Morning Prayer

Bluebell tree

"A writer -- and, I believe, generally all persons -- must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art."  - Jorge Luis Borges

Edgewood

This morning's prayer: May we have the skill to work with the raw materials we've been given, the clarity to understand their best use, and the tenacity to weave even thread spun from nettles into cloth that is beautiful and strong.

Hound and bluebells

Bluebell treeThe Borges quote is from Twenty-four Conversations With Borges: Interviews by Roberto Alifano 1981-1983 (Grove Press, 1984). The poem in the picture captions is from A Cappella: Mennonite Voices in Poetry (University of Iowa Press, 2oo3). All rights reserved by the authors or their estates.


The Writing Life

Hillside 1

From "How Can You Create Fiction When Reality Comes to Call?" by Carolyn Chute (author of The Beans of Egypt, Maine):

"This is a very personal and uplifting story of my life as a writer. I will include intimate confessions. The following is a typical day in my life.

"Eyes open up. Birds singing outside window. Oh, yes, and there is the husband. X-rated stuff happens. (Delete details.)

"Must go out with dogs. They have a dog door and a half-acre fenced in with trees and a little brook, but that isn't good enough. ... No, they have to have me go with them, so we can be a pack together.

"Typewriter with page 1,994 of novel screams from another room: I WANT YOU.

Hillside 2

"I am scrambling to get dressed because the dogs are waiting at the foot of the stairs for the pack thing, which hasn't happened yet. They are hopping up and down. These are Scottish terriers with short legs, big heads, beady eyes and beards, and when I look at them, I melt and will do anything they want.

"But at this moment I am still scrambling to get dressed, and the typewriter is starting to really scream and kind of whimper from the other room. A truck pulls up in the yard, a member of our political group, one of those working-class politics groups you hear so much about.

"Bang! Bang! Bang! This is knuckles knocking on door.

"Dogs charge the door.

"Cuckoo clock coo coos six times.

Hillside 3

"Husband is now scrambling to get dressed.

"Phone does not ring. Its bell is broken. It never rings. Thank heavens.

"Typewriter is starting to gasp and moan.

"All dressed, I race down the attic stairs and the pack is racing around, the dogs throwing themselves at the door behind which the guest stands.

"The dishes heaped in the sink make no sound. No screams. No barking. But they have one of those profound presences. I am a person who can't teach writing or make a living in any public way, as I get confused when interrupted or overstimulated. In a classroom or crowded room, I all but blank out.

"So my only income is from novels. This should explain the absence of dishwasher, clothes dryer, running hot water, electricity in all rooms, health insurance and other such luxuries. The Scotties we got through friends. So don't go rolling your eyes about those 'expensive Scotties.'

"Husband opens front door for guest, as I head out the back door with the pack.

"Pack does its thing, racing around, checking chipmunk holes, sniffing guest's truck to see what the news is from the outside world. It is a beautiful morning, and everything smells sweet.

Hillside 4

"Returning to the house, I close dogs in another room, so they won't bother the guest, who is sitting in a rocking chair with tea and telling about how upset he is with the latest bad thing the corporations and government (same thing) have done to us. (I will delete all his words here in order to keep this an uplifting and cheery article.)

"Upstairs the typewriter is squealing and howling...."

Hillside 5

Eventually Chute's house quiets down.

"By the time there are 10 coo coos, guest has left," she writes. "Dogs are lying around on the rockers. Husband has gone to town for the mail.

"I finish hanging the laundry and go up to the typewriter and sit there, holding my head trying to quiet my head. You see, I can't just switch from life mode to writer mode. Usually it takes three days to get into the writer mode. Three days of quiet non-life mode, lots of coffee and no interruptions.

"Writing is like meditation or going into an ESP trance, or prayer. Like dreaming. You are tapping into your unconscious. To be fully conscious and alert, with life banging and popping and cuckooing all around, you are not going to find your way to your subconscious, which is a place of complete submission. Complete submission.

"I open my eyes. I look at the page. I type a couple of lines. Pop! The 'n' breaks off the daisy wheel.

"These daisy wheels are $30 apiece! My old well-made typewriter had one daisy wheel, which lasted 11 years. But this is a new typewriter. The cheesy typewriters they make now use three daisy wheels a day. My mind abandons writer mode. I am now in crisis mode again....

Hillside 6

"U.P.S. truck pulls up. Dogs hurtle out the dog door into their pen and throw selves against the fence wire to show the U.P.S. man what will happen to him if he comes in the house. I run downstairs and out, so I can sign for the packages. Eight galleys from eight publishers wanting eight blurbs. Blurbs are those little positive-sounding quotes on the backs of books. I am not much of a reader. No time. It takes me two to six months to read a book, so these guys are definitely barking up the wrong tree.

"U.P.S. truck heads out and down the long dirt road and away.

"I start back up the attic stairs to the gasping weeping typewriter, and husband arrives home with mail. Three more galleys in the mail, plus 20 letters and cards, most of which are urgent, or at least requiring a letter in return. Not many bills. Just our one huge mortgage on the house that we had to take out in order to eat.

"Clock coo coos."

And so Chute's writing day goes on, and no writing is actually done.

Hillside 7

To read Chute's essay in full, go here. It's pretty funny, in a rueful kind of way, since most of us have had those kinds of days -- even writers who switch from life mode to writing mode more easily. And keep in mind that the piece was published back in 1999, before email exploded and the internet became such a ubiquitous attention-breaker.

For myself, I keep returning to this quote by Saul Bellow, which I've written on the wall close to my writing desk:

"I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness which characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction.”

Hillside 8Words: The passage above is from an essay published in The New York Times (September 27, 1999). The poem in the picture captions is from Earful of Cider (August 2011). All rights reserved by the authors. Pictures: Early morning on Nattadon Hill.


Returning to work

Tilly in the bluebells

Lately it's been one thing after another keeping me away from my desk: life and art tugging in two directions instead of pulling in harness together. I'm not such a delicate flower that I can't work without perfect peace and quiet, but when daily life makes too many demands and keeps me out of the studio altogether, I start to feel oddly unmoored (if you'll excuse the pun) -- as though the deep focus of creative work is what roots me in the Devon soil. I'm a sociable person, I love my family and friends, but I'm also an introvert by nature; and we introverts need solitude the way plants need rain. We wilt without it.

Devon bluebells

Today, I am back in the studio, drinking in the silence of early morning and feeling my parched soul turn green again. In the woods and fields, wildflowers are blooming and their abundance seems miraculous. I am grateful for the quiet, and the bird's dawn chorus. I am grateful to be back among paints and books. I am grateful for the hound snoring beside me, and for the wildflowers brightening my desk. I'm even grateful for the things that pull me from my work -- for they challenge me, stretch me, keep me from being too self-absorbed and self-contained -- but I am doubly grateful when let me go, allowing a return to the moss, brambles, and daydreams of my natural habitat.

Tilly in the bluebells 2

All of us have different needs, however. The solitude that invigorates me would be dull or stifling to an artist of a different temperament -- my husband, for example, who thrives on the collaborative nature of puppet and theatre work, or urban friends who need the pace of a great city to keep their creative juices flowing.

Here's K.M. Peyton (author of the Flambards trilogy) with a charming description of her work/life balance, from an essay published in 1975:

"When I get frustrated by the demands of other commitments deflecting me from the writing, I console myself that they are the lifeblood of what I am writing about, and the ivory tower, attractive as it may appear at times, would not suit. The [stereotypical] writer, quiet in his room with coffee and lunch served, the interruptions deflected by a devoted wife, is at times my great envy; but at other times I feel that the very frustrations are somehow a part of my driving force. My most difficult book to date, A Pattern of Roses, was written through the winter when a forty-foot boat was being built full-time in the garden and a constant stream of nautical maniacs was in and out of the house at all times, drinking coffee and needing a labourer's meals, as many as twenty-four one weekend.
Horse drawing by William Heath Robinson

"I have no help at home, and consider myself fully occupied with the normal ferrying of schoolchildren, housework and looking after five horses (since, in desperation, cut down to two). It was during this winter that one of the horses, lent by a farmer from the village three miles away, used to get out of the field and and go home, sometimes taking the other four with her, at a flat gallop. When this happened in the middle of the night my husband used to turn over in bed and remind me, as we listened to the departing clatter of hooves down the lane, that the horses were my department; his was the boat. But out of these calamites, nice cameos remain: creeping through someone's back yard with headcollar in hand, dressed in long nightdress, anorak and gum-boots, and being speared by torchlight from the bedroom window, or returning home in the car with my daughter riding the mare ahead in the light from the headlamps, cantering fast along the verge with only a halter for tack, and me thinking, 'Oh, God, if she falls off the mare will go all the way back again....'

At the edge of the woods

"I think now," Peyton concludes, "if I only had a book to write, and nothing else to do, I would just sit and stare into space. To know that on Tuesday, for instance, Fred will call for coffee and chat at half-past ten, the butcher will interrupt and want to know what I shall want next Friday, and that I've got to get to the nearest shop, three miles away, to buy a loaf before it shuts at one, concentrates the mind wonderfully. My mother needs to talk to me at length twice a week at least, a pony needs shoeing (five miles there and five miles back and an hour in the middle), and in the summer the garden and the field are a full-time job (mine). It is no good at all pleading my vocation, for my only local claim to fame is not in writing but as Secretary of the Pony Club, and when this keeps me almost fully occupied throughout the summer months I console myself with the richness of material I am building up in this direction. The fact that ponies are now out of fashion, a relic of the nineteen thirties and forties, will not deter me from embarking on this saga before long, so eagerly does the spring bubble up. Where would I be without my interruptions? Still staring at a blank sheet in the typewriter."

Rock, moss, and flowers

Prowling through the bluebells

Stalking the bluebell fairies

Likewise, Katherine Paterson (author of Bridge to Terabithia) reflects on the problems of work/life balance in the early part of her career:

"I had no study in those days, not even a desk or file or bookcase to call mine alone," she recalls. "It might have happened sooner [the writing of work worthy of publication] had I had a room of my own and fewer children, but somehow I doubt it. For as I look back on what I have written, I can see that the very persons who took away my time and space are those who have given me something to say."

Dog in a bluebell patch

Whitebells

"The great thing, if one can," said C.S. Lewis, "is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own,' or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life."

Wildflowers on the deskThe passage by K.M. Peyton is from "On Not Writing a Proper Book," published in The Thorny Paradise: Writers on Writing for Children, edited by Edward Blishen (Kestral Books, 1975); the passage by Katherine Paterson is from Gates of Excellence (Puffin, 1981); all right reserved by the authors. The C.S Lewis quote is part of a passage from a letter to Arthur Greeves, 1943. My "Writer's Prayer,"  in the picture captions, has appeared here previously but seems appropriate for re-posting today. The drawing is by William Heath Robinson (1872-1944).


Talking to the moon

Hillside 1

After writing about kindness yesterday, I've been thinking about the ways in which the lack of kindness propels some of us into the arts: not only as way to retreat from pain, or to cope with it, or to attempt to understand it, but also as a means of creating (to quote Anais Nin) "a world in which one can live."

For example, here's a passage by British novelist Catherine Storr from her essay "Why Write? Why Write for Children?" (published in The Thorny Paradise). Storr describes her parents as loving ones who did not mean to be unkind, and yet her own open-hearted nature was viewed with deep suspicion:

"I am a compulsive writer," Storr begins. " I suppose that before I'd learn to write without too much difficulty, I was a compulsive talker. This is borne out by the memory of hearing my parents say, 'Catherine never stops talking.' I think I went on talking too much until the awkwardness of adolesence overcame the habit. But before that I'd discovered writing; and though it didn't immediately cure me of talking too much, it did provide an outlet for the need to communicate.

Hillside 2

"What I needed to communicate was feelings. We were a very buttoned up family as far as the emotions were concerned. I don't remember ever doubting that my parents loved us, but they never said so in so many words. They also weren't at all physically demonstrative; you had to be in considerable distress before you got picked up and hugged. Kissing was something you did before going to bed or saying goodbye for a longer period. This restraint didn't come naturally to me at all, and besides being told I talked too much, I was also frequently told I shouldn't ask for displays of affection. It was recognized in the family that Catherine was sentimental, and that this should be discouraged.

"Until I was ten, these reprehensible feelings had to be repressed, or carefully monitored so that they didn't offend my parents' austere standards. I can still remember attributing one particular enthusiasm to my doll, so that I wouldn't be held responsible for it. It was a marvelous day in the country and I was aching to say so to someone, but I knew if I did I'd be laughed at, so I said, 'Ruthy is feeling sentimental. She says, "How blue the sky! How green the grass!" But even this ruse didn't work. I was laughed at again.

Hillside 3

"What happened when I was ten was that the door suddenly opened. I was lying in bed with the curtains undrawn and I saw a huge white moon looking at me through the branches of the aspen poplar tree which stood about forty feet away in the garden opposite my window. It must have been spring, I think, because the branches were bare. I got out of bed and wrote a poem to the moon with a blunt pencil on a sheet of manuscript music paper, which was all I could find. It was blank verse and until that moment I'd had no idea that I could write anything more ambitious than rhyming couplets. It was a very exciting moment. Probably all the more exciting because it was forbidden to wander out of bed after eight o'clock. Then next morning I read the poem through and was rather impressed by it. It was a great deal better than I'd have expected."

That little girl grew up to become the author of over thirty books for children and adults (as well as a medical doctor and psychologist), writing right up to her death at age 87. Having raised three daughters, Storr was often asked if her childrens' books had been written for them. Well yes, to some degree, she said, but mostly she'd written them for herself:

"William Mayne, when asked for whom he wrote his books, said: For the child I once was. I'm sure this is true of many writers for children, but  I think it is also true that that one writes for the child one still is."

Hillside 4

The Thorny ParadiseThe passage above is from "Why Write? Why Write for Children" by Catherine Storr, published in The Thorny Paradise: Writers on Writing for Children, edited by Edward Blishen (Kestral Books, 1975). The poem in the picture captions is from Poetry magazine (October 2012). All rights reserved by the authors or their estates.


Cycles, seasons, and daffodils

Wild daffodils

Spring is truly here, at long last. The earliest flowers in our garden have done their work to wake the land from sleep: the primroses and grape hyacinths, the purple aubretia climbing up the stone walls, the columbines that have seeded themselves and run riot on the hillside. The cherry trees have burst into bloom, with the apple and plum trees soon to follow. The woods behind the studio are golden with wild daffodils, which in turn will give way to the smaller pleasures of cranesbill, sicklewort, and bluebells.

Coffee break with hound and daffodils

The movement of the landscape through its seasons reminds me of the energy and vitality to be found in cycles and circles...and as someone who works in the narrative arts, I find that I need that reminder.

Narrative, in its most standard form, tends to run in linear fashion from beginning to middle to end. A story opens "Once upon a time," then moves -- prompted by a crisis or plot twist -- into the narrative journey: questing, testing, trials and tribulations -- and then onward to climax and resolution, ending "happily ever after" (or not, if the tale is a sad or ambiguous one). In the West, our concepts of "time" and "progress" are largely linear too. We circle through days by the hours of the clock, years by the months of the calendar, yet our lives are pushed on a linear track: infant to child to adult to elder, with death as the final chapter. Progress is measured by linear steps, education by grades that ascend year by year, careers by narratives that run along the same railway line: beginning, middle, and end.

But in fact, narratives are cyclical too if we stand back and look through a broader lens. Clever Hans will marry his princess and they will produce three dark sons or three pale daughters or no child at all until a fairy intervenes, and then those children will have their own stories: marrying frogs and turning into swans and climbing glass hills in iron shoes. No ending is truly an ending, merely a pause before the tale goes on.

Coffee and daffodils in the woods

As a folklorist and a student of nature, I know the importance of cycles, seasons, and circular motion -- but I've grown up in a culture that loves straight lines, beginnings and ends, befores and afters, and I keep expecting life to act accordingly, even though it so rarely does. Take health, for example. We envision the healing process as a linear one, steadily building from illness to strength and full function; yet for those of us managing long-term conditions, our various trials don't often lead to the linear "ending-as-resolution" but to the cyclical "ending-as-pause": a time to catch one's breath before the next crisis or plot twist sets the tale back in motion.

Relationships, too, are cyclical. Spousal relationships, family relationships, friendships, work partnerships: they aren't tales of linear progression, they are tales full of cycles, circles, and seasons. The path isn't straight, it loops and bends; the narrative side-tracks and sometimes dead ends. We don't progress in relationships so much as learn, change, and adapt with each season, each twist of the road.

Hound and notebooks

As a writer and a reader, I'm partial to stories with clear beginnings, middles, and ends (not necessarily in that order in the case of fractured narratives) -- but when I'm away from the desk or the printed page (or the cinema or the television screen), I am trying to let go of the habit of measuring my life in a strictly linear way. Healing, learning, and art-making don't follow straight roads but queer twisty paths on which half the time I feel utterly lost...until, like magic, I've arrived somewhere new, some place I could never have imagined.

I want especially to be rid of the tyranny of Before and After. "After such-and-such is accomplished," we say, "then the choirs will sing and life will be good." When my novel is published. When I get that job. When I find that partner. When I lose ten pounds. No, no, no, no. Because even if we reach our goal, the heavenly choirs don't sing -- or if they do sing, you quickly discover it's all that they do. They don't do your laundry, they don't solve all your problems. You are still you, and life is still life: a complex mixture of the bad and the good. And now, of course, the goal posts have moved. The Land of After is no longer a published book, it's five books, a best-seller, a major motion picture. You don't ever get to the Land of After; it's always changing, always shimmering on the far horizon.

I don't want to live after. I want to live now, moving with, not against, life's cycles and seasons, the twists and the turns, the ups and the downs, appreciating it all.

The Hound in spring

Today, I walked among spring's first flowers, chose a few to bring back to the studio -- where they sit on my desk in a pickle jar, glowing as bright as the sun and the moon. At my desk, I work in a linear artform, writing words in a line across a ruled page -- and the flowers remind me that cycles and seasons should be part of the narrative too. Circular patterns. Loops and digressions. Tales that turn and meander down paths that, surprise!, are the paths that were meant all along. Stories that reach resolutions and endings, but ends that turn into another beginning. Again. Again. Tell it again.

Once upon a time...

Wild daffodils on my deskThe poem in the picture captions is from Bitter Angel by Amy Gerstler (North Point Press, 1990); all rights reserved by the author.


The things that unite us

Alexandra Dvornikova

It's Day 3 of my cold, and though it seems ridiculous that something as simple as a cold is keeping me out of the studio (especially since I regularly keep working despite more serious health issues), this one seems to have me in its tight grip for another day.

Alexandra Dvornikova

Here's a thought I'd like to leave you with today, from Kathryn Miles (author of a lovely book about dogs and nature, Adventures with Ari):

In an interview on Terrain.org, Miles is asked about her belief that environmental writers are charged with inspiring "an ethic of care" in their readers. What, the interviewer wonders, might an ethic of care look like?

"An ethic of care," Miles responds, "is based on ideas of interdependence, and the belief that the most vulnerable among us deserve the most consideration. Writers are uniquely suited to raise awareness about both: we can show what unites us, and we can remind people about narratives that have been forgotten or might otherwise become overlooked. There’s that poignant moment in Mary Oliver’s [poem] "Wild Geese," where she says, 'Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.' That’s what writing from an ethic of care looks like. And it broadens this behest even further: tell me about what you love and what you hate; tell me what frightens you and what you’re willing to fight for. Then, if you’re willing to listen, I’ll tell you about those things in my life. And maybe then we both will understand."

I'm thinking about what an ethic of care might look like in relation to fiction, fantasy, and Mythic Arts. And about how questions like this become more urgent during dark political times.

Your thoughts...?

Alexandra Dvornikova

Speaking of "urgent" art and literature, I stumbled across a lovely book blog the other day that I'd like to recommend to you, if you don't know it already: Books Can Save a Life by Valorie Grace Hallinan.

Alexandra Dvornikova

The magical art today is by Alexandra Dvornikova, a young Russian artist, designer, and printmaker. Dvornikova trained at the Saint Petersburg Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design, and is now studying art-therapy, with a focus on autism. She lives with her husband, a red cat, and two jackdaws in St. Petersburg.

She says: "I think the most inspiring things for me are these: Forest, music, animals, wilderness, moss and lichens, mushrooms, Russian fairy tales that I’ve heard when i was a child, masks, rituals, night dreams, childhood experience, folklore, medieval art, archetypes, psychiatry, human’s brain, carnivorous plants, venomous or dangerous things, lonelyness, mori girls, vintage dresses. Also I inspired by Simona Kossak’s story, the woman who lived more than 30 years in a wooden hut in the Bialowieza Forest, without electricity or access to running water. A lynx slept in her bed, and a tamed boar lived under the same roof with her. She was able talk to wild animals."

Please go here to see more of her work, and here to read an interview with the artist.

Alexandra Dvornikova

Ritual


The Long Tale

Catskin by Arthur Rackham

"[W]e have, each of us, a story that is uniquely ours, a narrative arc that we can walk with purpose once we figure out what it is. It's the opposite to living our lives episodically, where each day is only tangentially connected to the next, where we are ourselves the only constants linking yesterday to tomorrow. There is nothing wrong with that, and I don't want to imply that there is ... just that it felt so suddenly, painfully right to think that I have tapped into my Long Tale, that I have set my feet on the path I want to walk the rest of my life, and that it is a path of stories and writing and that no matter how many oceans I cross or how transient I feel in any given place, I am still on my Tale's Road, because having tapped it, having found it, the following is inevitable. Not easy -- it will probably be hard, and may be steep and thorny or wet and muddy or beset by badgers, but to not follow it is inconceivable because it is mine."   - Amal El-Mohtar

Nattadon Hill 1

The quote above comes from "Tapping the Long Tale," a lovely piece Amal wrote in 2011, which I recommend reading in full.

I'm thinking today about all the places I have travelled through (literally and creatively) as I've followed my own Long Tale...and wondering where it will take me next....

Where will yours take you?

Nattadon Hill 2

Nattadon Hill 3The illustration above is by Arthur Rackham.


Winter at Bumblehill

Into the woods

Well, creative projects have a way of taking longer than expected...or at least they do for me...so I'm still finishing the last bits of the Secret Something, which seem to be taking longer than all the rest of it combined. In the meantime, here are pictures of some of the other things going lately at Bumblehill....

After a long. sluggish stretch recovering from the flu that laid us low in December and part of January, Howard and I have both hit the ground running, trying to make up for lost time -- with Tilly, in her official capacity as Bumblehill Muse, cheering us on. The hound is always relieved when I'm out of bed, roaming the woods and hills with her again, which she considers an essential part of the creative process. And she's not wrong.

Frosty path

We've had a lot of frosty mornings this winter, but no proper snow again this year. Some days, mist rolls down from the moor...

Village in the mist

....and other days are bright and clear, lulling us with the hope (probably illusory) that spring is near.

Winter sky

On the best days, when the sun comes out, it's almost warm enough to work outside-- and after weeks house-bound with flu, it's worth chilly toes and fingers to be back among the trees.

Woods

Working in the woods

Working in the woods 2

The hills, staturated with rain, look like a watercolor painting before it dries -- the colors bright yet delicately rendered, slightly blurred together. Water pools among the bracken, swells the streams, and turns pathways to mud. I have new wellies (William Morris wellies!), so my feet are warm and dry, but Tilly comes home bedraggled and then sits and grooms herself like a cat.

Winter hills

Boggy ground

Winter rains

William Morris wellies

In the studio, Tilly naps as I quietly tap-tap-tap at the computer keys...

Napping Tilly

...but just beyond the hedge, in Howard's studio, there is a bustle of activity.

Puppets

Commedia dell'Arte mask

Howard and his partner (playright Peter Oswald) are launching a new company, Columbina Theatre, devoted to mask and verse drama. Their first piece, Egil, based on an old Icelandic saga, has already begun to tour -- and now they're at work on the second: a Commedia dell'Arte inspired romp called Sorry About the Poetry.

Costumes hanging on the wall in the two-room cabin that is Howard's office and theatre studio

Looking out the door of Howard's theatre studio

Jenny, my mother-in-law, pops by to do costume fittings (she's a theatrical costume designer by profession)...

Jenny Gayton adjusts Howard's costume

...and then the space is turned into a photo set to shoot publicity images for the shows.

P1360855

P1370044 copy

With the launch of the new company, plus Howard's on-going work with Hedgespoken Travelling Theatre, and teaching gigs, it's been a very busy winter (despite the flu) -- yet he's still pushing on with his solo project: the creation of a Punch & Judy show. Last summer I posted pictures when he began work on the puppet booth's frame: a complicated business, for the booth must be sturdy but also collapsible, and light to carry. Now the frame is built...

Tilly, Howard, and Mr Punch

...the mechanics of it are working. The booth will be easy to put up and take down again.

Tilly & Mr. Punch

The next step is to cover the frame with the traditional fabric of red-and-white candy stripes. This is where having a theatre seamstress in the family is invaluable, once again. Jenny sources the fabric, then comes over to drape and measure with Howard, working out the best way to constuct the tenting and attach it to the frame. In the photo below, we begin to see what the booth will look like when the striped covering is finished.

PJ4

As all this goes on, I'm beavering away on my secret project (trying not to get distracted by the goings-on next door). I do apologize for the time it's taking, and very much hope you'll find it worth the wait!

Mr. Punch


Wild stories

Wild companion

Winged deer tapestry

The Bumblehill studio

While the world of human affairs goes on its noisy, alarming way, I return again and again to the woods and hills behind my studio. To moss. To mud. To the dark, damp mulch of leaves carpeting the forest floor. To the strength of granite and the swift ways of water. To the prickly beauty of holly and gorse. To the patience of seed and bulb and skeletal trees...all waiting, like me, for the spring.

I keep leaving my desk, Tilly close at my heels, crossing from the imaginary landscapes of writing or reading to a world I can touch, and smell, and taste: to the old stone wall at the edge of the treeline, and pathways trodden through bracken by ponies and sheep. To streams filled with rain, bogs thick with mud, fields that glitter with morning frost. To the cold winter wind. To discomfort. To pain. To joy. To the things that are real.

An occupational hazard for the solitary writer is to live in the realm of the mind alone (or the shadowlands of the Internet), and not in the body, the senses, the wild rhythms of the local groundscape we each inhabit, whether rural or urban. For many of us in the fantasy field, the wild world is the very place that we seek to conjure and enter through stories and paintings -- and so we must not neglect our relationship with the elemental wild around us. In our kind of work, "magic" is not a metaphor for gaining power, control, or authority, but for our numinous connection with natural world, and our nonhuman neighhbors. It is wild work. It is soul work. And we need wild stories right now, more than ever.

Wild words

"I have a sense," writes Kate Bernheimer (author & editor of The Fairy Tale Review) "that a proliferation of magical stories, especially fairy tales, is correlated to a growing human awareness of separation from the wild and natural world. In fairy tales, the human and animal worlds are equal and mutually dependent. The violence, suffering, and beauty are shared. Those drawn to fairy tales, perhaps, wish for a world that 'might live forever.' My work as a preservationist of fairy tales is entwined with all kinds of extinction."

Edmund Dulac illustration

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"Writing," says Sylvia Linsteadt, "is my way into the heart of the world -- its wildness, its strange magic, its beauty, its terrors, its sadness, its joy. Metaphor (a favorite of mine) is an act of shape-shifting, of remembering that each thing is hitched to the next in the great cyclical transformation of energy, from sun to seed to doe to cougar and back to worm; the line between ourselves and the wild world is thin indeed. Writing (thick with metaphor) is the means through which I can praise the wild mystery of this world, and also explore its unseen realms -- the realms inside the hearts of bears and granite stones and buckeye trees; the lands just the other side of the moon and the fog, the lives of men and women long ago or just around the corner. If I were buckeye tree, then writing would be the buckeyes that fruit at the ends of my limbs come late August. In other words, writing is the thing made in me from all the waters and winds and soils and stories that come through my five senses (or six), and it feels very inevitable, like the buckeyes at the end of summer.

Kay Nielsen illustration

HJ Owen illustration

"Also, I have always been an avid reader," Sylvia continues; "especially as a child I devoured books that told of magical worlds and lands, lady-knights and healers, the everyday peasant life of Old Europe (especially Scotland & Ireland), talking animals, caravans of camel nomads, druids, long adventures on horseback. Such books literally shaped and changed my life. They informed the way I see the world today -- as a place much more mysterious and full of wild magics than we tend to believe, where everything is alive and everything speaks. So I write because writing is even better than reading in the sense that you really get to go to those places in your imagination, and give them to other people. The stories we tell ourselves and each other form the world in which we live."

Edmund Dulac illustration

Our task, as David Abram sees is, "is that of taking up the written word, with all its potency, and patiently, carefully, writing language back into the land. Our craft is that of releasing the budded, earthly intelligence of our words, freeing them to respond to the speech of things themselves -- the the green uttering-forth of leaves from the spring branches. It is the practice of spinning stories that have a rhythm and lilt of the local soundscape, tales for the tongue, tales that want to be told, again and again, sliding off the digital screen and slipping off the lettered page to inhabit the coastal forests, those desert canyons, those whispering grasslands and valley and swamps."

 "Storytellers ought not to be too tame," Ben Okri agrees. "They ought to be wild creatures who function adequately in society.  They are best in disguise.  If they lose all their wildness, they cannot give us the truest joys."

Edmund Dulac illustration

Jay Griffiths adds: "What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied. It is. Unmistakeable, unforgettable, unshamable, elemental as earth and ice, water, fire and air, a quitessence, pure spirit, resolving into no contituents. Don't waste your wildness: it is precious and necessary."

Adrienne Segur illustration

Illustration by Adrienne Segur

Wild storiesWords: The passage by Sylvia Linsteadt is from an interview by Asia Sular (Woolgathering & Wildcrafting, Sept. 2014), which I recommend reading in full. Kate Bernheimer's quote is from the Introduction to her anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales (Penguin, 2010); Ben Okri's quote is from his essay collection A Way of Being Free (W&N, 1997);  Jay Griffith's quote is from Wild: An Elemental Journey (Penguin, 2007). All three books are recommded. All rights reserved by the authors. Pictures: My quiet hillside studio on a rainy day -- with the hound, works-in-progress, old fairy tale books, and bits of the wild slipping in from the woods.


A writer's pledge

Her Holiness and Friends by Tricia Cline

Some time ago I stumbled across these words by children's book writer Cornelia Funke (author of The Thief Lord, Inkheart,  etc.), and they've been pinned to the wall above my desk ever since:

"I pledge to use books as doors to other minds, old and young, girl and boy, man and animal.

"I pledge to use books to open windows to a thousand different worlds and to the thousand different faces of my own world.

"I pledge to use books to make my universe spread much wider than the world I live in every day.

"I pledge to treat my books like friends, visiting them all from time to time and keeping them close."

Pope Lizzy by Tricia Cline

"In America lately," writes Scott Russell Sanders, "we have been carrying on two parallel conversations: one about respecting human diversity, the other about preserving natural diversity. Unless we merge those conversations, both will be futile. Our efforts to honor human differences cannot succeed apart from our effort to honor the buzzing, blooming, bewildering variety of life of earth. All life rises from the same source, and so does all fellow feeling, whether the fellow moves on two legs or four, on scaly bellies or feathered wings. If we care only for human needs, we betray the land; if we care only for the earth and its wild offspring, we betray our own kind. The profusion of creatures and cultures is the most remarkable fact about our planet, and the study and stewardship of that profusion seems to me our fundamental task."

Words to live by.

The Exile Looking for the Joyful Horse by Tricia Cline

The art today is by Tricia Cline, a sculptor from northern California who works primarily in porcelain. The pieces here are from her extensive  "Exiles from Lower Utopia" series, created as an ode to the Animal.

Cline says: "This is the ode: to reconnect with our own animal perception is to clarify and heighten our perception of who and what we are in the moment…to go beyond the limited mental concepts of who we think we are to an awareness of ourselves that is infinitely more vast. The Exiles migrate between the human world and the animal world and carry this awareness on their backs. They are the silent embodiment of this Quest. They understand the language of animals and are self-appointed ambassadors from that world."

More of Cline's work can be seen in a previous post (March 5, 2015), and on the artist's website.

Papa Wolf Sings to the Acolytes by Tricia Cline

The Bottom of the World Passes by Tricia ClineThe Scott Russell Sanders quote is from his essay collection Writing from the Center (Indiana University Press, 1997). I'm afraid I have no idea where the Cornelia Funke quote originally appeared. All rights to the text and art above reserved by the authors and artist.