White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
WHITE WHALE REVIEW
SARAH WALKO
Sarah Walko is a sculpture/installation/new media artist and writer born in Pittsburgh, PA. She obtained her Master of Fine Arts from Savannah College of Art and Design and her Bachelor of Arts from University of Maryland, College Park, MD. She is currently the Executive Director of Triangle Arts Association. She has participated in numerous artists workshops and residency programs and was Art Director the independent film Ever Amado which was shown at the 2007 Berlinale International Film Festival, Berlin, Germany. She is currently working on sculpture and multimedia film/animation projects, in addition to writing.

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FIELDS

Sarah Walko

There was neither non-existence nor existence, there was neither the realme of space nor the sky, which is beyond. What stirred? Where?

- The Rig Veda

Learning the Underground Railroad was not literally a train was terribly disappointing. As we read in class, my 4th grade imagination overtook my attention span and I pictured men with curling mustaches and striped uniforms conducting steamers miles below southern plantations, the plantation owners' red faces and red hands scratching their sizable heads when they thought

they heard a faint whistle blow. Once it registered it was an operation consisting of networking and good hiding spots, my disappointment passed quickly and I ran home on a mission to find all the hiding places within my own house and re-enact scenes as slaves escaping.

You are a slave. Your body, your time, your very breath belong to another. Six long days a week you tend his fields and make him rich. You have never tasted freedom. You never expect to. And yet ... your soul lights up when you hear whispers of attempted escape. Freedom means a hard, dangerous trek. Do you try it?1

The cry for freedom has often been answered not by hiking up the mountain, but by digging into the earth. Ascension is achieved below the horizon line. Countless rebellions have looked up and then plunged down, reaching for the reflection in the puddle. Prison escapes, musicians, resistance movements and counter culture, have all asked the question, “If light creates growth then why is it that within deeper darker realms - one can often find more stirring than above?” Darkness creates spaces


that swing from exhilarating to frightening, producing ideas to light their dark environment. They are not destinations, but throughways, shape shifting rabbit holes, often built with high-flown thoughts and thousands of enormous dreams.

Plato states, “For man to conquer himself is the first and noblest of all victories.” The underground bridges, tunnels and systems of our individual minds are places of stirring and arguably insurmountable darkness. It is a galaxy, a field of black with faint points and diamonds. If a long dock disconnected from land in a vast and endless ocean is the image that epitomizes existentialism and questions why am I here, then the ant making his way alone in the dark tunnel within a colony might stand for an image of the question who am I here. Freedom, or the lack of, comes equally from within as from without. One commonality of living, across all race, culture, gender, and species is our struggle to attain it from whichever direction it is being swiftly or slowly pulled away. We all yearn for its lightness.

 

Avian Geophagy, Indoor Gardens
and Sinkholes…

There is man. There are man's tools. There is man's Quest. In Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude one character eats dirt. And no one forces her to do this. Geophagy, eating earthy or soil-like substances, is closely related to pica, a classified eating disorder characterized by abnormal cravings for and ingestion of nonfoods. For thousands of years it has been observed in humans and animals and is particular to pregnant women and wild birds. Analysis of most soils consumed by birds shows that they prefer soils with high clay content. Ingesting clay satisfies nutritional needs of pregnant women and controls nausea. In certain regions of the world clay is sold at markets in a variety of sizes and with differing mineral content and is of the highest quality. The clay commonly ingested in Africa, for example, contains important nutrients, such as phosphorous, potassium, magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese, and iron. Unfortunately, however, due to the effects of industry and environmental irresponsibility, many who practice Geophagy are also eating


laundry starch, ashes, chalk, and lead-paint chips. Up until now, morning sickness has been interpreted as an evolutionary mechanism developed to protect the unborn child from harmful substances in food. Does eating dirt only benefit a woman carrying a child in a body hypersensitive to harmful substances? Is there an intuitive need, whether we are carrying a child or not, to eat dirt? Is there a latent benefit that drives us to the earth?

James A. Garfield states “the Truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.” This is the case in most processes of self-evaluation and introspection. Navigating the tunnels of our minds is arduous, and that earth dark and wet, containing all kinds of hazards, artificial materials, ashes, waste, worms, worm holes and snails. The snail is an important character in Lewis Carroll's historical work of literary nonsense, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice gets bored and proclaims she hates being stuck in that "horrible place", referring to her beautiful outdoor garden. She meets the white rabbit and his pocket watch and his Big Hurry and they begin to fall deep into the ground. She sees

 

the rabbit hole is in reality a vertical tunnel with all sorts of floating furniture and decoration. Upon landing, she inspects corridors, passages, and tiny doors leading to the most beautiful garden she could have ever imagined. And it is there, in the distance, that she spots the very curious race, and watches with a cheer as a small snail defeats the other animals.

The class of Gastropoda, snails and slugs, is second only to the class Insecta in terms of the total number of species. Snails are extraordinarily diverse in habitat, form, behavior, and anatomy, and can be found in a wide range of different environments, from ditches and deserts to the


depths of the sea. Snails make shells to disguise and to armor themselves and often you cannot see their soft center. These tools emerge and function as extensions of their bodies, and exist long after the snail itself perishes. The shells have lives and sounds and many new inhabitants of their own, and pass sermons of the inanimate to the animate. They speak, whistle, hum. The snail itself is simple, soft, plain and wet. Mostly water. Needs dirt. Spends its life navigating the mud.

Slow and Steady, Countless Clouds
and Refraction

Poet Adrienne Rich writes:

An honorable human relationship- one in which two people have the right to use the word "love", is a process. Delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved. A process of refining the truths they can tell each other. It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation. It is important to do this because in so doing we do justice to our own complexity. It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.

As we embark on finding our shape shifting selves we dig, get wet, plunge in. It is important to dignify our own complexity and to go that hard way with ourselves. The snail is difficult to see, to have logical ground on which to stand, and memory is deceiving and slippery. We often need a lot of prisms, pocket mirrors, glasses and dials, and the help of others. These tools of vulnerability can determine a horizon on the edge of the abyss and we often need to expose, take off the shell, and be the soft snail. We can't condemn when we have trouble or paralysis, but must accept it as part of the process. It is very easy to get lost, it is so vast. Werner Herzog states on the other end of the spectrum of Plato, “The human soul is a vast abyss, to look right at it, we get vertigo.” But if we are willing to go that hard way with ourselves, our first tools are patience and non-judgment.

On top of all of this, there is Alice's imagination. There are few things in the world more powerful than the human imagination. It, on one hand, can aid the journey because pre-visualization, delusion of grandeur and the self we want to be can propel us into the realization of the self we are. What we


believe manifests and we've often paved our own road before we turn our heads and walk down it. However, it can also make it difficult to decipher reality. The imagination in memory, for example, plays a crucial role. Each time we recall a specific memory, it changes slightly, due to context and time. And ever since the invention of electric light, our individual clocks tick alongside but not synchronous with sunrises and sunsets, and this can add to the construction of a warped world. The pocket watch can make us panic and the incessant chatter of the bunny is distracting. It can be difficult to find and remain in the present.  Anais Nin states, “ We do not remember things as they are. We remember them as we are”. This statement applied to the present might read, “We do not see things as they are, we see as we are.” On the other hand, the power of the individual’s perspective and imagination is a kaleidoscope, full of crystals, unique insights, and light reflection and refraction. This adventure can be fun.

Catwalks and Pathways used by the Messengers of the Gods

Insects have been used often to represent the industriousness and cooperative nature of humans. They also represent aggressiveness and vindictiveness. Many writers have used them to comment on the relationship between society and the individual, as they offer themselves up as mirrors for their human hosts. They are in book of proverbs, the Bible, and in Aesop's Fables. They are used as metaphor in the writings of Mark Twain, Robert Frost and T. H. White. In parts of Africa, insects are known as the messengers of the gods. Insect colonies offer themselves up as mirrors for their human hosts. They provide a symbolic language for arguing between the needs of the collective and the individual and these representations mutate over time and evolve into exotic models of human behavior. And they have all kinds of actions ranging from beautiful, to odd, to taboo and cannibalistic. Just as we do. They are a survival species. However, insects are clearly quite different, in basic physical ways. Insects have their ears in their leg; their chirps in their wings, so their


wings can sing a song and their legs can hear it. If your leg could hear, if your ear could talk, everything would feel upside down, inside out and wrong side.2 Wonderland.

Dismantling what we know of how to operate in the world from our basic senses is important to digging, becoming the ant, to attempt to see things differently. It is the clear sheet, which can be lifted off the wax pad to make the writing disappear, the quest for flying underground. To question the senses themselves can lead us to a starting point, not who we are and working backward, but who we are becoming, and working forward.

The equation on the page of his scribbler began to spread out a widening tale, eyed and starred like a peacock’s; and when the eyes and stars of its indices had been eliminated, began slowly to fold itself together again. The indices appearing and disappearing were eyes opening and closing; the eyes opening and closing were stars being born and being quenched. The vast cycle of starry life bore his weary mind outward to its verge and inward to its center, a distant music accompanying him outward and inward. What music? The music came nearer and he recalled the words, the words of Shelley’s fragment upon the moon wandering companionless, pale for weariness. The stars began to crumble and a cloud of fine stardust fell through space.

-James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a

  Young Man

The small and low, the submerged and buried, seem to have an enticing perspective through the looking glass, which makes a bird's-eye view overrated. We have often looked to birds, as metaphors of freedom and light and have striven to


be up there. But even they, at times, long to be closer to the ground, eating clay, plummeting toward the land. When birds appear in artwork or literature they often represent the opposite of time, which can implicate death or escape and fantasy. The insect fluctuates between many worlds; flight, mud, flowers, light and dark.

Plankton is the ant of the sea. They inhabit the pelagic zone of oceans, a subterranean world of dark water and nearly imperceptible movements, which is brimming with life. This region provides the food supply to most aquatic life. The name plankton is derived from the Greek word "planktos", meaning "wanderer" or "drifter". These small organisms, living in the darkest reaches of the water, are on a voyage alone, but feeding the weight of the water world, which feeds the weight of the land world and the weight of the winged world. The view from below collapses the space of planes and through the looking glass; it is not a hierarchy, but a meshwork.

Made-man ventures searching for light and life often reside deep in the earth as well. In upper Manhattan, for example, there is a subway station

below eighteen stories of bedrock. On the south end of the platform, there is a door marked trash room and inside, the remains of an astronomical observatory. Scientists used this room once to once to measure background radiation from the stars because it was well protected from the interfering radiation at the street level. Another example resides three hundred feet in the ground below the quaint French village of Crozet where there is a man-made lair, filled with steel structures, wires and magnets, cables and tubes. Alice's wired rabbit hole. For navigation there are catwalks, and pathways all surrounding a giant scientific instrument. It is a particle accelerator called the Large Haldron Collider, and its purpose is to study the tiniest possible bits of the physical world; to get to the bottom of existence. When the experiment begins and particles crash into each other at near the speed of light, the matter will break apart into certain types of particles never seen before. One particular particle scientists are searching for, all the way down there, is the Higgs boson, also known as the “God particle", and it is a particle that will demonstrate how particles acquire mass, in the beginning.3


Levin, Turing, Beethoven; Three Wise Men and One Grass Dance…

The abode of gods, the field of heroes. Where I can go and ruminate on the world far below, where you can join me in doing so.4

In Tolstoy's classic Anna Karenina, one main character Levin struggles with themes of belief and faith. One afternoon he asks after the safety of his wife and newborn son at the onset of a sudden, violent storm. In a moment Levin arrives at the Kolok just after the storm hits the area, "when suddenly everything burst into flame, the earth seemed on fire, and just overhead the vault of heaven seemed to crack." A massive tree is struck down, and Tolstoy provides a terrifying and heavenly setting, and a shaft of light breaks through dark clouds. The image provokes Levin to call out to the divine, way up there, in desperation, "Oh God! Oh God! Only not on them!” praying that his wife and child have not been killed.

Once it is clear that Kitty and Mitya are safe, Levin recognizes that "this feeling has also entered imperceptibly through suffering and is firmly

rooted in my soul." His closing thoughts offer an apt statement on his own achievement of integrating his life's disparate parts. "My reason will still not understand why I pray, but I shall still pray, and my life, my whole life, independently of anything that may happen to me, is every moment of it no longer meaningless as it was before, but has an unquestionable meaning of goodness with which I have the power to invest it." While lying in the grass in a field that afternoon, Levin accepts that he believes in God.

Alan Turing, the inventor of the formal and symbolic language that served as the theoretical groundwork for the modern day computer, among other notorious achievements such as cracking the enigma code. In a recent fictional biography, titled “A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines”, Jenna Levin writes of an afternoon when he is out walking and comes upon a field. He lies down in the grass and at this moment recites aloud his famous line "In 1 + 1 = 2, where is god?" He contemplates this for a long time before coming to the conclusion that he believes only in science and logic, in 1 + 1 =2 there is no God.


Beethoven was completely deaf when he wrote the ninth symphony. He also found himself lying in the grass, in a field, gazing at the stars. Symphony No. 9 incorporates part of the Ode an die Freude (Ode to Joy), a poem by Friedrich Schiller, with text sung by a soloist and a chorus in the last movement. It is the first example of a major composer using the human voice on the same level with instruments in a symphony, creating a work of a grand scope that set the tone for the Romantic symphonic form. Lying in the grass, he was an insect; his ears in his leg, his chirps in his wings, so his wings sang a song and his legs could hear it. Everything was upside down, inside out and wrong side, lying there, in a land of Wonder. These real and fictional characters became an insect, hovering at the horizon line, as if recently emerged from underground. Labyrinths of stars stared down and chattering questions rose and fell often left unanswered. Beethoven took in the present and composed divinity.

Murky Lagoons full of Waterbirds

The discovery and containment of fire enabled man to bring light and warmth into his dwelling, which meant he no longer had to rely completely on the rays of the sun. Light, vital to survival and all around us, the most natural thing in the world, contains a mystery that has kept us on a voyage into darkness to discover how to make it. Light has accompanied us in the long path of evolution and has played a major role in the development of the human race. But we understand more about light by going where it does not.

When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn't change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn't change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our


town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.

- Rabbi Israel Salanter, Nineteenth Century Professor

Creativity and imagination are most effective when given a set of constraints. The frustration of limitations is the ingredient of invention. And true invention came from the sea. If our constraints are time and ourselves, one must go down to reach up and reach light, then what is the risk? Even the physical act of descending and entering darkness, is a never-tiring plot of frightening children’s fairytales. Eating dirt enters one into a realm of the unknown. It is difficult and the risk is we will alter the surface for the worse, uncover steaming pipe holes that release shrapnel and create more collateral damage and civilian loss than we could have ever imagined. And, worse, we do not reemerge. At that point the dim image of the imperfect landscape, shaped by the dissolution of a layer or layers of soluble bedrock would seem acceptable as we lie in our pit, the pendulum

swinging and the rats circling. However, if we do not try it, are we content to live as Thoreau stated, in quiet desperation? Or do we embark on this light quest, digging down, with a question in our mind. Neither what is light nor how to make it but rather, how do we make it our own? Only each of us individually can answer that.

You are a slave. Your body, your time, your very breath belong to another. And yet ... your soul lights up when you hear whispers of attempted escape. Freedom means a hard, dangerous trek.

 


Do you try it?

There is man. There are man's tools. There is man's Quest.

Author Joseph Campbell has written a seemingly infinite amount of words on cross-cultural myths, historical symbolism and universal journeys of exploration. He outlines the Hero's Journey clearly. If we apply the Hero’s journey to our quest inward, the Call to Adventure, our Refusal of the Call and then at last, our Acceptance of the Call, we then prepare.

The center of gravity has shifted. For the primitive hunting peoples of those remotest human millenniums when the saber tooth tiger, the mammoth, and the lesser presences of the animal kingdom were the primary manifestations of what was alien… the great human problem was the task of sharing the wilderness with these beings. Both the plant and the animal worlds, however, were in the end brought under social control. Where upon the great field of instructive wonder shifted… The descent of the occidental sciences from the

heavens to the earth (from seventeenth century astronomy to nineteenth century biology) , and their concentration today, at last, on man himself (in twentieth century anthropology and psychology) mark the path of prodigious transfer of the focal points of human wonder. Man is the alien presence with whom the forces of egoism must come to terms, through whom the ego is to be crucified and resurrected, and in whose image society is to be reformed. Men, understood however, not as “I” but as “Thou”: for the ideals and temporal institutions of no tribe, race, continent, social class, or century, can be the measure of the inexhaustible and multifariously wonderful divine existence that is the life in all of us."

- Joseph Campbell4

We collect our mystic writing pads and forgiveness, and step simultaneously inside and outside of ourselves. Dissolve overspill, decipher sticking points and clogs, with each dislodgement or introduction, we generously wipe the slate clean in order to reveal what lies beneath the horizon


line, the light soul. We dignify our complexities and remove our complications. We harness our blackbirds, command them to sit on our shoulder, and release them when their gift of insight is needed under our control. They grow smaller, leading our animal armies, and somewhere in the mud, is the snail.

 

 

 

Copyright© text and images Sarah Walko. White Whale Review, issue 1.1


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