. It was good.


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After the wonderful experience of trading memories, Kelly read two deep poems from the cycle she is writing about growing up in West Virginia, “Mountain Sentries Round Me” and “Unknowing of the Bones”. The presence of the mountains around her as she was born and took her first breath in the Kanawha river valley not far from Charleston established them as a safe place, a place with a guardian like presence in her life. One can see that the damage done to those mountains by industry and chemically manipulated agriculture is personal, as if it had been done to her own family. “Unknowing of the Bones” exudes a meditative stillness that explores the paradox of knowing and unknowing. Sometimes the more we understand and process, the less we feel kinship. One type of knowing can cancel out another.

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I followed with “Ode to the Black Hills”, a short poem about the glittering mica and quartz that bejewel paths in and around Custer State Park. My husband and I took an extended RV camping trip this summer and Custer was one of the stops. In looking through my photos I realized that the shining paths had not been captured by the camera, although there were many other beautiful things that had. My memory was the only place that recorded that particular piece of nature’s magic.

Cheryl was next, sharing herself generously in a reading of “Generations” from Side Roads: A Travelers Almanac, condensed from her memories and imagination. The lead character, voiced with a lilting accent as southern as a Georgia peach, recalls a stream of memories related to making fig preserves with her grandmother. Her wistful recognition that we are part of those who came before us as well as those who come after is both delightful and heartbreaking. For better or for worse, we are connected, and we might as well cultivate the best of that connection. I’d sit in the garden and talk with this woman anytime.

© synkroniciti, 2015

I returned to read Euridice Revealed. This is the piece which will serve as a springboard for synkronciti‘s first collaborative project. It is a dark piece that imagines Euridice as a bipolar, addictive personality, hidden from future generations in order to keep her memory on a pedestal and preserve the image of Orpheus. I wasn’t sure how many of the six poems I would read, but once I read the first two I was sure I had to finish. I’ve never read the entire set to an audience before and felt good to know I can get through it. It won’t be the last time I read her.

We then took a moment to consider the theme for the next Open Mic, scheduled for October 10th. The theme will be Enchantment, which I drew from the second poem of the Euridice set, a piece that speaks of the passion between Orpheus and Euridice. I asked each guest to write a few words or sentences related to enchantment, which I later used to create a word cloud. The more a word showed up, the larger it became in the cloud. Some of these words will become themes on the website leading up to the next Open Mic.

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In closing, we watched two scenes from the film Samsara, a wordless meditation on life, death, rebirth and renewal, featuring breathtaking images and music composed for those images. The first is a exploration of early cultures, showing ruined desert dwellings in Turkey, the American Midwest, and Jordan, among others. The second, which transitions seamlessly from the first, contains visions of devastation from Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast states of the U.S. The realization that we will one day be memory, just like those old civilizations, is shocking and humbling. What will we leave behind?

I am so thankful for Neil, Ofelia, Charles, Jennifer, Cheryl, MaryBeth, Chris, and Kelly for being there and being open. You made my job easy and fun. To those we missed, I look forward to seeing you here and invite you to jump in anytime. I am still looking for more partners in the Euridice Project as well. Never think that you can’t join in because you have missed something. It is you that we have missed, and we welcome you any time you are ready and able.

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There is an old  Medicine Wheel high in the Bighorn Mountains, where Native Americans and others come to pray and find their place in nature. Many bring bright strips of cloth to symbolize their prayers, while others bring stones to stack upon cairns near the main structure. As I laid my own stone on top of a cairn this summer, I realized that there were many places where that stone would have fit. The pattern readjusted itself around my stone, just as it readjusts around each of us. There is no specific plan, but there is space and creative spirit to embrace whatever materializes. This is good.

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