Snow on the Sahara, by Anggun

Previously, on The Codex of Poesy:

So, my corporeal roommate Cecilia let me have her old phone when she got a new one, and I’ve been able to do a lot more on it than I could on my outdated laptop browser…including…catching a Spotify promotion of three months with a premium account for the equivalent of 20 Stateside cents. That’s got to be subsidized music piracy. I should signal boost musicians that I enjoyed listening to on Spotify. But exposure isn’t a tenderable currency, so this wouldn’t even be a nudge for the world to stop starving the artists.

This entry is for an album that gave me liminal questing spirit feels, then.

And so’s this one.

Snow_on_the_Sahara_2013_Anggun

This is full-on pop music nostalgia to me. It’s so 90s. The music has so much synth. The music videos had computer graphics back when computer graphics weren’t quite there yet. Even with the songs being about Spanish islands and African deserts, though, I’ve got to say that Snow on the Sahara is the most unapologetically Indonesian. (Of Anggun’s international releases, that is.) (Although even this one has a literal apology to Indonesia in “Rose in the Wind”.) Chrysalis had some of that experimental sound, though the only song I really liked on the Chrysalis album was “Chrysalis”. Open Heart melted into a morass of genericness, though I think I liked more than a few songs, the only one I can remember to name right now is “Little Things”.

Amateur ethnomusicology time! First, amateur comparative religions time. I’m remembering that time I sat in on one of Cecilia’s anthropology classes, and an attendee there mentioned that the deep South of the Philippines being “more Asian than we (Northerners) are” because the people there were predominantly Islam as opposed to an Abrahamic faith introduced by white people at gunpoint four hundred years ago. I sort of flinched at that, because surely there are as many ways to be authentically Asian as there are Asian people on earth?

Having grown up in Indonesia, though, part of me understood what the speaker was getting at. The “traditional Philippine music” taught to me was closer to Spanish boleros, and while the dance is uncommon, flamenco music can feel right at home. In music classes in Indonesia, though, I was taught about the gongs. Technically, the Philippines has gong music somewhere, too, but the main difference I must say seems to be…Indonesian culture isn’t ashamed of it. Nor should it be, because learning about the gongs (and the metallophones, woodwinds, bowed strings, all part of a complete gamelan orchestra) was wicked cool. I learned the names of the metallophones, the difference in playing styles between Bali and Java, and superstitions associated with the instruments: the largest gong could control the weather, or customary offerings of fruits and flowers to the instruments.

And I say ‘superstitions’ because, well, there’s pride for a largely intangible heritage, and there’s the fact that it can’t keep up with modern life. The tuning of a slentem is so incompatible with the octaves of Western music! As everyone in the whole world who knows any sort of music worth listening to would then only think of music in terms of octaves, surely the best fate of this musical tradition is preservation…in what’s practically an ice block of strictly classical-traditional performances. There’s just no way to change anything appealing to modern, international appeal without doing it all so wrong that nobody would like it.

(Wait, what was I reviewing again?)

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Inside Myself / Once Upon A Time, by Helen Trevillion

The following entry may contain triggering material.

So, my corporeal roommate Cecilia let me have her old phone when she got a new one, and I’ve been able to do a lot more on it than I could on my outdated laptop browser…including…catching a Spotify promotion of three months with a premium account for the equivalent of 20 Stateside cents. That’s got to be subsidized music piracy. I should signal boost musicians that I enjoyed listening to on Spotify. But exposure isn’t a tenderable currency, so this wouldn’t even be a nudge for the world to stop starving the artists.

This entry is for an album that gave me liminal questing spirit feels, then.

Helen_Trevillion_1st_album

I found Helen Trevillion’s music on YouTube several years ago. While I’m tempted to describe the musical style as some breathy and effervescent choral echo of traditional Brythonic music, these melodies often take a decidedly modern turn like from a lilt to a drawl. The lyrics are often short, sweet and simple; other times calculatedly brutal and cathartic. The accompanying piano is almost constantly panicking about something, strings and winds do their best to calm. The overall production lends a lofty, moody, and imaginative tone to the album. And sometimes like a Vocaloid, I mean that in the best way—that is Trevillion’s real voice, I’m sure, it’s just the one-note harmonies over a whole lot of synths lend a science fantasy sort of…

Anyway, no wonder this gives me Otherfaith feels. Track by track commentary under the cut:

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Almost Feel Like You’ve Been Here Before

The following entry may contain triggering material and spoilers for Discworld.

The volcano erupted. Apparently, it does that on occasion still, and…the city’s still standing, the cane fields unrazed, nobody evacuated, there wasn’t even an earthquake. It was more like an ash burp. I was still sorry not to have seen it, because there didn’t seem to be any other way to know that it had happened, except by word of mouth of new friends I made in this city…who might have, on second thought, been joking.

One good thing about living so nearby an active volcano: hot springs. They were a half hour’s drive past the edge of the city, through the definitely-horizontal sugar cane fields, then past rice paddies terraced to keep up with the incline of the mountain—if we can say that a volcano is just a mountain with extra geothermal activity—and through the semi-domesticated jungle that the volcano dressed up in. The venue was like a park, with several families strolling down the cobblestone paths, sometimes in swimsuits. Bamboo fences divided and hid the hot spring pools (access to which pools varied in price depending on the temperature or mineral concentration of the water.) It was like sitting in a mossy stone bath tub of warm broth, under the light and chill mountain rain. I toweled off and came out feeling deeply juvenated, if smelling a shade fartlike.

One tall bamboo fence, topped by a vast netted tent, turned out to be a butterfly sanctuary and flower garden. The rest of the area were mostly more cobblestone paths and cold boulder-rivers, some plots of grassy turf and other plots of semi-domesticated jungle, a hiking trail upwards to adventure, and a hiking trail downwards to an eatery.

We had grilled garlic scallops in the half shell for lunch. I can’t get seafood this fresh at mountains of the same altitude up north, maybe due to less competent urban planning, or maybe due to the capital being on a bigger island with far more distance between the mountains and beaches, or maybe due to the belligerent introversion of the mountains themselves. I also had the fried chicken, and while this town has a signature chicken recipe that isn’t fried, there’s something about the chickens here that taste more like chicken no matter what the recipe. I wonder if it’s something in the feed.

Another good thing about living so nearby an active volcano: previous explosions can make some of the most fertile ground for farming, and that residual fertility can last for generations.

*

To Corporeal Cecilia, the volcano is personified but not anthropomorphized. He (the volcano, not Corporeal Cecilia) just looms there and grumps. My source for the personification-anthropomorphization was J. A. Macculloch’s The Religion of the Ancient Celts (“In early thought everything was a person, in the loose meaning then possessed by personality, and […] this led later to more complete personification”) although Cecilia, who is currently taking anthropology classes, knows this as an unfashionable anthropological theory wielded to justify colonialism. (Ahem, “more complete” personification?)

The volcano does have a story, as Cecilia told me. There was a seven-headed dragon (that’s the volcano, zoomorphized…or should that be cryptozoomorphized?) and some legendary heroic figure that dueled the dragon, and the townsfolk were so happy this hero won that they named the volcano Laon after the hero. Which could get confusing, because the dragon was the volcano?

*

My proto-source for personification and anthropomorphism was Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. There’s a faithful film adaptation of Hogfather somewhere out there that probably best shows Discworld theology, the Hogfather being the Discworld’s equivalent of Santa Claus. Sir Pratchett peppers a fair few books with Anthropomorphic Personification, by those words, with Capitalization.

What gets less brightly highlighted, though, is Discworld’s sort of Animism, probably because it’s never called that, let alone with Capitalization. Discworld has a natural phenomenon known as the Narrative Imperative. This prevents heroes from dying off before the villains, and also allows the medieval fantasy battle party to get very meta about everything. I think that could be one example. Another could be the idea introduced in the Tiffany Aching quintet, about how witches awaken to their abilities depending on the geology of their home. Granny Weatherwax’s power grew from the granite mountains of Lancre (or, according to a fellow witch in-world, from having a mild inborn predisposition to witch-ing which may or may not be genetic…and then working bloody hard at it.) Tiffany’s power grew from the chalk hills, which age-peer witches give her flack for, and one old witch who meant well but couldn’t help being flabbergasted. Older and wiser witches know the bones of the chalk hills are flint, which is more acceptably rocklike, but most of the big magic that Tiffany does calls to the oceanic origins of her land and name.

My concept of sea witches grew out of that sort of animism, how the coral bones call to the fetch, and the salts turn to fluid crystals and liquid rock. Beaches are edges, too—liminal spaces between sea and earth, and even whitecaps on the high seas a liminality of sea and sky.

What about volcanic witches? Far less explosive and destructive than stereotyped, I gathered, at least around this volcano. How does one capital-w Work with an animistic grump dressed like some plant goddess of mountain-jungles and fields (who does good, but really doesn’t know or care or try to do it, or take thanks for it because he’s that much of a grump)? Or an adversarial dragon named after the hero who slew him?

I can still feel the warmth of the scalding, sulphuric waters. That’s all that grounds me on this subject, really, and walking around in Volcano Country, and eating stuff grown in Volcano Country, and catching conversations and stories in and of Volcano Country, and breathing the air. What do I make of this all, with folklore and pop culture and passé anthropological jargon, and why? (This is neither rhetorical nor curious. I’m just settling into an approach, or honing a perception.)

Close Scapes

On the 15th, I dreamed that I walked through the courtyard of my grade school campus. Sometimes it would continue into some garden spa that, of course, wasn’t part of the campus in waking life. My therapist had arrived, and then this giant cumulonimbus cloud tried to descend to meet us—meet my therapist, really, having mistaken my therapist to be some high-ranking member of this cloud’s holy order. Unless that wasn’t a mistake…hrmm… Anyway, what I remember next was walking on the sidewalk on the main avenue that (in waking life, too) linked all the university campuses, and meeting who I intuited to be the spirit of the road, or associated with the road or something. I remembered ey introducing emself as Guidon. (Which I wrote down, with much less difficulty than I usually have writing in dreams, so I didn’t glom onto the fact that this was a dream.) As we walked together, I remember feeling mildly amused and informed by the sheer amount of intellectual posturing that Guidon was doing.

When I woke up, I ran the name through a search engine, and eventually wondered if I might have been prodded or might be called by Gwyddion.

Then I thought to divulge this dream to my corporeal friend and roommate Cecilia, who gets more vocally irritated at the undergraduates who populate the now-gentrified Universityville. I described Guidon as that, because ey looked young and dressed in the fashionably unfashionable way of the Kids These Days, and seemed to have an awful lot to say about theoretical (theo-rhetorical?) matters. Eventually, Cecilia and I got back to grumbling about how, Back In Our Day, it was condiment pasta and farmer’s wet markets crowding the empty lots, not all these fancy schmancy restaurants in newly-constructed malls with giant air-conditioned grocery stores in the basement.

Then:

“The newsletter for Ateneo de Manila University is called Guidon,” Cecilia informed me. “Spelled that way, too: G-U-I-D-O-N.”

I hadn’t know that. I must have just picked it up and forgotten it, let it steep in my subconscious until it comes out in a dream like this. Still, we had a good laugh about how the personification of the Avenue wasn’t just one of those brilliantly irritatingly twee undergrads, but an Atenean (with all the associated stereotypes born of university rivalries).

Seriously, though, I’ve considered just leaving a clove cigarette and libation of Red Bull somewhere in the corner of the Avenue, to appease this minor dream-god of Young People Going Places, may ey forgive us nearly-elderly fogies our negative expressions of nostalgia.

In waking life, I did get around to seeing my therapist again. My sessions first started nine years ago, not continuously of course, and I have angst about how much of a lifetime a person can lose to the blearghy bleargh blah life plus neurotransmitter whatever… While waiting, I did finally get my hands on a copy of Jung on Active Imagination by Joan Chodorow, and it contextualized the Red Book enough that I realized I had been going about this all wrong. (From a Jungian psychological perspective, anyway. Maybe kind of.)

Cecilia and her family also invited me to stay with them in the Visayas for the summer. I’d heard so much about the place that I was excited to actually get to walk around in it, so that’s where I’m typing this from now. More later hopefully. Probably.

Entheogen: Coffee

Modern culture doesn’t give me a lot of socially acceptable entheogens. It’s very possible that I haven’t searched thoroughly enough, but for now I’m more inclined to consider it an effect of ecstatic spiritual practices being too out-of-control, or maybe just out of fashion. Coffee, at least, increases productivity in Civilization.

I worked the graveyard shift at my first job. We had free instant coffee in the break room, which I never liked the taste of, but it was a time of great change and I’d try anything that would help me adjust or fit in. I’d put enough sugar that it would taste more like liquid candy. And I could feel it working for a while, and then it didn’t work as well to stop me from getting sleepy. So, I switched to caffeinated soda pop and energy drinks. Sometimes I wonder if the instant coffee was even really caffeinated, or if that was some placebo. Sodas hadn’t noticeably given me an injection of wakefulness before I decided to drink sodas for that purpose.

My corporeal roommate Cecilia is a coffee fiend, and generously provided me the opportunity to experience a greater variety of brews, all locally sourced. It amazes me that this substance is still legal, although when I describe what each of these would do to ‘you’ I mean ‘me, who drank it’ so these effects might just be the way my body metabolizes the thing.

Variant A (“Barako”). Highly acidic and very bitter. Drinking this is like being shaken by the shoulders and having everything you haven’t accomplished in life shouted in your face. After the anxiety passes, maybe 3 hours later, the chemical high takes a turn for the highly alert. Very highly alert. Reality Is So Clear I Can See The Whole Universe, alert. This lasts for 12 or 13 more hours, with twitchiness and possibly acid reflux.

Variant B (“Kalinga”). Woodsy and naturally sweet with a hint of molasses, like a floral tea that grew up thinking it was coffee and did its best to fit in. This ushers you gently into wakefulness, like drinking a sunrise…on one of those planets where the sunrise lasts for 19 hours. No perceivable tremors or any ‘burn’ to this high, only an endless stretch of wakefulness, it keeps the mind feeling fresh and ready for the new day even long after the sunset of that ‘new day’. Even long into the wee hours of the morning of the next day. This chemically-induced insomnia feels more natural, somehow more innocent, than even natural insomnia.

Variant C (“Sagada”). Full-bodied. Like drinking a two-hour power nap. 6 hours later, this will repossess that borrowed restfulness with interest. The caffeine crash pulls you into dreamless desolation, consumes you with a darkly burning exhaustion.

Variant D (“Benguet”). This coffee tastes unremarkably like coffee. A cup of this has no characteristic mouthfeel or flavor that distinguishes it from an average cup of coffee. It nudges you awake, maybe with a mildly unpleasant burning sort of high. This peters off about 9 hours later, and leaves you with the feeling of having stayed up for longer than your circadian rhythm would approve.

I take these chemical effects as some hint as to the nature of the spiritual significance of a given cup of coffee. Maybe A would be suitable for taking Craven’s Way (what I call Jungian Shadow Work), and B or D for offerings. The way I go about offerings is something new I’m figuring out, too: Going more by what I’d read than by anything told to me in a quest, I conjecture something like toradh that I believe the fairies imbibe while the corporeal form of the corporeal offering remains. (So, say I’d still drink the whole physical thing because the fae consumed half the toradh, which I offered. Can I take it that they really liked the offering if the offered coffee makes me sleepy? Or maybe I’d be possessed by an insatiable thirst or suffer ceaseless acid reflux, or some reaction more in the vein of Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”, because sharing offerings is like sharing toothbrushes?)

The ritual around the drinking of it would be another thing. Brewing and drinking A for taking Craven’s Way to confront a specific issue, would be different than drinking it simply because I aim to stay awake for 13 hours instead of 6 hours, or 20. (In the latter, I’d hum two rounds of the theme song of Galavant if recognizing the anxiety as chemically-induced wasn’t effective in detaching from that anxiety.) Or if, for whatever reason, some wonderful incorporeal acquaintance wants the rude A-brew.

Technopoesy: Plugs and Sockets

The following entry contains discussion of gender issues.

There’s a theory of anthropology known as neo-evolutionism in which the technology of a people is the key (so to speak) determiner of the culture.

I feel as though I’ve encountered that (or something like it, in a more anecdotal way) with the “lock and key” justification of sexism.

The same people I’ve met who might agree that women should have voting rights, or that women should earn as much money for doing the same work as men, still find it far more difficult to apply the stigma of promiscuity equally regardless of sex. (And a life without the power to apply stigma to anybody else at all is hardly worth contemplating.)

“If you have a key that can open up a lot of different locks, you think ‘Wow, that’s a great key!’ But if you have a lock that can be opened by just any key, you think ‘Wow, that’s a shitty lock’.”

This is an insidiously intuitive explanation. It’s quippy and memorable. Any counter-argument I could have about how reductive it is as a parallel to human sexuality, or how retina scanners do the same thing but come off more as the fish to the bicycle (and why would that be), or how mechanical terms such as “male part” or “female part” came from observations and ensuing abstraction of human sexes so why mirror it back now…well, none of that is as quippy or memorable.

But today, the part of me opposed to something so symbolically intuitive finally felt vindicated.

Pictured above to the left is the extension cord that I usually use, with exactly the sort of sockets that you would find in any wall of any home in the country I live. Sockets, in mechanical terms, are female parts.

Pictured above to the right is the plug of my computer, on which I rely (more than a bit) to provide means for survival. Plugs, in mechanical terms, are male parts.

Right now, they’re incompatible. Either the plug ought to get rid of some of its extra prongs and file down whatever remains, or the sockets need to be more promiscuous, or both. I need that compatibility to be achieved before I can go on achieving anything else. How I usually did that, though, was through a universal adaptor.

Either I lack imagination, or human gender binaries aren’t universally applicable.

Dreamspace

Cecilia’s anthropology professor mentioned something called the Human Resource Area File, which sorts out the religion, law, material culture, whatever else of any studied people. To codify and organize these culture traits are valuable, but the structure itself is influenced by the culture of those who presume to do the studying. If one studies a theocracy, does one simply make duplicate file copies for the area of religion and the area of law? Maybe it’s more sophisticated than that. I’ve only sat in for one class, after all.

But if I write that I interpret Dreamtime (what little I’ve read of it) as like some animistic “genius locii”, or as cosmic concepts that can be ritualized similar to the classical elements of Ancient Greek philosophy and mysticism, or with a symbolic aesthetic and ritual performance closer to the various medicines of Neo-Shamanism…all under one term of (translated to) “Dreamtime”, of course, it’s not going to be that or any of those things anymore. Just by naming these features and drawing parallels, I’ve already changed the nature of what I refer to by extracting each from their contexts and lumping them together.

All that’s left is an attempt to articulate my own interpretation, which probably stems from a belief* system I already have that hasn’t been articulated. (* And I consider life experience through the physical senses an integral component of belief, so my definition of belief isn’t necessarily a thing separate from that which is known or lived or done.) Belief systems that have been articulated–alchemy, faelatry, narrative analysis, sciences and mysticisms–give me models of articulation. I hope that’s the extent of their influence.

*

I’ve had difficulty forging a relationship with the corporeal. The beauty, danger, and harmonious niches of natural environments do demand my attention whenever I find myself there, but the same qualities in a city I’ve taken for granted. Only after a while and lot of reading did it occur to me to sanctify the sort of environment I was born and now live in, regardless if some administrative force made it, or if war comes through and leaves rubble, or if natural disasters and corruption in public funding combine to leave rubble, or if the rainforests reclaim the monuments for future people to find and wonder about. The world remains spiritually significant, although I admit to a personal tendency towards shutting down.

Cities in the highlands take on a particular character in its steeply sloping roads. For all the polish and glamour of the city I live in now, it seems to still remember that it used to be a marsh–and reminds its citizens of this every monsoon season. During road trips, my family would often stop at diners near (not too near–at least not at those times) active volcanoes for which the towns in-between were famous. I’d thought these aspects added character to the location, but more obviously it shows that cities never fully escape the natural environment.

I’ve had that idea for a while, but it hasn’t become more than noted until recently. Now I wonder what the character of each location can become. What more could it mean to designate some part of the nation as “the honey pot” or “the bread basket” for their main export, or as a “university town”, or as a “tourist trap”? Or as residential and business districts?

Perhaps the same thing happens as has been happening long before urban development: the geography becomes the people. This next tidbit came up when Cecilia and I got to talking about what sort of names we’d have in the style of Westerosi bastards. Tagalog is the language of the capital, originally spoken by the tribe of the same name. It comes from the conjunction taga (meaning “from”) and ilog (meaning “river”) so roughly translates to “(the people) from the river”, although to some southerners it’s come to mean “damned imperialists” and they aren’t exactly wrong.

My bastard name would be Fort, by the way, Cecilia only thought at first it would be Rivers but my maternal grandmother came from somewhere else known for its military fortresses. Cecilia’s bastard name would be Blackwest after the translation of her hometown’s name, although I would have thought it would be Cane after the main export…but world banks and international funds have made perpetually terrible decisions when it’s come to telling the nations who borrow from them exactly what to produce in order to pay back the loan, and apparently the growing of sugar cane in all climates that can grow sugar cane is one of them. More sugar cane being grown, harvested, and exported lowers the market value of sugar cane, the immediate solution to which has been to…grow more sugar cane. While Cecilia appreciates what the surplus of Cane has done to the culinary arts of her hometown, in protest against senseless economic imperialism she would not take the name of Cane.

Settling on the most significant aspect after which to name a territory is an interesting process. They won’t be Dreamings, of course–they aren’t. I might count them as Ways.

My family moved a lot while I was growing up, and it may be too late for me to achieve fluency in the Tagalog language. Language is one way, however, that one can do what one is, which is ritual enough. Other rituals and stories of my people before the colonial times remain embalmed in pages of barely-accessible academic studies. Maybe they’ll wake up again one day. For now, I pay more attention to the rituals and stories I have on hand, while keeping a renewed understanding in mind of how they associate with an environment (as well as how they’re transmitted.)

EDIT: The sugar cane growing had to do with the Tidings-McDuffy Act, not the IMF or World Bank strongarming specific industries to debtors, although the banks do do that with other industries and other developing nations.