You might remember Lance and Norway. I said this story is about Alley and Downtown Eugene, but on a deeper level, this is a story about Lance and Norway. Right now, it’s story about something Norway said that planted itself in the core of my psyche.
When something really big is happening on a world-wide scale, those of us down on the streets can only experience it as a series of symbols. Sweeping, world-wide movements are too big for us to perceive whole. The economic meltdown was a symbol of something larger. The Patriot Act, the 2000 Presidential Election, The Iraq War are all symbols of a larger pattern. The zombie craze is a symbol; or Justin Bieber, or the Red Sox winning the World Series. They all add up to something different for each of us.
I was an English major in college. Back then, symbols lived in literature. The night I met him, twenty four years ago, Norway said something that brought symbols out into the real world.
We were out on a beach near Big Sur, in the middle of the night. It was Memorial Day weekend, 1988.There was a big wicker man burning on a bonfire, and people were dancing and drumming and drinking and smoking. In the middle of all of that celebration, Lance was feeling mighty peeved. He and Raven were getting married. That’s why everybody was out on the beach that night. That made him the man of honor. That made it his weekend, and right in the middle of his weekend somebody went and lit up a sacrificial man.
Lance, Norway and I had just hitched a crazy ride in a VW Bus, with an even crazier driver. Then we hiked through the scrub oak in the dark, led on by the burning man. When we walked out onto the sand, Lance spazzed out. Even through the wine and the pot I understood his beef:. The wicker man is a symbol of a male sacrifice. Sometimes he’s made of straw, sometimes out of wood. He’s always meant to burn. Symbolically, he’s sort of like Jesus on the cross, but on a more bio-regional level.
Before I wandered off to investigate the festivities, I stood with Lance and Norway, in the heat of the burning man. Lance chewed on his lip while he stared up into the flames. He said to Norway, “It’s just a symbol, right?”
“Dude.” Norway’s face flickered in the firelight. “Don’t give up your power.” When Lance didn’t respond, he said, “Know what I mean?”
“That it is just a symbol?” Lance asked.
“No.” Norway took Lance’s shoulders in his long arm. They were silhouetted in the fire. “You and Raven are making an agreement with Time and Space and, I don’t know, whatever Gods you worship.” Norway was having a personal talk with Lance, but at the same time he was pitching his voice so that the rest of us could hear. This put them both on stage. “I’m just saying you should negotiate from a position of strength. Not fear.”
“What fear?” Lance asked.
“Fear of symbols for one.” Norway took his arm off Lance’s shoulder and pivoted to face him. “Pandy lit up a wicker man on the night of your bachelor party. So what? Don’t be afraid to give your symbols power. You embrace your sacrifice and you control it.”
“Huh,” Lance said. “I guess so.”
“I know so,” Norway said.
Over the years since, I’ve damned near made my own personal religion out of that conversation. It’s filtered up and down the DNA chains of my psyche and reformatted the programming of my life. It’s broken the world around me into symbols and given me a sense of how to use them. Now, I would like, in a narrative fashion, to apply those lessons to the fight against the corporations.