Thursday, 22 December 2016

After the Longest Day

I wanted to write something uplifting to mark the solstice yesterday, this highest point of the year in the southern hemisphere, but I haven’t been able. 

2016 has been a very challenging year for various reasons, and though I am proud of myself for continuing to post here, and I have achieved much, I have also come to realise that there are so many other things that I need to work on too—not least my health, which has been sliding downhill for several months.  

Thus, I will be taking a short break from blogging to enjoy what I can of the remainder of the year, to rest, to work on some creative goals I have fallen behind with, and to read as much as I can through the hot and lazy days of summer (including my one concession to the festive season, Jeanette Winterson’s latest book, Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 days). 

A page from Christmas Days
In the meantime, here are some of my offerings that I am most proud of:

My Beginning

An exploration of one powerful, and strangely beautiful, bird, and how fire and water are kindred: Fire in the Belly of Vulture.

The many beauties of autumn: Autumn's Gifts.

A poem of green union: Tree Woman.

A post for today’s opposite, the winter solstice: Wintersong.

A piece about creativity and illness that surprised me with its popularity: A Relationship with Illness.

A reminder that anything, even not being able to write, can be the subject of writing: Being the Mountain.

A meditation on darkness, which I got such a kick out of writing: Endarkenment.

And a call for new stories, so that the Earth can be saved: Telling the New Stories.

Thank you to everyone who has stopped by to read, and to all my commenters. I wish you an enjoyable festive season, whichever way you do or don’t celebrate it.

I will be back some time in the new year.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

A Map of Myself

I kept a diary at the time. It was the only way to keep track of all the changes inside me. Emotions were squirming like worms, weaving themselves into new forms in the fibres of my being. Heartstrings were tangling and untangling, growing out from my body and grasping hold of things out in the world. New feelings were surging through me. Writing things down was the only way to make sense of things, to avoid confusion. 

Each evening I would document the events of the day, and then bring everything into focus. If I had not done this I am sure I would have drowned, drowned under the weight of the new sensations and ideas. 

It was as if I had to create a map of myself, and each day different sections of it would be drawn into clearer focus. Here is a mountainous region, forested, with snow-capped peaks and hidden, overgrown temples. There is a desert region, pocked with oases. There are the whale roads of the ocean, and HERE BE DRAGONS!

It was, I suppose you could say, a diary of discovery. I was the explorer of myself, and what greater expedition could be undertaken than an inner one, into the uncharted realms within.

The diary was a map which helped me to find my way, to avoid becoming lost within myself. Each day I added to my knowledge and found new paths to traverse. Each day there was a new landscape to behold, a new vista was lit up with dawn or faded into obscurity with dusk. Each day was an adventure.

(A piece developed from a Writers’ Group prompt from a year ago, using a first line taken at random from a book.)

Thursday, 8 December 2016

The Warriors Are Gathering

From my differing awareness, I sense something that you may not yet. Especially amongst artists … resistance is growing. Consciousness is on the move. Something is at work in the world: a general recognition of a crisis of the spirit, of the banal and the shoddy, in human affairs. It is universal, and it must be met. Recently, an Australian Aboriginal shaman warned me: “The Great Serpent has woken. Jarapiri stirs. The earth shakes. And the warriors are gathering.” (The Voice That Thunders: Essays and Lectures, The Harvill Press: London, 1997, pp. 37–38)

Alan Garner said this in his lecture, ‘Aback of Beyond’, twenty years ago, but it seems utterly pertinent now.

The earth is shaking, changing far too fast, dying, and we must stand firm and resist the destroyers if we are to survive. We must outlast the destruction with our creativity.

My last post was about the importance of art, how if we tell new stories, the right stories, we can change, perhaps even save, the world.

This is what I want to do with my writing, and art too. Yet right now I am not well enough to do much at all, let alone that momentous work. I want to be one of the gathering warriors, ready to fight for the Earth, yet I do not have the energy, and without the energy, I do not even have the will. 

Many of the things I have written this year have been ‘aspirational’, in the sense that they are reminders to myself of what I need to be doing, what my life/creative/spiritual goals should be. Though I may not be able to work on those things as well as I would like at the moment, they are what I am always striving to move towards. 

I have many ideas, yet simply cannot manifest them, and it is frustrating to feel so powerless, so fatigued of body and befuddled of mind; though I do not blame myself. The illness I live with is my constant companion, and it can be oh-so-fickle.

What has become clear is that I need to bring my focus back to my health, to make some changes to how I live, for I cannot function or feel right within myself unless I have at least a rudimentary level of wellness. Once I have that, then, then, I will be able to work on becoming the warrior woman I want to be, the writer, the artist.

In the meantime, I stand with all the other wild and creative warriors who are telling the new stories, making art for the Earth, gathering together as one to protect all life.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Telling the New Stories

I wrote most of what follows several weeks ago, originally as part of my post about Jeanette Winterson and the importance of reading, This Strange Agency of the Soul. Yet I decided that post was becoming too long and unwieldy. There were things in it that were of great importance, but that I wasn’t yet ready to say. Now, after some further thought, I think I am ready. Though all this can ever be is incomplete.

Jeanette Winterson has written: ‘I do not believe that art (all art) and beauty are ever separate, nor do I believe that either art or beauty are optional in a sane society’ (1). I fancy this says a lot about the collective psychological state of our culture, which seems to be getting uglier and more insane by the day (though beauty still shines out, if you know where to look). She goes on to say:

If the arts did not exist, at every moment, someone would begin to create them, in song, out of dust and mud, and although the artefacts might be destroyed, the energy that creates them is not destroyed. If, in the comfortable West, we have chosen to treat such energies with scepticism and contempt, then so much the worse for us. Art is not a little bit of evolution that late-twentieth-century city dwellers can safely do without. Strictly, art does not belong to our evolutionary pattern at all. It has no biological necessity. Time taken up with it was time lost to hunting, gathering, mating, exploring, building, surviving, thriving. Odd then, that when routine physical threats to ourselves and our kind are no longer a reality, we say we have no time for art.

Paleolithic cave paintings, Sierra Madrona, Ciudad, Spain (Wikimedia Commons)
If we say that art, all art is not longer relevant to our lives, then we might at least risk the question ‘What has happened to our lives?’ The usual question, ‘What has happened to art?’ is too easy an escape route. (2)

What has happened to our lives?

Humans tell stories. It is one of the things that we cannot help but do, in order to make sense of the world; and those stories, whether we are aware of it or not, actually create the world, influencing the ways in which we live, and even how we think, perceive and relate to the world. Yet, something has gone terribly wrong, for we are teetering on the edge of global destruction—climate change, mass species loss, never-ending violence, political and corporate corruption and greed, and so on and so on. Therefore, it seems fair to say that at some point in the past, something went awry with our stories.

The founders of The Dark Mountain Project, Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine, have written that we have been ‘led to this point by the stories we have told ourselves—above all, by the story of civilisation’ (3)—namely, by the myths of progress, of our separation from nature, and of human centrality and supremacy. We are destroying the Earth, yet many people seem to think it is our destiny, as humans, to do so, because they believe in these ‘myths’.

The word ‘myth’, in this context, means a widely held but false belief or idea. It is not used in the sense that Alan Garner means when he describes myth as ‘a complex of story that, for various reasons, human beings see as demonstrations of the inner cause of the universe and of human life’ (4). Those myths are quite a different thing, necessary and valuable. Indeed, those myths provide us with a fertile soil from which our new stories can be grown. 

Thus, we need to start telling new stories. Stories that (re)connect us with the wild world once more, make us part of nature, humbly enmeshed with all other beings. After all, the words human, humble, and humus are etymologically related. We are literally creatures of the earth, and must show deference to Nature.

Kingsnorth and Hine say, 

writers, artists, poets and storytellers of all kinds have a critical role to play. Creativity remains the most uncontrollable of human forces: without it, the project of civilisation is inconceivable, yet no part of life remains so untamed and undomesticated. Words and images can change minds, hearts, even the course of history. (5)

So, if we change the stories we are telling, we can change the world. Art can truly be that powerful.

This is one of the reasons why I write as I do, about the subjects I do. I want to write myself back into relationship with the natural world. For if I begin with the imagination, writing of rabbit-girls and bird-women, green-thumbed gardeners and wise old women, then perhaps all that weedy wildness will begin to spill over into my everyday life. At the very least, I want to change my world. 

It is why I read as I do too. Mainstream books, for the most part, do not interest me. I want wildness, myth, magic, beauty; writing that challenges, that inspires. I don’t just want entertainment; I want to step outside of time, be shown alternative ways to live and be (including nonhuman ways), and to nourish my soul in the process. As Ursula Le Guin puts it, ‘I want to recognise something I never saw before’ (6), for transfiguring visions to leap off the page and into my heart.

And maybe art doesn’t just nourish our souls. Maybe it nourishes Earth’s soul too (after all, we are all small parts of that larger, encompassing soul). All the more reason to read (widely and wildly), to make art, and to daydream, because these untamed, timeless activities are a rebellion against the forces of civilisation that sneer at stories, at art, at dreams, soul and Spirit, and that have brought us to the brink of extinction. ‘The soul, after all, is our inner wildness’ (7), the complement to the outer wildness of nature, and we need both to survive. Therefore we must be mindful to feed our souls well.

So let’s read and write, paint and sculpt, sing and dance. Let’s uncivilise our souls, and tell the new stories that will create the new world we so sorely need. We might just save everything in the process.

The two photos above (with a little creative editing from me) are pages from the most recent Dark Mountain book, Issue 10: Uncivilised Poetics, showing billboard art by Robert Montgomery. You can see more of his work here:

1. Jeanette Winterson, Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, Vintage: London, 1995, p. 5
2. ibid, pp. 20–21
3. Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine, Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain Manifesto, 2009, p. 10—you can read the whole thing here:
4. Alan Garner, The Voice That Thunders: Essays and Lectures, The Harvill Press: London, 1997, p. 27
5. Kingsnorth & Hine, pp. 10–11
6. Ursula Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination, Shambhala: Boston, 2004, p. 268
7. Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and the Psyche, New World Library: Novato, California, 2003, p. 15
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