Monday, 14 September 2009

Principles of Interaction Considered Upon the Viewing of Fungus I

Written on Sunday the 6th of August; posted whenever the little date at the top says it was.

As you can tell, I decided to entitle this in a Wordsworthian fashion. This isn't to say that I admire the way Wordsworth phrases his titles (I mean, the title normally shortened to "Tintern Abbey" must be a few stanzas to itself), but that the backstory behind my soon-to-be-disclosed thoughts feels Romantic. I suppose it may also be closely allied to the sorts of things Gl├╝ck would write about, except it's not a poem spoken by a mushroom, so Wordsworth seemed a better model.


Fort McMurray is currently playing host to numerous fungi. Mushrooms of a few varieties are popping up everywhere. In our backyard we have a large-capped sort of a thing, and in the back lane there were some shaggy manes. Many places are have fairy rings stretching out across their yards--including Heritage Park--and down the roads I have seen conspicious tall-stalked fellows that weren't there a few days ago. Due partly to this, fungus has played a large role in my imaginative landscape lately. But that is itself interesting to note: lots of things are seasonal, especially in a community like this, which is so surrounded by quasi-wilderness. For a while, a certain species of brown, frail moth was omnipresent; last summer, tent caterpillars (though awfully disorganized ones) invaded the city. While the caterpillars seethed in those weird thoughts you get just before sleep, and the moths were a daily hassle in our attempts to paint, neither really stuck in my mind like the fungus does. Mushrooms, and the broader category of fungus in general, has become a staple in my daydreams and half-hearted attempts at writing in ways only paralleled by slugs and not quite matched by dragonflies (both of which are also showing their antlered or exceptionally eyed heads lately). I have also taken to thinking I can smell their spores all over the place; even when I simply recall their scent, the memory is vivid.

My mother and I were driving to Wal*Mart today, and I saw the tall-stalked fellow I previously refered to from the window as we came down Thickwood to the Highway. I thought about the prominence of fungus, and thought about incorporating it into my writing somehow. Something in their fleshiness, their sponginess, their fertility, their earthy odour and flavour, their structural simplicity, and the childhood memories of legendaria and media they evoke in me, grabs my fascination and holds it. I wanted to involve them copiously in whatever writing projects I was embarking on.

And then I realized that including them in something just because I liked them is perhaps something I strongly desired to do, but it wouldn't necessarily lead to good writing. If my skill is sufficient they could be made to serve particular atmospheric or symbolic purposes and thereby in fact lead to good prose, but that wasn't why I wanted to deal with them. The reason I wanted to put them in is because I wanted to somehow interact with them, and knew no other way.

I often do this when I find something I think nifty. For instance, there is a particular category of fascination I have which is, for me, perfectly epitomized by the face of a vampire in a child-oriented "How to Draw a Haunted House" book I have somewhere. As a kid, this one particular face drew me. There was something in its composition that I admired. It fit perfectly. I don't know how else to describe it. Somehow, it managed to put everything detail it needed to have in a highly efficient space. This efficiency, this fitting--but not cramming--of detail, drew me. The Might Max line of toys and "Shrinkerdoodles," a material which shrinks to scale when baked, allowing you to draw things on it largely and then have the images shrunk down to wonderfully detailed miniatures, have the same effect, but they are not as potent. For the longest time, as a kid, I struggled to in some way actively appreciate this niftiness. I tried to trace or draw the vampire's face. I included that vampire's face in assorted imagined narratives. I was always frustrated with these attempts. I strove to do something with the face--and thereby with the aspect about it I so admired, but could never figure out what would satisfy this urge. Simply looking at it did not do the trick.

I think I understood the impossibility of the situation even at that age, but would not have been able to articulate it. I am now older, though, and not only better with words but also more practiced at introspection. Much more of the picture had occured to me since then, and today it occured to me that I may want to blog about this fascination. What I am understanding is that sometimes looking does not quench our desire surrounding something. We want to interact with it. For some, that interaction somehow involves violence. They appreciate the size of the stags antlers, or the massiveness of the hippopotamus, and to capture or contain or simply to interact with whatever nebulous thing they appreciate, they shoot the animal that embodies it and stuff it and mount it on the wall. They may also eat some of its flesh (and a potent symbol, that--perhaps the closest you can get to for interaction). This, to me, would not be sufficient. Part of what I like about fungus (and slugs and snails and worms and bumblebees and dragonflies and dogs and cats and octopi and ferns and Venus fly traps and whales and platypi and crabs and other such things) is their vibrancy. They are alive, and they have internal perspectives (or mechinations, in the case of the non-conscious species I mentioned) which I can never fully dig into. They have other cool things about them that fascinate me, but those fascinating qualities are made all the more breathtaking by being tightly bound to a living creature, which has a will and in some cases self-awareness and, at the very least, the dynamic pulse or movement of juices that all living things must have. Picking a mushroom and looking at it would kill the bit of mushroom I would be holding. It would soon lose that which fascinates me. So how to capture it?

I am arbitrarily going to cut the post here. It is too long and ought to be broken down. You will have to wait a few days to read the rest. Sorry.

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