Something is happening here…

Readers of a certain age will recognize the title of this post as part of the chorus of one of Bob Dylan’s iconic songs of the ’60’s, “Ballad of a Thin Man.”

And something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones ?

What brought the song to mind was another simple phrase which seemed to sum up our own time in a similar pithy way.  Strangely enough, it came from a piece on CNN.com called “Why the best thing you can do is fail,” by Eddie Obeng, founder of a virtual business school  http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/30/opinion/obeng-business-disruption-ted/index.html.  Here is the passage that caught my attention:

“What’s happened in business is that the rules of the real 21st century aren’t clear to us, so instead we spend our time responding rationally to a world which we understand and recognize, but which no longer exists.”

We can substitute many other words for “business” and find the phrase rings equally true.  Try it.  “What’s happened in [publishing, school safety, government, warfare, economics, international relations] is that the rules of the real 21st century aren’t clear to us, so instead we spend our time responding to a world which we understand and recognize, but which no longer exists.”

Both the Dylan lyrics and Obeng’s observation put into simple words what we’ve known for some time but could not express so clearly.

One of my favorite words, liminal, stands for times like these, times of uncertainty and change in the life of an individual or a culture.  Webster’s Dictionary defines liminal as: “1 of or at the limen or threshold 2 at a boundary or transitional point between two conditions, stages in a process, ways of life, etc.”

I started a post in December concerning what fairytales have to say about living in liminal times.  Fairytales always happen in times of transition or crisis times.  Your father will die if you don’t find the water of life.  Your stepmother wants to kill you, or you find your new husband is a serial killer.  The king will cut off your head if you fail to capture  the firebird.

Can this be relevant to the 21st century?  I’m convinced that it can.

Right now I’m reveling in one of my Christmas presents, The Annotated Brothers Grimm, a fine new collection published to celebrate the bicentennial of Grimm’s fairytales.

Reading so many stories at the same time raises a number of questions.  What does it take for a character to survive their otherworld challenges?  Sometimes you have to obey a witch, and at other times you need to push her into the oven.  Sometimes not knowing is an asset and sometimes a fatal flaw.  You should listen to animals by the side of the road unless they are wolves and you’re wearing red.

I don’t expect to come up with definite answers, but I do expect to turn up some interesting questions.  This is my immediate plan; after that, I’ll do as I’ve always done on this blog, make things up as I go along.

I very much hope you’ll stay tuned.  And now, I’ll leave you with my wish for a joyous and prosperous 2013, and with a very old clip of Bob Dylan doing “Ballad of a Thin Man” in 1966 in Copenhagen…

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This entry was posted in Books, Culture, Current Events, Folklore, oral tradition, Stories and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Something is happening here…

  1. I will definitely stay tuned! It’s a worthy quest. Are you familiar with the musical, “Into the Woods”? It’s a favorite of mine, delving into the deeper side of fairy tales.
    Best Wishes for a most Happy New Year, Morgan!

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    • I don’t know the musical, but wasn’t there a book of that name? The really constant feature of the Germanic tales (not as much as some other nationalities) is the forest. Most everything happens in the forest.

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  2. Rosi says:

    You know I will be here. You always make me think. Sometimes I put my brain on cruise control, but your blog posts put my brain in overdrive. Keep up the good work. I’m looking forward to another year of thought-provoking posts.

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  3. Adam says:

    The world is constantly changing, and now it seems to be doing so at a faster pace than ever before. We can all see it changing, but without knowing where it’s going, we stick to what was working before even when it obviously isn’t working now.

    I was doing the same thing earlier in the year with bowling on my Thursday league, I kept trying to play the lanes the way I did last year, and after the first five weeks I was averaging 191 (when I was at 210 last year). I saw that something had to change, and since I did I’ve pushed my average up to 208 at the halfway point of the season.

    The most important part of changing anything is simply to show the willingness to change. I’m optimistic that we’ll get there, yet at the same time I’m always fearful that it will take something horrible to bring about the willingness to change.

    Another thoughtful post today, and I look forward to more of them in the upcoming year.

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    • Your bowling story is a great illustration of what is needed – the discipline to simply show up and be willing to consider new approaches.

      I always wonder about those people who later will be regarded as visionaries. Tomorrow’s Steve Jobs or Amanda Hocking. What attributes might they have in common? I’m sure there have been many studies of innovators, but I’m guessing most have enough self-confidence to trust their own intuitions/hunches and stick by them even when it seems difficult or crazy.

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