Making Inspiration

It’s the first Monday of 2019. Most people are going  back to work today, or school, or otherwise returning to ‘normality’ after the holiday.

This is not usually the most happy of occasions. The early start, the ‘presentable’ clothes, having to focus on things which are maybe not your first priority… perhaps the habits of late mornings in bed, comfortable ‘lounge-wear’ and doing what you want with your time are more attractive!

On many 9-5 (or equivalent) days, we feel the pressure of the season as it truly is now. Yuletide has passed. We’re into the dark, grey days of winter, with Spring months away. This is what the Yule celebrations were designed to help us through… but it’s not always so easy from this side of the calendar.

What is enticing is to let ourselves fall into that sense of drudgery. Of running behind, chasing an endless ‘To-Do’ list, wondering how to cope with weeks until payday. We can feel ourselves slipping, letting the grey clouds overwhelm us. But we don’t have to.

Times like this are precisely when we need our own magic the most. You may be rolling your eyes now, wondering how on earth we can do that when we feel so unmotivated, uninspired and generally unwilling. But that’s precisely it!

The brightness of Yule was to remind us of the good things we have, of the love of family and friends, good food and laughter. Even the quiet of peace, of the time to do your own thing, with the New Year full of plans and potential. That hasn’t gone away – that was setting the foundation from which we’re now working.

Even if the holidays were themselves difficult and returning to ‘normality’ is now a welcome relief – then let that fuel you. The season has turned, and with it the reminder that we’re still here, still moving forward. We have the power to make this year what we want (or need) it to be.

The trick of these dark days is not to succumb to the sleep of hibernation again. It’s natural to want this, as the morning are still dark and the sunlight in short supply. But we have to keep ourselves moving in both darkness and light. Hold on to the good feelings of recent weeks to keep yourself reminded of what’s possible, or what you’re dreaming of.

My December was not the best, and I won’t be remembering it fondly. Illness, severe mental health battles and general battling meant that I was generally surviving day-to-day. However, the bright spots stand out even more because of that.

Time snuggled up with my husband and animal family, warm and fed, together. Visiting family, laughter and silliness; pictures of distant folks enjoying themselves. Sharing stories of adventures during that Christmas week, which seemed both too long and yet over so quickly at the same time.

Now here we are, needing to get Back to Work – and we can use those happy moments to keep us going. We’re still working in the midst of winter, yes, but that means setting foundations for the year ahead. This is just as exciting, if not more so, as making those plans, dreams and wishes, because now we’re actually able to do something about them.

Our daily work may be hard to face, but it allows us to have the resources to use as we need. Even if (like me) work is scarce at this time of year, we try to use what we have and plan for the busier seasons on the horizon.

Inspiration may not be immediately apparent right now. It’s hard to see the magic in the January dampness, here in the UK. The news is full of difficulty and sadness. So even more, we need to dig deep and find that inner inspiration to keep ourselves moving.

I’m back at my desk today, and pondering what to write. I’ll do a blog post – that’ll get the creative juices flowing! Perhaps it will, perhaps not. That’s the dilemma of a writer: what to write that I will find interesting, while second-guessing how it will appear to my readers! That’s an endless wheel of worry, which can itself be a trap. As many other writers have said, put one word after another and keep going. That’s all you can do. So here I am.

I was also glad to be able to sit here and think straight, to write at all, after a week of being Very Ill. Yesterday saw me pondering my own ‘To Do’ list – and looking forward to the tasks on it, rather than feeling overwhelmed. I had to figure what method of planning worked best for me, without setting off my inner fears. Again, I can’t anticipate what every person will want this year. I can only do what I feel called to do. Hopefully, people will be interested and want to join in.

This is itself a small ritual. I set the space, in terms of ideas and plans. Then I gather the tools I need… and today, I’m starting to get things moving. Nothing tangible will be apparent yet, as we’re months from seeing some of these events happen. But… actually, no, even that’s not true. These words are tangible, right now, here on this screen. I’m reaching out to others to share my thoughts and ideas, and hopefully inspire you in turn. What can you do to make this year good? What are you doing right now to that end?

It might just be about putting one foot in front of the other, or one breath after the next. That counts too. Every creation, event or rite starts with the spark of an idea, then the energy put into it, the pondering, the scribbling of notes, the calling for help from friends… Momentum can be sudden, like a lightning-strike, or quiet, a single snowflake that leads to an avalanche. Both have very real results!

I’m still feeling rather furry-brained today, but now I have some writing to share, to show that I Am Doing Things. I look to my list, to see what I can do next. I remember that there’s unlisted jobs too, such as household chores. I consider what music I can play to make those more fun.

I’ve planned a couple of rewards for myself, breaktimes with tea and some knitting, then some research later (reading rarely counts as work for me!), perhaps a movie tonight. Walking the dogs over the fields – still exhausting, as I’m not back to full strength yet physically, but the first snowdrops are starting to appear, the birds are singing and the land isn’t quite as asleep as it might seem.

The challenge of the dark months is to keep going. But we can do it, both alone and by connecting with supportive friends and the world around. Look at what motivates you, not what makes you sigh with frustration. Consider the potential of the year ahead. Imbolc isn’t far away – do you have any plans? What about small daily rituals to keep you smiling, holding on to who you are beneath the business suit or boring uniform?

I sit, the typical author alone at her desk… and thinking of how I reach out to others through my work. The words I write today may not be seen until (or if!) they’re published months from now, but these ones, right now, are certainly enough.

I raise my cup of tea to you, lovely reader. Go find something warm to share alongside me. We’ll keep working together, sharing virtual space through the magic of this electronic tale. My candle is lit here too, keeping me reminded.

We am still here. What are we doing?

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Quiet

I seem to be following themes this year. The path is a winding one, leading to new places and revisiting old from a different direction. Sometimes we move in circles, or get caught in whirlpools, until we’re ready to move forward – or get thrown forcibly on to the next challenge!

It’s Yuletide, the centre of the Christmas season for the world outside my window. So much is going on, with the news full of chaos and uncertainty. People are having to take stock, to actively consider what’s important to them… because 2019 may bring deep and personal changes. Apathy, ignorance or abdication of responsibility will not be an option.

For now though, I sit. I haven’t wanted to write. I haven’t wanted my voice to drop into that ocean of media. It’s midwinter. The word that sums up life for me right now is ‘Quiet’.

That’s not to say things have been quiet. I’ve been battling hard over recent months, and making it through is not always a certainty. But I’m still here.

The latest fight has been against inner voices telling me that nothing I do makes a difference. That my own voice may as well be silent, for it adds nothing. I’m not wanted. I’m not here.

I pause as I write these words. They may seem mad – well, they are! They are irrational, provably false. When you’re in your own dark places, these words ring so loud, it’s almost impossible to block or even attempt to dispute them.

But I hold on. I take a deep breath. I speak.

I call out for help as best I can, and while I’ve been notably ignored by the systems that should be in place to assist (an overwhelmed NHS), friends have more than proved their love by listening, sharing, sending gifts and kindness across the miles. More than anything, I’ve wanted to post myself somehow to where they are, to show my gratitude in person! Because I want them to know how much they  have helped in my fight.

It’s easy to feel isolated when it’s dark. You can’t see anyone around, can’t hear them… you feel so alone. But even a whisper will be picked up by someone. Friends care enough to listen, to hold space (even across the Interweb), to join you in the wish for peace and healing.

A dear friend provided much needed humour and distraction this week, reminding me of a quote from a favourite TV show: ‘Family don’t end with blood.’ She didn’t realize at the time, but that brought me to tears – because it’s deeply true. Your family are those who are there for you, who step up fearlessly because they love you and will fight alongside you without a second thought. They don’t hide when times get tough; they sneak into the blanket fort alongside you (and bring snacks).

A shared image or phrase. A simple ‘hey, how’s it going?’ The touch of a virtual hand at your shoulder. These things cost so little, yet can mean everything.

So I sit, quiet and alone. But still breathing. Still able to reach out to those who are there. I try my best to use my word-powers for good, after all, so the least I can do is honour those who listen – and help in return, as much as I can.

For me, this midwinter is about cutting through the noise to find the inner truth. Hold that quiet space within, just sit and be. You can do this; even if you need to take yourself physically away for a while, to take a break from the seasonal busyness. Seek out that light burning inside you, and let it warm you for a little while. Remember what’s important – and feel those who love you for it be with you, be it in body or spirit.

Deep in the darkness, the fire burns, and with it the bravery and strength needed to move forward in Yourself.

Try to feel the Truth of this time of year. The lights and the laughter, the sharing and gifts (not always tangible!). We do our best, whatever that may be. We set our space, hold ourselves firm, stretch out with our roots and prepare for the months ahead. We’ve adventures to face together.

Season’s blessings, dear ones.

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Addendum: For those of you who’ve been kind enough to support me on Patreon, I’m sending a little seasonal gift – a small rite just for you, in the spirit of the season but also in the light of my thoughts here.

I can’t thank you enough for supporting me, lovely friends. I’ve definitely got plans for you all next year!

Yuletide blessings x

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Self

The dark nights of winter bring dark thoughts. Not negative, necessarily – more necessary. Those things we’ve been avoiding, not seeing, preferring not to think about.

As has been the case for the second half of this year, I’ve been finding the days extremely difficult to face, while the nights are calming. Quiet descends. Even the wee Yuletide lights are soft, not glaring. We’re decorating the house with green, with a baby tree to be planted outside come Spring. Himself is working on Yuletide and Christmas Day, so I will likely be too. And that’s fine.

I’ve been finding myself pushing back against what’s expected of me. Or rather, what I feel I should be doing. Be with wider families at Christmas? Impossible and impractical. So having our own plans at home. Stiff upper lip and keep going? Nope – rest and recharge, ready to move forward again.

That phrase, ‘finding myself’. It comes back to that, I think.

At various stages in life, I’ve reached the point of ‘I’ve had all I can stand, I can’t stand no more!’ (with thanks to Warner Brothers). I’ve stood in the street and yelled. I’ve chosen the untrod path that has opened up to me. Life has been very… unusual as a result.

But I’ve always wondered who sets these rules. Ever since I was small, I can remember wondering who established those social dictates. Courtesy and manners, sure, but so much of the social dance is made up of falsehoods and lies, smiling when you feel awful, hearing yourself speak nonsense to fill the silence.

Is this really necessary? I was told off for being rude when I was encouraged to honestly answer a question. You want honesty? Brace yourself.

Of course, that’s not always true. But honesty tempered with false flattery is diluted. And, I truly think, disrespectful and unhelpful.

It is up to us to use our words with care, to speak our truths in a manner that others understand the intention rather than brusquely steamrollering over someone else’s boundaries. That’s why I’d rather constructive criticism when it’s needed. Other people see things that we may need to be aware of, which we’re too close to see for ourselves.

Other times, I felt that I was the only one seeing the truth around me, but we were all in some unspoken contract to remain quiet, for the sake of ‘niceness’ or ‘not rocking the boat.’ Or people will outright tell me that I’m wrong. Really? Why? I don’t feel wrong…

As I’ve walked further down this overgrown and unexplored path, I remember moments from my childhood that have affirmed it – that I’m going the right way. Children aren’t stupid. They know what feels good or bad, what makes them happy or… not. They’re trying even harder to understand this crazy world.

One thing I’ve learned from others and have shared before is ‘feeling’ truths. It’s pretty simple.

Say your name. “Hello, my name is —.”

Now say a name that’s wrong. “Hello, my name is Bernard.”

(This usually results in giggles.)

Now say something else that’s true for you. And then a lie. The more ridiculous, the better.

Can you tell the difference? How each feels?

The truths strike a chord within, like a note ringing… well, true. The lies are like a gameshow klaxon for WRONG!

Because we know in our heart, mind and soul when something is true or not.

I’ve been exploring my truths for many years now, uncovering new aspects of myself as I grow, learn and get older. What used to be true once is now not. Some things need to be passed over and left behind. We don’t remain static all our lives.

I’ve been having deep truths thrown up to me, both from my subconscious, my work and from simply having thoughtful friends share ideas. Again, gently, in the spirit of discussion and debate, rather than effectively yelling into my face that I am WRONG!

It doesn’t feel that it’s ‘being wrong’, although part of the way we act stems from fear of that. It’s more that we’re ‘not quite right yet’. Following an untruthful path is something that I think we know – after a while, it feels like pushing through deep snow, through treacle, as our subconscious tries to put us back on track. Admitting that is a small victory, not a weakness.

Lately, I’ve been surprised at some random thought popping up. ‘No, that’s not you any more.’ Or ‘Yes! You want to do that new thing!’ I’ve faced events that I would never have imagined attempting in the past, and enjoyed them thoroughly. Whereas everyday, normal tasks have become difficult, almost impossible.

As I pass through another year, I’m trying to allow myself to explore what feels ‘true’, ‘right’… for me, right now. If it isn’t, why not? Is there an alternative route? Do I really need to do that thing? Or is it just challenging?

For example, running is something that is absolutely challenging, but which fires my body and spirit when it goes well. It’s something I was always told I was bad at – but when it’s just me, out there putting one foot in front of the other, I can feel the laughter bubbling up inside. I don’t have the energy to doubt, frankly! I have to keep going, because at the very least, I have to get myself home.

I’ve discovered that some clothes I’ve worn for years are not longer ‘me’. I don’t like the feel of them, let alone the look. It’s time to pass them on, to explore what works for me now.

I did wonder if this was some sort of social ‘midlife crisis’, actually! But then is that not a stage in life which we fail to mark, like entering adulthood or (for ladies) our crone-time? We’re constantly moving from one stage to another. Let’s free ourselves to see what that means, to stay relevant to ourselves, to do what we want to be doing right now, as best we can.

This isn’t about privilege either, although I know I’m blessed to be able to do this. We can get through what is necessary – but maybe in a different way to what’s become stale. Try to see a problem from all sides, or *gasp* ask friends! Again, not weakness, not if your friends truly know and care for you.

Part of my mind has been mourning the loss of that normal world: ‘job, children, workaday week’ etc that many people have. But that’s not for me. I’m so very lucky that I can work as I do. It means I’ll likely never be rich enough to afford a red sports car for midlife! But I’m more likely to be figuring out how to make something as it’s needed that suits me and mine, rather than buy something that I can’t afford for the sake of social appearance.

Perhaps that’s the ‘stage’ that we are constantly exploring how to push through. Appearance versus who we truly are. But giving ourselves the freedom to ‘play’ with it, to try different hats, should be encouraged, not mocked. I’m so very glad of friends who are excited to explore with me, as I applaud their own adventures.

Spending time in the quiet of the dark months allows for these thoughts. I’m (nervously!) intrigued as to what’s coming next…

Season’s blessings, my friends.

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Light in the Dark

This week has been particularly difficult for me (and many others, I suspect). Despite the lights appearing to signify the Yuletide season, it’s proving more difficult to penetrate the darkness within as the days we battle through grow shorter.

I’ve not been able to do much at all. Helpful medical voices ask ‘What do you normally do to make yourself feel better?’ To which I want to yell ‘DON’T YOU THINK I’VE TRIED ALL THAT?!’

But I haven’t really, have I? Because I can’t. The dark thoughts prevent me – from focusing on a pleasing book, finding a distracting movie, concentrating on complex creativity. Several times this week, I’ve been unable/unwilling to even move from my chair, for fear of what might happen.

Instead, I’ve found myself thinking of ‘safe’ places from my past. Like a child having nightmares, I’ve reached out to memories of refuge, which was often needed in years gone by.

I would spend many lunchtimes at school hiding under the watchful eye of that most dreadful of gatekeepers: The Librarian. A friend to me, none of those who wished to bully me would brave her door, and so I was safe with Anne McCaffrey, the Dragonlance heroes, or any number of other fantastic and wonderful worlds.

Years later, other lunch-hours were spent in warm cafes, soft jazz in the background as I lost myself in different books. Times had changed, but circumstances hadn’t: my bullying boss would never look for me there.

On trains, in tiny secret green spaces, even walking through the streets with audiobooks being read to me, I would find solace and security in tales of wonder and magic.

Years later (again), I found myself drawn to true stories of magic: Phyllis Currott, Starhawk, Margot Adler. Wonderful, strong women who taught through their own experiences of things never thought possible.

The magic began to spill from the books into reality, as I dove deep to explore the power within me. Words, yes, but whether spell or story, I could do this. I could do magic too!

Today, I opened a book that would ordinarily be called a ‘guilty pleasure’, perhaps. Magic, romance, battles, monsters… all those wonderful things that those who love ‘The Princess Bride‘ know make for the best stories.

At last, the words caught me. I was able to turn the pages, experience the thoughts of the protagonists, see the challenges that they faced and overcame.

As I paused, a thought occurred. This week, I had revisited the very depths of that black hole within me, of illness, fear and sorrow. I hadn’t been able to pull myself out, because I could not focus on my familiar lifeline. The tactics of that Black Dog, Depression, had cunningly found a chink in my armour. By drowning my brain with a morass of negativity, self-hatred and exhaustion, I hadn’t been able to access these otherworlds. Books remind me of what is good, what is worth living for. By preventing me from seeing the words, stymying that connection, I had no way to escape my own internal oubliette. Or even notice that such an escape was possible.

It may sound strange to one who has never felt the touch of mental illness, but it really does seem like a cunning monster – hence all of the personification names. I rather like Winston Churchill’s ‘Black Dog’, but lately I’ve also become fond of ‘brain weasels’ (with no disrespect to either of those real-world animals). Either way, the monsters within try innumerable methods of breaking down your defences, until they find a weakness to exploit.

GK Chesterton (and subsequently Neil Gaiman) famously said: “Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

We find the weapons we need within the pages of magic. We see ourselves in the heroes and heroines, both old and new. We tell each other stories, as I do here, in my small way.

Because the power of the monsters within comes from convincing us that we have no power. We have no magic, are unable to stop ourselves from being overwhelmed, because we lack the ability to fight back. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, the perpetual spiral down into the depths.

It doesn’t take much to think of stories that specifically focus on this. ‘The Neverending Story‘ is a battle against The Nothing. ‘Labyrinth‘ is a girl fighting to find her own power. Both feature disgusting swamps that drag you down and make you give up. As does the aforementioned ‘Princess Bride’.

Go back further. ‘The Wizard of Oz’ has flowers of forgetfulness and an all-powerful Witch. Odysseus almost gives in to the song of the Sirens. The original Labyrinth of Knossos swallowed up many souls…

… until the protagonist remembered the way to get through. In each case, friends provided lifelines to help the hero dig deep, to remember what they were fighting for. To keep going, to endure, to make it. (Depression isolates us, remember – another of its tactics).

I have talismans that help remind me of my own power. Sometimes they’re inspiring quotes; other times, comforting blankets, or gifts from friends. Whatever works to help me remember my connection to my own magic, to the life that exists in me and the world around.

Other physical, real-world people may seek (intentionally or not) to take that power away. But this is only possible to long as we allow it. That seems hard to believe, but it’s true.

Last night, my husband said to me something both simple and profound. ‘You know, you are allowed to say No to things you don’t want to do.’

This struck my exhausted brain surprisingly hard. I can do that? Really? Because the Black Dog had been using examples from the past to show me that this is precisely what I could not do. I had to keep my Chin Up and Soldier On. Other people, Authority People, said so.

No.

I sought comfort today, not just the urge to hide. Recharge, not just regroup. Remember that there was always power within me. Stories had always been my lifeline to that: my breadcrumb trail, my ball of yarn (as well as real balls of yarn, of course, but those arrived in more recent times!).

I thought back to those tales of true magic, from modern-day witches, bards and magicians. Every one spoke at one time or another of fighting ‘demons’ – almost like a computer game, through which we access the ‘next level.’ Stories reflecting real-world experience, and so inspiring progress. An upward spiral…

By simply surviving, by refusing to give up that last flicker of power, we win. By stepping forward, by raising our own voice, we share that power with others who may need the reminder. We can be the inspiration, the spark of Awen, the flame in the dark. Someone will hear, you can depend on that.

Sometimes, the Black Dog overwhelms and makes us forget this. Part of my battle is fighting to remember, to hold on and to Stand.

I think now of that modern fairytale, of Keanu Reeves reaching out to gently stop the bullets aimed at his heart, plucking them out of the air with that same realization as Dorothy, Sarah and Bastian.

And so on this tiny page amidst the myriad words on this InterWeb, I share this. As a reminder.

Go rekindle your candles, my friends. Inside and out. May they warm you and help you to remember your stories.

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Facing Dragons

I love walking in mud with no shoes. Because shoes weren’t really made for mud, were they? They get dirty so easily, and don’t really cling (unless they’ve got special soles). Toes were certainly made for gripping, holding us firm, telling us what’s underfoot and if it’s safe to proceed.

But we don’t walk barefoot in mud, do we. Pause now, think of all the reasons you’ve been told. You’ll get your feet dirty. Who knows what you’ll step in? It’s cold. It’s wet. Just the feeling of wet, dirty, squishy mud, full of horrors… urrrgh…

Have you ever tried? How about sand? Or grass? The worst surface to walk on barefoot, for me, is gravel or concrete. Hard, cold, with no grip. The natural earth is full of sensation, feeling, and it actually feels so much better. More natural, indeed.

Oh, and soap exists. We can wash our feet afterwards. It’s easy.

This thoughts came to me as I was navigating a tricky path this afternoon, walking the dogs. Yes, there was mud. Fields where cows had been. Slippery wooden stiles to climb over. Brambles.

Every step of the way, my shoes slipped and skidded, my coat caught in things… the very clothes I wore to keep myself warm and dry were actually impeding my progress. It was both funny and frustrating.

Yes, we do things a certain way for practical concerns. Of course we do. But it’s so easy to trap ourselves in the prison of what we ‘must’ do. Not because we decide, but because someone else has, and we obey unthinkingly.

It’s interesting to consider our own personal boundaries. Which ones have we put up, and why? Which ones did someone else build around us, which we might actually be curious to take down?

Not everyone likes bare skin on mud. But you could do it easily if you wanted to – that’s the example that came to my mind today.

I’ve also spun, arms thrown out wide, in a thunderstorm… on a busy high street, full of people scuttling past to find shelter. I’ve skipped down a London street with a friend, through falling snow, as people got out of our way. I’ve stood naked in a field in Oxfordshire, screaming at the sky.

For each of these, I either was (or would be) stared at. None are illegal. All are rather societally frowned upon. Not British, perhaps, or not done by ‘civilized’ people.

But oh, how freeing they were. To feel that urge within me and to follow through with it. To feel the fear-walls fall away: less like tumbling bricks, more like smoke, that faded as I pushed it, challenged it. Overcame it.

I think of close friends, and things they’ve done, which are marvellous to me. Walking alone through busy city streets on the far side of the world. Leaping from a plane, falling back to earth at the end of a thin rigging of cloth and rope. ‘Coming out’ – as a particular sexuality, gender or faith – in an unfriendly environment.

My little mischiefs seem trivial in comparison.

When I wrote my last post, I did worry. How many people would respond accusing me of ‘privilege’, of not knowing ‘how lucky I am’, of how I should ‘be grateful’. I was only talking about having photos taken, for goodness sake…

Words like that were the bars of my inner fear-cell as a child. Always being aware of how I appeared to others, and how I had to act. I always wondered why, how this sort of thing was known. I felt as if I’d been left out when the instructions on such things were being given out. My biggest mistake was often being honest. When I was, I usually got mocked, laughed at and ridiculed. I learned to stay quiet.

But the response that I actually got to my writing was wonderful. People thanking me for my honesty. For being so brave as to talk about such things. For putting into words what is so difficult to even feel, let alone express.

Whenever I let the words come. When I feel so full of emotion that I have to let it out, to express it in some way… people thank me. This confuses me – because as I said, that used to be precisely the wrong thing to do! But now I’m allowed to say it, somehow. Or rather, society has turned enough that we have learned to listen, both to the words being said and to the intention behind them.

I still see words being censored. I’ve had bosses tell me to ‘use different language’, that certain phrases are ‘too negative’. That’s because the situation is negative, perhaps? I see journalists fight in America to express bigger truths that need to be heard. I see everyone figuring out how to tell their own individual tale.

We can only share the stories as we live them. If this means identifying privilege as part of it, then so be it. I’m a white, cis-female, living in a wealthy country – of course my view is going to be limited to that. But this isn’t a prison either; it’s just a perspective. My story is no better or worse than anyone else’s, and by sharing, we can open the doors to each other’s experiences too.

I may be using hard language here. I’ve often felt ‘imprisoned’ by societal demands, by the expectations of others, of that strange ‘map of life’ that I’ve somehow stumbled away from (you know the one: birth, school, job, marriage, kids, death). I’ve often said that I left that behind a while ago. I’m in the back pages of the atlas now, drawing in the blank space. As the medieval maps would say, Here Be Dragons.

I’d rather the dragons of my own experience and exploration than those snapping at my heels. The adventures and stories give me the power to fight them… or fly.

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Overcoming Fear

A week ago, I had a call that should have made me happy and excited. I’d won a makeover and photoshoot with a local company, so Himself and me would be off to their studios to be looked after and made to feel like stars.

I was terrified. I was so close to saying ‘No, thankyou’ and hanging up the phone. Because the prospect of such a thing was almost too much for me.

I’ve always hated pictures of myself. I know this isn’t unusual, as we never quite look like we imagine from inside (I always think the ‘residual image’ of Neo in the ‘Matrix’ films would never be quite as effortlessly cool as they present it to be!). But years of mockery at school combined with the usual personal anxieties as an adult have not made me tremendously comfortable in my own skin.

But something in me seemed to rise up and silence those naysaying voices. ‘Nope. You’re doing this.’

For the last few days, it’s been an undercurrent of worry, rising to just under panic levels the night before. What do I take to wear? What will they ask me to do? How can I hide?

Ridiculous, perhaps. But so runs the track of irrational negativity.

Even on the morning we were due to set off, I sat for a while in a heap, not knowing what to do. Finally we both shoved some things in a bag and set off. Keep moving. We’re on the way now. I took knitting for the journey (yes, as passenger!), to calm myself as best I could. I know that my lovely husband was nervous too, but he seemed so calm, so ‘together’ and at ease. I was envious.

I’m so glad to say that I needn’t have worried. From the makeup lady to our host, to the merry and talented photographer, we were both put at our ease from the first. I was convinced to undertake what they called a ‘boudoir’ shoot, and throughout, the voice behind the camera kept telling me ‘beautiful, lovely, yes!’ The negative niggles kept telling me ‘she’s lying…’ but I gritted my teeth and kept smiling. Or looking moody. Or just gazing into the middle distance at a random stepladder out of shot.

Much fun was had when Himself was convinced to fetch his armour out of the car, by the way. In case you didn’t know, he does full-contact medieval combat (HMB) – so the sound of a cutlery drawer falling downstairs was in fact a real Knight stomping down the corridor. Everyone was impressed. Not your normal day in a photography studio, I imagine.

We were taken into a room and shown the results. Jaws dropped (ours). Smiles began… and grew. Laughter. Hugs. Stories shared with the photographer. She’d never guessed that I was so scared, nor that I fought depression, anxiety and panic every day.

I look now at the pictures we made, and the smile rises again. Ultimately, all I did was show up – the skill was all in those who crafted the images (and did the makeup). But stepping through the door was almost too much. Leaving my house was almost too much.

I’ve undertaken rituals to face my own darkness. I’ve been forced to look at myself, inside and out. This day may have been primarily fun, playing with props and clothes, guided by skilled hands. But it was no less a rite of passage, facing the unknown, overcoming my terror (I’m really not exaggerating there) and stepping forward.

I’m keeping copies of my favourite pictures handy, to remind myself when I’m feeling fearful. I left that studio feeling so brave, as if I could do anything. I want to hold on to that, to remind myself of what I can do when those negative voices rise. Because the deeper voice is remembering how to speak, to say ever more loudly ‘You can do it, you know.’ And here’s the proof.

Images and makeup by Chique Photography. Shawl is ‘Morticia’ by Boo Knits, yarn by Posh.

(I’ll be including a little more story and some additional images for my Patreon friends – please do hop over there and support me if you can!)

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Living Magic

I promised that I’d write about my Samhain ritual this year. It began with my last blog post here, actually, where I was pondering exactly what I’d do. Some planning began, but largely I let things happen as they would. Which led to interesting results.

Several days after writing that, I was very ill indeed. My depression attacked with full force. Medical professionals were called (and were helpful, insomuch as they could be), I battled hard to get through. And I did, for here I am.

Right in the middle of all that was the weekend before Samhain. Most people seemed to be celebrating it then, for some reason, and several journalists called to ask for chats. Honestly, this was the last thing that I wanted. But game face went on, and it was on the telephone at least. Chatting to many people from the comfort of my sofa. I could do that.

The usual questions came. ‘How did you become a Druid?’ ‘What does Halloween mean for you?’ ‘How will you be celebrating?’

The Sunday morning DJ was lovely. I was there on the phone, with a pagan friend present in the studio, and the host clearly wanted our discussion to go on for longer. The fascination in her voice was clear – she genuinely did want to know more.

I felt myself smile. I opened up, shared anecdotes of Samhains past, tried to convey some of the sense of magic that I’ve always felt at this time of year.

(I just typed ‘magic’ as ‘majic’. I kind of prefer that :D)

I spoke of how we feel the presence of our ancestors at this time of year, but not at all in a scary way. These are our family, from those we knew who’ve passed recently to relative strangers only met in ritual. But those who are there care for us enough to come along, to see how we’re doing and share some time.

I felt my spirits begin to lift.

The day came. My husband was at work on night-shifts on Samhain Eve and Samhain itself, so he spent the day asleep before heading out. I was mostly on my own, or with the dogs and cats.

I woke up feeling terrible. The black dog was gnawing at my mind, questioning everything that I had thought to do. Could I even do this at all? Who was I to share thoughts on this when I couldn’t even sort myself out? The movie ‘Practical Magic’ was on – I felt like one of the leading witches, hiding under her blankets, worn out.

I thought of my ancestors. I didn’t want to let them down – a constant challenge in the back of my mind when I’m unwell. I want to honour them in my life, my work, to do my best.

And the sense of many grandmothers were at my shoulder. Not so much saying ‘You can do this’ as gently, encouraging a child. ‘Come on, you can do it. Let’s take the dogs out. Get yourself dressed, nice and warm. Remember hat and gloves!’

I wrapped up safely and walked out into the day. The darkness receded, as my ancestors walked with me. My eyes opened and my spirit too, as I truly felt the connection to the simple, everyday places that are my hilltop home.

I was reminded of the myth of the Cailleach in the light touch of frost on my cheek. It would get a lot colder, but for now I had a beautiful blue sky, sunlight occasionally peeping from behind white clouds, and crisp grass under my feet. Golden leaves surrounded us as the pups played. I looked out and saw the mist over the houses below. Always strange to be ‘above’ that, being so high up, especially when so much of my life was spent a mile or two from the south coast.

I felt my heart lift, and the depression stayed away. I kept seeing and hearing the same phrases around me – to see clearly, to see through the dark. I kept my eyes open, and my thoughts.

And sometimes, when what could be considered an ‘omen’ or synchronicity just whaps you in the face, you can’t ignore it. I realized that I had to see clearly that day – I had an opticians appointment at lunchtime!

The high street was full of seasonal decorations. I sat in the waiting area next to a beautiful little witch with a bag shaped like a cat. I listened to those around me talk and laugh about the things they’d seen (Spiderman had come into the shop ahead of me, to get his glasses fixed after he sat on them). Everyone was in a tangibly festival mood.

Not only was the eye test fine, but my eyes had actually improved. I could see more clearly. I need to change my reading glasses, but I could see more without them. I tried not to laugh.

All day, the mix of the mundane and the magical swirled around me. I never felt alone or overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure how to prepare for the evening, though – what ritual to do. Hmm. Continue to let it come naturally?

Himself and I had a brief hour together before he left, and we saw the children on the street enjoying their monstering. Many houses were having parties, as it’s a school holiday week, and the parents were getting involved as well. The air was filled with subtle lights and woodsmoke.

I had spent much of the day baking – something I’d been unable to do before, due to mood and lack of energy. Now the house smelt of pumpkin cookies and cake.

I sat with my tea after the last small zombie had left. What to do, what to do…

And I walked the house. I started looking out over the garden, at first seeing nothing but the darkness… and then the reflected lights causing shapes to dance in the windows. The kitchen was still warm. The candles I had lit in the living room flickered, reflecting in the mirror.

The spirits of the house were there. The ancestors were there. Not just that evening, but always, should we choose to recognise or call upon them.

The lesson of the day truly was to ‘see’ – clearly and deeply. To cut through the dark, to look over the mists, to see shapes in the negative spaces. This wasn’t about casting a circle or formal words. This was about everyday practice, real and lived. Talismans, incense and special clothing may help, but I carry the magic within me, in every breath. In the words and feelings that I share. In my open heart.

I do my best. I live my practice, and my truth. Sometimes the darkness rises to overwhelm me, but I know it. I know that it can be beaten back or overcome.

I hold on to my faith – in my Self, in my ancestors, in my Gods (who were absolutely looking on and laughing as I came to each realization through the day). I share my stories, and smile as I hear the tales of others. We all move forward into the winter together, and we keep each other’s light burning to help guide us all.

What are we doing? Whatever we can.

***

A small addendum. As we enter the ‘quiet’ months, I’m working more from home, but am still definitely here. I have a Patreon, which very much keeps me going when I’m not out and about ‘doing’ a lot – there will be more stories on there every week (as well as other unique creations!), as a thankyou to those who support me. Please do join in if you’re able, as every little really does help ($1 = 60p approximately!).

Samhain blessings, my friends xx

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