Author Archives: voyageur2014

Into the Labyrinth: The Sun Ring

Week Four, Monday April 15th, 2019. This posting should be written on Tuesday, but it’s a short week because of Passover and Easter.

We catch up to our little band of Mariposan labyrinth-walkers as they wind their way widdershins around the third ring, the first to be walked, which they have decided to call Sunny. They prepared by cataloguing many of the different names the world has given the Sun, and telling some of the stories. We don’t have to go into all that, however. We are interested in the walk, not the prep-talk.

They are led by Josie Smith, the mayor of the middling city of Mariposa, Her followers number twelve, when all are present, but as is usual with such processes, all are usually not. Their names are, in order of appearance: Omur Ugabu, Josie’s husband; Sheldon Uttermost; Deanna Drone; Thorpe Bagshaw; Thoreau Drone, Deanna’s brother, known as Thor, or Uncle Henry for obvious reasons; Martha Yodel. Since the other six haven’t appeared yet, I’ll add them when they do. I will also, eventually, tell you all the stories, how these people   descend from the earlier inhabitants of Mariposa, and their present occupations.

Now you may think that I am stretching probability by giving someone the first name Thoreau, but I have precedents, in this case Thoreau MacDonald, a Canadian artist. I also went to school with a boy whose given names were Ralph Waldo Emerson, called Wally. These thing happen. Given names made out of ancestor surnames are of course quite common. I have one myself, for my middle name. But I digress.

Since Sunny was the first ring walked on the inward phase they decided to take their time while they figured out the protocols. Sunny would also be the last one walked in the outward phase, at the end of which they would emerge into the world outside, bearing,—whatever that would come to mean,—the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. They decided not to think about that until the time came. They had settled, during the prep-talk, on the understanding that the Sun was the orb of day, the indispensable light source whence came the physical energy of life, and that Sunny would therefore have to stand for the the source of the imaginative energy they would need for their quest.

“The imaginative energy to do what?” was the question Josie put to them as they went their discursive way. They all threw answers at her which she wrote down on her flip chart after the manner of her kind. To understand Social Justice. To know how to identify it when we see it. To know what an Unsolved Riddle is. To know how it works. To know whether Social Justice is an Unsolved Riddle or something else. To know how being an Unsolved Riddle might change the nature of Social Justice. By this time Josie was having trouble keeping up. To know why it was called ‘wild’. To know what taming it meant. To know how to tame it. To know what to do with it when it is tamed. To know where to keep it. To know how to keep it. To realize that this is only the first ring and that we don’t have to know any of these knows yet, but will need to know them when we come back to Sunny walking the other way, on our way out.

“That’s a good one,” said Josie. It came from Deanna.

“We had better know most of them before we get there,” said Sheldon Uttermost, “because Sunny is the last ring, and not all that long.”

“Which one will we give to Mercury then?” asked Thorpe Bagshaw. “And Venus after that. They’re the rings that wrap around the others.” After considerable discussion they decided that Mercury, both second in line and second in place, should probe Social Justice, and Venus, first in place and third in line, should probe the world around it.

It took them some time to arrive at this decision, but having done so they hastened to the refreshment table. All that talk had worked up appetites in them all. Good talk does that.







Belabouring the Labyrinth Both Sunwise And Widdershins

Week Three, Tuesday, April 9th

When the Mariposa group assembled in Week Three to continue their Hunt for the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, they found that Mayor Josie Smith had called in the artists and had them paint decorated lines for a Cretan labyrinth on the floor. This did not please the badminton club, who had come to treat the old auditorium as their private space. They liked it because they were used to the low ceilings and century-old dust, while visiting competitive clubs were not. The TUROSJ hunters were delighted, however, and resolved to walk the labyrinth to open and close each meeting.

Thoreau Drone, Deanna’s brother, always called Thor, always ready with an alternative point of view, suggested they should walk in at the beginning of the meeting, and out at the end, to keep them centred. Mayor Josie had doubts. “I’m not sure that the point of the labyrinth is to be centred,” she said. “The human brain is not centred, it’s convoluted. I think the labyrinth is a simple image for that. I think the end comes when you return to the world outside, having walked back out the way you came in. The centre is half-way. The meditation process ends at the end. You walk seven rings in, going to the middle first and then in convoluted order from there, alternating sunwise and widdershins, outer then inner. You find the centre, then walk back out the reverse way. That’s fifteen stages, or sixteen if the way in and out of the centre is two, which I think it is.”

“The king told Alice to begin at the beginning, go on to the end, and then stop,” said Deanna.

“Josie thinks the labyrinth is telling us to begin in the outer middle, go to the outside in stages, then back through the inner middle to the inside, then to the centre, then back through the inside through the inner middle to the outside and finally through the outer middle to the outside world. That’s a lot more complicated. But then so is the Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, I suppose.” Sheldon Uttermost, as did many Mariposans, liked to live up to his name.

“Better that than riding madly off in all directions,” said Thorpe Bagshaw. Much nodding of heads.

“Maybe we should name all these stages,” said Sheldon. So they did that, as logically as they could. They were beginning to suspect that logic wasn’t going to get them far when the real Hunt started, but it might get them as far as some names. They decided to acknowledge the classical planets, those orbiting creatures visible to the naked eye, thereby adding them to their battery of metaphors: a hunt; a wilderness, a labyrinth; heavenly spheres. “There’s no such thing as too many metaphors,” said Martha Yodel, being the English teacher, and everyone was willing to agree, whether they really did or not. Here’s what the chart looked like when they had it, numbering the rings from the outside.

3. First & Last (Sixteenth) walked. Outer Middle. Sun.
2. Second & Fifteenth. Inner Outer. Mercury.
1. Third & Fourteenth. Outer Outer. Venus.
4. Fourth & Thirteenth. Inner Middle. Moon.
7. Fifth & Twelfth. Most Inner. Mars.
6. Sixth & Eleventh. Middle Inner. Jupiter.
5. Seventh & Tenth. Outer Inner. Saturn.
8. Eighth & Ninth. Centre. Earth.

“I am bothered by the names we are using,” said Thor with much hesitation. “They are our names, but they are not the world’s names. There’s a lot more to this naming business. If we’re going to take a pluralistic approach to Unsolved Riddles and Social Justice, maybe we should take it to the names of our labyrinth, then maybe we need to be a little more inclusive in our understanding. These names represent stories, after all. Why should we take just one?”

“Are we taking a pluralistic approach?” asked Josie.

“I sure hope so,” replied Thor. More head nodding at that.

“Yes,” said Deanna, “we must. That’s what everybody dislikes about us, that we always want to impose our names, our stories, on everything. If we’re going to have Social Justice, it’s got to be everybody’s Social Justice, not just ours.”

“I expect that goes for everybody in the plurality,” said Sheldon, “if we’re going to be one, that is. How can we be reconciled, in all the directions we’re supposed to be, if we don’t know each other’s names and make ourselves familiar each other’s stories?”

“It’s harder work being a pluralist than a singularist,” said Mayor Josie. “That’s the first thing I learned when I got onto Council. It’s all about doing as much good as you can for everybody. If you start playing favourites among all the different groups, then the whole thing falls apart. It’s very difficult, when they want different things.”

“Maybe that’s why Social Justice is an Unsolved Riddle,” said Thor, and the head-nodding brigade fired up again.

“Okay,” said Josie. “Here’s what we’ll do. We’ll walk the whole labyrinth to start and end each meeting, to keep the whole process in mind. Then we’ll take it one ring at a time each week, in walking order. That’s sixteen weeks. That should take us through to the end of July. Then we should pull things together and see where we are. Then we might take some time off. Then we should repeat the whole process, and wrap it up in December. What do you think?”

They all thought that was good.

“All right. Next week it’s Ring Three, the Outer Middle Ring on the Way In, called Sun and anything else we can find. Everybody look for names and stories, but we’ll have to be quick about that. We’re here for Social Justice, not to play games with mythology. But I think the mythology is going to help, especially with the Pluralism of it. But just how, I don’t know yet. It may take us a few weeks to find out.”

“We may have to make up our own mythology,” said Thoreau Drone.

“Maybe we will.”

Some refreshments remained when the meeting was over, but not for long.







Walking the Labyrinth of Possibilities

Week Two of LEACOCK 150~100~75! April 2nd, 2019.

Since the group had acquiesced in Mayor Josie Smith’s insistence that they should pretend they were on a Hunt for the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, that that was the best available metaphor for what they were doing, they were a little startled when she began talking about labyrinths. “Aren’t you rather mixing your metaphors?” asked Deanna Drone, and a consensus quickly appeared that she was.

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large,  I contain multitudes,” replied Mayor Josie, airily. “Or rather, I believe we may find the Truth not in one metaphor, nor in the other, nor half-way between them if there is such a place, but in both metaphors.” She then went on at some length to describe what happens when you walk a labyrinth of the ‘Cretan’ or ‘Classical’ design. Your project is to walk a set area of ground intensively, thoughtfully, meditatively, with absorption, following the seven circular paths which segue one into the next. Numbering the circles from one to seven from the outside, you begin in the third one, and walk it around its circle. Effectively, you are taking a middle view of the ground. Then you bend around the opposite way into second circle, and walk around it. You are viewing the ground more widely, but not as widely as you could. You then bend around into the first circle, for the full perimeter view. Then, following the path, you bend back to the middle, into the fourth circle and then, surprisingly, into the seventh, which circles tightly around the centre, where you are going, but not into it. Instead, you bend back to the sixth, then back to the fifth,—circling the centre but keeping in touch with the outside,—at the end of which the path opens straight to the centre. But you don’t stop there. You then go back along the circles, bending from one to the other in reverse order, until you are back around the third ring and out the way you came in.

When Mayor Josie had finished this long and complicated exposition, with the help of diagrams, nothing would do of course but a mass pushing back of chairs, a finding of chalk, much drawing of circles on the floor, and a solemn parade around the circles and back, so they could truly understand what she had said. Dimly, somehow, they thought it might be important, if not for itself, at least for setting their minds up properly.

They had thoughtfully laid out their labyrinth with the entrance-exit right next to the refreshment table, around which they gathered for a few final words from Mayor Josie, because the hour was now late.

“We’ll start here next week,” she told them, “but our hunt will be much more difficult, because the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice lives in a wilderness whose extent we do not know, laced with many confusing paths which we can only trust will give us the shape we need, into the centre where the Unsolved Riddle lives. But it may move around while we are hunting! This will be, indeed, a tricky hunt, for a slippery and elusive quarry.  But when we have found it, and tamed it, we will indeed have something not only for ourselves, but for our children, our grandchildren, and beyond.”

“When it moves around, will it oscillate around a centre, or will it wander over the entire wilderness?” asked Thorpe Bagshaw.

“I think we had better hope for centralized oscillation, don’t you? But I don’t think we can know for sure. We’ll have to take our chances.” And with that thought they adjourned.

Now you may wonder why I have taken up your valuable time this way. It’s because I believe the Cretans, or whoever it was, may have been onto something. I think that their ‘classical’ labyrinth says something profound about the way the human mind, or conversing group of minds, naturally tackles difficult questions of the Unsolved Riddle kind. You start with the two,—often more,—polarities that constitute the Riddle, the “extremes” (as Charles Simeon called them) both,—all,—of which are True in some valid sense. The area between them is the ‘ground’ for the labyrinth, at the ‘centre’ of which is the ‘solution’, whatever these words may mean in the specific context. You can try linear approaches, or a spiral path, and there is much cultural attraction for us in so doing. But if the poles are in fact both true, and if the ‘solution’ does not lie at one pole or the other, but at both of them, then I don’t think a linear or spiral approach is going to work. It might get you to half-way between the poles, but it won’t get you to both of them at the same time.

I find it interesting, and encouraging, that the Mariposans are prepared to try the Cretan approach. Over the next few months in this blog I will tell you how that went. In the Stephen Leacock blog Olde Stephen and I will explore Stephen Leacock’s approach, if we can pin it down. Olde Stephen is a ghost, and his intellectual prowess remains uncertain. Stephen Leacock’s approach may turn out to be more of a maze than a labyrinth, but perhaps not. I will work out my own approach in my own blog, using the tools I learned in my youth and over the years. Both these other blogs are linked in the panel to the right. I will try to keep these approaches connected in the weekly Leacock’n Bulletin, and in the Voyageur Storytelling web site, also linked on the right.

It will take a month or two for this whole approach to shake down and work properly, if it ever does. Be that as it may, I am confident that at the end of the whole process we will have a new The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, and that whatever clouds of uncertainty it may trail, they will at least be no cloudier than were Stephen Leacock’s, all those one hundred years ago.

Posted by Paul Conway, Voyageur Storytelling.




In the Beginning: Tohu-Bohu of the Most Civilized Kind

Tuesday, March 26th 2019: First Post here, Second Post overall. (Posts will flow weekly here on Tuesdays.)

Council for the middling City of Mariposa meets formally in the Council Chamber of course. It is a room that the mayor, Josie Smith, particularly hates on account, she says, of its mind-boggling pretentiousness and the elevated stage on which Council sits, looking down on any members of the public who can get past the City Clerk and onto the agenda. Mayor Josie is a levelling democratist of the most severe kind. When she has been in office long enough,  knows her way around, and has enough support, she will do something about that room. If she can get away with it she will elevate the public above the Council, where they belong. Josie intends to be mayor for a long, long time. She wants the whole hog. She won’t squander money and political good will on half measures. She has promised the voters a level, democratic process aimed at Social Justice, and that is what they are going to have, try her patience however it may.

She is devoted to her home city with every fibre of her being, equal to but not greater than her devotion to her husband and eleven children. She is a Smith of Mariposa by direct descent who kept her maiden name because her husband, Omur Ugabu, coming from a sternly matriarchal tradition, thought it more fitting. The children call themselves Smith, or Ugabu, or Smith-Ugabu, or Ugabu-Smith, according to whim and to the immense confusion of bureaucracies. Josie is short, slight, blonde, and pale, Omur the opposite. The children mix these extremes variously. They all get along very well.

It was inevitable that the first meeting of the Mariposa Official Symposium on Social Justice, or MOSOSJ, would start with an argument. Mayor Josie wanted it that way, and the citizenry were only too happy to oblige. She made sure there was plenty of booze on hand, because it was after all a symposium, and she cast the affair in simple-minded almost childish terms, as a Hunt. She allowed a half-hour for drink-and-chat before discussion began, and added further to the irritation by referring to the disposable paper drinking vessels as “stirrup cups”.

“Madam Mayor,” intoned Sheldon Uttermost when the gathering had once more filled their stirrup-cups and settled in a circle, “I do not understand why the City  is serving alcohol at this gathering, which I believe has a solemn purpose. And what’s all this nonsense about a hunt?”

“What’s that in your glass, Sheldon?” asked Josie.

“Water. I am here for Social Justice, not for incontinent dissipation or puerile jocosity.” Groans from the gathering.

“Indeed,” replied Josie, “let us have no incontinence. A little jocosity from time to time, perhaps, to lighten our labours.” In the pause while Sheldon groped for enough syllables to give him the upper hand she went on: “We are having alcohol because cannabis cannot be smoked in a public room and such food and drinks are not yet legal. The City is paying for drinks for the same reason that it pays for ice at the arena: so that the pursuits of the people will slide along with less friction. I call it a Hunt because it is one, and I believe that if we take that for inspiration rather than inhibition, we will have better success. Council wants this creature caught, and tamed. Since first spotted ages ago it has proved itself elusive and slippery. It lives in the jungled wilderness of human affairs. It will not be caught and tamed without cunning and resolve. The metaphor is exact.”

“Our Founder called it an Unsolved Riddle,” said Deanna Drone, who read a lot.

“And so it is,” said the mayor. The gathering buzzed its agreement.

Then Uncle Henry, as he was always called, who was seated off to one side, and who lived a contradictory kind of life as a sociable solitaire in the bush just beyond the city limits, rose to his feet and chanted: “I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle dove, and am still on their trail. Many the travellers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who had heard the hound, or the tramp of the horse, or even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves.

“Yes indeed, but even more elusive and slippery than that,” said Mayor Josie Smith. “Thank you Uncle Henry. And now, I think we had better fill our stirrup-cups once more, and get started.”

And there I will leave them until next Tuesday.

Posted by Paul Conway, Voyageur Storytelling

The City of the Beginning of Things

In 1912 Mariposa was, famously, a little town. Just exactly what kind of little town it was remains, or should remain, controversial although largely irrelevant. Now it is a little city, and unlike Stephen Leacock I am going to be very careful not to give you even the slightest grounds for guessing which city it is. He said that Mariposa was “seventy or eighty” little towns. This remains not a bad estimate, as Canada now has somewhere between seventy and eighty little cities, taking that to mean a population roughly between 20,000 and 100,000. Orillia is on the list, of course, but so are a lot of other places from Corner Brook to Owen Sound to Nanaimo to Whitehorse and Yellowknife.

In other words, Mariposa is an imaginary place. If Peter Ustinov can have an imaginary country that he carries around with him for restorative purposes, then I can have an imaginary city. It will have its own story eventually, I hope, to be called perhaps All-Weather Sketches of a Middling City, in order to avoid some of the pitfalls of sunshine sketches of little towns, pitty and fally as they inevitably turn out to be.

I hope it will prove restorative for you too.

Mariposa is many things, from hockey leagues to chamber concert series to seasonal carnivals to promenades along Main Street to coffee shops to pubs to churches to schools to all kinds of stores to factories to train and bus stations to service stations to medical clinics and hospitals to a university and a community college to a fine public library in a new building to a city council and all the trappings in an architecturally significant city hall and in short the whole panorama of contemporary small urban life. It is also, somewhat unusually, a City of Literary Refuge, as it likes to style itself, officially a UNESCO City of Literature, which is not exactly the same thing. Most of all, of course, it is a city of people, diverse people, women and men both dong and ding summer autumn winter spring reaping their sowings and wenting their came sun moon stars rain and all the rest of it.

Most importantly for my present purpose, however, Mariposa is to the hub of the great 2019 Hunt for the Wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, that purpose, in case you have not heard, being to produce a celebration of the Stephen Leacock Anniversaries this year: the 150th of his birth in 1869, the 75th of his death in 1944, and the 100th of his book The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. I am resolved that we should celebrate the life and work of this phenomenal Canadian voice, hunt down the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, tame it, and re-write the book. I view this as a national endeavour, and will do everything I can to make it so. This post is written as we approach the launch date of March 28th.

This whole extravaganza will, as far as I know right now, take place entirely on line. I am establishing several ways that you can engage in it:

  • by following my Twitter spot @conwaypaulw;
  • by following Voyageur Storytelling’s Facebook page;
  • by following any one of the three blogs, each of which will link to the others;
  • by sending me an e-mail at and asking to be on the mailing list.

If you are following either Twitter or Facebook I ask you most politely to ricochet any postings to your friends so that we can swell the group, even exponentially.

The three blogs are:

I invite you to comment in any fashion that these various media allow, or send me an e-mail, and look forward to hearing from you.

Posted by Paul Conway