Issue June 18, 2013

California dreaming

A couple weeks ago, I told you about a video I had seen at a year-end gathering of the Media Club at Bloom Elementary. Thereafter, I received a note from Patrick Fitzgerald, the parent adviser of the group, thanking me for the notice, and, in order to augment my appreciation for the group’s work, he provided a link to “Find Your Voice,” the video about which I had written, the one that I had (half) seen while eating blueberry cobbler.

The video had been created with three young people, Shannon Bradley, Mae Alice Harrell and Lilly Rich, participants in an after-school program called Beargrass Media. A review of their work, which is posted on Vimeo (find it at vimeo.com/67426327), bears a resemblance to work done by Bloom’s Media Club. This shouldn’t be surprising considering the fact that Fitzgerald is the coordinator of both groups, and most of the kids involved in the Beargrass group are veterans of the Bloom group.

“Find Your Voice” was written by Fitzgerald, and while it did include commentary that explained how still photography and motion pictures tend to distort reality by way of cropping and editing, for instance, the real point of the piece was to suggest that photos and videos are examples of stories and that Story (with a capital “S”) is how we communicate with one another.

That simple truth seems to have escaped me at the time of my first viewing of the clip. I was, as I have explained, preoccupied with my dessert.

But a sense impression persisted, and over the next few weeks, a book I read 20-plus years ago came to mind and demanded that I recognize its place in the development of my own … story.

The book was “To a Dancing God,” by Sam Keen. Written in 1970, shortly after the author had relocated to California from Louisville, the book stands as a flashpoint of existential theology. It was required reading in a class I took at Hanover College. It was here that Keen encouraged his readers to consider the mythological importance of their personal stories. He did this by presenting his own story as a model.

The book resonated powerfully with me, because, when he left Louisville, in 1969, my parents bought his house. He and his wife had been family friends when he was teaching at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary; I grew up in the house wherein he formed many of the ideas he presented in the book. Its pages include references to the author’s significant work in the yard, the construction of the privacy fence that still protects the yard that I played in as a child, the stone barbecue pit and patio where we enjoyed countless gatherings of family and friends.

Keen has written several books since, but as he wrote in the introduction to the 20th anniversary edition in 1990, “’To a Dancing God’ had touched a sweet spot in the modern psyche” when it was published, but he also noted that it “belongs more to the 1990s than it did to the 1970s.” Indeed, it seems Keen was acutely aware of cultural changes that were under way at the time, changes that have snowballed since then, in particular: “the revival of violent neoconservative religious orthodoxies” and “multinational business riding high on the myth of progress while an ecological crisis is in the making.”

In 1990, Keen wrote that we were in the middle of a worldwide cultural crisis, and in 2013, it feels like we’ve gone 23 years in the wrong direction. Perhaps the power and concept of Story isn’t gaining ground as quickly as we need it to.

For further consideration: On Thursday last week, approximately 16 people got together in the basement at Decca to watch “Wilderness of Mirrors,” a documentary about the life and work of musician Paul K. Most often headquartered in Lexington, Paul (whose last name is Kopasz) has had an extraordinary career; he’s recorded dozens of albums, entertained fans throughout the United States and Europe, and, for a while, he wrote for this newspaper. He has fought various addictions. He’s proven to be a difficult collaborator, and he’s been an inspiration for almost everyone who has taken the time to have a conversation with him. More than anything, the movie made me want to see him play.