Friday, July 27, 2012
I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
—Adrienne Rich from “Diving the Wreck”
I’ve been away from the outside world. Or at least trying to be. Diving deep into the imaginal realms.
That is what I do.
When I was young, I didn’t want an ordinary life. I don’t think I understood what the reality of that would mean.
For one thing, I still wanted all the accoutrements that went with an ordinary life: a house, home, land, enough wealth to be comfortable, good health, a partner.
I drew pictures when I was in elementary school. When I was five, I won first prize for my age group for drawing the Man in the Moon. I was impressed with the prize. I liked being the best. I liked being noticed for my talents, but I never tried to be the best at anything. I didn’t work at it. In my mind, that was akin to cheating. Let everyone just be themselves and then let the best girl win.
Or something like that.
I loved to draw. But I loved stories more. When I was five, I created my first book. On each page was a drawing. Put all the drawings together in a sequence and they told a story.
At some point when I was quite young--still in elementary school--I decided I couldn’t make a living as an artist. I’d have a better shot as a writer.
I laugh whenever I remember this.
What was I thinking?
This was the life I chose. This is the life I wanted. It is different from what I expected, but it is my life. I am fortunate in so many ways that I can’t even articulate.
What is it to live a life dedicated to art?
Yes, that’s what I do. Storytelling is an art.
I have friends, other writer friends, who would laugh at the idea that writing is an art: It is a business, period. I have other friends who would laugh at the idea that what I do is art because they believe I am writing for the masses: I am merely a peddler.
I don’t care what they think or why other people write or create art. I know I do it because I am drawn to it, called to it, because it is what I do best in the world.
Lately, it is almost all I want to do.
Perhaps I am no longer a visitor to the imaginal worlds. Maybe that’s where I live.
I never wanted to be one of those reclusive writers who couldn’t bear to be in the world. I wanted to be a contributing member of my community. And I was, for the most part. I was an environmental and social justice activist for most of my adult life.
Most of the time I felt as though I was butting my head up against a brick wall.
Lately, I can’t make myself step into the fray. Too much shouting. Too many people with their heads in the sand, pretending nothing is wrong.
Now all I can do is dive deep into the imaginal realms and see what stories there are to tell.
Maybe that will help.
Storytelling is all about truth-telling, isn’t it?
A way for people to see the truth?
All of art is about the truth. Truth and beauty.
Or are they the same?
Lately, I feel raw.
Maybe since I was born.
My friend Stephanie Lillegard says that “good creative effort is always spiritually exfoliating--and so it's our raw selves with no skins we take out into the world then.”
I dive deep every time I write. I am listening, communing, becoming. I am finding the place, the sweet spot, where I can trust the creative flow, be the creative flow. I just am, while my fingers move, translating what I hear, see, feel, recollect.
I used to write a book a year. I’d write it, and then the rest of the year, I lived an ordinary life, doing what everyone does. Or doesn’t.
Now I have times when I cannot stop writing.
Sometimes it hurts.
This fast way of writing began about eleven years ago. I went to Michigan to visit my father who was ill at the time. It was an awful visit in ways that I don’t need to delineate here. Suffice to say, by the time I returned to the Pacific Northwest, I felt as though I have been emotionally flayed.
For the first time, I decided to write a novel based on my experiences--a roman à clef. For a little more than two weeks, the novel poured out of me. The words came so fast that some days I wept as I wrote it. I was writing longhand and I could barely read my own writing.
Not long after that, I began writing Swans in Winter. Again, it flowed from me so quickly that it was physically draining. I wrote all day for seventeen days. Some of those days, I wept from sheer exhaustion. But I had a novel at the end of it.
I knew I couldn’t sustain that pace. It didn’t feel healthy. I didn’t like it, actually.
I wrote my next few novels at a slower, more sustainable pace. But I was still writing quickly. Something had opened up in me, and I had to figure out how to go with it.
In the meanwhile, I got physically healthier. I also got a laptop. I wrote nearly all of Mercy, Unbound on the computer. This was new for me. After a lifetime of writing my first drafts on a yellow legal pad, I was now writing while I sat at the computer.
I started writing all of my novels on the computer. And then we began spending part of our winters in Tucson. In the second year we were there, I wrote Church of the Old Mermaids in less than a month.
I loved every minute of it.
This last winter, I wrote two and a half novels during our month in Tucson.
It was fun. It was exciting.
And it was exhausting. Once again, I had opened up those creative floodgates a little too wide.
It has taken me quite a few months to come back from that.
Does it mean I dove too deep?
Or did I work too hard?
Is it the job of every creative person to figure out how much is too much?
Lately I have been struggling with my own demons which seem to crawl out of my own private woodwork whenever I stop writing for a time.
When I work, when I create, when I tell stories, perhaps I “subdue the demons with splendor,” as the old Tibetan Buddhism texts say.
Or maybe I’m like Shahrazad, telling stories night after night to save my life.
A few days ago, I began putting together The Old Mermaids Book of Days and Nights. I’m collecting quotes from my novels--mostly those novels in the Old Mermaids universe. I have one quote per day of the year. I love doing this. I feel like I am in the Old Mermaids Sanctuary, and beyond, and all is well in the world. I’m not certain if I started to feel better and then I was able to begin this project, or if when I began this project, I subdued the demons with the splendor of the Old Mermaids.
This is my life. Sometimes it is a slog. Sometimes it is wondrous.
Do you remember the Irish fairy tale sometimes called "The Enchanted Heart?" A young woman has left her home and is traveling the countryside, looking for adventure. She stops one night in a village where the villagers are mourning the loss of a young man. The villagers are very hospitable to her. They give her food and invite her to stay. She asks if she can do anything to help. The parents and community members are tired from their grief. So they ask if she could sit with the body of the young man for a while so that they can get some sleep.
She agrees. They put a chair for her near the body. She can see the man’s face in the torch light, and she’s sorry for his death. He’s a handsome man, and he looks like he was a good-hearted soul.
Around midnight, the young woman is startled when the young man suddenly sits up and says, “I’m not dead! I’m under an enchantment. Can you help me?”
“What can I do?”
“If you will agree to go over the quaking bog, through the burning forest, and into the raging sea with me, I will be released from this enchantment.”
“Of course,” she says. “I will go with you.”
They clasp hands and immediately a whirlwind comes and carries them away and drops them down onto a quaking bog. They have no magic to help them. They only have each other. They make the perilous journey across the bog, somehow not falling in and drowning.
Next they are face to face with a wall of fire. They have no idea how they are going to traverse the burning forest. Then they see a stag running through, so they follow his trail. They barely make it out of the burning forest, but they come out of it and are standing at the edge of a cliff. Below them is a storm-tossed sea. They don’t know what to do. It seems impossible, but they hold hands and jump into the ocean.
Once in the icy water, they see a green light beneath the ocean waves. They swim toward the light--even as their limbs begin to freeze up, they swim toward the green light. They finally reach the green light, which is part of fairy land, and the enchantment is instantly broken. The whirlwind returns and takes them back to the man’s house. The young man and young woman fall in love and marry. The entire village celebrates at their wedding. The couple live long and happy lives together.
I often think of this story as a template for the life of a creative person.
Or maybe I think of it as a story of my own life.
The young woman leaving home on an adventure is the young creative person following the call of the wild. She soon enough meets someone in trouble. Maybe it’s the part of herself that is enchanted or dead to the world. Can any of us create if part of us is dead?
Or when she clasps the young man’s hand, is this when she truly begins her life as an artist? She has stepped out of the mainstream. She will go where the story takes her. She will go any place to awaken that which is dead. She will go anywhere to follow her heart’s desire.
And finally, they have to dive deep to release the enchantment. That is the most difficult part of the journey. They have to swim deep into the ocean to that green light.
I decided long ago to go on this journey. I clasped the young man’s hand. I agreed to do whatever it took to release the enchantment--to live a heartfelt life, a creative life.
But some days I feel bogged down.
Other days, I feel like I’m trapped in the fire. Will I ever find a way out?
Other days, I am in the icy ocean and I’ve lost sight of my true love and my goals.
I’ve lost sight of the green light.
But wait, there it is.
The light at the beginning of the fairy tale.
The connection to the divine creative flow.
Some days I feel close to the green light. Some days I am in the green light and any moment, the whirlwind will come and take me back to my community. Once there, I can celebrate and be a part of that world again.
Until then, I am diving.
I am diving toward that which is calling to me: the words are purposes, the words are maps, taking me to the story ready to be told.
I am not diving for the wreck. Especially if that wreck is me. I am diving for the divine. For creation.
Photograph taken at night (by me) by the Old Mermaids pool at the retreat in Tucson.
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Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Somehow I manage to find news even when I'm trying to avoid it. I've been looking for peace and happiness, yet I keep stumbling into stories of violence and mayhem.
One morning I opened my computer to listen to a meditation. Half asleep, for some unconscious reason I can't fathom, I checked a news website and found out about the shooting in Colorado.
As I read and listened, I saw in my mind's eye all the other shootings, bombings, and other acts of violence I had witnessed in my lifetime. It was like watching a tape of "This is Your Gruesome Life."
As always happens during these terrible violent events here in the United States, the media and others soon martyrized the crime victims. I heard story after story of the dead acting as heroes. A bloody awful horror story became mythologized into a story about good people doing good things. Romance overtook horror.
I understand: We often mythologize horrible events in our lives. It's a way of getting through them. I'm not addressing what the families of these crime victims have to do to survive this horror. That's their business. I'm talking about what we tend to do as a nation when something horrible and preventable happens. Instead of figuring out what really happened and how we can prevent it in the future, the nation seems to put on blood-stained rose-colored glasses.
The romanticization of this violent crime happened in tandem--as it almost always does when guns are involved--with various "shooters" (NRA spokespeople) declaring that "guns don't kill people, people kill people."
I heard one shooter pointing out that Norway had very strict gun laws, but that didn't stop a mass murderer from going on a rampage last year. The talking head didn't challenge this nonsense. Someone should have said, "Um, yes, but that happened in Norway ONCE. In the United States, 30,000 people die from guns every year. There are another 300,000 gun assaults EVERY YEAR."
The availability of guns and ammunition is definitely part of the problem.
But what's wrong here is more than just the availability of firearms.
We all know it's more than that.
Our culture, the culture of the United States of America, is awash in violence. Violence is an epidemic in this country, and it's as American as apple pie.
Our economic system is rapacious and all-consuming. Our political system is now basically controlled by bullies and nasty foul-thinking violence-spewing right-wing extremists. Our entertainment industry is gory with glorified killers of all kinds. Too much of the internet is populated with bullies, haters, and thieves--or people pretending none of the former exists. These are all forms of violence. (And I haven't even mentioned the rapes, murders, assaults, robberies, child abuse.)
Oh, and by the way, this epidemic of violence: It's a MALE epidemic. No question about it.
I have talked about this issue and written about it for years. It's all well and good to champion non-violence, or champion victims of violence. But once we bring up the perpetrators of this violence, all bets are off. "What? What are you talking about? Men and violence? Naw. Come on. Don't lay your feminist crap on me."
The majority of the violence in this country is perpetrated by boys and men. Yet when I and other writers point out this fact, people often stop listening.
Afraid to wake the patriarchal man beast?
Already awoken. Already raping and pillaging.
Afraid to acknowledge a difference between men and women?
Ah, the difference is as plain as the penis between his legs and the vagina between mine. Not to mention the hormonal and chemical differences.
It is a boy and man problem. Does it stem from something in the water, air, food, or culture? I don't know.
But shouldn't we try to figure it out?
As a nation, we have got to make some concrete changes. And first up, we have to look at the pathology reports: We are drowning in blood.
And let's stop romanticizing those who have been murdered. It's not romantic to be murdered. It's not heroic. It's just awful. There is no good that comes out of being murdered. What happened in Colorado is a horrible event that happened to dear and beloved innocent people.
This epidemic of violence has corrupted the heart and soul of the United States. Since few people will acknowledge this disease, I doubt anyone's even looking for a cure.
Nations are capable of changing, but I'm not sure our nation is capable of changing for the better. I've seen little evidence of that lately.
I hope I'm wrong. For the first time in my life, I'm considering leaving this country. I'm tired of worrying about crazy people with guns every time I leave the house. I'm tired of looking at neighbors and strangers with suspicion, wondering what they're hiding under their coats.
It's not a peaceful way of being in the world. And it's certainly not romantic.
Read more here...
Monday, July 16, 2012
I’m sitting outside with Mario, on our back patio. It is near the end of the day. Mario is reading. I am looking around our yard. It’s not really “our” yard. We don’t own it, but I have lived in this place longer than I have lived anywhere except in my parents’ house. It feels like ours.
I am looking up at the Kuan Yin Peace Garden.
Kuan Yin is holding her concrete fan with her left hand and looking out toward me, yet not at me. The angelica I planted near her is stunted, probably from the acidic soil. Near Kuan Yin is a concrete birdbath and shells my neighbor gave me. I wish more flowers grew around her, but I don’t want to think about what’s “wrong” every time I look at her. Just like I don’t want to look at my yard or gardens and think, “I have to cut this, weed this, plant this.”
I just want some peace.
I created the Kuan Yin Peace Garden some years ago, after 9/11, when this country was about to go to war. I had to find some peace in all the strife. And my landlord had just “trimmed” the Doug fir, causing all sorts of creatures to scatter because he’d disturbed their homes. My peaceful backyard felt like a mini-war zone. And it looked like it. So I found Kuan Yin and the bird bath and some flagstones and I put them near the butchered Doug fir. In time, plants grew, all volunteers. Now it is quite lovely.
I feel as though I need a Peace Garden again. I need to unwind the knot in my belly. I recognize it. The last time I had it was when my father had heart surgery. The time before that was when my mother died. Now I think it’s an accumulation of work stress and working too much, not having enough down time. I need swaths of time where I don’t do anything but stare at the sky or listen to the wind through the trees.
So I’m unwinding.
I’ve taken time off from work. For two weeks I’m going to try and not do any library work. I’ll try not to go into the city so much. I’ve gotten rid of my TV service—did that a few months ago. Trying not to read or hear any news. I was walking on the Mystic Trail nearly every day, but that made the knot worse. Every day I encountered some human being who was disruptive, rude, alien.
I’m not a people hater. I’m not one of those people who hates my own kind. I don’t prefer animals over people. I am almost always happier in the woods than I am in a crowd of people, but I often prefer being in the woods with my own kind.
Hmmm. But how many humans are my own kind?
Trees feel like my kind. My plants feel like my kin.
Lately, people bother me. I am angry most of the time. I wonder why people can’t act in a way that doesn’t annoy or harm me. Even as I think such thoughts I want to laugh because I know it’s ridiculous, but I don’t laugh. I’m still annoyed or angry.
Recently I lost my tribe. At least, it feels that way. It battered me a bit, this loss. The details aren’t important. I feel unmoored. Haven’t got back on my feet—or maybe like the Old Mermaids at first, I haven’t found my land legs yet. It was such a surprising thing to happen.
Ah well. Let’s not pick at that wound.
I can see my garden from here. My gardens, plural. The marigolds are so bright next to the greens. I put up a fence and hung prayer flags all around. They’re not actually prayer flags. They are pieces of fabric I ripped and then tied onto the fence so that the deer wouldn’t hurt themselves in the dark and the night. I don’t know if that works, but I did it.
Next to the vegetable garden is my massive and amazing rosemary bush, along with my sage bush and lavender bush. This is the first time the lavender bush has bloomed in several years. It was damaged in a storm when we were in Arizona one year. I was going to cut it down afterward because I thought it was dead, but I left it. Now it’s in bloom again. Near to the bushes, I recently planted a tobacco plant. I love being surrounded by warrior and healing plants.
Maybe they are my peace envoys.
As I gaze up at these plants, as I think about them and listen for their whispers, my mood lifts. I believe plants can heal anything. And I believe they know everything.
Yesterday, the knot was so tight in my stomach I could barely breathe. I took one of the quilts my father made for me and I went outside. I lay next to my medicinal herb beds—near to the comfrey and black cohosh—and I put the quilt over me. Closed my eyes. Listened. Felt the grass beneath my fingers. Breathed, breathed.
Later I got up and went to my rosemary bush. I lay next to her for a long while. She’s been with me for more than twenty years, and I felt like I was spending time with an old friend.
When I got up from the rosemary bush, a bright yellow and green spider was walking up my arm. She was so beautiful I nearly gasped.
This morning, I got up and spent time with my plants, watering them, feeding them, pulling “weeds.” I talked to them, sang to them, even as I was pulling some of them up, explaining why I did this and that.
Afterward, Mario and I walked down to the river. I was glad it was just Mario and myself sitting on the shore and watching the Columbia River move toward us and then away and then toward us and then away.
Once we got home again, we worked. I am most at home and happiest when I am doing writing work or when I’m out in the woods. Today was a work day so that’s what we did. I finished editing Whackadoodle Times. Then Mario worked on the covers for The Rift and Pricked: A Jane Deere novel. We used one of my photos for the The Rift and I found a photograph on dreamstime that I liked for Pricked. I want the Jane Deere covers to have a grunge fairy tale-like flavor, and I think this cover starts the series out nicely.
Now I’m listening to the day unwind. Too many dogs are barking. Machinery in the background. But I breathe, in and out, in and out. I look up at Kuan Yin. She looks so peaceful.
Of course, she’s made out of concrete.
She’s also surrounded by greenery, mostly plum trees. Behind her are blackberries, a young hawthorne tree, several young cherry trees. Towering above her is the Douglas fir.
All is well, all is well.
I look over at Mario and he smiles at me. I smile back.
I know peace will come to me again, too.
(Here are the covers we worked on today. These are jpgs so the detail isn't good. These are first drafts for the covers. My name needs to be smaller on The Rift and some other things on Pricked, but so far, so good.)
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