Writing for the Future: An Ecology of the English Language

I wrote this for my writing blog, Witual, today, and thought that while I compile a post about new vegetables for the Okanagan, you might like to have a look about how the English language is itself an ecology, and the ways it is used change the earth. You can see Witual, and snoop through its past posts (all mostly very short), here: Click. You can read the post below. First, an image of the edge of a line a man cut across the living earth, thinking it was dead …

P1060621Holes, Occupied

“Hole” is an English word, but it is not a thing. The language is older than “things”. At the root of English, a hole is the trace left by one of the powers of the universe. In the case of the image below, it is the process of hole-ing.

P1060623Bumble Bee Hole, Life-Sized

Similarly, rain is not a thing. It is the trace left by one of the processes of the universe. In the case of the image below, it is the process of raining. But don’t mistake it. This raining is not the falling of rain. It is the materialization of an eternal force. It is its presence. This makes water form out of air.

skahaRain in the Grasslands, Skaha Lake

That is the root of the language. All of the elaborations laid on top of that Old Norse foundation don’t erase that. They merely move through it and recombine it, but when the words are used, that’s what they mean. It goes without saying that a story or a poem is also a force of the universe. You did not make it. In the image below, a novel is making itself known in the wind and the rain, as water beads on the needle brushes of a young ponderosa pine at dusk.

P1140217Think of yourself, writer, as the flash that was present for a moment in the story before it blew on in the wind and the water. It is time, I think, to leave the books behind. Novels were a new thing once, a kind of story that could live totally within social space. They forgot, however, that this is also social and ethical space:

P1140127The Mathematics of the Physics of the Big Bang Dancing on a Saskatoon Bush

The mistake was that human identity is separate from the world. It is, in part, but not always. Humans have homes because they do need to go home. The mistake was based on a faith in the magic of words, and the loss of the knowledge of what those words were doing, or what they were for. The words, however, have not died. They are still doing their magic in the world, moving with energy as it manifests itself, moves matter, and then dissipates again in the wind and the light.

balsam21Arrow-Leafed Balsam Root in Bloom

The bloom does not come from the flower. The flower and the bloom, a force of the universe, intersect for a moment. Then the bloom passes on. It’s like a wind.

There are hundreds of verb-noun pairs in the language that come from this Old Norse source. If you’re going to write a poem in this age, you should know the paths you have. You are aboriginal. You are indigenous. You carry deep knowledge and deep magic. Whoever you are. If you speak English, you have this. If you turn from it, well, you are turning from it. You are turning from the power of the earth and a language that can touch it effortlessly. If your intent is to write about the earth, or to live in it, it’s simply leading you into a maze. Yes, a maze is an art form, that also focusses the energies of the universe. It will not, however, lead you to this other manifestation of the same energy …


Green Sweat Bee

It follows lines of energy in the air.  This too is what the Big Bang looks like today, as it begins to still.

… until you walk out of it again. It is the same with modern English, and your novels, and your poems. They are not your home. Don’t try to live there. All that can live there are characters. What can’t live there is life. If you try to live there, you will find you have no words for the earth. At first you will look like this …


Yellow-Bellied Marmot

Reclaiming a subdivision of the land.

… but slowly you will see the Big Bang in a smoke bush …


… and human stories in the earth …

P1060088This is Not a Human Story. It is Not a Novel. It is Not Science. It is Not Competition.

No one was hurt in this encounter, that saw the stink bug pushed off to the side of the flower amount later when the wild bee touched it. Only a habit of language tells you that it is so.

If you find yourself writing about the earth and the forces of the universe as if there was competition there, or as if it were a novel, with characters, remember, somewhere, deep inside yourself that you are talking about yourself. If it was your intent to talk about the earth, you will have to deal with your language. It got you there. It can get you back. You can chose to live. The language allows you that. You are one among many, existing in time and space.


You can make a line through that, but it goes through it. And then what? You’ve left the story? Fine enough. But what about your readers? What about your children? Will you give them this, if they want to look outside your book (And what is a book, but a representation of the language and your use of it to see the world?)

P1060248Young Yellow-Bellied Marmot in the Wasteland

… or will you give them this?

 P1050953 Mock Orange

You can’t give them both. I suggest you adjust the form of your novels and poems to make a suitable home for your readers and descendants in time. The language connects your body to the earth and the earth to your body. If you leave it, you will end up here, sooner than you like:


This didn’t happen out of the blue. This is what the English language looks like. Notice the green, Old Norse words there at the right, making air. Notice the graffiti from a young person who wanted out, but had no words for it other than a statement of presence and identity. It’s a start. Human bodies aren’t easily written out. Shouldn’t we be writing them back in?

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