Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Streaming Consciousness and Paying Attention

Winter fills me with thoughts of hibernation. I long to take a Winter off, burrow under quilts next to a roaring fire, endless cups of tea, and a computer that won't continually disconnect from the Internet. The roller coaster of Southern Winters caught up with us last night as the moon eclipsed and turned red. We stood in our backyard bundled in flannel and boots and blankets and watched as the Wolf Moon shadowed between the Big Dipper and Orion. It was crisp and cold and magical.

Writing practice has become a daily ritual and one that I'm intent on keeping. Last week I didn't do timed stream of consciousness work, but I sat, each day, and wrote ferociously about a work that has occupied my mind for decades. I eeked along, getting nowhere, letting the threads twine and asking the same old questions, "Why won't you come together?" The SOC work is supposed to release you from all that, so I let it go and just wrote.

Then I sat in the corner chair, the one draped in old fabric, next to the window that looks out on our quiet street. I can see between the oaks and hear the crows as they raucous together over someone's rubbish that failed to land in the floorboard of their car and landed, instead, on the curb. I settled in to continue reading my January book, the book I read every January. Greer Gilman's "Moonwise". And as I read I came to a few lines that shimmered:

Ariane began to cry, terribly, with her hands
in the bowl of potatoes, earth and blood and
grimy water. Mrs. Woodfall gave her a hot clean 
handkerchief that smelled of air and iron, and
she let her cry. She cried for a long time, in 
wrenching gasps, twisting the cloth.

"No light,"  said Ariane at last. "I have no grace."

"No, you haven't. But you've not gi'en ower."

"I'm tired" she cried, with battering despair. "I work
and work at seeing, and she - oh, I'm hopeless. Like
one of those bicycle lamps that goes by pedalling. And
not even then."

"Happen you're dazzled, trying. Let be. ..."

- "Moonwise", Greer Ilene Gilman, pp. 203-204

"Happen I'm dazzled, trying," I said and I breathed and I laughed. Yes, yes of course. I've tried for so long that I've lost the essence of the story. The beginning, the way it was when it first came to me. Not the exactness of the beginning. Ugh. We won't go into the juvenile voice and the terrible, plodding prose. But the deep current that ran through it. The red thread woven that pulled it to my heart in the first place. Of course I had not idea what that was back then. I just wanted to write an epic fantasy. And now I find myself in the throes of the same want and realize that's not what writes a tale.

Dreams are wonderful and necessary in this business. We have to be open to the Other in order to see clearly the world in which we walk. But sometimes we have to put down the witch's glasses and pay attention to where each foot falls. Reading helps, definitely, as I tend to migrate back to the wisdom of that pantheon of goddesses and gods that have always held lanterns for me. And new works trickle in and I'm constantly amazed by the beauty that is held in the chalices of words that line the shelves in the bookshop. 

So here's the task, the Herculean admonishment : Let be. Yes, yes, let that tale tell itself. All I have to do is keep showing up and -- here's the key --- pay attention! The greatest gift a writer can give him/herself is to PAY ATTENTION to the STORY, not the desire to tell it. So today I'll gather up my laptop and sit by the space heater and let the story project my Stream of Consciousness and I won't set a time but let it flow out of my fingers and see if the other lines I discovered -- ones that may have completely changed titles and finally [FINALLY!] removed the last bit of stone encasing my memory -- and I shall let the STORY whisper to me.

Fingers crossed I have enough tea in the house! Wish me luck...I believe I'm almost out of chocolate.


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Filling up Papers and Little Blue Lines

Once upon a time I said I wanted to be a writer. I don't remember when that was. I was young, very young, and I'm sure everyone grinned, nodded, patted the top of my head and sent me on my way.

But writing is lonely work and is quiet and uneventful to the outside world. You are writhing in agony over characters and plot twists, over deaths and horrors as yet unleashed on the world but to the rest of humanity you're just another kid sitting at a desk scribbling nonsense on a blank piece of paper with little, blue lines.

So I discovered other talents that were flashier and loud and I let myself get Pied Pipered away with the "What ifs?" of it all. And I flew a bit on unstable wings using the wind from someone else's storm. Down I came and landed; I wobbled on scrawny legs, unsure of the rocky coast line. I wandered and wondered and up I came and found that writing was still there.

The paper still had little blue lines.

I began to fill them and thought, "Perhaps this was the path all along?" but again things shifted and I wanted something else. I needed people to hear me, to see me, to care. And I wrote but not with passion; I carved wounds in paper and squeezed them until they bled. Now they'll notice. Now they'll see just what it is I can do.

The words got all jumbled and I raged and blew and the words fluttered around me, detritus of war. I kicked and shoved and got them out of the way and I found myself back to the wasteland and everything was at last peace and good.

It was then I saw the new growth and the seedlings as they started to rise and in came the rain and I was washed away and had to regain new footing and here I stand on solid ground for the first time in years, words circling my bare toes, clinging to the rocks and slowly shuffling up the sand. I gather them in baskets woven from reeds and willows that grow along the lane. They sit on my counters, on shelves and couches and I let them rise like stars to tell me each what they long to say.

Writing isn't linear and it isn't simple. It's messy and complex and if anyone tells you otherwise they probably have never written their soul onto screen just to have it deleted, back up forgotten. Writing is lonely but there's such a strong community of others that we aren't ever really alone. It isn't flashy and there's little pomp and circumstance until - unless - you make it into that pantheon of household names that non-readers even know and mention. But it is a calling and one not lightly thrown aside. It's something that bubbles up inside you and you tell yourself, "I'm not a writer" and promptly go and write about not being a writer. It's what happens when you finally set aside sacred time and count your typing holy. It's what happens when you decide that it doesn't matter if one dot or one pronoun is published you will write anyway, every day, just to see the stories you dream become flesh on page.

This year is an infant and I'm drowning in renaissance. I'm enjoying finding my footing and relearning what it really means to write. One line, one story, one image at a time.

Find your footing, Dear Reader, and let it anchor you to the shore of your stories. And then write with all your might until you find that Once Upon and Time and let it take you from there.


Wednesday, January 9, 2019

All in Good Time

I'm up before 8 and making a proper cup of tea, getting ready for nothing but time with a good book on writing and my own thoughts.

Did you know you can stream radio stations on Alexa? I just discovered this and am thrilled. WQXR - a radio station out of New York - plays the best selection of classical music. The cats are meditative while a piece from Scheherazade plays.

We're in our house. Yes. OUR HOUSE. That still sounds a bit mystical, a bit sacred. I wake up in the middle of the night and look around. Yes, yes, we are home. There's much to do: floors to be refinished, electricians to be called, chimneys to be inspected, roofs to be patched and, eventually, replaced. I focus my attention on the garden and dream of flower beds and herbs, knowing full well that the walls need to be painted and we really should get a dining room table.

All in good time, I whisper.

But first, plants!

Of course I can't plant anything until April but I can dream. I've two plant catalogs on order and should arrive any day. I've drawn up one plan already and it's changed twice. What will go in the raised beds? Should we just plant roses? Will the neighbors ever know we get chickens? And there's the fence to contend with. It's there, only just, between us and the neighbors. It needs a face lift and the chain link along the back lane will be covered up. It will all be painted Ambleside Green, an authentic reproduction of the paint that Beatrix Potter painted her own garden gate at Hill Top Farm.

I spent the first week of January wondering of I was wasting my time writing, if I really was a writer after all. I hadn't really committed to writing since I finished that novel back in the Spring of last year and I now wondered if I was fooling myself. So I sat and I thought and I started writing. Just writing, not in a particular direction, and I found myself floating about with the idea of spending a year focusing on writing.

Not a particular project, not a particular style. Just writing. Putting pen to paper. I thought back to my first creative writing class when I went back to finish my degree. We were required to do Stream of Consciousness writing every single day during the six weeks of that course. It wasn't always easy but I was always amazed at what came out. At the end of the course, we were to go through our SOCs and glean from them any ideas that may become something more. And I remember my jaw dropping when I analyzed my free writing mind. Little tendrils of stories and essays germinated in that fertile soil and I highlighted at least half of what I'd written. Those pages are now tucked away somewhere in the craft room closet that looks more like a war zone than a closet but the essence of those pages nudges me to continue this practice.

And so I have and it's been wonderful. A whole floodgate has been opened and I've slowly shed some preconceived notions about myself and my writing and my entire creative process. It's amazing what two days of dedication will give you. Today I'm off and don't have to go back to work until Friday. I made out a tentative schedule and already I'm thinking it's too rigid. I want to free write without a timer and see where it takes me - not thinking of any work in particular, just to get the words that are jumbled up inside my head out and into the open so I can sift through them and see what's there.

I'm re-reading Natalie Goldberg and letting the truth of cultivating a writing practice finally - finally - sink deep into my hands and I'm amazed at all I'm relearning as I continue to read and write and let the words flow free.

Instead of accumulating, as I thought it might, this practice is helping me to shed some things I'd come to cling to. It's allowing me to push aside things I'd so desperately grasped that I'd not had any hands left to reach for what was needed. It's been a strange bit of cleansing, this truth or dare, and though in many ways I'm relieved I'm also a bit raw from the releasing. But it is good, Gentle Readers, it is very, very good.

Our creative processes are unique and abuzz with things to do and see and want and need. But what we must do - the key to that phrase is the word MUST - is let go of the things we think we need to be doing or the things we think we should be doing and, instead, do the things we must do. The things that, no matter what else occupies our attention, we are always thinking about. Or, even better, the things we thing we're hopeless at, the things that we stop and wonder, "Am I really cut out to do that at all?" and we let them go and we wander around and finally we sit and we start and we realize that those things are a part of us whether we like it or not and they will not ever let us entirely go.

Happy New Year, Dear One.
Has 2019 brought to you any bright epiphanies?

Wander well,

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Stories of Winter

Winter makes me homesick for stories. I read all year long. I hunt folktales throughout every season but there's something about Winter that suggests homecoming and it is a returning to hearth-side with cider, with fresh baked bread, hot stew and the sound of sleet hitting the windows. Here in the South, we don't get a lot of Winter but it does get cold and dreary. We do get frost, occasional freezing rain and, yes, we do see snow. Winter has always been a coming in time of year. Even as a child, after running around in the cold, I loved coming inside, shedding layers and sitting in front of the fireplace with a mug of hot chocolate stuffed with marshmallows.

To satisfy my need for stories by the fireplace (a fireplace, might I add, that resides in the house we have a contract on that is as of yet closed on...)I decided to do a little digging into the myths and folktales of Winter. There are a lot of interesting stories out there that center around winter. Tales of cannibal snow-beasts, beautiful maidens who lure wayward travelers into a lonely, snow-crusted wood, friendly gnomes and old Jack Frost. Do a Google search of "winter mythical creatures" or "winter myths and legends" and you'll be supplied for days with interesting tales that will keep you glued to the fireside, if not for warmth than for the safety of the light.

Here's a few of my favorites:

The Snow Queen - Hans Christian Andersen's famous telling of a little boy named Kai who is enchanted by the Snow Queen and taken to her palace of ice. His friend, Gerda goes on a quest to find him and eventually succeeds in melting his heart. There is some speculation that C.S. Lewis modeled his famous White Witch of Narnia after the fairy tale of the Snow Queen. The similarities are definitely there: she offers Edmund cnchanted Turkish Delight and a ride in her sleigh and convinces him to betray his brother and sisters to her in order to thwart an age-old prophecy that would bring about the downfall of her icy kingdom. While Kai's heart was pierced with a splinter from a troll mirror (read the tale), Edmund was merely an angry, confused adolescent. Either way, both boys were easily seduced by the Snow Queen and ultimately imprisoned in her castle.

The Snow Queen on her Throne by Edmund Dulac
Andersen's tale of the Snow Queen hearkens back to a much older and less "fluffy" tale of the Celtic goddess Beira also known as The Callieach. Callieach, when translated into English, literally means "veiled one". Beira/Callieach is the personification of Winter and in Scottish lore, she is the mother of all the gods and goddesses. She can appear as a beautiful woman or an old hag. She rules the world in the Winter but must recede her power during Spring and Summer. Her power begins to grow again after the Summer Solstice, when the days begin to shorten again, and reaches its full power on the Winter Solstice.

Beira/Callieach - The Winter Goddess of Scotland
Many cultures have a Winter goddess - does anyone else find it interesting that it's always a Winter GODDESS? Most of these mysterious figures can appear as either a beautiful young woman or a bent old crone. They are also ambivalent towards humans. They can be helpful or hurtful depending on the true natures of those who approach them.

From the Alps we get the creature Perchta who is very particular about how the home should be kept, especially the spinning wheel. Women took special care to make sure their flax was spun and their homes well kept or Perchta would disembowl them and stuff their stomachs full of rocks. There are also tales of Perchta riding with the Wild Hunt with a group of Perchten - a group of creatures that look a whole lot like our pal Krampus.

Now here's where it gets interesting and shows you how the ancients really understood the dual nature of, well, nature. Perchta is associated with Epiphany, January 06, the Twelfth Day of Christmas. On this night she is known as Holle which means "bright" or "shining". There are both "pretty" Perchten and "ugly" Perchten which you could meet during a typical Perchten run in Alpine regions.

Holle, the bright and shining aspect of Perchta

Lovely old Perchta with her consort Krampus
I want you to take a good look at that last picture. Notice how silly and fake both of these creatures look. The one on the left is Perchta. The one of the right is Krampus. Unfortunately, Krampus has been discovered by Americans and, thus, turned into some sort of orc like goblin from the pits of Mordor. Sure it's fun to imagine a horrible goat-man running after naughty children on Krampusnacht but the REAL Krampus celebration presents Krampus as a made up being. He's supposed to look fake! Not because parents in the Alps are too afraid to expose their children to scary things like parents are here in America but because they want them to understand that there are consequences for their naughty actions and the children are taken out to Krampus Runs and are actually chased by people dressed up as these ancient beings. The kids know it's all fun and games but they also are taught the deeper meanings behind the symbols. That's right helicopter parents: these Alpine children are raised to know the difference between good and bad and aren't sheltered from their imaginations. It's recorded by people who have visited these countries that children there are far better behaved than their American counterparts. And I'm not making this up. For an entire history of Krampus and Perchta and all their wild kin, read the AMAZING book The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas by Al Ridenour. It's been one of my favorite Winter reads since I discovered it a couple of years ago.

This is one of my favorite images of Krampus <3's a little Vintage Krampus for you.
Me thinks the older boy wasn't the best son he could have been that year...and he knows it!
I bet he was better behaved the following year = )
Krampus Night is celebrated in Alpine countries on the 5 of December, the day before Saint Nicholas' Day. Conveniently, Krampus and St. Nick travel together, with the Krampus dolling out punishment to the bad kids and the good Saint rewarding the good. Dark and Light coexist and travel together. You can't have one without the other. Think of it as bringing balance to the Force.

Tonight, by the way, IS Krampus Night. I hope you were good this year :D

Speaking of Saint Nicholas, we'll end this post with Father Christmas. There are so many names for this jolly character so perhaps a little primer before we continue: St. Nicholas was an actual man from Asia Minor. Father Christmas is the traditional name for the personification of Christmas and is usually depicted as an old man of the forest bringing gifts accompanied by woodland creatures. Santa Claus comes to us from the Austrian gift giver "Christkind" which became "Kris Kringle" and then, thanks to the Dutch "Sinterklaas" Santa Claus.

Oh, and that old legend that Santa looks like he does in America thanks to Coca-Cola? That's not true. An artist by the name of Thomas Nast was commissioned to create illustrations for Harper's Weekly and in 1881, he created what was to become the famous image of the "jolly old elf".

We all know the round bellied, red suited man who travels via reindeer on Christmas Eve. He brings joy to children. He makes adults smile (or should). He symbolizes the spirit of giving and should never be villain-ized (yes, unfortunately, I know too many people who have done this. Makes me wonder about their own childhoods). But for me, I love the image of the Old World Father Christmas and that, my friends, is the image I'll leave you with.

Father Christmas by Corinne Kenner

Woodland Animal Keeper by Peggy Abrams

Father Christmas by Rueben McHugh
All of these images can be found on Pinterest
May your days be merry and bright.
Happy December!

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

November IWSG - Just Keep Plugging Away

Why hello there! It's been a few months since I've participated in the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Summer was a bit crazy and it was best that I stepped away for a while. To be perfectly honest, I just haven't felt much like writing.

So I decided to sign up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writer's Month). I should have known that life would get even more hectic and it has (more on that in a future post). I typed a little one Day One. I eked out a few words in pencil on Day Two. Days Three and Four were a bust but I was able to talk to a writer friend a little about writing so I'm not counting those days as a total loss.

As I wandered through Day Five (this past Monday), I had a head cold and had pushed myself too much the day before hiking in the rain. That morning, before heading out to run errands, I clicked on an email from the NaNo admins and saw this quote:

That resonated with me. If you're like me, you want writing to be glamorous. We float down the hall to our writing room, coffee in hand, sit at the computer and away we type, glorious sentence after glorious sentence. The truth is that many times we have a great idea but the minute we start to put it on paper it misses the mark. I'll have these lovely scenes all mapped out in my mind but the minute I start to type, it sounds like I've lost all ability to communicate coherently. To be blunt, the words suck and I'm left with a mess that doesn't resemble the story in my head.

Gardening is a lot of work. You have to prepare the soil, the yard, the garden area. You have to get the plants are start the seeds. You have to plant them, water them, keep them alive until their roots are established and can stand up without fear of losing them in the next mild storm. Then you have to weed and watch and harvest, all the while continuing to tend the ground around you, trimming and plucking, planting and pruning. And that's how we have to go at writing. Unless you buy a house with a mature garden already in tact, you're going to have to do a lot of work to get your yard exactly how you want it. Cottage gardens aren't born over night; it takes years to get that lovely explosion of color and texture. Novels aren't completed in a month. A draft? Sure! I've done it many times. But after the drafting – the seed starting, the rooting, the watering – you have to tend to those words and help them grow.

So what's the point? What's the key to both of these projects? Patience and the willingness to go to the computer (or the garden) a little bit every day. You have to look at the writing, the gardening, the process as important. Even ten minutes a day will get your closer to the words The End than doing nothing. Just because you can't finish a novel in a day doesn't mean you can't work on it daily. Believe that what you're doing is important and it will become important to you. It will become something that you can be proud of, something that will begin to grow, and sprout leaves and then one day you'll see the buds form and flowers will burst forth and you'll realize all those gorgeous blossoms are there because you took the time to tend them and you didn't give up on then when they were just spindly little twigs sticking up out of the cold, hard earth.

Think of every idea as a seed, every word as part of the tending. Think of your stories as plants that need water and fertilizer and weeding 'round the roots. Allow your stories to take root so that they'll grow in strength, in your mind and on the screen. And as you tend them, you'll start to see them change and you'll recognize them by their flowers. When the time comes, you'll get to harvest them – send them off to agents and publishers – and see what kind of beauty and nourishment they can bring you and those around you.

But you can't get tomatoes if you don't plant the seedlings. And you can't get a novel if you don't sit down, day by day, and write the story, word by word.

Happy November,

PS: If you're interested, I'm chronicling my NaNo journey on my Instagram account @jenchandlerwashere. Feel free to click over and join in!