I found the following fascinating letter in the Trillim Archives in Beijing during my last research trip there. Her speculations are perhaps a little too bold, but do seem to portend certain trends in Mormon Theology we see today. It was written to Babs Lake and dated May, 19 1957. It’s intriguing to me because she draws on the work of Henri Bergson, the French/Polish philosopher whose work has fascinated me for a number of years. Bergson would have been much more well-known in 1957 than he is today, but her tying his work to Mormon thought and theology reflects an extraordinarily deep understanding of contemporaneous evolutionary philosophy.
I am pleased that interest Trillim’s work continues to grow. Her books on Amazon have increased in rank dramatically in the last few months. Her wiki page has also been updated. Perhaps most pleasing of all an international conference on Trillim Studies is planned for next year in Beijing at which it will be announced (and obviously already has been because I’m telling you about it) that the Gilda Trillim Society is being formed and that a new journal is being launched called, The Gilda Trillim Quarterly. I cannot tell you how exciting I find these developments.
I’ve transcribed the whole letter, which was written in Trillim’s rather bold, sloppy cursive. It took a bit of work to decipher. Some words I just could not make out (noted below in <>s). She is also an abysmal speller, to which I have deep and abiding sympathies. It is rather long. If Gilda Trillim holds no interest for you then I would avoid this long post, as fascinating as it is.
I must tell you about the mornings. At first light a strident rooster floods my dreams with his urgent boasts and slowly, very slowly I slide into the realities of this new world. The air is heavy, thick with a first-light temptation to pull the sheets over my head to reprimand the dawn for its disturbance, but the bright glow shining through the jalousie carries with it the humid smells of breakfast fires, the river’s stench of human wastes, and the essence of odd foreignness, which drives my bare feet to the wood slats of the floor. I sit up panting in a slight panic because I have trouble remembering where I am and what I’m doing amid such strangeness. Then I fall back into the bed. I lie for a while; running through the metaphors that I will use to describe this place to you. The rattle of a cart is like . . . the rattle of a cart. The voice of the woman in the street berating her husband resembles . . . the voice of a woman berating her husband. I think I am thwarted in my literary attempts because the otherness of this place is too new. Too striking. My mind finds it is all too novel to make the connections between these fresh sensual experiences and mere words. In short, everything is like nothing. I arise each morning on the edge of horizon over which I’ve never peered. No wonder delight seems my constant companion.
Well, it’s time to give you the tale in full. You’ve received postcard after postcard from me promising that I will give you the details in the elusive ‘soon.’ How weary you must be at my promises and lack of delivery! Well, settle back in your chair and prepare to have unleashed upon your beautiful head more details then you could possibly ever want. You poor dear. With friends like me, it’s either feast or famine on the news front I’m afraid.
As you heard, we demolished the Danish in the final match of the Uber Cup. It was glorious. It was a first-class smashing. I’ll have to say this without pussyfooting rococo hubris, because the fact is I was brilliant. I had a move that flummoxed and devastated my opponents. The press covering the tournament started calling it the ‘Trillim Lift’ (if you can imagine). You’ve played me enough that you’ll recognize the move—the one in which I take a lob with my back turned to the assault, racquet arcing downward from my backcourt directed stance to catch the shuttle on the upswing of a backhand, on the upward side of the parabola framed by my swing (did that even make any sense?). It looks like the motion will lift the shuttle high and toward midcourt. I think what devastates my opponent is that it looks like a lucky return, badly played, and so they plan for a smash. What they don’t expect is the fierce slice I’ve managed to perfect, which sends the shuttlecock driving just over the net fast and low. It’s devastating, even if I do say so myself.
After the tournament at a banquet honoring our American victory, a British fellow and an Indian filmmaker approached me about helping others learn my trick. How could I turn down a trip to Pune, the birthplace of our sport? My novel is well-stuck and I was doubting my ability to pull it off by the publisher’s deadline (soft, self-imposed so not a fixed point) so thought why not? I knew that you would yet be busy helping your family with the lambing and other Spring activates so felt no rush to get back. So here I am in India!
Remember that semester we accidently took that philosophy class? I still laugh when I think we signed up for a graduate course in Mereology thinking it was a class in mere-ology—an approach to art from the most minimal of expressions—like my own novels. I thought we would be listening to Moondog’s music or looking at Mondrian’s paintings. What’s funny is we didn’t know we were in the wrong class until mid term! Hilarious. But you’ll remember Professor Boehme was always trying to carve the world into its parts and patch together wholes and, as you’ll recall, pretty much wholes were just sums of parts. (Remember his thick Austrian accent trying to get us to learn mathematical Set Theory (Ze Un-i-yon ov de elements iz ze whol-le)! I still think he was in love you, you got the impossible ninety-eight on your midterm while I got a twenty-three? Come now, we studied together the whole time! Oh, the romance that could have been. Eh?
Anyway, my sponsors, the American and the Indian (They are paranoid and secretive and likely delusional, but they have asked me not to write in a letter their names as ‘communiqués’ might be read in the post office here (‘Hello’ to whomsoever is reading this! Say hello to your paranoid handlers)) were determined to design a set of techniques that would make the ‘Trillim Lift’ just a matter of following steps A through Z. Like Prof. Boehme they thought that the ‘technique’ could just be carved from a set of individual movements that when added together could be summed into the successful execution of the move. What a disaster. First they tried to film me doing it, but I couldn’t! I just couldn’t do it on command. They would lob at me perfect set ups for the move, but when I tried to do it, I just fell apart (and sometimes even fell down). I just could not manage it when I was trying to think about it. This won’t surprise you. The real execution is nothing less than the instinctual level of play that occurs during a match, much like when I throw a tennis ball to our dog and she becomes one with the entire enterprise. Nothing surprising in the observation that it does not take thinking to play badminton well and that once you’ve given your brain the motions over and over it gets good at doing it without bothering to inform you what it is doing. Some of the German philosophers are making a big deal of this I understand, pretending there is keen insight in what the psychologists have realized since James. To me it is not interesting or surprising that the brain learns to take short cuts away from conscious thought and its grinding slowness (especially in me).
But what does intrigue me is what I am and where the me comes from when doing that lift! (Always back to existentialism, heh?) First, Boehme’s little part/whole debacle fails! Set theory cannot touch it, because it’s a folded up thing that no simple summation or partition can ever get its greedy little claws into.
Certainly, with Boemhe, I would agree I’m a boatload of objects. Even the ‘lift’ is an object (and yes I’m convinced a situation can often be an object, since all objects are situations!). So what is the lift? It has its roots in hopscotch, I think. The long hours I spent throwing my brother’s hockey puck just so—it would have to land flat or it would roll away. Hop, hop, jump, hop, pick up, hop, hop, jump, hop, jump. Those motions were essential. Then there was the invention of badminton, the rules, the culture, the tools, the implements, rising into existence like a poem or a novel. Then it had to come to Idaho and capture the mind of Mrs. Beckwith who started a team. A thousand coincidences bouncing around things until I find myself in England, spinning around at just the right moment to capture the cup and crown, and the imagination of film makers who want to mass-produce the lift in an assembly line of motions. But the motions are not just pieces of a puzzle. They are rooted and grounded in the past in a way that cannot be separated from that past. Can it? I did learn the basics of the game in a way similar to what they are trying to do. Why should my lift be different from that, such that I think it unteachable? But maybe you need more than only the components of the lift, maybe you have to start by teaching hopscotch?
(I can see you raising a finger preparing to dissect this, your mouth twisting in that way that denotes flummoxed puzzlement, your brow furrowing, then lifting to one side and you asking, “So if the lift is an object, what sort is it? It certainly can be filmed. It has certain boundaries, fluffy one ones true, but certainly there is a beginning and end. The beginning might be when the shuttle crosses the net? Or when your brain first discerns the trajectory of the shuttlecocks motion? Its end defined after the follow-through of your strike?” Any and all of these things I suppose.)
The point is, my dear Miss. Lake, that the lift comes from nothing necessary, the lift is a complex object (if you’ll grant that), embedded in a game called badminton that emerged because a bunch of colonials were bored, in a culture without a tennis court, in a given political moment in the history of the world. There is nothing necessary about this game. It slouched out of nowhere, depending on gobs of little accidents. It could just as easily exist in this world or not. And yet once there was badminton, then the lift could follow. Badminton suddenly creates space for all kinds of new objects, some tools, some the decorations of badminton culture, some motions and interactions within the game itself. It could have been that it never appeared, or something quite different could have bubbled into existence, like hitting small baskets with your elbows while standing on a balance beam (imagine the motions that that would have brought into the world! Motions as absurd as the lift out of context, but brilliant in the game of balance beam elbow basketing!) To do the lift outside of badminton would be nonsensical. Yet within the game it becomes the means of a powerful strike, which combines with many other objects, some of them very complex: Me, the shuttle, the net, my opponent, the court, the rules of the game, the audience, the framework of a contest, the other team mates . . .you get my drift? It is twisted up in a thousand knots.
Remember our class at the university on the Nobel Prize winners and our reading Bergson? Remember his book Creative Evolution? All of life is like this. Like badminton, things come into existence contingently, not necessarily. He argued that the beauty and wonder of life, its variety and amazing beauty emerge from such events as created the ‘lift.’ One thing shows up in life’s great drama and opens a space for another. He wrote how evolution creates spaces that create more spaces and thus creativity enters the world and with creativity the possibility of freedom.
So I suspect you know me well enough to see where this is going. Religion! Ha ha it’s never far from my thoughts. I drive you crazy with it. So just roll your eyes and sit back and endure what follows. You have always been such an indulgent friend.
You’ll remember how crazy I used to get at my father’s ridiculous view that God and the eternities were just an accumulation of more stuff. More wives, more children, more and more acquisitions of worlds. An eternal game of monopoly with more and more squares on the board and more and more houses and hotels piling up on the spaces? Ack. How boring that seemed. An eternity of the same game? Forever? You’d have to have some sort of heavenly opium to keep you happy and sappy enough to make that appealing. And for women? Quadruple Ack. Such an eternity terrifies me. Eternity alone terrifies me, but this is horrific beyond imagination.
But when I look around at life. Its diversity. Its ongoing motions of creation and renewal. The magic and wonder of birds singing, frogs piping, trees flowering, pollinators pollinating, all emerging in Darwin’s ‘tangled bank’ to more and more complexity my heart thrills! Do not the eternities share some kinship with the magic and wonder of life itself? Creative evolution? Freedom? Are these not things we can expect the heavens to contain? Is not the fabric that makes up life and badminton some sort of eternal principle? Are not the ‘Trillim lift’ and the New Guinean mouse bandicoot both objects that have emerged from deep time as a result of a thousand contingent spaces being opened and closed and that form the basis and holiness of complexity?
This is what I love about Mormonism my root fabric. God is not a simple object without parts, without mereology (Boemhe would be so proud I know what the word means at last), without history, without emotion, without meaning, but rather is complex, multiplies. Mormonism looks and God and sees not just the ‘From Alpha to Omega’ But postulates an Alpha-prime that gave rise to Alpha.
So here I go. Without you here to contain me, I go wild. I turn on my imagination and I see a God who has emerged from something. Perhaps, we are on an ecological journey. Like that which life shows us here on earth. Maybe the eternities hold wonder ahead! Maybe new structures will come into existence that never existed before! Maybe diversity and creation are eternal principles and God, us, and all of this, will become a part of something even grander more wondrous, larger, more magnificent. An eternity of evolutionary unfolding into more wondrous and diverse things.
This is different from the static God of most religions who sits locked in a deterministic eternity of going through motions ordained by Himself or who-knows-what. Nor the view that God is sitting in some role that just sits out there waiting to be filled by some worthy applicant. No, this is a God who is participating in life. Life! The kind of life Earth so readily and amazingly displays. An eternal life where new ‘lifts’ emerge as the game changes and requires responses to that change.
So I wonder, dear Babs. What if the eternities are open? What if there is no set eternity to which we are heading? No teleology as Bergson argued to which life must go. What if new emergences occur on the grandest scale of all and God Himself is participating in a dynamic and open existence? In Earth life we see our own bodies as a set of relationships, processes and structures that have formed alliances of other entities, societies of chemicals, bacteria, and such that all work together creating something complex and beautiful. What if eternal life is the similar formation of relationships, alliances of objects many and varied changing. What sort of object would the relationships and federations of eternal beings make? Wondrous beyond the wonders of this Earth life? Of course. Of course. Of course.
Maybe this is why we return again and again to the creation in our sacred places and in our scriptures? To be reminded of life in all of its manifestations! In all its wonderful surprises. (And yes, if God cannot be surprised, then He cannot laugh, and if He cannot laugh, then he cannot weep, and if He cannot weep then we are nothing but reel after reel of a motion picture or television program and our lives are no more meaningful or subject to change than an “I Love Lucy” rerun (not that I don’t LOVE that show).
This is why Satan’s little scheme failed. He tried to make a machine, when nothing short of ‘life; will do for the heavens. That’s why Christ’s atonement is so powerful and important, it became necessary because of the situation that arose. It’s a response to the emergence of a new smashing strike to which one must respond or lose the game. I cannot imagine God is up there following some rulebook (or cookbook) that maps out all that must or should happen.
And so is this not grace? Is not the ‘lift’ embedded in a game I’ve been given, been handed, and with which I interact and grow in skill, in meaning and in achieving something grander? Soon, if the ‘lift’ spreads (through the use of this film seems an unlikely route at this point, given how it is going), a response will be developed. It too will spread and the game will have changed. New opportunities will emerge, within the game, new ‘lifts’ new ‘responses’ will come and go. I’m sure if I were plopped down in a game in 1984 (have you read it yet! Get on it!) I would find myself lost. But that’s how evolution works. That’s how growth happens. Creativity. Meaning. These matter. An eternity without growth? I cannot imagine it.
Well, Babs, I’m diatribing again. These are conversations best reserved to be held under a bright Milky Way burning across a coal black sky on a cool desert night. When I get back, perhaps we can take the Greyhound down to Zions or Arches and spend some time in real speculation. Give my love to your mother and father. I hope they are well.
With unbound affection I am your,