Thirty Two Words for Field and Sand Talk – Irish and Indigenous wisdom

May 12, 2023 at 9:17 pm | Posted in arts and health, Australia behind, Blasket islands, Books, capitalism, Common Good, Democracy, Indigenous wisdom, Inequality - Australia, Living creatively, Manchan Magan, mental illness, Nature writing - Irish, rural Ireland, Sand Talk, sustainable living, value of the arts | 1 Comment
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Connecting with a better world

Apart from reading some fantastic books, I’ve been having fun with my new Kick-Start creative writing workshops. They’ve been zipping along with the poetic contributions of talented students, filling the BRAG room on Tuesday nights with laughter and creative verve. BRAG stands for Braidwood Regional Arts Group and you can find it here:

I’ve also been filling in for someone on a local radio station plus submitting my novel MS, Off the Plan, and making collages out of my painted papers and photographs, even working towards an exhibition with some others. And still dancing the Argentine tango. Brilliant books like Thirty Two Words for Field: Lost words of the Irish landscape by Manchán Magan (Gill Books, 2020) have taken up some time too.

Sounds resonate inside us. If ever you’ve heard a cow lowing after losing her calf, you’ll have felt with her the panicked despair floating out on the air. In Irish there’s a word for the sound: diadhárach – the particular loneliness of a cow bereft of her calf. Before the English suppressed the Irish language, words like this connected the speakers more deeply to the world around them. It’s great that Irelanders learn Irish in school now, reconnecting with their native tongue after centuries of English repression of it.

A deeper truth

Manchán Magan considers in his book ‘how words can be wedges that prise back the surface layer of thought and feeling, revealing a deeper truth.’ (p. 185) He observes in his intriguing book that old languages are rich in words that ‘emphasise our interrelatedness with all life and that reveal the empathy we have with each other and with our surroundings. They acknowledge our co-dependent relationship with nature, revealing almost as much about our inner processes and frailties as about the world around us.’ (p. 311)

You don’t have to know a word of Irish to be totally absorbed by this enchanting book. The author offers 45 words for stones and 4,300 words to describe character traits. He spent summers on the Blaskets with his grandmother where he learnt the many ways to express the changing qualities there of the light, winds and the sea. The language expressed a different way of being, of connecting with the landscape around them.

The author looks at Irish also through the prism of ancient languages, taking the reader on a fascinating journey through parallels between systems of law, social hierarchy and mythology in Irish and Hindu and other cultures.

Magan’s approach recalled for me Australian Indigenous author Tyson Yunkaporta’s Sand Talk (also discussed in 22 January 2022 blog) and I had the same wonderful feeling of being taken by the hand and led into another world, one richer, saner and more beautiful than my own.

How much we’ve lost through colonisation and globalisation! Some call the latter ‘colonisation lite’. Yunkaporta told filmmaker Alexander Beiner (see ) that a significant quality of Australian Aboriginal culture is a defence against narcissism, because the idea that ‘I’m better than you’ is understood to be destructive to the social fabric. Look around you at our toxic traffic and unaffordable accommodation, the concrete and poverty, at the total lack of accountability of those accumulating unimaginable wealth from our unjust system, in this society that actively rewards narcissism.

Let’s stop diminishing our humanity

As witnesses to that relentless destruction of the Australian social fabric over the past 27 years we can all see the precise truth of what the Indigenous people knew.

There isn’t time to read all the books I’d love to read but next on my list is Richard King’s Here Be Monsters: Is tech reducing our humanity? (Monash Uni. Press) It’s to be published this month. Toby Walsh, chief scientist at UNSW AI Institute, writes: ‘Technologies like artificial intelligence are changing our world. But all too often, technology is seen as destiny. Here Be Monsters is an important and engaging look at how these tools are using us, and how we must act to regain our essential humanity.’

It’s our essential humanity that’s at stake here, with the unregulated burgeoning of AI where our system’s sole criterion for new inventions is financial profit. I hope Here Be Monsters acquires a wide readership among those who have the power to prevent catastrophe – but who has more power than Big Tech?

Maybe I’m a quiet extravert …

People ask me how I find the time to do so much and it makes me think about the hard-to-find balance between my introvert and extravert selves.Once I did that Myers-Briggs test with the result that I’m an extravert. But I think of myself as an introvert. If I don’t get enough solitude I feel crazy. Yet when I was on Achill Island, one of the few times I was able to travel to the pub for some Wifi, I was puzzling about this in an email to my boyfriend (Yes, I know – ‘partner’ but the term came in at the same time as everything was being corporatised and I still resist it) and he replied:

‘Yes, extravert, one who interacts with people. Didn’t you know? Why, you even write about them. I could never do that. If I were to write about anything I would choose some obscure vein on a dragonfly’s wing.’

I reckon I’m on the cusp and it’s a battle negotiating a harmonious balance between both sides of my nature. Few write letters now but they used to combine perfectly solitude and company, as one wrote while alone but was communing with a simpatico audience. I feel a little of that flavour (though not reciprocal in the same way) when I listen to podcasts – I’m alone but able to listen to someone funny and uplifting or entertaining in some way, who sparks my own ideas and feelings. A new favourite is Julia Louis Dreyfus’ ‘Wiser than Me’.

New Vistas

Jane Fonda said to her: ‘When you’re old they say you’re over the hill. What they don’t say is that over the hill are all these new vistas – and you just keep going and growing.’ You can find this inspiring podcast here: Podcast.wiser-than-me-with-julia-louis-dreyfus

(Sorry for that unwieldiness, the URL-shortening tools have stopped cooperating with me and I’m unwilling to spend another 25 minutes on such tool-searching tedium.) Years ago I asked a friend roughly ten years older than me about what it’s like to be getting older, given the possible health problems and the diminishing of one’s looks, and she shared this wonderful insight: ‘There’s an inverse proportion to the decrepitude, an equal enrichment and deepening of the heart and the intellect.’

I’ve found her uplifting words to be accurate. Not that it’s automatic; there are plenty of ageing people who are finding no deepening glow within or wisdom they can impart – e.g., Putin and Trump – but for most of the rest of us, yes, it’s true!

There’s a consolidation of all the work we’ve been doing for all those past decades. Whatever our craft or passion, even if we haven’t been able to make a profession out of it, we’ve put in our ‘10,000 hours’ into it and are now better at it than ever before. Friendships have deepened. Some of the negative things (few of us, for instance, in a society driven solely by money, have had satisfying careers that used our potentials) are tempered or nonexistent now. We know what to do and we don’t care what others think. Given a reasonable amount of income, enough to live healthily and have some discretionary amount, life becomes so much freer.

Yes to a better world

I’ll be voting Yes in The Voice referendum so that our society, so long misguided by greed and short-term gains for the few, can benefit from the ageless wisdom of our Indigenous people, as they are generous enough to share in books like Tyson Yunkaporta’s Sand Talk.

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  1. Thanks, Penny

    Sent from my iPad


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