Celebrating Ambiguity in Life and Fiction
“Ambiguity is the warp of life, not something to be eliminated. Learning to savor the vertigo of doing without answers or making shift and making do with fragmentary ones opens up the pleasures of regonizing and playing with pattern, finding coherence within complexity, sharing within multiplicity. Improvisation and new learning are not private processes; they are shared with others at every age.” — Mary Catherine Bateson in “Peripheral Visions.”
Ambiguity is the water of life for storytellers, jazz musicians, bluesmen, poets, artists, and tricksters. When the shadows are removed—or when our habitual perception tells us they have been removed—the world appears flat, single-tracked, and with so little definition that definitive answers begin to look like the truth. As a writer, I find that stifling.
In my novel Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey (Vanilla Heart, June 2010), the protagonist’s wise woman grandmother tells him, “When you set out to accomplish the greater tasks of the world you must remember that little facts are little lies and large facts are large lies.”
Saying such a thing doesn’t imply that a forest doesn’t need sunlight and water for nourishment or that a molecule of water isn’t made of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms joined by a covalent bond. The “lie” arises out of the hope and/or the belief that facts not only tell the whole story, but that anything not validated or sancitified or codified by facts is suspect.
Countless studies have proven, for example, that eye witness testimony is highly unreliable. Common sense tells us to trust it, though, because it’s very comforting to base one’s actions and opinions on the maxim that seeing is believing. As my novel Sarabande notes, a science and technology world prefers that maxim to the alternative.
Perception is Reality
In today’s world, the maxim that perception is reality is usually simplified to mean that, as humans, we are impacted by our biases when we look at the world. In a world where we’re always trying to eliminate ambiguity, the gods and disciplies of science and technology would have us believe that reality is actual rather than flexible, and that as soon as we understand our biases and inner demons, we’ll see the world as it is.
Traditionally, the notion that the world rests on stacks of verifiable facts is a patriarchal viewpoint. And traditionally, the feminine perspective has been more focused on consensus and an acceptance of differences, including paradoxes.
As my title character Sarabande confronts life-threatening trials, she will have to decide whether or not her father’s daughter (masculine oriented) upbringing will ensure her physical survival and her inner development as a woman. Through her meetings with a sorceress, a native healer and a coyote, she will have an opportunity to explore a concept that is quite new to her: Perception isn’t a synonym for personal bias, it’s a creative act taken within a very diverse and mutlifaceted landscape.
To become a true heroine, Sarabande must, I think, not only embrace the shadows of ambiguity, but celebrate them.