Thursday, 31 August 2017

Awakening at Winter’s End

Now that the August winds have departed, and the air is still once more, I’ve been able to spend more time enjoying this time of in-between, when winter is slowly turning to spring. Already, the cherry blossoms in gardens are almost spent, and other blossoms begin to take their place. And the daffodils are nodding their heads, saying Yes! Yes!

Bee and nectarine blossoms
I’ve been in a strange place lately, edge-dwelling, resting in the liminal. I feel the need to mourn the passing of each season, even as I welcome the next. I don’t want winter to go—I am not ready for the light. Yet spring is calling to me, tugging at my sleeve, and I cannot help but be drawn towards it.

I wanted to spend this winter cocooned in darkness, going inward and focusing on reconnecting with imagination and magic. It hasn’t exactly played out that way. My energy has remained low, and I’ve had to (re)learn that my body-mind can only do so much. In fact, as I read recently, people with CFS tend to procrastinate. This is not because we are lazy, but because our bodies are wiser than we realise. A lack of energy or motivation is not a fault, but a natural occurrence in times of illness. The body knows its limits, even if you, consciously, do not (or wish it were otherwise), and the body asserts itself, removing motivation and interest in order to cause you to stop, rest, slow down. Kat Duff writes:

The first thing that happens when I get sick, even before physical symptoms appear, is that I lose my usual interests. A kind of existential ennui rises in my bones like floodwaters, and nothing seems worth doing … That is when I know I am succumbing to the influence of illness … I slip, like fluid through a porous membrane, into the nightshade of my solar self, where I am tired of my friends, I hate my work, the weather stinks, and I am a failure. (The Alchemy of Illness, 1993, p. 6)

Losing interest in what normally enlivens and enchants us is not pleasant, as often much of life’s meaning inheres in our passions, and not to have or feel them is dispiriting. Yet it fills me with humility, and a kind of awe, to know the wisdom in my own body, that it speaks. I want to be able to understand it better.

So, even though I would love to be writing more, especially writing stories (which my mind simply cannot manage right now), I am trying to be content with where I am, where my body needs me to be, for now. And I’m happy that I have been able to create some small things over the last few months, despite everything. Thus I know that the spark of magic that I seek is still within me, and always has been, and I should not despair over its seeming disappearance. It is just hiding a little deeper than usual, waiting in the darkness—which is such a lovely, generative place to be—for when it can emerge again. Remarkably, even when illness is with me, that spark can still sometimes rise to the surface, very briefly, and it is those moments that I try to catch hold of, in the midst of the ‘existential ennui’ Duff speaks of.

I’ve said before how important creativity is in a world filled with destructiveness, but I don’t really mind that I am creating less at the moment. It seems more important to just let my body have what it needs: rest, quiet, a certain kind of nothingness. And small beauties: the migrations of tiny birds, calling to each other as they go; magpies singing; spring’s gradual unfurling; the few butterflies I have seen; the scent of violets; and the delicate green of a gum leaf, bringing with it the knowledge that the tree sheds the leaves it no longer needs—as can I—and the shed leaf feeds the soil which feeds the tree, which is a whole world in itself, a continuous circle of life inside the earth-circle—as am I. 

I can’t quite smell spring yet, but I feel it coming, rushing over the earth like a great green wind, petals flying in its wake.

The world is awakening. And since my body is part of the earth-body, so am I. Just in my own way.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Making Monotypes

I did another printmaking workshop recently, this time making monotypes, where you paint or draw onto an acetate plate, with ink or oil paint, and then print it—making a one-off, ‘mono’, image. Unfortunately, I am not as happy with what I created as I was back in January, when I made an intaglio etching that I was very proud of. Yet I thought I would share the rough results of this workshop here, for there is certainly potential in this technique.

My first print, based upon a photo of a grey fantail I took earlier in the year, turned out a little too pale. Though I do like the texture on the branch, formed simply with the bristles of the paintbrush. (My second print, an attempt at a darker version, was a write-off.)

Later in the day, at a loss for ideas, I decided to use my backup image (the same tree I had used for my etching), and try the subtractive technique: inking up the plate, and then removing ink to create the image. The result has a certain drama, though there are areas where I removed too much ink, and other areas where I didn’t remove enough.

Finally, I had just enough time to do another print, painting over the ghost of the image that remained on my plate.

Although we made use of the press in the Etching Studio at the Norman Lindsay Gallery & Museum, it is possible to make monotypes without a press. Thus, I am considering how I could experiment with this technique at home. Maybe, in time, I will have more, better, work to share. 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Mountain Mother

All over the world, mountains have been considered sacred—it seems to be a human constant. 
(Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey, 2006, p. 379)

All the great mountains were seen as the Goddess “sitting” on the earth. The mountain was the original throne-womb; it combines the symbols of earth, cave, bulk, height, and immortality. In the towering mountain overlooking the land is embodied the enormous strength of the Goddess. 
(Monica Sjöö and Barbara Mor, The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth, 1987, 1991, p. 73)

Plenty of indigenous people … see mountains as female, … this gendered attitude suggest[ing] a mothering deity, a protective stance both from the mountain and from the people. Ecological writer Dolores LaChapelle, in Earth Wisdom, describes Paleolithic statues that combine the veneration of mountain as mother and the observation that the mother is mountain to the child.
(Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey, 2006, p. 345)

In her autobiography, environmental activist Wangari Maathai describes her people’s traditional understanding of Sacred Mount Kenya thus:

Mount Kenya, known as Kirinyaga, or the Place of Brightness, and the second-highest peak in Africa, was a sacred place.  Everything good came from it: abundant rains, rivers, streams, clean drinking water.  …  As long as the mountain stood, people believed that God was with them and that they would want for nothing.
(Carol P. Christ, ‘The Mountain Mother: Reading the Language of the Goddess in the Symbols of Ancient Crete’,

As a mountain, I can sit, deeply rooted, substantial and strong and completely still, as the winds buffet my flanks, or the rain wears lines of erosion into my skin. I can allow my emotional weather to pass over me as I remain at peace. An occasional earthquake may shatter the stillness, but I move with it, in synchrony with the earth. I ride it out, with patience and acceptance.
(Myself, Being the Mountain, July 2016)

Mountain Mother, watercolours and gouache on gesso prepared card, 2017

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

An Everywhen: A Poem

Expanding inwardly, 
creating more space for the generative darkness.
An inhalation that opens the interior
– in-held breath – 
so there is (no longer) an exterior – 
only self, whole.

Bird-self, tree-souled, 
a bow to the Others who 
make me.

Yellow wattle shining in afternoon light, 
gold-lit green fierceness at midwinter. 
The same yellow in the lemons, 
round-bright and sweet with sour.

I write from myself and for myself, 
from what is not myself, 
to be more truly myself
– transparent – 
cutting through illusion to the real: 
tree, sunlight, breeze, bird.

Rainbow lorikeets, faster than 
my eye can follow, 
entering me with their feather-selfs, 
opening me to what I am not, and to
the interplay of complements without hierarchy.

Relishing this place, this 
everywhen – for I am,
now, I am; 
will not be, one day; 
have not been, before –
but now – NOW – 
I am – 
and the earth embraces me, 
one small molecule of 
her curvaceous flesh.

(July 2017)

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Carpenter’s Wife: A Recreation Story

Lately, I have been feeling quite pessimistic about the state of the world, getting lost in despair over what we are losing, and have already lost, as climate change (amongst other calamities) destabilises and destroys the healthy workings of this fragile blue-green planet. I’ve felt guilt and hopelessness, exacerbated by my own health issues, yes, but tied first and foremost to the fate of the earth. I believe and know that we are connected with the natural world, and that an unhealthy culture and polluted landscape creates unhealthy and unhappy people. (And this is to say nothing of the fact that life itself is in the balance.)

If this is the case, what are we to do about it?

I wish I had easy answers, solutions to all the problems we are faced with as humans, and as earthlings. 

But I’ve been reminded, thanks to Jacqueline, the wise writer of Radical Honey, and this article that she recently shared on Facebook, that the seeing of beauty is radical resistance to despair. And that is, after all, part of what this blog is about—beauty and creativity as an antidote to destruction (and/or illness). So all I can do, at this point, is make my own small offerings of beauty to the world. It won’t solve any problems, but it is a small act of resistance, at least, and for now that will have to do.

Thus, I offer a brief tale of renewal—a different kind of creation story. Since today is the early spring festival of Imbolc, I thought it apt.

This is one of my early stories, written between January and March 2015. I do not think it one of my best—I really dislike the ending—but I think it is full of hope. That is, active hope, based upon taking action to take apart what is damaging (industrial civilisation), and to heal and recreate what is beautiful, joyous and full of the pleasure of life itself.

* * *

The Carpenter's Wife

A Recreation Story

‘I cannot live in this world,’ said the carpenter’s wife. ‘There is too much ugliness and not enough beauty, too much sorrow and not enough joy, too much pain and not enough pleasure. No one speaks with the Earth, with the growing things, with the four-legged ones, the winged ones and the swimming ones. No one speaks with the oceans and the deserts, the rivers and the mountains. There are voices in my head, voices all around me, but no one else seems to hear them. Husband, I cannot live in this world,’ she said, tears glistening in her eyes.

‘Well, this won’t do,’ said the carpenter. ‘I cannot have my wife unhappy. This simply won’t do.’ He rubbed the stubble on his chin and looked thoughtful for a moment. ‘My dear, I think there is only one course to take. We will have to dismantle the world, undoing the ugliness and sorrow and pain, and then we can begin anew, creating a new world. We can build and form and magic into being a new place, a new Earth, with beauty and joy and pleasure woven into its fabric. A world in which there are people—such as you, dearest—who will speak with the Earth and the growing things, with the four-legged ones, the winged ones and the swimming ones, the oceans and deserts, rivers and mountains. Many people will hear the voices, nothing will be silent anymore. You will be able to live in this new world, my love.’

The carpenter left his tearful wife and walked out of his humble house into the big world of smog and machines, populated by millions of deaf and blind humans going about their business. As he surveyed the blighted scene before him, he realised with dismay that dismantling this world was going to take a lot of work, so he enlisted the help of his friends: the stonemason, the blacksmith and the magician. Together they combined their skills and strengths, their knowledge of wood, stone, metal and magic, and they began the painstaking task of taking the old world apart, piece by piece. 
They began by deconstructing the skyscrapers, bringing the overbearing towers back down to the earth from the dirty sky, and they broke up the suffocating highways, freeing the lifeless ground underneath so it could breathe again. Then they burst the rigid, blank-faced dam walls that held back the freedom of the rivers, and water gushed out once more like life-giving blood through arteries. They broke the belching, sulphurous smoke stacks into pieces and cleaned the choked air of pollution, and already the Earth held more beauty, joy and pleasure than it had before. 
It seemed to the four men that their work was made much easier because large cracks had already appeared in reality, as if the new world was trying to burst through, for every manmade thing disintegrated at their touch—ashes to ashes, dust to dust. A reinvigorated world was beginning to take shape as concrete and steel crumbled to fine powder, and earth and water and air were liberated from the shackles that had been imposed on them. 
After some time the men found that the great dismantling was complete, so the carpenter, the stonemason, the blacksmith and the magician, weary and sore from their efforts, returned to the carpenter’s house and sat down to rest. The carpenter’s wife, hearty and rosy-cheeked, brought them steaming cups of tea with a twinkle in her eye. 
‘It’s your turn now,’ said the carpenter, happy that his wife was no longer tearful, for now that the men had played their part, it was time for the women to make their contribution to the reconstruction, the recreation of the world. 
The carpenter’s wife went out and called her friends: the stonemason’s wife, the blacksmith’s wife, and the witch, and together they combined their skills and strengths, for all women are skilled in creation and womancraft, and all women are strong. Swirling out from their dextrous hands came an alchemy of earth, water, air and fire, and the most important ingredient—love—and this enchantment obliterated what was left of the old world and replaced it with interwoven strands of beauty, joy and pleasure.
The new world that sprung from the women’s hands and hearts had green things growing out with snaking tendrils to cover the land, vast breathing forests like green lungs, meandering rivers wandering sedately or splashing wildly to the deep sea, and majestic mountain peaks that caressed the crystalline blue sky. It had four-legged ones, winged ones and swimming ones, creatures with fur and sharp teeth, feathers and slippery scales, who helped to chirp, howl, grunt and sing the Earth into life. There was snow and wind and rain, and flowers blossoming in the sunshine. Moon-bright nights and fragrant days. A marriage of every element.
Surrounded by all this wonder, the humans were no longer deaf and blind. Now there were wise women and men who spoke with the Others and listened to their wise and wild counsel, forming new friendships to ensure that the newly made world of beauty, joy and pleasure would endure and flourish.
The carpenter’s wife, the stonemason’s wife, the blacksmith’s wife and the witch looked upon what had been created and they saw that the world was filled with all manner of wondrous things. They spoke with the Earth, with the growing things, with the four-legged ones, winged ones and swimming ones, the oceans and deserts, the rivers and mountains, and all the Others said they were satisfied with their new home. The women saw that their work was finally done, and weary and sore, but elated as well, they stopped to rest, returning home to join the men who were enjoying their steaming cups of tea.
‘We can all live in this world,’ said the carpenter’s wife, smiling at last. 

* * *

I can’t for the life of me remember why I decided to write about a carpenter—only that the first line of this story came to me, and I tried to allow it to be what it needed to be. I think perhaps, in writing of carpenters, stonemasons, blacksmiths and magicians/witches, I was remembering what Jay Griffiths wrote in Kith: The Riddle of the Childscape (2013):

As a child, when I pictured the Middle Ages I could see who everyone was: a woodcutter with his axe, a merchant selling satins, a farmer or a weaver. People’s activities and their trades were graspable, visible and knowable, unlike careers in finance, project management, or consultancy, which are incomprehensible to children [and to me!]. Where there were unknowns, in the Middle Ages, they were known unknowns, the secret magic of witch, healer, seer and wizard … In terms of landscape, the Middle Ages told me of a finite, knowable village and an infinite and knownly unknowable beyond, and both glimmered with appeal. No plastic. Things were handmade and crafted, unprocessed and unfactoried. Everything was itself and was knowably makeable, findable, buildable. Everything came from the known earth around: leather, wood, wax, honey and apples. Things known, in this sense, shade into being close, intimate and beloved: this is not about information but relationship. (pp. 276–277)

The carpenter, stonemason and blacksmith represent trades/crafts that deal with tangible, handmade things: wood, stone and metal; while the magician and witch add the crucial element of magic, which is as much a part of the physical world as anything else. 

I’m not convinced that stone and metal, being non-renewables, are truly sustainable (and certainly timber used faster than it can be replaced is not). Yet there is a big difference, for instance, in the blacksmith plying his trade at the edge of the village, making horseshoes and shovels, compared with the building of massive skyscrapers which require tons upon tons of steel. One is small-scale, indeed, human-scaled, and still attached to the earth; the other is massive, industrial and completely artificial.

I think I also thought that if these men are ‘makers’, they can also be ‘unmakers’, and tear everything down. Initially I had them doing that work, as well as the recreation, and that caused the story to stall for a while. I needed a couple of months to realise that it is right and proper for the men to take apart the unnatural world they have created, but that it should be the women—the ones who had always stood behind the men, merely as ‘wives’—who should now step forward, moving from passive to active, to put things right again. 

I am seeing much that suggests that something to that effect will indeed take place. If we do manage to survive what is coming, it will be women, and supportive men, who will be the creators of the new cultures that take us beyond this time of endings, and into a brighter (though difficult) future. 

I don’t like the ending of my story—too simplistic? Too twee?—but I do hope it will come true.

Imbolc Blessings!
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