I slept for seven hours cuddled up with my tiny electric fan–literally. I thought maybe I’d roll over in the middle of the night and knock it off the mattress, or, worse, dreaming that I was snuggling with this machine, I might wake up with my hair caught in the fan blades. No, it was safe and I was safe. I didn’t move and the fan, sitting right next to me on the mattress, whirred me to sleep, kept me cool, and finally, on the fourth night at Wally Writer’s Camp, I slept well enough to be downright jazzed about attending this morning’s first class, having something to do with the iconic Buddhist, Hindu, sometimes Christian, oftentimes secular symbol or practice of the mandala. For readers who may not know what a mandala is, rather than define it, here’s an example I pulled from the mighty web in a 30 second google search:
The class was taught by my new Wally buddy, the poet Michael Collins, and he facilitated the class in the best way, or perhaps, the only way in which to facilitate such a class with writers. He had 20 or 30 different mandalas spread around the room. In an hour Michael spoke less than 3 or 400 words. Instead of talking about them, he orchestrated for us an experience with them. We looked at mandalas; we wrote about mandalas; some of us moved around from mandala to mandala; some of us remained faithful to one the entire time. In silence and on our notepads or notebooks, we described, told stories around, and dialogued with the mandalas, and then finally we made one of our own. For about twenty minutes we were coloring, and it was exhilarating.
But here’s the thing for me that speaks to both the power of this kind of work and of the mandala specifically, but, more importantly, to the synchronistic quality that often percolates through a Wally Writer’s Camp experience. After describing and narrating the particular mandala each of us had chosen, Michael instructed us to dialogue with it. And, after giving us a few quick descriptors about what that might look like, he made an offhand quip to put us at ease and make us laugh: “You know, maybe you’ve got a character that talks to art.”
As it so happens, in my current project in fiction writing, I have a character that talks to art. My dialogue had nothing to do with that, but with the particular mandala I was looking at, a series of four trees around the circle, each tree in a different stage of its year, bare, leafing, blooming, fruiting. But Michael’s comment stuck with me, and the mandala that I created later represented the four characters in my novel and their interconnectedness, and then, later, when I squirreled off by myself to write in my sky room (once more unoccupied!), I wrote a scene in which my character talks to art.
Today, in part because of a good night’s sleep, in part because of Michael’s fortuitous class, and in part because René just texted me a picture of my son, I have been grateful and happy almost beyond comprehension.
P.S. This is not the mandala I was looking for, but t’will serve.
P.S.P.S. Oh, here it is, right in front of my face.
The mandala I made for my characters, while useful, was ugly. I won’t be posting it.
P.S.P.S.P.S. And this, for Michael Collins, who has never heard of Robyn Hitchcock, is a song from his 80’s solo album Globe of Frogs, “Tropical Flesh Mandala.” The piano solo during the end fade is especially brilliant and terrible.