Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Unfamiliar Subjects

One of the prompts we tried out at my writers’ group earlier this year was to write about an unfamiliar subject, to consider something outside of our comfort zones. I found this very difficult. If I’d had more time to think about it I may have done things differently; but the objective with prompts is to work with whatever ideas come up in the moment. Therefore, my way of exploring the unfamiliar was to write about a point of view that I passionately disagree with—the idea that we, as humans, are meant (even destined) to control nature. This is, lamentably, the dominant worldview, and the cause of many of our problems, both ecological and social. 

I am not overly happy with what I wrote—it is roughly formed, and probably wildly inaccurate, not to mention too simplistic—but it has just been published on Writers in the Mist. Please head over and have a read (it is very short).

And speaking of control:

What if the point of life has nothing to do with the creation of an ever-expanding region of control? What if the point is not to keep at bay all those people, beings, objects, and emotions that we so needlessly fear? What if the point instead is to let go of that control? 

This quote is from A Language Older Than Words (2000, p. 150), a brilliant book about interspecies communication by environmental activist, philosopher, and one of my heroes, Derrick Jensen. The quotes in the photos are from another of his books, Dreams (2011, pp. 329 and 251 respectively).

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Finding the Hag Energy: When Madness is Good Sense

In the wake of recent events I wanted to share a few of the pieces I have read, written by wise women, that have helped to ameliorate my feelings of fear and dejection about what is now happening in our world. Things were bad enough already, but now the way forward is going to be even harder for women, for refugees, for indigenous peoples and other minorities, and for those of us who truly care about the Earth.

Yet, horrible as this state of affairs is, it may well be just what we need to stimulate real change and transformation. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new era, and we—the artists, dreamers and wild ones, the humble folk in humble houses—are the people who will make it come about.

For women in particular, we need to face our fears and tap into the energy that comes from our anger (an emotion that is usually, often wrongly, characterised as negative, and that we therefore tend to suppress), and let out the hag, the witch, the madwoman. For it is from the deep, dark and potent place of our anger—the place that knows this is wrong, and says enough is enough!—that the alchemical fires of transformation will originate.

As Emily Dickinson wrote: 

Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest Madness –

We must learn to see with a discerning eye. That the ‘Sense’ that we are often presented with—that production is more important than people, that economic growth is more important than a living Earth—from businessmen, politicians and the like, is utter madness; while what they see as our ‘Madness’—our love of what is wild and natural and filled with life’s poetry, our kindness for people and living beings—is in fact good sense, and utterly right.

We must find the hags within us, wake the witches, let our goodly anger rise so that we can make things right. We must grow in confidence, ready our voices, write our stories, make our art, shout our protests. Because enough is enough. 

Here is much inspiration:

and so in the darkness we fight on by Sarah Elwell 

The Wild Woman in Irish Myth and Re-membering Women’s Stories by Sharon Blackie

This Fear is Old by Lucy H. Pearce

Alice Walker Tells Readers: Don’t Despair

Meeting the Times by Deena Metzger

And lastly, this stunning tale of drought and immigration in California, and a mythic renewing of the world: 

The Last Harvest of the World by Sylvia Linsteadt

Thursday, 10 November 2016

This Strange Agency of the Soul

Back in August 2014 I was lucky enough to attend An Evening with Jeanette Winterson at the Sydney Opera House, and a couple of months ago I reminded myself of that night by watching the video of the event. 

In her insightful and very entertaining speech Winterson spoke of the great importance of books and stories—indeed, all art—in opening up ‘emotional resonances’ within us, feeding our souls, and showing us new possibilities and ways of living; and therefore, that reading should never be considered a ‘guilty pleasure’. It is, in fact, a vital necessity. 

She also emphasised a very interesting idea: that there is no such thing as linear time in storytelling (which, as a writer, I find a very exciting concept); and the same applies to the reading of stories. When you are reading, dwelling within the space of a story,

then you are actually stretching time. There’s more happening than can possibly happen when you are watching the clock, when you’re racing around … Stories seem to me to be a great challenge to the way that we live our lives. And in there, not only do we find different ideas, different experiences, different emotions, different possibilities, we find a direct challenge to this hustle and hassle culture of the 24/7 economy. (1)

Indeed, in the modern world, time itself has become a commodity, and anything that is not deemed to make productive use of it (such as reading or daydreaming), is thus considered a waste of time. This is where reading, as an escape from clock-time, and as a soul-nourishing activity, rather than an outwardly productive one, is a challenge to the modern world, a subversive, rebellious act. 

The modern world is Time’s fool. Art is master of itself. (2)

For me, reading is also a haven, a retreat in difficult times. When my health is at a low ebb, sometimes reading is almost all I can do, so many books have been keeping me company over the past couple of months. I know, of course, that there is much more to life than books (this is one of the lessons that I tried to explore in my story The Pear Tree). Yet books feed me with life, for when I cannot go out into the physical world as much as I would like, I can go into the world of a book instead. The world of the imagination has its own reality. And in exploring the world imaginatively, I can imagine myself back into relationship with the physical world too. At least, this is what I hope and strive for, in my writing as well as my reading.

I had intended to read less this year in order to make more time for writing, yet I have slowly come to realise that reading is not something I can just put aside. It is an integral part of my gathering of ideas and inspiration, my own nourishment. I never know when something I read will spark a thought, an image, a story. Put simply: I need to read in order to be able to write. The two activities are intertwined and inseparable.

In the end, as Winterson says, ‘by making the time for the book we are actually making time for something much larger, which is this strange agency of the soul’. (3) And this strange agency of the soul is, I believe, intertwined with and inseparable from the creative life, so it cannot, must not, be ignored. And thus I read—books, blogs, articles—and I digest, store away, ponder, take notes; I nourish my imagination, and it grows inside me, fed on stories of flying girls in rural Wales, of Frida Kahlo’s complex and colourful Mexico, and tales of magic and love in old Erin. And from this inner space interacting with the outer world emerges life.

Art does not imitate life. Art anticipates life. (4)

Perhaps today, of all days, when such fear and uncertainty has been unleashed on the world, we need art more than ever. 

So, dear readers, what books have been nourishing your souls recently?

2. Jeanette Winterson, Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, Vintage: London, 1995, p. 90
4. Art Objects, p. 40

Friday, 4 November 2016

Spring is a Happiness So Beautiful

All is not well with the world, nor with me, but there is still beauty to be found; and because of it, I can almost say that I am happy.

Native irises

Crimson rosellas

Sulphur-crested cockatoos
Sleeping wood ducks

Spring is a happiness so beautiful, so unique, so unexpected, that I don’t know what to do with my heart. I dare not take it, I dare not leave it—what do you advise?

~ Emily Dickinson (from a letter to her cousins, 1874)

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Slowing Down After Sprinting Through October

October passed by in something of a blur. When I signed up to get the Creative Sprint prompts I did so out of curiosity, wondering what they would be like, whether they would inspire me. I had not intended to actually take part, only changing my mind at the last minute. And then suddenly I was in the thick of it, required to make something and share it online each day.

While I have learned that it is possible to make something (almost) everyday, and some of the prompts did lead me to create things I was pleased with, what I disliked about the whole process was the incredibly fast-paced nature of it. On most days I felt rushed, and often resorted to easy options rather than making any great effort. As I said in a previous post, what is necessary to life, and necessary to the making of art, is peace, quiet and a lack of haste. Creative Sprint seemed like the antithesis to that slower way of living and creating.

So, would I take part again? No. 

It was certainly a good challenge, and I might stay on the email list. Some of the prompts were stimulating. But I will not ‘sprint’ again. It has left me frazzled, a tad overwrought.

My path is one I must walk slowly, ensuring that I am not distracted from what is most important. Creative Sprint was fun, but it was distracting, forcing me to spend more time online than I would have liked, and making me fall behind with other important things. It did give me a break from writing my usual posts here—which I did sorely need—but in the end I believe it was too much for me. My (very limited) energy is better directed towards the creative work that I consider to be essential and meaningful, rather than just creating things for the sake of it.

I do not want to be disparaging of the project. It is a good one. Many people produced great art, and it was fascinating seeing how differently people’s minds worked, interpreting the prompts in many ingenious ways. Also, it reminded me of the truth that you do not know what you are capable of creating until you try—something I often forget; and to stick with ideas and follow them through, rather than giving up at the first hurdle—my usual habit. But, ultimately, Creative Sprint is not for me.

So, as I have concluded my 30 days of art, my usual posts should now resume. However, since I am going through a difficult phase with my health at the moment—perhaps I have taken on too much this year—I may post less frequently from now on, so bear with me. Two or three times per month might be my limit—though it all depends on the Muse, and I can’t make predictions about Her. She comes when She chooses to. Perhaps I will create more short posts—a photo here, a quote there—and less long essays. All I know is that I must sink back into Nature’s Time and obey my own internal rhythms once more. If I do that, all will be well, in its way.

Happy Beltane to my southern readers, and happy Samhain to those in the north. As Beltane and Samhain are fire festivals, I think this blazing waratah is a fitting flower to symbolise both.

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