Spotlight on: We Row / ‘Remamos’ and the Inner Voice

It’s been a long while since I read “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho but this quote below, attributed to him, I thought it pertinent to the song I chose to blog about today.

“We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.”

I remember enjoying this book, for it had an engaging premise. The quote makes us think of our persistent standardisation of the life process, our system of measures, our balance achieved through the rounding off of unwieldy decimals to the nearest integer in the rule book or the countless listicles exhorting everyone to toe similar lines in socially defined or acceptable ways. The social compass veers repeatedly to the norm (the ethics of which may be challenged) but society as we know, also continues to burn witches in some areas of the world [1][2].

We express genuine care sometimes when we advise others. We also seek to recreate people in our version of acceptable. When the empirical evidence of anomalous behaviour gets codified into canon, it suggests mental illness. I am quite alarmed at the pathologization of human behaviour. The issue arises perhaps, because we are not witness to the inner self talk of people, that inaccessible sub-conscious, the ephemeral unconscious. It is made visible, in the way people act driven by impulse, their passions, their creative urges, their reticence, their rage, their depression, their happiness, their drive or lack of it. Oftentimes, the inner talk gets very loud like in the persons you find walking on the sidewalk or in transit, gesticulating while in an intense monologue.

In recent decades, the nature of inner speech, the inner voice and the nature of Self are being revealed through interesting experimentation. It was in the 1920s when Russian developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky, observed that social activity and culture shaped the human mind beginning from childhood. He hypothesised that the Self was forged in what he called the ‘zone of proximal development’. In this zone, Vygotsky observed what he termed as ‘private speech’, a kind of  self-talk conducted by children between the ages of two and eight. It was American psychologist Laura Berk whose studies showed that during imaginative play, children’s self-talk helps them guide their own thoughts and behaviour and exert true self-control. Psychologist Russell Hurlburt applied  his unique methodology of Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES) to find that 25 per cent of an average person’s day constitutes inner speech . He teamed up with Charles Fernyhough, a leading researcher of inner speech and they brain scanned  DES participants using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), (which detects metabolic changes in the brain), to find  that activity increased in the Heschl’s gyrus region of the brain during spontaneous inner speech, but not during prompted self-talk. This indicated the unique neural nature of pure self-talk. Read some more of this very interesting research in this article by Phil Jaekl here [3]. Fernyhoug suggests that after the internalisation of the private speech of childhood,  inner speech emerges in a variety of ways, each comparable to that which is spoken. The most familiar among these, is the one he terms ‘expanded’, which is the same as external speech, as in, it is grammatical and fully formed but not vocal.

What I found most interesting is his concept of another type, that he terms ‘condensed’ inner speech, a highly abbreviated and ungrammatical version of regular speech, possibly linguistic, not intended to be communicated or to be understood by others. After that, the science gets murky and there are innumerable dead ends and unwilling scientists perhaps. There are no answers to how this inner world actually  translates onto the very fabric of existence, but translate it does, in our behaviours, the social cues we assimilate that guide our actions, the ways we are challenged by life and our responses to these.

Is there a coherent and continuous narrative as we grow older? Is there a difference in the inner narrative we tell ourselves in retrospect and what we experience while in a given situation ? These aspects have always fascinated me. The turbid waters, these Neptune’s mists that obscure us to our own selves, the voices we refuse to hear or choose to mistranslate, the inherent chaos that spills out as fear or courage or stupidity or the drive to do what we think is right by us, that steady entropy of our lives led through our supposedly negentropic selves. I find here a distinction needs to be made between our consistent orderly organising of systems within ourselves, our society and the opposite, in their chaotic evolution which is can sometimes be more creative, progressive even among the socially deviant. What makes us heed our inner self talk and how do we train it to elevate rather than debilitate us, without a norm to go by ?

Remamos  Picture Credit ~ Youtube

The Spanish language song, Remamos, written by Gustavo Edgardo Cordera / Juan Ignacio Serrano, executed here by Puerto Rican singer and songwriter,  Encarnita “Kany” García de Jesús in a duet with  Mexican pop-rock and folk singer and songwriter, Natalia Lafourcade, a song I love and listen to over and over, speaks of returning to that inner voice. Taken from her 2018 album, Contra El Viento, it has been described as a gentle ballad of self affirmation that looks deep inside one’s soul to accept the need to return to what’s been learned and relearn, a song that soars in a chorus over a cushion of strings [4]. Perhaps it’s the voice that mirrors what a parent could have said or a teacher or someone personally known or it could have been imbibed through social cues, but it is that which transforms into the inner voice. It is interesting to note, how this poetic song explores the possibility of returning to an inner narrative from the past, to change it. The rowing in ‘Remamos’ is an apt analogy to tackling the waters of life.

We row
- Song by Kany García and Natalia Lafourcade
Songwriters: Gustavo Edgardo Cordera / Juan Ignacio Serrano

As a girl, she told me this is the right way
To walk and to address who I had in front of me
When I grew up, it took me stumbling to realize
That I had to go back to being a girl and teach myself
How does one shut up, how do you  leave behind what hits you

I have come to offer myself today
We row, knowing what the price is
With clenched fists
Without thinking about stopping
We row, our face against the wind
With courage ahead
With a town between my fingers
We row, with a knot, here, in the chest
Dreaming that on the other side
Another beginning is arriving

And I stay in the rain, even if the voice gets tired
On the whole, it is the only thing that remains that has not been broken
Where there is pain and where light is lacking, let my throat sing
That my anchored feet take strength in the song
How does one shut up, how do you  leave behind what hits you

I have come to offer myself today
We row, knowing what the price is
With clenched fists
Without thinking about stopping
We row, our face against the wind
With Valentia in front
With a town between my fingers
We row, with a knot, here, in the chest
Dreaming that to the other side
Another beginning is arriving
How does one shut up, how do you  leave behind what hits you
I come to offer myself today

We row
We row

Source: Musixmatch and Google Translate. I have attempted to refine the English sentences from the more literal translations on the App.

Kany Garcia sings “And I stay in the rain, even if the voice gets tired. On the whole, it is the only thing that remains that has not been broken.” In this narrative of  rowing through life, the song alludes to a social/familial/ cultural cue of the past, that has steered life to its present state where one feels bereft of agency. Yet, there is an indelible hope in the future despite not knowing how to exactly steer oneself forward. Is this an illustration of authenticity, for some people do seek a coherent narrative to their life story, which is where the past interferes with the present and thus the future. In this song, not perhaps in a positive way, the past has overshadowed the present and yet, not without hope for the future.

Take for example a view to the contrary, that telling ourselves a coherent life story, or trying to dig deep to locate that consistent inner dialogue to construct self narrative alludes to inauthenticity. Galen Strawson, a British analytic philosopher does not believe [5] that an ‘autobiographical narrative’ plays any significant role in how he experiences the world, although he knows that his present overall outlook and behaviour is deeply conditioned by his genetic inheritance and sociocultural place and time, including, in particular, his early upbringing”. Strawson also admits that despite his poor memory he does not live ecstatically in the present. To support his position as a non narrative thinker, he cites the example of one of the 75 heteronyms of the Portuguese author, Fernando Pessoa. This one, Alberto Caeiro is known to have said, ‘Each moment I feel as if I’ve just been born/Into an endlessly new world.’ He also argues against narrativist thinking for most part of his article and notes that there are people who are movingly plodding and factual in their grasp of their pasts. He reflects, it’s an ancient view that people always remember their own pasts in a way which puts them in good light, and that such self serving memory need not be true. He prefers the view that self knowledge comes in bits and pieces.

I think Strawson misses the point like other non-narrativists. It’s isn’t that a narrativist strings a narrative of their life that seems the issue, it is actually the kind of story they tell themselves. There are people who are very accepting of their present without a thought to their past, assuming they believe they have learned well from their experiences and been exemplary in their wisest actions and moved on to other things. Then there are those that seek to accept their present, burdened in their past, despite fearfully wishing to welcome the future. This is what brings me back to Paulo Coelho’s quote about the fallacy in believing one’s path is the only right path.

The present, that so very elusive present that we inhabit, has a tendency to contain within it a carapace of our past and the cape of our futuristic ambitions. I didn’t mean to sound sarcastic but it is disingenuous to prattle on about the zen of the present when we are creatures of narrative, personal histories, familial and societal memories and a great deal of ambition, passion and the drive to serve a purpose while we survive to another day. It is what constructs an integrity to self, that inner speech, in some it is positively affirmative, in others, not so much, in a few it is lacking altogether, in some more yet, it is highly introspective.

Yet, when Lafourcade sings, ” We row, our face against the wind
With courage ahead
With a town between my fingers
We row, with a knot, here, in the chest
Dreaming that on the other side
Another beginning is arriving”, we don’t question that it is a strong sensibility illustrated here enmeshed thus in the present, yet it still  drags with it the carcass of a past, the taint of a fight that should in the future, hark back in time and create a narrative of how this fight was overcome. Isn’t this what the inner voice is meant to stitch together. Aren’t these the stories we tell ourselves?

They sing, “How does one quiet down, how do you leave behind what hits you. I come to offer myself today. We row. We row

I could not imagine a better way to explain how our present is in fact a dialogue with our inner voice in a consistent construction of narrative, by digesting and assimilating experiences of the past to fearlessly venture into the future. I believe, Remamos unwittingly pitched a lyrical riposte to the anti-narrative argument while standing for the inner voice.


Remamos  - Song by Kany García and Natalia Lafourcade 
Songwriters: Gustavo Edgardo Cordera / Juan Ignacio Serrano

De chica, me decía esta es la forma correcta
De andar y de dirigirme a quien tuve delante
De grande, me costó a tropiezos poder darme cuenta
Que había que volver a ser niña y desenseñarme
Cómo callar, cómo dejar atrás lo que te pega
Vengo a ofrecerme hoy
Remamos, sabiendo cuál es el precio
Con los puños apretados
Sin pensar en detenernos
Remamos, con la cara contra el viento
Con la valentía delante
Con un pueblo entre los dedos
Remamos, con un nudo, aquí, en el pecho
Soñando que al otro lado
Se avecina otro comienzo
Y me quedé bajo la lluvia, aunque la voz se canse
Total, es lo único que queda que no se ha quebrado
Donde hay dolor y falte luz, que mi garganta cante
Que en la canción agarren fuerza, mis pies anclados
Cómo callar, cómo dejar atrás lo que te pega
Vengo a ofrecerme hoy
Remamos, sabiendo cuál es el precio
Con los puños apretados
Sin pensar en detenernos
Remamos, con la cara contra el viento
Con la Valentia delante
Con un pueblo entre los dedos
Remamos, con un nudo, aquí, en el pecho
Soñando que al otro lado
Se avecina otro comienzo
Cómo callar, cómo dejar atrás lo que te pega
Vengo a frecerme hoy
Remamos
Remamos

Source: Musixmatch

References:

[1]~https://www.reuters.com/article/india-landrights-women/witches-beaten-buried-burned-for-land-in-princely-indian-state-idINKCN1C90EL

[2]~https://www.africanews.com/2017/08/01/tanzania-witch-killings-claimed-479-lives-from-january-june-2017-report//

[3]~https://aeon.co/essays/our-inner-narrator-gives-us-continuity-and-a-sense-of-self

[4]~https://www.billboard.com/amp/articles/columns/latin/8511971/kany-garcias-contra-el-viento-6-essential-tracks

[5]~https://www.google.com/amp/s/aeon.co/amp/essays/let-s-ditch-the-dangerous-idea-that-life-is-a-story

Listen:

Remamos ~ Remamos https://g.co/kgs/rFN7t4

To Sashiko the Spirit

One of the simplest stitches to embroider with, is the straight stitch. It is most useful in joining fabric, mending a rip and even darning. In Japan, Sashiko is a form of needlework to reinforce fabric through the basic straight stitch, in a variety of patterns. There is something beautiful in mending and Sashiko has taken a spiritual dimension for some.

Detail of a mid-19th century kimono decorated using Sashiko, with white cotton threads on an indigo-dyed plain weave background (Metropolitan Museum of Art) Pic credit ~ Wikipedia

Melanie McGrath wrote a wonderful lockdown essay last year, on how Sashiko can help mend a frayed world, help women compensate in small measure for the depradations of aging, achieve a sense of beauty in the incomplete and the imperfect. Sashiko exemplifies, she avers, the principle of Wabi Sabi. It celebrates the repair of a rip, helps locate beauty in a mend.

I think the poem worked it’s way around to framing questions to the answers already inherent in Sashiko and Wabi Sabi. It inspired me to begin writing about this last year but I never got around to finishing this poem that has seen countless revisions.

The inspiration for the poem came from the chikankari embroidery of Lucknow, India, as much as from Japanese Sashiko and Wabi Sabi. Both employ the straight stitch.

This is a Tepchi work saree in the Chikankari embroidery of Lucknow, India. It’s too intricate to wear so I hung it on a wall instead 🙂 I edited the photo a bit to make visible the otherwise white stitches, on a light pastel cotton fabric. It resembles Sashiko, except the patterns are intricate.

Process and Form:

Fabric becomes a metaphor for spirit in the poem as well as for the body or the heart. I had written it as a prose poem earlier but later moved to free verse and then again to prose. I now think it’s simply a work in progress until I get the philosophy of this in order. It begins as it ends, with a series of rhetorical questions. It holds solutions of Sashiko to healing what is hurt in the physical or conscious realm, such as the body, the mind or heart, the issues all of our humanity faces in the course of a single lifetime , yet there is something else besides our working conscious and subconscious or isn’t there? If there isn’t, life then would feel simply like a limitation. Perhaps, I’m unable to articulate right now this nascent line of thinking but in time …

I haven’t worked on Sashiko yet, but this is the closest example I could find in my closet. An Indian scarf or a ‘dupatta’ that employs the straight stitch.
The one is more like Sashiko. This straight stitch is called ‘Tepchi’ in Chikankari; it isn’t uncommon to have this hand embroidered all over seven yards of fabric for a saree. This particular work is on my cotton scarf or the Indian ‘dupatta’.

Can a fish drown or a butterfly gasp in the wind / 

Scars fester under the gauze of a smile / as the candle wax of youth drips steady in a strange economy / distraught minds melt into a stream reaching to oceans for a salty dissolution / or bruised bone, brines in the salinity of time //

Isn't time simply a callus over passions / an assortment of calluses / and love seems an ephemeral thing, lost in euphemisms / that help stitch sonnets in traumatized tissues of birth / or weave stitches in tercets to erase carcinoma that create maps of the cosmos on skin / Torn unwieldy feelings are elegies cobbled with tatting needles to create a Frankenmonster / that wants to find and punish it's maker / as it reaches back for us in a cold and callused heart, that's a torn limb become wound wood / sequestering in those dark spaces, buried treasures of pungent memories or medals of honour in the life scars we flaunt //

The sun, arbitrates mortality and stills the breath / We are creatures of habit hitched to this solar arc / or the madness of lunations / and posses no philosophy to life until facing our own demise / or the carcass of our dreams washed to the shores of time / To graft a body, to darn a heart or hem the mind is simply a straight stitch that points to sunrise / the pacemaker of a day unravelling the knots of the night //

Yet, how does one Sashiko the spirit as it disintegrates to ash / Does it lay there withered in it's silent demise / exhaled by the wind to unworldly whispers / never knowing itself or how it spirits into flesh / How does one mend a soul that it may love to live or live to love or become love or become life //

I believe the last verse turned a bit sad this morning since a friend lost her brother to COVID and she spoke of a man beloved of his community, who had to be buried in the absence of one, without the accoutrements of a proper burial. There have been more deaths than can be handled in her city, with no undertakers nor priests, families under lockdown unable to console each other. Yet, she wondered of all the plans she made with her brother for a future that he does not have anymore.


Embroidery has always held a special place for me. My grandmother loved to embroider. I have embroidered quite a bit to create beautiful patterns in thread, but Sashiko is about elevating damaged fabric and it’s subsequent repair to a place of beauty. I like the premise of this, in that it engenders healing. It’s truly a Sashiko mindset that requires we rework the patterns on a frayed spirit, innovating on the spiritual canvas so to speak, a different blueprint of stitches for reinforcement of the self to a place of compassion for ourselves and others. Yet, I do wonder of the consciousness we are imbued in; how does this spirit or soul mend, if it exists, if at all?

References:

Sashiko~The Japanese folk art of sashiko mending is a stunning answer to our modern woes~ https://matadornetwork.com/read/japanese-sashiko-mending/

Chikankari~Tepchi Stitch~https://www.utsavpedia.com/motifs-embroideries/tepchistitch/

Stained to a blur in a cut-away marsh and a note on Patrick Kavanagh

I began work on this article and poem a few days earlier, never quite finishing it, but the weather is the tint of silver and grey, the roads have been licked by showers, the same as on that day when I heard, once, twice, thrice more, Pádraig Ó Tuama, a poet from Ireland speak about Patrick Kavanagh, a poet from Ireland and it inspired me to pot my poem into place, like a herb at a windowsill gazing at rain. There was magic in this Irish voice [1] lulling me into a rainy day stupor in words that were meant for April, for marshes, and I would have liked to say for love, but how do you describe a poem that is love.

Patrick Kavanagh, was the self taught son of a shoe maker with an incoherent life view and philosophy [2] , some say, the greatest Irish poet since William Butler Yeats, but this isn’t what brought me to read about him, it was simply Tuama reading his poem, ‘The one’.

There were thunderstorms predicted that day. I’m not afraid of showers or a stronger breeze. In fact I had the car fuelled to capacity in case there was a miraculous flood and it needed fuel to coast away to safety … inane thoughts course like random particles in days of inexplicable lightening … incongruous as the fifteen varieties of eggs in the section for hens, which is next to fifteen varieties of milk in the section for cows and five varieties of egg whites in the section for eggs that didn’t quite yolk in a sunrise …

Tuama echoes my thoughts entirely when he says, in introducing Kavanagh’s poem, “But more often, these days, I’m turning to poetry when it makes me smile as I read it because the words are delicious, because it’s describing something of great delight, of great simplicity, and of great lightness of being”.

Cattails or Bulrushes

It is sometimes the beauty of voice and words too, that fuels a walk through aisles of produce in a store, like a musical secret between the one that speaks to you while you listen, for he speaks of poets, of childhood, of meanings and you listen, not once, but twice, then thrice, as you caress an avocado, slip tomatoes in a basket, ponder awhile at smiling citruses and blackberries. Then, for a while, I stay still to contemplate the labels that divide the plant kingdom into classes, much after Linnaeus, in terms of those raised by fertilizer, pesticides and ones that are organic through sheer will perhaps, or is it the fallaciousness of words that drags us into an abyss of untruths, darkened corners of commercial illusions, and how does all this matter, I ask, as I think about layers of food, that the lack of a label made much less edible somehow. Was food purer back then or was it an illusion too … Tuama spills a beautiful voice to say that one always returns to the hollows we carry inside, which is why we revisit poets of the past.

On a Marshland
The One by Patrick Kavanagh [3]

Green, blue, yellow and red –
God is down in the swamps and marshes
Sensational as April and almost incred-
ible the flowering of our catharsis.
A humble scene in a backward place
Where no one important ever looked
The raving flowers looked up in the face
Of the One and the Endless, the Mind that has baulked
The profoundest of mortals. A primrose, a violet,
A violent wild iris – but mostly anonymous performers
Yet an important occasion as the Muse at her toilet
Prepared to inform the local farmers
That beautiful, beautiful, beautiful God
Was breathing His love by a cut-away bog.

I tried modelling a poem in continuation of this one by Kavanagh. ‘The One’ which is a loose sonnet of sorts, with a couplet at the end, is a lyrical encapsulation of Kavanagh’s own view, as he observes in his ‘Self Portrait’,
“…the things that really matter are casual, insignificant little things ….” and he asserts that “in the final simplicity we don’t care whether we appear foolish or not. … We are satisfied with being ourselves, however small.”

Stained to a blur in a cut-away marsh ~ davina e. solomon 

That beautiful, beautiful, beautiful God
by a cut-away marsh, was breathing His love
and silver, and grey tints skies above,
floating in place under a lightning rod ...

and I am misted by the softest spray.
The tint of rain is a creamy green
hid in avocados, deep within,
as wanton herbs glisten a sweet array

of marsh grass, undulating fur on a pet
in a thunderstorms sweet caress.
Startled birds raise like a dress,
metal cars, stray shoppers ... mudflats all wet.

Cilantro macerated a fragrant apology
to a bloodied tomato, an onion grated to tears
to further press an avocado, reveal its fears
in lime to a wound. Here's a salty astrology

of a heaven strung in voices, in hope
streaking marshlands in the wet of rain
billowing hair, breezily dry, partly pain
reining love like a braided rope.

As I queue, it's clear these specks of colour
plan a future meal. I hear a cashier speak
both of us tinted in poems, a brazen leak
on a pastoral painting, stained to blur.

Process:

The stanzas follow the rhyming sequence of quatrains , each stanza a different sequence from the previous one. The stanzas alternate between engagement with store produce in the real and the imagining of the weather, outside. The entire article itself is an attempt at visual storytelling using prose poetry and free verse. I wove in the recipe of guacamole after Kavanaghs fist line of colour in ‘The One’.

A simple way to Guacamole:

A simple way to Guacamole
A couple of ripe ready avocadoes, a tomato, half an onion and a green lime. Grate the onion and tomato, chop some green chilli and coriander, mash lightly the avocados with a fork, squeeze a lime ... add salt ... serve with sourdough bread or simply, without.

References:
[1]Patrick Kavanagh A Poem About the Beauty of Home ~https://onbeing.org/programs/a-poem-about-the-beauty-of-home/
[2]Patrick Kavanagh 1904-1967 ~https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/patrick-kavanagh
[3]The One by Patrick Kavanagh ~https://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2020/3/30/the-one-by-patrick-kavanagh