rebecca purcell

World Maker

rebecca-purcell-childimage.jpg

It all started with a tiny yellow leaf.

I arrived in this world, I assume, crying and squalling like any one else.

My mother exclaimed “oh good— it’s a boy!” I didn’t hear this of course but it was recorded in my baby book. A book covered in pale pink, moiré satin, embellished with a garland of tiny, pale blue flowers — Forget-Me-Nots. Me, presumably the little treasure not to be forgotten.

I wasn’t forgotten but I wasn’t much remembered, few pictures were patched to the inner pages. As it turned out I was not a boy but the third of three girls and I guess they — my parents — were getting bored with female imagery. After three kids, more likely they were bored with each other… themselves.

Anyway I think I was pretty ordinary until the day I noticed that yellow leaf.

Up until this particular rainy day in late summer I was a slightly plump, little thing, as lost as any other 5 year old — I may have been 4 or 3 — it’s really impossible to know. I know only that I was really small, and really young, and barely able to articulate a coherent phrase to those older people who never seemed to understand anything I was saying. But I knew this was not entirely their fault, the vocabulary simply wasn’t there. The word ‘vocabulary’ wasn’t even there.

On this particular rainy day in late summer I was playing in the gutter in front of our house.

I have a distinct memory of being very sullen in mood, grey and inward, I felt like something was missing — like a dove left without its partner.

Rain from a passing thunderstorm was rushing down the gutter into a drainage hole and I cautiously slid my hand into the water, reveling in the liquid pressure as it bent and plunged into the darkness.

This activity was both calming and frightening. The cool water, the delicious cream of its caress as it coursed into the gaping asphalt mouth, the ionized air that lifted and swirled across my heated skin — all these were magical, but an unsteady feeling came with such close proximity to the drainage hole. There was a sharp yet suppressed fear of being swallowed, whisked away to somewhere dark, to a place with no air, no light, a place where creatures lurked in the gloom, waiting for small children. Waiting for me.

As I squatted there trying not to think of the contiguous darkness, I watched as a very small, yellow, oval leaf (a leaflet actually) lazily floated down the gutter, like a tiny boat sailing on a turbulent river. Like a small wonder whose lightness of spirit kept it from being submerged.

As it grew closer, gaining speed with the pull of the drainage, I was suddenly seized with an intense and overwhelming need to save this sublime object. I realized with an aching urgency that as buoyant and light-of-heart as the leaf was, it would not maintain this quality once consumed by the darkness and this simply could not be allowed to happen.

I lunged forward scooping the leaf up just before it met the horror of its inevitable fate.

Breathless and overwhelmed, I sat back on the lawn staring at this minute piece of life in my dripping palm, and said out loud to no one: “Three.”

I am not sure how best to describe what took place at that instant. Something either happened inside or I was affected by something 'outside' or I remembered something. Anyway I felt this tiny leaflet had a kind of soul, and I was receptive to the call of its soul, and it was giving me a message that came in the form of a number; its number was 3.

On that day a small but significant part of me found a sense of purpose.

———

I have since discovered that this peculiarity of letting numbers stray outside their normal boundaries is not mine alone, evidently it’s called Synesthesia and refers to any similar practice of automatically crossing seemingly unrelated categories such as colors with days of the week, or with specific musical notes. The source of the inclination to cross-reference in this manner has not been fully identified; in my case I decided it was a kind of secret message from an object’s soul expressed through a numerical symbol.

I continued, through out my childhood, assigning numbers to objects  — and also colors — at various times when I felt compelled to do so, when I felt some ethereal fear like a wet, heavy blanket, or when I was sitting there timbered into silence, waiting for the thing that had no name.

I never felt the inclination to assign numbers to either humans or animals, only colors and small objects, either man-made or natural. I never again felt so urgent about an object as I had that yellow leaflet. In the years following, the intensity of that initial feeling spread across the numerous bits of things I found in the playground or on a walk, assigned to the sorting of jellybeans at Easter, or tubes of my mother’s Grumbacher paints.

The numbering mellowed into a private pastime of sorts, an intermittent and comforting companion like a favorite song.

-------

The penchant for numbering objects and colors drifted away with the onset of my early teens, but at 26 the feeling mysteriously returned.

I had recently migrated from Atlanta to New York and was emerging from a deep depression that had consumed the half of me that was not the effervescent nightclub diva, fashion punk, new wave, DIY, scrabble heap creature that appeared gregarious and full of pickled mirth.

Sitting on the edge of a Gothic, half-canopied bed in my tiny indigo painted bedroom, I was staring at a leather screen embossed with cherubs and a curious assortment of flora, fauna and small winged creatures, when I sensed everything I chose to put in this room was trying to talk to me.

One second the room was silent save for the murmur of traffic outside, and the next second it was so full of a cacophony of sounds that I had to put my hands over my ears, squeeze my eyes shut, and just let the thunder pass over.  A few minutes later the room was quiet again, I opened my eyes and looked at the screen — “Seven.”

This began the second bout of Synthesia. I started frantically listing all of the colors and objects that I felt intrinsically had an associated number:

Old Man’s Black Wingtip #11

Gold Hoop Earrings #13

Worn Velvet #7

Indigo #12

Robin’s Egg Blue #3

A Turtle on its Back #13

The obsessive numbering continued through out the next day becoming a slow but steady trickle during the next several months. I chose objects that were directly linked to symbolic associations I had with these objects but also effort was given to pulling things that were being symbolic to others who shared my societal milieu.

Soon I noticed there were reoccurring numbers — I was drawn to the same numbers over and over — and the things allotted the same number seemed to share a similarity.

The number 5 appeared to be associated with all things of an ultra-child-femme nature, like ballet pink, teacups, frustrated Shermanesque suburban housewives and plastic ponies. And number 11 was repeatedly associated with things of a dark and T.O.C. Gothic nature: taxidermy, iron-gall black, crows, drinking coffee, and eccentric characters.

Eventually the list settled into three groups of three; nine numbered categories in all.

If some one was faced with the task of creating nine visual categories that encompassed the majority of common, western, aesthetic styles, their groupings would no doubt be different than mine but I believe they would be similar. The only completely personal aspect was the number chosen to represent each category.

In the following years I used this list as both a repository for information and as a kind of tool for expanding thoughts on creativity and a variety of subjects. Almost everything I encountered was filtered through the list, and the act of allotting items to their respective category often provoked a deeper understanding of the nature of aesthetics and further expansion of the list. Eventually each category had its own set of objects, genres, landscapes, secondary worlds, emotional content, gender inclinations and symbolic imagery.

The ‘list’ was now being represented by a collection of: magazine pages, vintage ephemera, lists of objects, hand scrawled attempts at poetic prose, thoughts on human behavior and feminine perspective, and obsessive numerical calculations.

At some point it became clear ‘the list’ would not suffice as title. After cycling through, ‘the library’ and ‘the numbering system’ I reached into the air and plucked the first words that came to me: Organon 9 Worlds. I had no idea what ‘organon’ meant but felt certain it was appropriate. As it turned out, it was — well sort of — if you stretched it a bit:

Organon: an instrument for acquiring knowledge; specifically :  a body of principles of scientific or philosophic investigation.

 --------

At 33 I quit my job.

Happily involved with a new partner, and with enough money in the bank to pay bills for a year, I knew I could no longer hold back the Organon octopus that daily curled its tentacles around my throat. The tangle of this peculiar matrix was threatening to suffocate me with its meandering arms; it was time to explore and attempt some kind of understanding.

This prompted an in depth research into the imbedded meaning in aesthetic attraction and preference. Curious perspectives emerged as I delved into this nuanced realm, researching nine part theories and philosophies, quantum mechanics, as well as a variety of cultural and esoteric studies.

As I sorted objects, concepts and ideas into nine aesthetic areas it was necessary to utilize a battalion of mental exercises to fit everything — not only into its category — but also into the entire matrix. Finding the ‘appropriate’ placement of new material provoked self-exploration that led to philosophical insight, psychological understanding, and creative inspiration.

In the course of working with O9W, where feelings were consulted first and rationality second, I began to see a very different picture of human existence.

The triumph of good over evil, the honor of sober judgment, the ideal of clarity — so often seen as hallmarks of civilization — I now saw as being rather archaic and despondently simplistic.

A new vision was forming. A vision of invasive regeneration, self-contained chance and incorporation, with everything part of a cyclical process that continuously absorbed what exists, forming new patterns from the old. This world governed itself on the desire to explore the entire realm of experience and thought, remaining open to the constantly shifting influx of information, and using a different set of skills to navigate, with evolution and mutual co-existence as the ultimate goal.

Dismemberment, absorption, revelation, incorporation, manipulation, metamorphosing, transformation, transcendence, evolvement, reintegration, reforming, parasitic, epiphytic, outgrowth — these were the words emerging as central to this experience-governed environment and antithetic to the kind of legendary styled language used to describe the cult of good versus evil, with its utopian world view deemed capable of being governed by empirical analysis, ethics, morals, and rules governing ones conduct and behavior.

“All of existence proceeds from the flux of creation and destruction” Heraclitus

With this new world-view swirling around my head like a merry-go-round of hybrid beings and morphing creatures, I saw creative growth rising as the central and most essential process. Naturally I turned again to Organon 9 Worlds to specifically map out this process.

The result was a quasi aesthetic-psychological-cultural-round-up in the form of a series of phases that spiral like a Mandelbrot set, both laterally and horizontally, and are approached through aesthetic attraction as an agency of change.

Attraction (as I define it): something that evokes the feeling of like/love, mixed with a certain note of being compelled, and a whiff of something slightly off. The feeling of ‘being compelled’ is triggered by a kind of inner resonance subconsciously connected to personal experience/philosophy. The ‘something off’ is pushing us subconsciously toward expansion and the new — evolution.

With this definition in mind I used Organon 9 Worlds to ferret out meaning behind aesthetic attraction beyond the usual societal and emotional triggers. I came to believe that by looking at ones specific aesthetic attractions it was possible to identify the dominant phase, or phases, in the creative development process and correspondingly the personality aspects and interests that were associated with that phase. Similar to astrology in action and yet wholly different in reference — object attraction vs. ruling planet — knowing your core theme(s) could help with staying on a course suited to your nature, and consequently with actualizing creative intentions in a more meaningful and authentic way. From there I developed a nine-part system that explored, and attempted to chart, each recursive phase in the creative process.

--------

Ultimately I saw Organon 9 Worlds as representational of a series of ongoing and infinite organic events that move from relationship to interrelationship to a connection to all. A kind of living organism that is inextricably linked to a larger network — a matrix within a matrix —that could be used to develop one’s own set of symbols and markers, theories and objects — a gateway to personal world making.

I believed — and still believe — micro world making, if pursued using curiosity, and emotional intelligence as guide, has the power to transform the self and the world by extension. Mining the self for clues that explain ones unique perceptions and reactions, and using this to create some form of manifestation, inexorably leads to a broadened understanding of the human condition and is paramount for knowing the difference between what one wants and what one thinks they want.

And it is my firm belief that if we were less encumbered by societal dogma, resentments and attachments, and instead enriched by the power of seeing ourselves as a unique, yet reflective and interactive microcosm of the world at large, we would want what makes the most sense for all. A broad understanding of self — and the nature of the human race by extension — reveals our survival is dependent on mutual cooperation. It is the hidden and unacknowledged aspects of a self misrepresented, and strangled by subconscious fear, that believes in the reality of status, and the profitability and inevitability of envy, fear based power, and derision. 

Like a storm rising from the beating of a butterflies wings, that small yellow leaf, so many years ago, set in motion a tsunami of thoughts and applications proving, at least to me, the unbounded potentiality that is packed in the marriage of receptivity and the inanimate.