Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Cult Fiction

Check it out!

Cult Fiction I: 25th Anniversary of Rambo FIRST BLOOD

Cult Fiction I: 25th Anniversary of Rambo FIRST BLOOD


Hope, BC celebrates the 25th Anniversary of the premier of the movie First Blood on the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, October 5 – 7, 2007.

First Blood introduced movie audiences to John Rambo, a Vietnam vet who cannot stop fighting for what he believes is right. In the twenty-five years since its release and the thirty-five years since the publication of the novel, Rambo has become an icon. Hundreds of travellers inquire about Rambo at the Hope visitor information centre every year.

In the twenty-five years since it premiered, First Blood has become a cult classic. Fans on amateur review sites such as imdb.com or blogcritics.org rave about it:
“One of the best action movies ever made.”
“One amazing movie.”
“Simply one of the best films ever made.”
“Stallone is about as good as he has ever been here.”
“This small film by Carolco is about as perfect a film as you can get.”
“This movie has kept me entertained for years.”
“A classic and powerful action film and one of the best out there.”
“An under-rated classic.”

What is it about this film that elicits such superlatives from fans? What inspires such passion? What are the good reasons to watch it again?

The Hope community celebration includes: a Rambo look-alike contest, film location tours, a Rambo art contest, a premier showing of a REEL Places documentary on the filming of First Blood, an anniversary screening of First Blood at the town cinema, and (how appropriate!) a wind-up Pig Roast.


Read more about the movie and the book in Cult Fiction II, III, IV, V, and VI.

Cult Fiction II: The Literature of Our Time

Cult Fiction II: The Literature of Our Time


In the words of Canadian filmmaker Norman Jewison, “Film is the literature of our time.” But what is literature? If we accept that film is, or can be, literature, and that literature is different from non-literature (journalism, biography, documentary, or junk), what qualifies as literature?

Literature is the art of writing incorporating imagination and emotion. Prose literature implies telling a story (narrative) in which something happens (plot) to certain people or creatures (characters) about whom the audience cares, set in time (past, present, or future) and places (real or imaginary), told in a way that suggests meaning beyond the action or character development (ideas, issues, values, motivations, themes) and using techniques associated with storytelling and writing (allusion, foreshadowing, flashback, imagery, symbol, metaphor, pathetic fallacy, etc.) Stories may vary in plotting structure (chronological, cause and effect, flashback, shattered time lines) and points of view (from the all-seeing “I am a camera” inside-the-head-looking-out to an internal or external narrator).

Films may be adaptations of stories or books, or written directly for the screen. Additional techniques including casting, acting, costume design, sounds of music, special effects, and voice-over, lighting, or camera work are used to help tell the film story. Films may be emotionally uplifting or depressing, depending upon plot, characters, and themes. Contrary to some popular definitions, it is possible for literature to have a happy ending as well as inconclusive or sad resolutions of the plot.

Films and novels as literature are forms of entertainment. Films in the Action genre tend to appeal to audiences with masculine and adolescent interests because of their conventions--thrills through speed, chases, explosions, weapons, and anger triggering retaliation and revenge. Feature films as literature target an audience for whom explorations of feeling and thinking are part of the enjoyment. Literary entertainment implies depths of meaning or elements of style which continue to give pleasure when re-visited, in memory or conversation, or by re-viewing or re-reading. A film as literature is a banquet; it offers courses, layers of life experience, with a dessert of idea or theme that viewers enjoy long after they have left the theatre or turned off the power switch. A good film provides a lingering glow, like wine, that makes us feel good to be human, glad to be alive. Literature, no matter which medium transmits it, highlights our shared experiences and celebrates what it means to be here, human, of this Earth.

Surprisingly, for some viewers, First Blood meets the literature criteria. Although undoubtedly an action movie, John Rambo is a rounded character, troubled, idealistic, who reluctantly confronts injustice when it will not leave him alone. Rambo’s character develops; he himself changes as his actions change the world around him. A closer reading also detects literary allusion, imagery, metaphor, symbolism, and the inclusion of serious themes which help make this movie a feast worthy of celebration. ©

Read more about John Rambo and his creator, David Morrell, in Cult Fiction III, IV, V, and VI.

Cult Fiction III: Rambo in Hell



Cult Fiction III: Rambo in Hell



As most movie buffs know, First Blood was filmed in Hope, a small British Columbia town on the edge of the Cascade Mountains less than two hours east of Vancouver. Although the novel First Blood is set in Madison, Kentucky, a town on the edge of the mountains, in the movie, the name Hope is retained. Visual details--licence plates, mailboxes, state banks, a gun store, the Stars and Stripes--transform Hope into a believably American town in the Pacific Northwest, somewhere “north” of Portland, Oregon. Many of the businesses visible in the film are still in Hope—the Hope Hotel, the Fields store, the Dairy Queen, the Chevron, the Shell station; Greyhound still stops in town. The drizzle and rainforest locations depict a typically BC winter, and the spectacular Coquihalla Canyon, the site of the cliffhanging helicopter battle, is a provincial park a short three-kilometre hike from downtown, along a Kettle Valley Railroad section of the Trans-Canada Trail. So the actual movie setting is very Canadian, although dressed to pass as America.

The choice of setting for the film serves a literary purpose as well. In the second scene in the movie, just after he has learned that another army buddy is dead from cancer “brought home from Vietnam”, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) walks into town. He has lost his original bounce; his muscles are slack; his shoulders and wrists are bowed. His jaw is set in anger; his eyes are bloodhound sad. He seems to have lost his voice; it catches, low, deep, and muffled, as if stuck somewhere in his chest.

“Welcome to Hope” the sign says, in an irony that may turn to bitterness. A second sign at the bridge where Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy) confronts Rambo, refusing him admittance, repeats: “Entering Hope.” Both are allusions to another famous sign, one which reads “abandon hope all ye who enter here” [Dante, H. F. Cary translation]. Indeed, the flashing red lights, the extreme darkness in the forest and the mine and the town, the omnipresent fires surrounding Rambo are images which evoke this allusion to hell. Writer David Morrell acknowledges a creative debt to Rimbaud and his A Season in Hell in an interview on Writers Write.com. Thus, the setting and lighting reflect the protagonist’s psychological state and signal something about what the creator wants to say.

The characterization, the literary allusion, imagery, symbolism, and the suggestion of a legitimate theme help propel First Blood beyond a simple film in the “action” genre into the realms of literature and art. ©

For a comparison of the novel and the film First Blood, see Cult Fiction IV.

Cult Fiction IV: First Blood vs. First Blood

Cult Fiction IV: First Blood vs. First Blood


So who is John Rambo and why has he gone to hell? Rambo started out as literature, debuting in David Morrell’s first novel, First Blood, published in 1972. A former Green Beret, a Vietnam War veteran, destined to become a serialized action hero, Rambo is much more in this first movie than the bandoleered, greased, buff bod with the big gun of the iconic poster. Alienated from fellow citizens, scarred by his experiences “in country”, Rambo drifts, unable to find or hold a job. Too angry to back down, convinced that he shouldn’t have to take abuse, looking for excuses to pick a fight, victimized by his own countrymen, Rambo hunts his abusers down. First Blood offers an early depiction of a psychological condition euphemistically referred to at the time as “the Vietnam-vet syndrome” (Coming Home, 1978, did show the same anger and emotional imbalance in a veteran who came home physically wounded).

The aggressive stance of the US administration and military is equated with the tactics and abuse of authority of Chief of Police Teasle in the novel. Yet the book itself maintains a balance which the movie abandons. Chapters alternate between Rambo’s and Teasle’s points of view as they take turns being the hunter and the hunted. We learn much more about Teasle’s character, his Korean War-hero past, the disappointment and pain which haunts him, the personal issues that he plays out on the public war-games stage. “[T]he intention was to make him as motivated and sympathetic as Rambo, because the viewpoints that divided America came from deep, well-meant convictions.” [David Morrell, First Blood (FB), London, Headline Edition, 1992; p. x, author’s introduction]

Chief Teasle is less of a bully, more of a hero in the novel, an establishment hero, while Rambo is less admirable, killing fifteen or twenty of his fellow citizens (he loses count), and, what is more important to him, killing them for the wrong reasons, for personal and emotional rather than ethical reasons. [FB, p. 297]. In the film, all figures of authority are challenged. Sheriff Teasle is less sympathetic, more like the abusive Chief of Police in In the Heat of the Night. Although in the novel, both Rambo and Teasle express sorrow for their actions, in the film, neither one verbalizes regret. So differences in characterization are one of many changes between the novel and the film.

Other changes between novel and film seem relatively minor. The Chief of Police becomes a Sheriff, perhaps suggesting the Sheriff of Nottingham, nemesis to another outlaw. There is no Rambo knife in the novel. Rambo steals a police cruiser in the novel, an army truck in the movie, suggesting that different representative authority figures are being targeted. The Captain becomes a Colonel, giving the military man increased authority. The bat cave becomes a rat cave. Rats are probably easier to wrangle, but they also allude to other earlier war movies.

Writers expect changes in the transformation from page to screen. “Stephen King once told me that in the movie First Blood I had been treated about as well as Hollywood could treat a novelist inasmuch as the plot was recognizable. The only major plot change is that Rambo dies at the end of the novel and lives at the end of the movie . . . The interpretation of that plot is another matter. In my novel, Rambo is furious about what he’s been through in Vietnam. He’s confused and tormented and in many ways causes the small war that he fights. In the movie, though, he’s a victim, a reluctant warrior.” [David Morrell interview, WritersWrite.com]

The many changes of interpretation between novel and movie can be explained in different ways. It is possible that the changes reflect changes in American society between publication in 1972 and film production in 1982. These changes include: the end of the war, the withdrawal of troops, the fall of Saigon and its renaming as Ho Chi Minh City, and the eventual return of prisoners of war. The defeat of the nation has been borne by returned veterans who are shamed, hounded, demonized. The establishment has lost some credibility--protesting students were shot by National Guardsmen at Kent State (May 4, 1970) and President Nixon was forced to resign for ethical deficiencies (1974). American citizens have been held hostage in Iran. Ronald Reagan has defeated Jimmy Carter. Foreign affairs attention has turned from Asia; covert American military interventions have shifted to Central and South America. Veterans who have not been wounded are still sick and dying, although the government continues to deny any connection to Agent Orange and other toxins dumped on the enemy.

And, by 1982, several movies have already begun to explore what went wrong and what we should have learned. Indeed, Roger Ebert’s review of First Blood complains “we’ve heard all this before, the ranting against the unfair treatment the vets received upon their return”. [rogerebert.com] Like the opening scene where Rambo learns that the last member of his team has died, this “ranting” final breakdown scene was added for the movie.

In the novel, Captain Trautman, the Green Beret who trained Rambo, arrives to help with the manhunt for “the kid”. In Trautman, the military is represented as a caring individual rather than as a faceless bureaucracy. He chastises Teasle for his sloppy police work and for causing the situation by mis-reading Rambo’s needs, for labeling him as “trouble” rather than as “troubled”. He accepts responsibility, admitting that Rambo is “his boy”, he has trained Rambo to kill, sent him overseas, and brought him back with no skills except killing, and now he has killed many Americans.

In the novel, when the Captain finds Rambo after the shootout in the playground, Trautman “took the top of his head off with this shotgun.” [FB, p. 307]
“What’s it like for you?” Teasle asks him.
“Better than when I knew he was in pain,” Trautman replies.

This scene of military compassion, where Rambo is executed as one would a traitor or a wounded animal, never happens in the movie. Indeed, the imdb.com says that Kirk Douglas reneged on a contract to play Trautman because he objected to the plot change. He wanted to shoot Rambo. Instead, after Rambo has shot the sheriff and has broken into the police armoury, he is confronted by Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) who role-plays into his hallucination/fantasy: “This mission is over, Rambo. This mission is over.” The Colonel’s challenge breaks through and stops the action; it provides an opening for Rambo to explain why the mission will never be over, the horrific images he lives with, the pieces of his friends he is unable to brush from his body. In a shocking change from the mumbling inarticulate hero “sucking it up”, stitching his own wounds, never letting on that he may be afraid or that anything is wrong, Rambo breaks down and cries at the Colonel’s feet.

The breakdown scene represents a recognition that the mental health issues evident in so many veterans can no longer be dismissed as “personal” weakness and idiosyncrasy. By 1982, a name, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is being applied to the symptoms Rambo exhibits. The wounded protagonist has increased in credibility, and changes to the plot make it easier to accept him as the hero. Indeed, in the movie, Rambo kills no one; he has the weapons, he has the opportunities; he chooses not to kill. He may be more of a victim; the charges against him are trumped up, but he is no longer the killer outlaw of the novel.

In the movie, after the Colonel listens to his breakdown, falls to his knees, lets the broken Rambo embrace him, almost touches him, almost comforts him, he walks Rambo out, in custody, handcuffs and torture scars hidden beneath the officer’s military trench coat. Thus, the armed forces in the movie accept responsibility in a more humane and compassionate way, and cover up the shame.

In First Blood, the movie, the establishment rejects the death penalty, or, in this case, summary execution. And the wounded hero speaks his piece, is heard, and lives to fight again. Ultimately the movie is suggesting that there are alternative solutions, that violence is not the only strategy available. And that bad or troubled behaviour may stem from illness which deserves treatment rather than from moral choices that require punishment.

So changes of characterization and of interpretation in the movie could be the result of the changed context, of the times and of earlier Vietnam movies, but they could also reflect a less American, a more outside, international, or Canadian interpretation, challenging what America was doing both at home and abroad. Of course, Canada has no ethical monopoly on higher order moral reasoning, but as a nation we do choose peace and treatment and rehabilitation over aggression, revenge, and capital punishment. At least so far. The “why?” is more important to us than the “what?”; “why people do things” can be addressed and changed. ©



David Morrell, Rambo’s creator, is a Canadian. Read about how the writer’s background influences his work in Cult Fiction V.

Cult Fiction V: Rambo's Creator

Cult Fiction V: Rambo’s Creator


War is Hell, everyone can agree. But “America as Hell” is a cultural grenade tossed to stir things up on the homefront. However, Rambo’s creator, David Morrell, is a Canadian. Born in 1943 in Kitchener, Ontario, Morrell convinced his pregnant wife to give up her career and move with him to the States in 1966 so that he could study American literature with one of his heroes, Philip Young, at Penn State University. [www.davidmorrell.net] Morrell wrote his Masters thesis on Ernest Hemingway and his doctoral dissertation on John Barth. First Blood, his first novel, begun in 1968 and published in 1972, has been translated into eighteen languages. There have been twenty-eight other books since, including four non-fiction titles. More than thirty years after its original publication, First Blood is still in print, an incredible statistic which seems to prove that his Rambo character has reached cult status and continues to attract fans.

When he began the novel, Morrell was inspired by the juxtaposition of Vietnam War news reports and returning soldiers attending his English classes with political protests and race riots in America. He wondered: “What if I wrote a book in which the Vietnam war literally came home to America? . . . With America splitting apart because of Vietnam, maybe it was time to write a novel that dramatized the philosophical division in our society, that shoved the brutality of war right under our noses.” [FB, Introduction, p. viii] Thus, war is hell, and hell is here. So, the artist is asking readers/citizens to imagine what it would feel like if this hell were happening to you.

Although Morrell remained south of the border after he completed his studies and appears to have achieved the American dream, he has never abandoned his Canadian roots. When contacted through his website, Morrell responds:


"I am still a Canadian, but I am also a US citizen. In other words, I have dual citizenship. My Canadian roots very much influenced my writing, particularly with regard to First Blood. When I came to the US in 1966, I knew nothing about Vietnam. I watched [as] the national turmoil about the war reached higher and higher states of frenzy—riots etc. Finally I decided to write a novel in which a small war takes place in the US, a war whose escalation mirrors that of the Vietnam War and involves a returned Medal of Honor winner. I think the story required a writer with some distance from the conflict. For example, as a Canadian I wasn’t in danger of being drafted, so I could observe with some objectivity. It’s a complicated situation."


As a student of literature, Morrell named his hero after a favourite French writer and placed him in settings reminiscent of Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell. As an outsider in America, Morrell wrote about the nation’s trauma with the luxury of distance and objectivity. Indeed, the story is very challenging of American values for the late 1960s, questioning in symbolic ways America’s choice to fight in Vietnam on the enemy’s own territory. [FB, p. 205] The stance of the US administration and military is equated with the bully tactics and abuse of authority of Chief of Police Teasle. Yet the book itself maintains a balance which the movie abandons. Chapters alternate between Rambo’s and Teasle’s points of view as they take turns being the hunter and the hunted. We learn much more about Teasle’s character, his Korean War-hero past, the disappointment and pain which haunts him, the personal issues that he plays out on the public war-games stage. “[T]he intention was to make him as motivated and sympathetic as Rambo, because the viewpoints that divided America came from deep, well-meant convictions.” [FB, p. x, author’s introduction]

By the time First Blood the novel became First Blood, the movie, things had changed in America. Other movies about Vietnam had been made. Other artists, including other “outsiders”, had become involved in transforming the story from page to screen. ©


Read about the differences between the novel and the film in Cult Fiction IV; explore the possibility that outsiders challenge American values through the arts in Cult Fiction VI.

Cult Fiction VI: Values Conflict--A "Just" War?

Cult Fiction VI—Values Conflict –A “Just” War?


First Blood, the novel, was written by a Canadian who was able to look at America through a frosted lens. First Blood, the movie, is a successful feature film with a surprising Canadian pedigree. The first of the Rambo series, First Blood was a blockbuster, a hit feature film. The film was shot in Canada. Its lead credits describe it as “A Ted Kotcheff Film”. Kotcheff is a famous Canadian director who worked in early CBC television and directed his friend Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Kotcheff’s name is most often seen now on credits for the television crime drama, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna, both new to America, were Executive Producers. The screenwriter credits list Michael Kozoll of Hill Street Blues, William Sackheim, and Sylvester Stallone, based on a novel written by David Morrell. The final song that accompanies the credits is sung by Dan Hill: “It’s a long road / when you’re on your own / and it hurts when they tear your dreams apart.”
“It’s a real war right outside your front door. . . . It’s a long road and it’s hard as hell.”

The novel First Blood is much more violent than the movie yet both are talking, in a symbolic and allegorical way, about American attitudes—the lack of respect for personal boundaries and human rights, and the nation’s aggressive decision to ignore national territories and international jurisdictions and to invade another country far from home. “The final confrontation between Rambo and Teasle would show that in this microcosmic version of the Vietnam war and American attitudes about it, escalating force results in disaster. Nobody wins.” [FB, p. x, author’s introduction] Like Teasle, the United States, for the wrong reasons, chose to fight an unknown enemy, in its own territory, an enemy which history says America in some ways created, without fully realizing what he/they are/were getting into. Thus, the novel challenges the opinions and actions of the establishment while creating a wounded American hero who becomes a martyr to the ideologies of freedom and democracy.

But is it literature? Many who mock or criticize First Blood will admit to never having watched it. They “don’t do” action movies; they abhor violence; they would never kill anything, let alone another human being. Yet democracy relies upon the authorized use of coercive force. In First Blood, the novel, Captain Trautman corrects Chief of Police Teasle with: “You tolerate a system that lets others do it [kill] for you.” [FB, p. 209] So, even if we may not wish to see the ultimate human consequences, to have our attitudes towards the use of force challenged, to experience the hell for ourselves, First Blood warrants a second look as a great feature film made in Canada.

With its literary allusions, symbolic atmosphere, allegorical characters, and serious themes, First Blood warrants a second look, even if you choose to watch it with your eyes covered and the sound muted. It’s a Canadian take on a wounded American hero who went to Hell and came back with a story to tell. First Blood, as its title implies, is a story about the rules of engagement, about respecting human rights. It is a story about attitudes toward authority, about boundaries and jurisdictions, about abuse of power, and accepting responsibility, because whoever draws first blood is responsible for starting the war, for the killing. First Blood has given us a hero who has become iconic, an angry wounded man, alone, alive, and fighting for what he believes. And the issues from which he emerged bombard us daily in the news-report images and the sounds of war. ©

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Word-Napping

WORD-NAPPING

In one of the vases of tools on my desk, standing tall with the straight-edge and scissors, the letter opener, the exacto knife, the Canadian flag, is a plastic star. The kind you find at a dollar store, silver with rhinestone diamonds embedded along the lines linking its five points and all down the handle. The kind of sparkly thing that attracts my “magpie eye”. A child’s toy really, for a fairy godmother costume. And that’s in a sense why I bought it. As an instructor, a workshop facilitator, I want to impart the magic of words, to tap participants on the head and, Pouf, You are changed forever. Enlightenment. To awaken them to the numinous, the way God’s finger sparks Adam on Michelangelo’s chapel ceiling. The way Tinkerbell sprinkles the Magic Kingdom on television every Sunday evening. The way the turning of the Earth makes us believe that the stars of the whole sky are falling, every August. I watched the Perseid meteor shower once from a boat on Okanagan Lake when both my parents were still alive and both my brothers were there with us. When the world still seemed complete and the sprinkling of stars into reflective lake water whispered, hissed, not of loss but of wonder, at chin-dropping awe, at eye-frying recognition of this beauty within which we live.

Of awakening to this world’s beauty Proust said: It is not in discovering new lands, but in seeing with new eyes. My summer travels took me on a return visit to the Leo Mol Statue Garden in Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park. With eyes wider-opened, I noticed statues I hadn’t noticed before—the bush pilot, the log-boomers, the wrestling bears, a fiery Moses, finger to the stars, looking like Wordsworth’s Druid on Salisbury Plain. And DA ZAAIER. Da Zaaier. As a Scrabble player, every Zed catches my eye. The phrase must be Dutch, with the double A. The statue is of a farmer with a bag slung over his shoulder, walking (outstanding in his field) and broadcasting seeds. Up closer, I could see the English caption: THE SOWER. And then: 100th Anniversary of the arrival of the Dutch in Manitoba. Celebrating a centennial of a people settling in Canada with the symbol of the sower of seeds seems most appropriate. Da Zaaier. The Sower.

Being “so-o” literal, having an artist’s eye for connection, a human desire for revelation, I stopped short and I took a snapshot for future reference; then, I pondered the juxtaposition for days. Say it out loud. DA ZAAIER must read as DESIRE. What does desire have to do with seeds? Surely not that biological imperative again. Surely not that Desire = Sex = Reproduction (seeds). Desire is so much more; and so not tied to reproduction in my mind, or body. Associations have their own logic. Desire. Longing. For connection. For meaning. For meaningful connection—heart, mind, and body. Foot to earth; eyes to sky. Longing for home. For feeling at home.

When I got home to my computer, I began to explore the DESIRE/SOWER connection. My dictionary is a Book of Revelation. The origin of deSIRE is the Latin DeSIDERare—de meaning from, and SIDERER meaning Star. Literally DESIRE means to await from the stars. Waiting for something? Longing for something? I don’t get it. SEEDS and STARS? Go to CONSIDER, the book hints. This is a LEXICON CACHE; a SYNTAX TREASURE HUNT. CONSIDER? From the Latin CONSIDERARE, to look at closely; to observe attentively, the way we gaze at stars, it implies. Con meaning with, SIDERIS meaning star. Wow. I’m thinking of the Pleiades, a star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters, changed into stars by the gods to evade the amorous hunter Orion. Another old story says that the Pleiades are our real home, our original home, our place of origin, and that in our heart we long to return. But is there a literal connection? Are SEEDS really STARDUST? Are we watching, waiting, for the spaceship to take us home? Or is longing merely the seeds of desire within us? Desiring that which we have lost?

I look up SEED. Indo-European, SEI meaning to cast, to let fall. Latin, SERERE, to plant. The Latin for one who plants is SATOR, the sower. Back to the biological again. So my dictionary has given me the word cluster: DESIRE, SIRE, SIREN, CONSIDER, STARS, STARDUST, SEEDS, CAST, SATYR, SOW. Now my brain wants to enfold, to encompass more. What about GRAINS? Are GRAINS SEEDS? Are the GRAINS in GRANITE really SEEDS? OR BETTER yet, STARDUST? Quickly, I check SILICA. From FLINT. From SILEX, SILICIS, for the way it chips, breaks, and falls down. SILICA is the STARDUST winking in the beach sand, signaling, desiring the stars, longing to return home. Art as epiphany; the artist made me see the connection.

I pick up the snapshot of the row of steel bins, granaries, in my best friend’s childhood farmyard, the foxtail grass flashing in the wind, shining in the foreground like shards of fallen fire. At my last workshop, when I handed out the mystery bags, each hiding an individual rock, to practise relating to the elemental, touching the earth, to trigger associations, I asked the participants to brainstorm, to make a word cluster. Of the huge chunk of white granite fused to green/black basalt, a contact zone, a student associated NAPPING. Napping? I’m always fearful they’ll be telling me, This is so boring, I’m falling asleep. (Another reason to go in armed with the wand.) Yes. Knapping, he says. Knap. To chip, to strike, to break off, the way people make arrowheads out of flint. Ah, yes. KNapping. What a great word. Likely Anglo-Saxon, with the K, the KN. Onomatopoetic, the book says, in Old Scots.

And isn’t that the fun of this writing game, this star-trekking, this playing? English is so eclectic, abducting terms from everywhere. The magic is in the origins. Word-napping. Eloping. Acting upon our desire. Scattering seeds.