the adjacent possible, or, what about spider silk?

the adjacent possible, or, what about spider silk?

A friend’s blog post introduced me to a new term: the adjacent possible. What a rich phrase — a field ripe for dreaming. That all kinds of possibilities are just next to me, possibly even within view.

The term comes from theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman, who talked about what might happen in biology to precipitate life. But the way Steven Johnson explains it in a Wall Street Journal article a while back ~ “The Genius of the Tinkerer” ~  the adjacent possible is more a room opening off of a single door, that opens into several more rooms off of that first room, and then builds exponentially off of those rooms.  Each subsequent place you end up — or new area of exploration, or new combination of amino acids — makes possible so much more: infinite possibility, adjacent to the ‘now.’

Digression: I used to see futures. Plural. Like a map of possibility spreading out from the point of decision where I was at that moment. I could actually see the lines that led away from where I stood, both literally & figuratively. Now, my life is so much more tangled and its threads so tightly woven, I seem to see only knots that snarl and ravel.

So the idea of all the futures that become possible as we move through the decisions that mark our days, our hours, sometimes even our minutes…? This entrances me. I want to once again see clear pathways from this decision, this month, this place and this now. I want maps. But to map these rooms of possibility is impossible — that’s the point about possibility; you can’t predict it clearly, precisely. You have to just keep going on, making use of the resources where you find yourself.

This is a spider silk cape, woven from spider silk on a loom in Madagascar, according to the old ways of Madagascar weavers. Had we retained this knowledge (in the world outside of Madagascar), who knows what ‘rooms’ of possibility we might have entered? If spider silk can be used to create a lush silk rug (like the one above)  — and the spiders released — what does that mean to the future of silk? To the billions and probably trillions of dead silkworms?

It’s hard, I realise, to get too excited about a dead silkworm. But the possibilities in spider silk? The brilliance of the gold? The wondering on what colours various spiders’ silk threads are? There is so much in the world about which we know so very little. And lives — even very small ones, but maybe our own, as well — depend on these things we don’t know. Embedded in this term ~ adjacent possible ~ is the idea that there may well be answers just around the corner, right next door, maybe. We just have to keep our eyes open to… well, possibility. And build with what we find.

I have to agree w/ Johnson: ‘Ideas are works of bricolage.” And the layers possible? And the things we create? Who knows ~

The labyrinth ~

The labyrinth ~

I don’t think of myself as a jealous person. Or envious, covetous, or whatever word we use to say we want what someone else has :). But I am not rational about other people’s writing.

My cousin has a blog. Several friends have blogs. They all seem witty, meaningful, full of information that’s useful, and a hell of a lot more interesting than this is.

Now, if you write, or you’re balmy for bees, you may find a home here. If poetry is your mother tongue, if obscure Buddhist terminology I’m learning is your cup of Hao Ya tea, we may get along fine. But as the deadline for appealing to a broader audience looms on a horizon formed where a line of text meets the edge of a blank page, I confess to anxiety. Anxiety? It may well be upwelling madness…

My cousin’s blog is full of her own austere, overwhelming photographs of Navajo country, where she lives. A friend’s french bread recipe got 186 views (I just made it 187 :). A colleague’s blog moves smoothly from the arbitrary misfiling of a video to a commentary on immigrants. Mine is a Cretan labyrinth, minus the golden thread.

imageI’d like a golden thread. Something that would lead me to the heart of the matter. Help me create meaning from what often seems like a journey of hitting my head on blank walls… Oh wait — that would be writing…

I used to think that writing was journalism, observation and narrative. And certainly some of the most entertaining is. But it’s also an explorer’s trip: a setting out into the dark unknown, not certain what you’ll find, or even if you’ll return. I have written poems from which I never returned. At least not the same woman who began them — the woman starting out did not come home. Some other, changed and even transformed woman came out the other side.

The thing about the Cretan labyrinth (that differs from the mediæval maze) is that you follow it, and it leads you ~ eventually ~ to its heart. You will get ‘there’ if you just keep going. W/ the maze, you may hit blank wall after dead end after blank wall and dead end :). So maybe writing is both…?

Lately I’ve been thinking about how my life is such a web of connections. Almost a tangle, but with a hint more order. Like the ragged-from-birth web of the garden orb weaver, probably my favourite spider. And yes, I realise most folks don’t have favourite spiders — I do. I even have a ranked list: 1) the argiope spiders (especially the yellow & black orb weaver) — they’re all garden spiders, and have beautiful colours and giant webs; 2) the Oklahoma brown tarantula (they remind me of summers at Mom & Dad’s, w/ the boys); 3) the tiny yellow jumping spider (fingernail-sized); and of course 4) the Daddy long-legs, fragile skeletal dancer of a spider.image

The web is a labyrinth, if you think about it. There’s a center, the heart of things, from which it all radiates. And you can trace the spiral to the heart, just like the labyrinth. I know: pretty obvious. But for me, this kind of stuff is like fresh comb honey…

See? This is exactly what I mean: I started on jealousy and envy, and the reasons for blogs, and here I am off on spiders and webs and honey… But it really is all related. I’d like to think it’s because I’m a poet — the way I see the world is through metaphor, analogy. This is like that. The this is how the orb weaver’s web becomes a metaphor of the slightly haphazard connections I make daily. That (The Orb Weaver) is also the title of a collection of poems by a poet I studied — Robert Francis.

His is not a poem flattering to the poor spider, comparing it to the darker side of human nature. I don’t see it that way, as a bug lover ????. Spiders, to my knowledge, don’t stew over how well-crafted the written pottery of their friends, family and colleagues is. Bemoan the higher quality of sparkling mead compared to still water.

So I’m back on writing, and the sheepish realisation that I’m often that classic stereotype ~ the writer writing about writing. Today, though, I’m really writing about webs. And my favourite spiders. Oh ~ and don’t forget the Cretan labyrinth…