Live Virtual Group Session: 6PM EDT September 13th 2021

Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!

Twenty people from Canada and the USA zoomed together to close read a short excerpt from Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony (1977). We carefully entered the text with participants finding there way in a “mysterious” or “liminal” space wondering if the protagonist, the unnamed “he” in the text, had a visual impairment. Attending to the first sentence “For a long time he had been white smoke,” had us considering the past that brings the reader into the present of the paragraph we just read. We noted  images of green leaves (the only color in this white and gray world) pressed against a barred window and “elk mountain in the distance” with bones as boundaries. Is this surrealism or “a real place” like a sanatorium or a prison, we asked. Was the man suffering mental and emotional difficulties? Did the white smoke, which was “sucked away” indicate a loss of spirit that left the protagonist inhabiting a nether world, a purgatory or limbo?

We began to associate to other texts and images such as Pixar’s “Souls” (where images are outlines) and the poem “The Death of Fred Clifton”, the description of an internal experience:

there was all around not the 
shapes of things
but oh, at last, the things
themselves.

In this fogged-in place, the sense of smell was still available. Mention of walking down “floors that smelled of old wax and disinfectant” intensified the idea that this was life in an institutional setting, a life lived on the edges. Is the person living this life seen or unseen? Was the blurring of vision internal or external? Was there “othering” going on?

Pieces of the puzzle began to come together but, as always, we had less than an hour to discuss the text, write to a prompt, and listen to one another in this VGS session, and so a facilitator offered a bit of background information: “He” is half Native American and half white and suffers PTSD following his time as a soldier. With this, participants were confirmed in their sense that “he” felt ‘’soul-less” detached from those around him, even “dissociated.” We began to understand better the filtering of “white smoke” into this story: smoke as signals, a form of communication; smoke and peace as byproducts of a shared pipe; smoke as an essential in healing ceremonies.

The prompt, “Write about being white smoke, produced: a piece recounting a NYTimes article about drumming as a form of shared mourning and the author’s desire both to mourn and to go on remembering those who were lost;

a reflection on identity beginning, “I am old, overlooked…undervalued…invisible” followed   by a strong rebuttal and reminder of the experience, sanity, and wisdom elders offer;

and a list of the possibilities of white smoke (Eg. “to announce a new pope”), which narrows to memories of a father’s smoking Lucky Strikes, quitting (thankfully) when he learned it caused cancer, and dying many years later of the “white smoke” of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Wednesday September 15th at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.


For a long time he had been white smoke. He did not realize that until he left the hospital, because white smoke had no consciousness of itself. It faded into the white world of their bed sheets and walls; it was sucked away by the words of doctors who tried to talk to the invisible scattered smoke. He had seen outlines of gray steel tables, outlines of the food they pushed into his mouth, which was only an outline too, like all the outlines he saw. They saw his outline but they did not realize it was hollow inside. He walked down floors that smelled of old wax and disinfectant, watching the outlines of his feet; as he walked, the days and seasons disappeared into a twilight he could catch only with a sudden motion, jerking his head to one side for a glimpse of green leaves pressed against the bars of the window. He inhabited a gray winter fog on a distant elk mountain where hunters are lost indefinitely and their own bones mark the boundaries.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. (2006). First published in 1977. New York: Penguin.

13 thoughts on “Live Virtual Group Session: 6PM EDT September 13th 2021

  1. Patricia D.

    nostrils flare
    following inhalation
    of cigarette smoke
    that is transformed
    into rings that float
    up above the point
    of exhalation
    ah! such pleasure
    for the smoker
    but not so for
    those who turn away
    from its foul odor
    as the white smoke
    dissipates into
    the atmosphere

    Liked by 1 person

    • al3793

      Patricia, the perspective of this scene from above the point of exhalation vs below interests me. is it the plane that divides the experience of pleasure or disgust. Andre

      Like

  2. Write about being white smoke…

    I’m old, I’m used, I’m overlooked.

    Life is a compilation of experiences,
    steps I’ve climbed one after the other,
    each serving as a lesson of living life.

    Hardships, successes
    all have left their indeliable marks upon me.
    All have made me into the person I am.

    Society sees me as someone to be pushed to the side,
    someone who no longer serves a purpose, a function to society.
    To those who think this way, I say you are so wrong.

    For the wisdom that I and others like me possess,
    we can direct the world to a state of equilibrium, of calmness, of sanity.
    Take notice of us.
    The words we speak softly,
    scream truth loudly to the world.

    Like

    • al3793

      Michele, I like the deliberate opposition posed by being made “into the person I am” and the notice demanded by the soft words that “scream truth loudly to the world.” Andre

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Catherine Rogers

    Being white smoke.
    Yes. You could go anywhere, float around. But then people might not want to breathe you in. You’ll make them cough.

    If you are white smoke, you could get a job announcing, “We have a Pope!” But that happens infrequently in this day and age when men live so long.

    Being white smoke. You could soften the view for everyone.

    Being white smoke. Disembodied. Disemvoiced. Soundless. Yes. But you could be smelled. And, as I said, coughed over.

    Being white smoke. You could easily come out of Daddy’s nose after a Lucky Strike back in the old days but thank God he gave it up when they found out white smoke causes lung cancer and so he didn’t die until many years later. From Alzheimer’s. Which was, I guess, white smoke to his brain.

    45 seconds more of white smoke.
    If I were white smoke
    The places I could go . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    • al3793

      Catherine, I loved floating around your imagination as you read this yesterday and upon reading it today i am struck by the clarity of the imagery compared to the fugue like state of Silko’s character. Yet, I identify with that character through your language, “Disembodied. Disemvoiced. Soundless.” Andre

      Like

  4. al3793

    The wind twists white smoke directly into your face and you choke, trying to get your breath and you move around to the other side of the fire and the white smoke follows you and the choking goes on and your eyes burn with tears. There’s no way to evade it, it blows where it wants and so be it.

    But then the air lifts the white smoke straight up, and the air around you becomes clear. You can breathe again, and the stinging tears leave your eyes, and you see clearly.

    And now you realize that that which is deep within you rises with that white smoke, the soul of your thought, your prayer, and a thin white line swirls and disappears against a steel gray sky.

    Andre

    Liked by 1 person

    • michele348

      Similar to the hardships of life…at times choking you, have you gasping for air. Then often when you least expect it, the smoke dissipates and you are able to inhale deeply and resume living.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think it’s somewhat human nature to try to reach equilibrium or even tip the scales in our favor when living our lives. So if a little “smoke” gets in the way, so be it. Just be prepared to do a little “coughing”.

        Like

  5. Elizabeth

    White Smoke Connection Ceremony

    White smoke
    Smoke clouds
    Clouds float
    Float air
    Air travel
    Travel world
    World tourism
    Tourism exploration
    Exploration adventure
    Adventure newness
    Newness awe
    Awe splendor
    Splendor beauty
    Beauty heartwarming
    Heartwarming care
    Care family
    Family cloudy
    Cloudy white
    White smoke

    Like

  6. Sig-Linda Jacobson

    Write about being white smoke.
    I’m not sure I can be white smoke. The vision of my husband’s white hair that he always wore long and the visual problems he had after his stroke – seeing only the top and bottoms of letters, unable to read – got into my head as I read this. He’s gone now – white hair, his visual cortex, all ashes lying in a grave in the old volcanic crater in Honolulu (Punchbowl). Where did his spirit go? Do I believe it left his body like white smoke or is it ashes? Will I someday be white smoke? My body feels too heavy to ever be white smoke. I walked nearly 3 miles in Manhattan today. Did anyone see me?

    Liked by 1 person

    • michele348

      It’s the hardships of life that weigh our bodies down on this time we spend on earth. When we depart from this life to the next, our load has been lifted from us, we are unemcumbered and just as the white smoke rises to the heavens, so will we.

      Like

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