This is a publication announcement for The Dance of the Caterpillars ~ In a Time Before Texting. The back story is embedded in the post itself. It has taken me twenty-five years to see it in print, the reason being that I needed – and couldn’t persuade – a “legitimate” publisher. It was an ego thing. A week ago, with gratitude to The Gau Family Studio, I published this story through Amazon CreateSpace, under my own imprint, Flatlander Press. To have released the ego need around publishing has been one of the finest and most essential accomplishments of the “third half” of my life. Fisher has waited a long time for his debut, but here he is. I hope you’ll be glad to meet him at last! I am excited!
I have adopted a phrase from a friend, Marjorie, who once wrote that she was “a poet widely unread,” substituting the word writer for poet. Of all my books unread, The Dance of the Caterpillars is my sweetest. This story has suffered two failed contracts, and has languished in my filing cabinet until I might find the time to bring it from the 1980’s into the 21st century, a challenge I have resisted for years, assuring myself that I have moved on. Clearly I have been wrong. This particular filing cabinet sits in our basement, and although I have little reason to pass by it on a regular basis, when I do pass by, I can hear Fisher calling. “Hey!” he yells. “I’m still here!” So, a year ago I brought Fisher upstairs, having made the decision to bring him into the 21st century with regard to both technology and fourth grade pedagogy.
But let me take a step back and introduce him to you the way he introduced himself to me. In the 1980’s I drove a city bus for Seattle’s Metro Transit. I arrived early enough each morning (4:30 am) to read the morning paper. One day I read a Letter to the Editor from a man who wanted to tell the world about his best friend Fisher, who had died recently. He explained that Fisher was always spelled with an exclamation point (Fisher!) because he was usually in some kind of trouble.
That afternoon, after my shift, I went to my Pioneer Square office as I always did, took a short nap on the naugahyde couch that left brown streaks on my already brown Metro pants, bought myself one beer, and went to the typewriter (typewriter!) on my desk. No sooner had I rolled in the sheets of paper, sandwiching the carbon, when Fisher! leaped onto the page. “Hey!” he shouted. “Where have you been?”
Fisher then proceeded to tell me his story, a story pretty much untouched in the pages which follow. Thus began our joint journey of “almosts” with two publishing houses. When the second contract fell through, Fisher was relegated to our basement, where, from time to time, I continued to hear his intrepid voice shouting, “hey!”
When I brought him upstairs, it was to do the work of bringing him into the 21st century. I gave him a smart phone. I talked to several elementary school teachers about “teaching to the test,”“Race to the Top,”and “Core Curriculum.” I learned a great deal about smart classrooms.
Happily, as it turns out, I was unable to make the shift. I couldn’t recreate this exquisite child, bringing him into 2013. I added to the original title (The Dance of the Caterpillars), so that it now reads The Dance of the Caterpillars ~ In a Time Before Texting.
I have entertained the notion that it is sheer laziness on my part; I have entertained the idea that I have indeed moved on. That, however, is but a small part of the truth. What embraces far more of it is this: today’s I.T. world of smart phones and classroom computers and standardized testing has cost our children greatly, perhaps too much. In The Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, a San Diego fourth grader admits in an interview with the author that he would rather be indoors, because that’s where the electrical sockets are.
As mystical and spiritual as the experience in which Fisher is invited to engage, and as much biological license as I have taken with the metamorphosis itself, I want to believe that that there are still Fishers in this world, that there is still the possibility of mystery and magic. In the words of Mary Oliver, “I want to believe I am looking into the white fire of a great mystery.” I have my doubts; yet I long for my own Fisher nature.
What I want to say is this: we have become a disconnected species, disconnected from our place in the ecological systems of a healthy planet. And the disconnection has cost and continues to cost all of us, human and non-human alike. Not only that, the pace of separation is one of alarming acceleration.
It is not my desire to speak from any platform but that of grief in combination with hope. This is a story of what I believe is still possible . . . an ancient memory that all creation has emerged and continues to emerge from the elements of dying stars, that indeed we are all made of the same stuff. I want to believe that mystical experiences are still possible among us ordinary folk, that a human soul can unite as deeply as Fisher does with the non-human, that the universe has everything to teach us, and is calling out ceaselessly.
David Wagoner, in The Silence of the Stars, tells of a man named Laurens van der Post, who has lost his capacity to hear the stars. Even in the quiet dark night of the Kalihari Desert, he cannot hear them. His sadness – and the sorrow of his companions the Bushmen – are palpable.
We all share in the loss of Laurens van der Post. It is a great irony that the systems and institutions we ourselves have created for the sake of greatness, freedom, and power, have cost us our hearing and our vision; they have compromised our intuition; they have eclipsed our core of wisdom and knowing. They (and, therefore, we) have transformed our sacred world into toxic pools of expedience, exploitation, and self-aggrandizement.
In the mid ’80’s, a young child whose name is James Fisher Ford – Fisher to his family and friends – refuses to sever his deep knowing of the mystical nature of the universe. He insists that he be an intrinsic participant in the ongoing song of the spheres. It seems at first that Fisher must pay too great a price for his choices, in terms of his relationships with family and friends. Yet even as he himself is transfigured – and the work is deep and difficult – so does he become a catalyst for the transfiguration of others.