Monday, 29 September 2008

Drawing


I've made a start on the drawing. For a long time the pad and pencils sat on my desk, eyeing me accusingly. I wanted to do it, but it was one more thing to take up the precious hours in the day. One more ancient fear to face. It was a sort of deadlock, broken by the arrival of the text book that Audrey had recommended, Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain. One of the first things to do, said the book, was to draw a few pictures as a reference point, to see how far you progress from this point onwards as you go on with the lessons. In the book were some examples of the self portraits people had done at the start of the five day courses tutored by the author, Betty Edwards, along with the ones they had done at the end. Such as these ones:

I thought that if she could teach someone to make that sort of progress in 5 days, she was probably worth listening to. And so far, so good. I've done the before self portrait (the answer is NO) and a few other little bits and pieces, and learned something profound. Drawing isn't really about hand skills. It's about seeing. I was asked to draw the corner of a room, so I chose an easy one: my study. The corner has a bookshelf and a cabinet. It's all straight lines and right angles, easy peasy. Easy that is until I tried to actually draw books on a shelf. The way shapes relate to each other. The way lines form angles to one another. The way light falls. Once I saw it, getting it onto paper was OK, really. Well sort of. It was seeing it that was hard; learning to turn off half a century of glosses and approximations that my mind used to save the energy of actually seeing how it all worked. It's like developing a photographic eye but only more so. So I'll continue. Partly because it 's a contemplative exercise and a philosophical reminder of the falsity of perception. Mostly because it's fun

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Browsers


What Browsers are people using? Just curious. I've been using Firefox, and have IE and Safari sitting unused on my computer.In the last couple of days have been trying out Chrome. So far I really like it: simple, clear, stable, easy to use and quite fast. It has a couple of ways of navigating which are quite novel and very helpful.  What do you think?

Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Hero's Quest


Picture: Parsifal The High Mysterious Call
by Willy Pogani, early 20th C Hungarian illustrator

According to separation theory,
the developmental task for men and women is very different. All of us begin inside the body of another human being. All are born utterly dependent on that other and unable to distinguish between our own being and hers. To become a self we must learn, first of all, to separate our own identity from that of our mother. We then gradually grow into our own self through the lifetime process Jung calls individuation. As we move through childhood to adulthood we follow different paths. A little girl attains womanhood by becoming a being that is progressively more and more like her mother. A little boy attains manhood by becoming a being that is progressively less and less like his mother. Here is the Genesis of the differing spiritual paths of men and women: for women, the path is towards unity, inclusiveness, forging community. For men it is towards individuality, separation and distance.

Of course this is a gross simplification - this is just a blog after all, not a psycho spiritual treatise. And of course Pinker and the other evolutionary psychologists are becoming daily more detailed about the way the brains of men and women differ and why; and of course their insights have a bearing on the way the genders develop. But separation theory speaks a truth that has been noted for as long as we people have been taking notice. Think for a moment of the world's religions : Female deities are of the earth. They are concerned with immanence and fecundity. Male deities are of the sky. They are concerned with transcendence and order. And, as many writers have noted, many of the old folk tales are grounded in this difference.

In his small but powerful analysis of male psychology, He (part of a trilogy, He, She and We) Robert Johnson uses the myth of Perceval (Parsifal) to analyse the life journey of men. Perceval is a naive youth, living with his mother. She hides from him the existence of knights and warfare, but one day Parsifal encounters some knights and is entranced. He leaves his mother and sets off in quest of becoming like the ones he has seen. Soon after leaving home he has an encounter with the Holy Grail and the pursuit of the Grail becomes his life's quest. The story is too powerful and too complex for me to mangle it into a blog post, but it involves Perceval encountering a series of mentors, inspirations and enemies as he lives his life in service to others. His renown grows but is always hollow, until at last he attains his life's goal, which happens when he answers the Grail question: Whom does the Grail serve? He has known both the question and the answer (The Grail serves the Grail King) for many years but his quest ends when manages to answer in exactly the right place and at exactly the right time. The end of his quest lies well beyond the goal - knighthood - which had so entranced him as a youth. The end of his quest also brings healing, not so much for himself but for others, and even for the universe.

The story has several versions, and has become the basis of epic poetry and of opera because it is so powerfully evocative. To leave the safety of home and spend himself in pursuit of a great and noble end is the hero's quest. It is the basic plotline of much of the world's mythology, as Joseph Campbell points out in his seminal work on comparative mythology The Hero With A Thousand Faces. It is a motif constantly present in the history of the Church, the lives of the apostles and indeed, in the life of Jesus - if only we choose to see it. The failure of the Church to present the Gospel as a Hero's Quest, and the tendency of the Church to present the Gospel always in terms of community is the deep reason our Western churches are devoid of men. Of course the emphasis on community is of fundamental importance and I am not suggesting for a micro second that the inclusiveness of the gospel or the necessity of establishing and building a truly loving community should be downplayed. But the complementary emphasis of the Gospel, there in the scriptures, is missing in the Western Church, with very predictable consequences.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Scan


I had a CT scan today. I had to be up early to drink dye (two delicious cupfuls) and report to the hospital at 8:30. I was asked to change into one of those gowns that do up at the back, and which are branded Property of Otago District Health Board against the truly absurd possibility that someone will want to nick one. A shunt was put into my arm. I'm good at shunts. I've had a few of them lately so I was able to comment positively on the nurse's technique as she poked it in and flushed it with salty water. This one was for more dye, which was pumped in by a mechanical injector, just like the one they used in Dead Man Walking - made me feel quite the movie star. Then I was passed through a large circular machine which spoke to me in an elevator voice, telling me when to hold my breath and when to breathe out (I was going to write "expire" , but thought it in bad taste, even if it was witty and opened up a whole gamut of dark cancer type humour. See how gentle I am on your sensibilities?)

It was all quite matter of fact and straight forward, except for one curious and incongruous detail. The CT scanning machine had a brand name. The scanner is a big greenish thing with a suitably inscrutable instrument panel and meaningful looking numbers picked out in orange lights. It has warning LCDs and a buzzer. It has a ring thing that circles around in a most impressive sci-fi sort of way. And there in the top right corner, its brand name: Somatom Sensation. It seemed odd that it should have a brand name, especially one that was so obviously the product of a marketing department...but... why not? I suppose someone (The Somatom corporation, scanner makers of distinction since 1973) makes them and someone else (Bob's Scanner Emporium. See us for all your scanning needs) flogs them off. I suppose there's a young man in a suit who visits the hospital with brochures.

"Make your hospital the style leader of the Health Board district by installing one of our exclusive new range of up to the minute scanners. From the economical but robust Feeling to the discreetly upmarket Sensation - your choice of Somatom ushers you into that elite circle of discerning radiologists envied in 59 countries."

And then, presumably, the old ones are all lined up in a showroom somewhere in Anderson's Bay Road.

"Got just the thing for you sir. This '04 Sensation. It's got the 75 Kw positron and a real leather gurney - Feel the quality of that! Only had 15,000 bodies through her. Yes, sir, that's genuine. Only one owner, and I guarantee, never raced or rallied. Nice green casing, but if you want to wait, I've got a blue one arriving next week. And yes, we will trade your X-Ray unit, but not your dialysis machine. As you can see, the yard is full of dialysis machines at the moment."

The nurse took out the shunt and put on a plaster. I went downstairs to the cafe and had a coffee and a sandwich. Now, even as we speak, somewhere in the hospital, an augur is reading the entrails - my entrails - and soon I will soon be given a prophecy of my future. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, 22 September 2008

An Oldie But a Goodie


The main speaker at our Diocesan Ministry Conference was Alistair Hendry. Alistair was at St. John's College with me, and after a time as parish priest and counselor is now the Ministry Advisor in the Diocese of Christchurch. As is usual for these events, what Alistair had to say perfectly complemented what I had to say, though neither of us knew the content of the other's addresses until we sat in the audience and heard it. We both, in our own ways, spoke of the message of Jesus as an invitation to a particular kind of life and of ministry as an invitation to others to live that life. Alistair was fairly scathing of the lets count bums on pews school of evangelism, and mentioned his own striving for visible success as a young parish priest and the effect that this had had on his mental, emotional and spiritual health. It was good stuff, but one thing he said hit me like the bang of the sharp corner of a cupboard door on my head in the morning, knocking me awake. He spoke of Jesus' parable of the wedding feast - the one where all the layabouts and street people are dragged in and given a seat at the banqueting table. He said that apart from the obvious meaning about the inclusiveness of the Kingdom of Heaven, it has a reference to our inner lives; to the fact that all the bits of us that we are ashamed of and would rather not acknowledge are invited into God's presence and given the same dignity and blessing as the bits we are rather proud of.

Like, for example, the testosterone fuelled young vicar knocking the stuffing out of himself and all around him in the pursuit of churchly glory.

I went home and dug out a book - an oldie but a goodie - that I had last read so long ago it made a loud crack when I opened it: Daniel J. Levinson's Seasons Of A Man's Life. Levinson's reasearch led him to a developmental theory for men (later used by Gail Sheehy and applied to all people in Passages). I reread the bits I had underlined twenty years ago, passages relating to early adulthood and its associated tasks and transitions. I thought of myself in my thirties, my successes and failures, my striving and restlessness and all the unresolved energies that powered me. I saw the incompleteness of that younger self, but also how necessary the inconguities of that age were to the completion of my life path. I saw my drive and restlessness for what they were - a gift to myself and to the church. And I was able, with gratitude, to finally leave that younger, more driven version of myself at the banqueting table where he belongs.

Friday, 19 September 2008

The Way


This last week has been spent at our diocesan ministry conference. I have been leading daily Bible studies, about an hour and a half a day of riding my hobby horses through the lecture theatre in front of a captive audience. Poor sods. It's been helpful to me, though. CS Lewis said "Any fool can speak learned language. It's the vernacular that is the real test. If you can't put your faith into it, then either you don't understand it or you don't believe it." It's certainly true for me. Until I can explain something to someone else in plain simple language, I don't feel I have fully grasped it.

So, in as simple language as I can find, I have tried to explain that Jesus' central message is about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom isn't a place or a state of mind. It's not a set of doctrines. It's not an organisation or any other kind of thing. The Kingdom is something you do. It is a particular way of orienting yourself - it is a way of life, called in the Book of Acts The Way. The Way is described by Paul in Romans 12-14 and by Jesus in the Sermon On The Mount. The Kingdom is a journey we always make in company. It is the journey shaped by the Word - that Word which existed before all time and through whom all things were made that were made; that Word which was spoken in the burning bush and which revealed itself as I Am What I Am; that Word which is there behind the great cloud of approximations which our brains cook up to stand between us and what is real.

The concepts are so simple, so old, and yet so hard to fully understand. I try to put them together comprehensibly. I try to hold attention by pacing things into shortish segments, by using colourful and intriguing illustrations, by getting the audience to talk to each other at roughly 15 minute intervals. I love this stuff. It excites me and I think they know that. I search the faces before me, looking for understanding; looking to see if I am comprehensible. I am checking to see, not whether they understand what I am talking about, but whether I do.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Holy Testosterone

Detail of Michaelangelo's David. copyright unknown. Best not sell this picture, just to be on the safe side.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about testosterone, the drug of choice for half the world's population. As a pastor and counselor I am very aware of the damage that testosterone has done to some women and children and men. Also, I have spent my entire ordained ministry in a church where the word "patriarchy" is a pejorative and where oestrogen friendly concepts such as inclusiveness and openness are often treated as synonyms for the gospel. And it seems sometimes that, in our church at least, there is not a lot of testosterone around. Some time ago, Leon Podles wrote a book called The Church Impotent, which examines why men are greatly outnumbered by women in the Western Church - as they very demonstrably are. When my friend Graeme Brady favourably reviewed the book for an Anglican magazine, he was hounded for months by those who were infuriated at his insensitivity in even raising such a question. The reaction suggested that the Church is not a particularly friendly environment for testosterone, which is pretty much Podles' point.

The question, for me has suddenly become a whole lot more personal. In the medium term future, I face the very real prospect of someone turning off the tap (stop smirking, Mr. Freud) as far as my own testosterone is concerned and I'm wondering what it will mean. There are obvious consequences, of course, which are not the most alarming as they are fairly easily treatable given a bit of chemical ingenuity. The deep consequences are the ones that I wonder about.

Once, when I was nineteen, at 1:00 am on a clear moonlit, frosty night, I drove a Mark II Zephyr at 100 miles per hour over the mile long span of the Rakaia bridge . Halfway across, just for the rush it would give me, I turned out the headlights and plunged the car into utter darkness. That was testosterone. Many times, in my thirties I lay awake thinking about my parish, and wondering how I might make it bigger. Then I went out and gave everything I had to make it happen. That also, was testosterone. Testosterone is what makes my foot slip onto the accelerator a fraction faster than it might and makes my eyes linger on a decolletage a fraction slower than it might; it is also testosterone that fuels the engagement I have with an audience and makes a live sermon infinitely more compelling than any written or recorded version might be. Testosterone fuels my desire to pursue a quarry and chance my arm and drive myself to achieve. Testosterone often fuels the growth of large parishes which supply other, smaller, gentler places with leadership and resources and money.

Now here's the bit I would never say except for the strange position that I find myself in with regard to the Anglican Church in Aotearoa/New Zealand: The church has no rewards on offer that I want, and no sanctions in hand that I fear. So I can say that the malaise of the church is due, in part, to a lack of testosterone. We lack what we once had in abundance: the energy and intiative of men, particularly young men. The church is no longer a place for a young man to emulate Parsifal and venture away from home and risk all in the pursuit of a great goal. The energy of young men has all but gone from the church, and we all suffer because of it.

Of course masculinity can cause problems. One of my early experiences on the path to ordination was of being mercilessly bullied by a (male) examining chaplain - erudite, learned, twice my age - who exerted his considerable verbal, intellectual and emotive skills to reduce me to wreckage purely because he could. But I have lived in the church long enough to have experienced, more than once, the effects of dysfunctional matriarchy which are every bit as destructive and oppressive as those of dysfunctional patriarchy. Rather than gender, it is the inability to handle power, which causes all the problems. I do not intend to denigrate the contribution of women to the church, or to belittle the damage done to the church by centuries of oppression of female energies, but in our championing of the oppressed we have sometimes not so much corrected a wrong as made a mirror image of it. We worship an incarnate God, who redeems - that is, buys back and makes holy - all of human worth, including testosterone.

Just when I am in a place to truly appreciate the wholeness and holiness of testosterone I am being asked to return it to the counter for repairs. Perhaps now it is time for me to accelerate the path I have been on for a while anyway: the one described by Jung, away from doing and into being. It is a welcome prospect in many ways... but sometimes I look at the insipidity of our androgen deficient church and quake.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Gathered In Confidence: Review


Gathered in Confidence is a documentary Drama produced as an Advanced Production Project by level 400 drama students at The University Of Otago's Theatre Studies Department. The play ends it's too short run today, so few of you will be able to see it, which is a shame, as it is one of the most compelling pieces of drama I've seen in a long while.

The production of the piece was complex. Twenty two Dunedin people, representing a wide mix of age, gender, ethnicity and social background were videotaped as they answered the questions, What frightens you? and What comforts you? The people were interviewed in their home or work environments or in some other congenial location. The resulting 22 hours of footage was then edited into a 50 minute script which the actors performed using, as far as they could reproduce them, the words, intonation and body language of the original subjects. Staging was minimal: a layered set was used, with seats placed on differing levels and the actors, who each acted 2 or 3 of the subjects, denoted their characters and the characters' location by sparse but effective use of clothing and props. The play took place in darkness with each actor spotlit as they spoke. Each actor used an MP3 player and earbuds to listen to the soundtrack of the original interview as they performed their part. Great lengths were taken to protect the privacy of each of the participants, and they were, without exception, treated with dignity.

The performers were not typecast as to age and gender, so there was some initial incongruity, as for example, a young man acted the voice and mannerisms of an elderly woman, and a young Pakeha woman spoke as a very testosterone fuelled young Maori man. Incongruity didn't last long however as over the course of an hour each of the characters became convincingly and movingly real. Some of it was delightfully funny, some loaded with pathos. I was intrigued at how much the characters had exposed themselves in the course of their interviews, and how touchingly, vulnerably human they all seemed as the play concluded. The editing had been done very intelligently and the play felt very well paced. A loose thematic thread connected the segments and gave a strong sense of narrative. The use of music was particularly effective. Two songs were sung in the course of the play to good effect and the opening and closing music was a quite haunting piano improvisation on one of the songs, composed and performed by Corrie Huxtable, one of the actors.

In discussion after the play, it was asked why bother to act this at all? Why not let the original subjects just say their thing? Why not just watch the original edited videotape. I think that it is the incongruity I mentioned above which answers this. The acting was, without exception, flawless and the characters each shone through; but given the gap between the character and the person portraying him/her, we in the audience were each required to make the usual suspension of belief and enter the world created by the drama. We were always aware that we were watching people playing parts; and this raised , for me, a philosophical point: for just as the actors were playing parts, using words and gestures supplied from elsewhere, so too were the characters they played. Each, like all of us, was playing a part, responding to circumstances generally not of their making, and using words, ideas and perceptions which had been given them by their environment. The play thus passed the one criterion of all true art: it spoke a truth. It was this truth telling, artfully and skillfully handled which made Gathered In Confidence such satisfying drama.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Hide and Seek


I saw my surgeon again this morning. Last time I saw him he arranged to meet me in November to check my progress, but about ten days ago I had a blood test and a week ago his secretary rang to suggest we might need to move the appointment forward. So there were no great surprises about what he had to tell me. There is still some cancer down there somewhere, skulking about in my nether regions playing a winner takes all version of hide 'n' seek. I'll have a CT scan sometime in the next week to see if they can rumble where the little blighter is holing up, and depending on what they find, there'll be more treatment. None of it is likely to hurt much, but every available option will have side effects that I'd really rather avoid; and at least some of it is going to happen, sooner or later, probably sooner.

My reading for this morning included psalm 57:

Take pity on me, God, take pity
for in you I take refuge...

I went to St. Clair and had a soy latte ( the best of both worlds! Anti carcinogenic and pretentious!) I looked at the sea and thought about what I am going to lose, and what life will be like without it. I thought about the fact that just as there is a first time for everything, so there is also a last time. I thought about limits; about what I still want to achieve and what there is in my life that I can dispense with. I began the work of grudgingly accepting that God was paring me down because that was what best suited his purposes. I remembered Psalm 138:

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever
do not forsake the work of your hands.

and I was able, slowly, to begin to pray the bit of Psalm 57 which I had balked at earlier:

My heart is ready, God,
my heart is ready;
I will sing and make music for you.
Awake my glory,
awake lyre and harp,
that I may awake the dawn,

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Pictures


I bought some stuff at the Warehouse Stationery the other day, which I have been meaning to buy for a while. About 40 years. I bought a block of drawing paper, some pencils and a rubber. When I was very small I drew a lot. I covered the backs and blank pages of exercise books and those little newsprint jotter pads with all the stuff little boys draw, which usually involved fighter planes with circles on them shooting down other fighter planes with crosses on them. It wasn't exactly the early Leonardo, but my teacher in Standard 4 told my mother that my future lay in art. Well it didn't, obviously. In fact with the encouragement of my art teacher,I gave up the drawing in High School, and haven't done any since, except for cartoon illustrations in letters to girls - which obviously worked because one of them married me. There's always been a niggling sense of loss though, in the place where paper and pencil used to be. In my twenties I even joined an art class but the other students were ladies with blue hair doing garish oil paintings of trees and sunsets, and I only lasted two sessions. I took photos instead.

Photographs are a way of seeing. If you go out with a camera and a head full of ideas about the pictures you are going to come home with, you will be disappointed, because they just won't happen. Instead you need to go out with a blank mind - my default state, I will admit - and try and see what is there. It takes a bit of knowledge, but not much, to be able to get what you see onto the film, but the real trick is in the seeing. It's more a matter of shutting off than turning on. It's all about stopping your habitual way of seeing things and being able to see what is actually there. Which is the same with drawing, I suspect, but even more so. I'm not really interested in producing drawings. I'm interested in seeing. Angles. Shapes. The way the light falls on things. The way things sit together. To get this stuff on paper I'll have to learn to see it first. I'll need to be present to it.

I have been encouraged in this step by my friend Audrey who is a genuine bona fide artist - who has exhibitions with more than the average number of red dots and people who proudly point out to their friends her signature on the pictures they buy. I talked with her one day about the process of seeing in photography and she told me I needed to learn to draw and I knew she was absolutely right. After all these years a circle has turned and I'm a little apprehensive because to do this requires risk and effort. Which is required for any form of being present to: with the world, with people, with God.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Friday, 5 September 2008

Telling Stories


The stories we find compelling reveal something to us of the tensions in our lives. Perhaps even more revealing are the stories we ourselves tell. Think of the incidents that happen to us in the course of an ordinary day - there will be dozens and dozens of them. Most of these will pass into oblivion but some we will pass on to others in the form of the stories we tell when asked "how was your day?" We won't tell everything that happened to us, but a carefully selected sample. Why these few? And the incidents we choose to tell are never reported exactly as they happened: we select details, emphasising some parts and ignoring others. We minimise, or even omit entirely some of the characters present and play up others. We expand the timescale in parts of the story and contract it in others. Think for example of what is meant in the middle of a story by the phrase, "and then..." (or such similar phrases as "what happened next" or "next thing I knew". This can mean "instantly", or "soon afterwards" or even perhaps "a day or two later". The characters objects and events which make up a particular story can be visualised like so:

All the elements of the story have connections with all the other parts of the story, all exist more or less simultaneously, and no one has ascribed greater or less value to any of them. In telling the story, we emphasise some parts over others, and arrange the story into a "plot" - into a time sequence of our own devising, which may or may not roughly follow the temporal sequence of events as they unfolded to us. So our told story, constructed from the events will look like this:
The story like pattern of the anecdote we tell is our own construction. We are all writers and composers and artists as we recount the events of our day. The selection of the event and the way we construct the event into a narrative discourse will be extremely revealing of who we are and what our current concerns are.

This is not where the importance of narrative ends though. Our lives are narratives: they are a continuous story stretching back over the period we have been alive. And in remembering and telling the story of our own lives a similar process has taken place: we have selected, forgotten and shaped the events of our past and we have imposed a pattern ; shaped the multifarious incidents of our lives into a meaningful plot. What informs this shaping? And the history of humankind is a story. And the history of the planet is a story. And the history of the universe is a story. Who is imposing the pattern on these? Who is selecting, emphasising, forgetting, shaping what IS into a time bound pattern?

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

It's Only A Story

Still from movie Thick Red Wine (c) 2006 Jack&Sons productions, Dunedin, New Zealand

I can lay down the law to people, instruct them in things, coax teach and inform them, and the odds are they will have forgotten it all before the sun goes down. If I tell them a story they will remember it for weeks, months or maybe even a lifetime. Give them a list of propositions and their eyes glaze over. Tell them a story and their bodies go still and their faces light up. We respond to stories because our lives are narrative in nature: they have a beginning, move through a "plot" towards an ending. All reality in fact, can be thought of as narrative in structure; the history of anything is a story with a beginning a middle and and end, so a story is a familiar way for us to view the world; but there's more to it than that. The reasons for the compelling nature of narrative are many but centre on the way stories are structured.

There are a number of things all stories have in common. All stories begin by establishing a place (real or imaginary) and a time. All stories have characters, and our ability to identify with the characters, and to imagine ourselves into the place and time of the story will help us to be involved in the story. The most compelling thing about stories though, is that all of them work by a process of stating and resolving narrative tension. Let me explain. Very early in a story, a paradox will be stated. That is, there will be two things which are opposites, which cannot be reconciled, but which are somehow tied together. For example, in the story of the Three Little Pigs the story begins by contrasting the safe home of the piglets and the fact that they have to leave it and enter the big wide world. Safe small cosy home/dangerous large scary world: you can have one side of the paradox or the other but not both. The story progresses through time holding these two in tension until the tension is closed with the defeat of the wolf (representing the big wide world) and the tension between the two thus disappears. The story introiduces many other paradoxes - big stupid wolf /small intelligent pig, safe shelter/quick shelter, for example. All get resolved at the closure.

This is important because we are all creatures of paradox. We, all of us, live in the tension between many pairs of these binary opposites. Paul Tillich says there are five common to all people: life/death, potential/actuality, individuality/community, forming a bounded self/extending ourselves to others, creative novelty/traditional patterns. As well as these, there are some common to men or to women, or to children, or to any group you care to name; some are common to our family or tribe and others we hold all on our own. We are caught between poles of literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of paradoxes. And these paradoxes are seldom, if ever resolved. When a story begins, we are interested in the story to the extent that the paradox of the story mirrors one of our own. We listen and receive the gratification of a vicarious ending of one of our tensions as the same tension is closed in the story. This is why, once we begin listening, we cannot leave until we find how the story ends - until we have the tension closed. The skillful storyteller keeps the tension at just the right level: easing it sometimes, increasing it at others, knowing that once the tension is closed, the audience's interest will be reset to zero.

What are the polarities in a story? What things are in opposition? This will give you a clue as to who is telling it and why, and who will be likely to listen to it and why. Thinking of Mama Mia, for example a partial list of polarities might be: beginning/ending; marriage/divorce; old/young; untapped potential/spent energies; together/alone; known/unknown; male/female; youth/age .... and so on. It is the concidence of one of the major polarities of the film with issues we are currently dealing with that will decide, more than cohence of plot or believability of character, whether we are gripped by the film or not, as the case may be.