~ from cats, dogs and nature to the flowering of body, mind and spirit ~

Friday, April 10, 2015

Writing for Shimmer

I often wander down side paths and find unexpected delights. Especially in reading and writing.

Now that I've finished writing Desert Fire: Befriending the Monster in my Mind*, I'm looking forward to immersing myself again in my novel. However, I've taken a side path in its creation because I found it starting to shimmer with touches of magic. I probably ought to have known that I couldn't write a novel without bits of mysticism or fantasy.

When I was listening to Krista Tippett's conversation with Maria Tatar, for a second time I might add, I realized that a soft voice was whispering to me from a barely visible trail leading into a thicket off the main path that is my manuscript. Is this why I haven't been able to finish it? There was some sparkle missing?

The dialogue between Tippett and Tatar was "The Great Cauldron of Story: Why Fairy Tales Are for Adults Again." (give it a listen, or read the transcript -- I'm sure you'll enjoy it!) Their chat led me to consider not only my interest in adult stories (books, movies, TV) of fantasy and fairy tales but also into my dimly recalled childhood. Unfortunately, while I remember having a passion for reading and books since before I started school, my poor memory leaves a vast vacancy of details. The rare foggy peeks into my early childhood seem to guide me toward Wind in the Willows and, as I wrote about earlier, to Little Burnt-Face. How could I resolve this loss or revive some missing memories?

I have decided to explore children's literature. See if perhaps I could revive some childhood memories and, even if not, create a new association with or appreciation for the stories that I'm sure had an impact upon me -- even if I don't recall the experience. My first step was to buy Maria Tatar's Enchanted Hunters: the power of stories in childhood. Marvelous book! I enjoyed how she wove together the histories of oral storytelling with that of children's literature, and presented a wide range of authors and tales. In addition, she addressed how we think that children may be understanding and using stories differently than adults do, and how the writing itself varies.

I'm going to tip-toe into classic children's literature and see what happens. Maybe my child-self will allow me to wander in wonder for a while … and allow some magic to flow freely through my writing.

"The world of print, like nature, offers many points of entry to feelings of wonder. When we retire to the fabled armchair or turn on electronic devices such as Kindle (the name is telling), we have the chance to enter story worlds constructed by words and images--a second nature that helps us recapture a sense of wonder. Most children in this country begin reading on their own around the time that the real world begins to lose its magic." 
~ Maria Tatar
________________
* Desert Fire will be available in June.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

With Kindly Eyes

Look back on Time, with kindly eyes — 
He doubtless did his best — 
How softly sinks that trembling sun
In Human Nature’s West — 

~ Emily Dickinson (#1478)

We need a more compassionate view of all humans; where the focus is upon small gestures and we see with Kindly Eyes. We need compassion for ourselves, too. 
And yet, I judge myself as harshly as I do others, never putting myself aside from what “we” have done to the world, recognizing my part in the actions of my species: war, violence, projection. We keep repeating in spite of reflection and philosophy and waking up to our responsibilities. This huge unwieldy machine of the over-culture taints my every effort until all I want to do is disappear into folds of paper where possibility emerges. 
I get further behind with every step I take and Time is always cutting me off at the pass, making sure I don’t cross into the other realm. Maybe in my next life will be Peace? That’s something hopeful to consider. On the other hand, if I cannot help us shift our trajectory, if I cannot be part of the solution, will I find my next life a horror? Am I doing my best or hiding? Is solitude equal to my best effort? Am I enough? Am I doing enough? How do I lift up my Self toward a kinder life? Has my writing helped or hindered me or someone else? So many questions. I know nothing. That is my new beginning each time I collapse inward. Ask and open, listen.

Sit right here rest your bones. No one's ever so alone. 
You can take the world down off your shoulders.
I don't know why and how. All I know is here and now.
You can take the world down off your shoulders.



Out of the midst of my confusion, a warm little fellow curls up on my lap and my heart fills with love. This. This response of love is what keeps me going. When I feel my heart swell with love, it’s okay. I can get through another day. I say grace.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Fading Flowers

photo courtesy Kerry N Barlow,
all rights reserved
I hide myself within my flower, 
That fading from your Vase, 
You, unsuspecting, feel for me — 
Almost a loneliness.
~ Emily Dickinson

When we absent our insights from the people and world around us, what is left is the ghost of a fading flower that was briefly seen. Perhaps I’ve been plucked from my nourishing garden to die more quickly in your vase as an object of curiosity, a thing to glance at even as I fade away and you wonder in a hidden corner of your mind where I went to. This is mere reflection of how we feel but don’t suspect when people die who haven’t left their stories behind except in snippets of someone else’s distorted memory. 
When I do not offer my story, and my body grows frail toward a fast-approaching death (relative to the vast expanse of time), you wonder where this vague uneasiness and loneliness comes from as a part of you remains forever curious about my life, my thoughts and feelings. “What?” you ask. “What was your life inside the walls around your heart?” As my soul pulls away from our relationship and the material world, my fading energy is unrecognized, obscured, fleeting.
Even if we don’t have the whole picture, we can immortalize particular moments. In my novels, there are parts of people I’ve known; I’m less lonely for them and others will see them, too, see glimpses of a life that made a difference … as we all do. However, I imagine how marvelous it would be if every person wrote at least one memoir of a pivotal transition or transformation in their life. This flower would be fresh forever, unfading.
A photograph doesn’t reveal soul or share story; after a generation or two passes, the photos tossed loose in the aging maple chest lined with cedar strips mean nothing. But dig through and pull up from below a sheaf of letters, a journal, a slim volume of preserved memory and the person is fresh, telling a tale of insight, of passage through the past.
Unless and until the reciting of oral history returns, books are best, paper is tried-and-true in its longevity. The books survive hundreds of years, maybe even longer now — they provide an opportunity to speak to an unknown great-great-grandchild or stranger who would be unsuspectingly lonely without having met your legacy. Maybe the paper will fade like the flower, though more slowly, your story rooted in the pages-once-living … like you were. Your body decays in the earth or your ashes are scattered, but your story means someone is less lonely for having known you beyond your death. Your descendants don’t have to access you through an archive or require electricity to read you digitally. All they need to do is open the cover, turn a page, and there you are — speaking to them, showing instead of hiding yourself, revealing the flower of your life in what may be a single petal through which they can, hopefully, hear your voice and know the essence of who you were.
And the world is a little less lonely.

_____________
More programs are being developed every day that preserve personal stories for generations to come. From StoryCorps to hospice programs to personal historians, writers and storytellers are attempting to make more voices heard; a particularly good article is “The Beneficial Effects of Life Story and Legacy Activities” by Pat McNees


Side Note: I often use the poems of Emily Dickinson as a portal into reflection and/or writing. Because I’m not trying to understand her meaning when writing it, the poem can become something unique to what is already simmering in my mind (whether conscious or subconscious) — kind of like dreamwork. There’s a lovely, and different, interpretation of this poem at The Prowling Bee.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Little Altars

I'm a stranger here
I'm only passing through
But everyplace I go leaves its own tattoo.
That's how it is laying stone on stone,
Building little altars by the side of the road.

~ lyrics by Carrie Newcomer, from "Writing You a Letter" on the album A Permeable Life

This music, the music of Carrie Newcomer - the mystery and metaphor softly embedded within each song - continues to support me as I edge closer to finishing my latest book, which is a reflection upon my relationship with the Sonoran Desert.
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