Posts Tagged reading

Inspiration from A Bad Day

Last weekend, I had  the pleasure of attending Pagan Pride in Nottingham. I’ve been there every year since the very beginning ten years ago, and it’s always a joy. I’ve seen it blossom and grow, under the careful tending of hard-working volunteers, a community truly coming together in friendship and shared interests.

As is usual, I gave a talk – this time about mental health, and how my Pagan practice helps me to manage it. There were tears, and I felt myself falter several times as I struggled to put words to very amorphous feelings. But I think I helped.

Pagan Pride 2018

(Picture by Victoria Furminger)

The weekend was glorious. Dear friends stayed over, Pride was a full and fun day… but then came the inevitable fallout. I had called in credit on spoons, it seemed, and my inner overdraft had hit its limit.

I’m often asked how my life is, on a normal regular day. I suspect some people imagine me rising with the dawn, greeting the sun and then feeding the dogs and cats like some sort of Druid Snow White, before heading to my desk to crank out a novel or two… 😉 Not quite!

So. For those who’ve asked, and as a PS to last weekend’s talk… here’s what today has looked like.

Today was A Very Bad Day, in terms of health. Mentally, my brain was done. Out of energy. Unable to focus. But still believing that it could, it seemed to be careening all over the inside of my skull like a pinball – or rather, with ideas like multiple pinballs, not letting me catch one for long enough to do much. And then all the balls would fall to earth with the weight of The One Ring. And I would collapse.

Physically, this meant I was almost exhausted. Regular fits of tears (today has been a Three-Hankie Day, so far), feeling like an exposed nerve in terms of anything setting me off, headaches, tension, aching joints, having to force myself to eat. Unable to focus, remember?

I did call my local Community Mental Health Team at one point, by the way. But my regular (lovely) Doctor wasn’t there. A random CPN was less than helpful.

I know going for a walk may do me good. I know I have to work to get better. But in the depths of crisis… not an option. (I do wonder if these individuals, well-meaning though they are, have ever experienced such intense feelings. I suspect I’d know if they had, in the same way that I see the solidarity in the faces of those who come up to hug me after the aforementioned Talks.)

The thought of leaving the house was terrifying, daunting beyond belief. I should have been getting on with jobs – going to the Post Office, joining my husband at an event that he’s enjoying. No. Impossible. Which led to the inevitable guilt, that my illness was taking over my life, I’m useless to everyone, what’s even the point, I might as well stop… spiralling down, ever down…

This is the Darkness which I speak of, which I’ve written of. It begins quietly, like a small tug, but quickly becomes an undertow and then a vortex. The easiest metaphor is to ‘ride the waves’, but often it’s just keeping a head above water.

Tactics were tried. Knitting was a good one, with a special skein of beautiful, tactile yarn that had been saved for just such an occasion. Tea, of course, and cookies. Amusing podcasts or Youtube clips, to provide friendly voices. Ultimately, however, the blanket fort was needed. Bed, with a book.

Books have saved my life so many times. And duvets. Each should come with vouchers to obtain the other.

The sun is now setting.

I am still here. The window is open, and my little guardian who has stayed by me all day is busy hopping outside and then back in, to check all is well. She slept with me today, but always with an eye cracked if I moved. In case of fuss, you understand.

Ink August 2018

I sit, looking around, and just letting things be. Breathing. The trick is to keep breathing. To find the stillness that I know is here, in these late hours of this day. The tiny magics are the most important, right now.

I’m knitting, with yarn from a friendly local shop. A beautiful, simple pattern that will make a portable hug.

I’m breathing the fresh air from my garden, combined with sweet incense gifted by a dear friend. I can hear the blackbirds singing. The last few cars heading home.

Himself is away, busy with his Knights. I should have been with him, but am hearing stories from those who were there, having fun and sharing their pleasure.

Ultimately, I’m being kept afloat by the love and good wishes of others. Through gifts passed on, carefully-made items that make me smile (and often well up, but in a good way this time). Through stories, quick messages of understanding. Chatting to friends miles – and hundreds of miles – away, who get it and who give a virtual hand to hold. Cooking a lovely meal from something  Himself prepared a while ago and froze, for just such an occasion as this.

I have another event tomorrow. Part of me has been terrified at the prospect. But the louder part, which is now winning, is reminding me who it is that keeps me going.

I have friends. I have those who care, and for whom I care in turn. When those ‘brain weasels’ arrive to tell me how useless, awful and unloved I am, I can prove them wrong. As I said last weekend, the tears sometimes have to flow, to let that vileness out. The pressure will ease. I can breathe freely again.

And I write. Just to prove that today has not been a total loss. Things had to be moved around, yes, but that was ok. People understand.

I’ll see some of those friends tomorrow, and in weeks to come. No doubt there’ll be ebbs and flows of health again, but I am well-armed, by all of you. To those who stand with me, I am so very grateful. Know that I’m with you too.

Onward.

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Writing

I stare at the white screen. Type a few sentences, delete them. Nothing seems to fit. Just write what comes, I tell myself (an old tactic, which I remember first trying in University one frustrated afternoon).

This blog post has been rustling around my brain for a while, but for some reason, has been tricky to get out. But you know when something needs to be ‘birthed’ creatively into the world when your subconscious essentially tells you to PUT DOWN WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND GET ON WITH IT. Now.

The germ of these thoughts didn’t start the other week in Glastonbury, but it was crystallised there. Glastonbury is a lovely place, but as you may know, the High Street is a beacon for all things ‘New Age’ and alternative. No bad thing in itself, but there is a lot of Stuff there. Crystals, wands, drapey clothing, pretty statues, cauldrons, pentagrams everywhere… and of course, the books.

Of course, I have no problem with bookstores. I love them with a passion, I would spend so much time (and money) in them if I could, and I really do wish that the most interesting little ones would stop having to close down. I even loved Borders, because it had more than just the heavily marketed publisher-pushed Trendy Books that everybody else had. Reading was accessible. Plus, of course, the feel of a bookshop. The scent of the pages and bindings, the feeling of stories all around just waiting for cover to be cracked… nothing like it.

And indeed, I spent time in the Glastonbury bookshops, buying a few gems, which I’m still enjoying.

But I stepped out of their doors also feeling rather sad. Because of the sheer overwhelming amount of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love information, and the variety of opinion that goes along with learning. I’ve always been against censorship (which has got me in trouble in the past). This was more personal.

There is so much Stuff out there on Paganism, Witchcraft, Druidry, all of that… what can I possibly contribute without just adding to the pile?

Things have been very quiet for me in recent months on the writing front. I’ve been exploring the idea of inspiration as a result, and will continue to do so in my ‘Drops of Awen‘ blog. I’ve been researching ideas that I don’t know much about and would like to explore. Generally speaking, though, I’ve been suffering a little from a ‘dry spell’. Writers block? Perhaps, but I’ve still been proud of what has been produced, so maybe not exactly that.

I’ve spoken before about the pressure on authors from readers to Write More, dammit! Many bestselling authors (notably Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin) have responded with the reasonable retort that you might have to wait if you want something that’s going to be worth waiting for. Writing takes time. I understand that Scott Lynch (author of the ‘Gentleman Bastards’ series) suffers badly from depression, which caused a delay in his last book – but the fans were lovely and waited, glad when it finally arrived. I’m sure that knowledge helped.

The writing and production of ‘Facing the Darkness’ was not easy. I shouldn’t be surprised by that, given the subject matter, but it was challenging every step of the way. But the response has been beyond wonderful, and I cannot adequately express my thanks for that.

So what next, of course? What can I add to the pile?

Given the easy accessibility of pretty much anything these days, I see so many creative people giving up before they begin for this same reason. Why bother? There’s so many out there who are better than me, let’s leave it to them. And sometimes, simple (and deceptively complex) fear and self-doubt are enough to make that empty page absolutely unconquerable.

The thing to remember, I tell myself (right now, as a matter of fact), is that I love to write. I always have. Messing about with words on a page, telling a tale – truth or fiction (and the difference can easily blur) – and then that indescribably brave step of actually putting those words Out There, into the world, for Other People to read… I know many who don’t even get that far. I tell them they should try. It’s not about being The Best – it’s about letting your voice be heard, at the very least.

Writing can be lonely, masochistic, frustrating, depressing… but also beyond rewarding, so joyful, inspiring in the act of doing and just simply my own creative outlet. I do firmly believe that we all need/have one, it’s just about finding it. And then doing it. Even when you don’t want to. Especially then.

These blog posts usually take a while to write, as I go back and forth, tweaking and amending. I haven’t with this one. Stream of consciousness, here it is, flowing along. And it has, because it clearly needs to come out, to be said.

I have ideas. It’s just a matter of being brave enough to articulate them, to encourage understanding and inspiration. I don’t just write for the sake of it – I write because I have something to say, ideas to share and throw around with others, and because, quite simply, I love it.

I’m sorry for the dry spell. It will probably happen again. But I do try hard to overcome it and move forward, as always. Thank you so much for your patience, my lovelies.

On we go.

(And the knowledge that I have a third book, several articles and other blog posts to write isn’t frightening at all…!) 😉

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Sacred Reading

The year is turning still. In the Western Hemisphere in which I live, Spring is indeed springing all around, with the brightness of daffodils, the unique smell of showers on fresh grass, and birds chattering amidst green leaves.

This is also a time of celebration for many. Pagans have just marked the Vernal Equinox with Ostara; Hindus are joyous with Holi, the amazing festival of colours and love; and Christians are in the middle of the intensity of Lent.

Each of these is very different, but it is fascinating to compare how different faiths mark this time of year. From very personal, private rituals and promises to large public statements, it seems that many of us are doing something to actively notice the budding of new life around us, and inspiration within us.

Despite – or perhaps because of – my primarily Pagan path, I’ve been reading a lot of varied articles and books recently about other faith paths, or simply the personal practice of religion and spirituality. I recently chanced upon a fascinating ‘Making a Heart for God’, about life in Catholic Monastery – interesting reading for a Druid, you might think, but first of all, I read pretty much anything that catches my eye, and secondly, I love stories. Especially those of others, heartfelt and true, and often bypassed in favour of something more ‘glamorous’ to end up on charity shop shelves.

As demonstrated with the current seasonal festivals, I’ve often remarked on how our spiritual paths have more commonality than difference. We are, at heart, all humans seeking our own personal truths, ways to walk through life and find meaning, exploring connection and relationship with others. Generally we seek those of similar persuasions and ideas, but I’ve never seen any reason to ignore those who choose a different way to my own. Once I look, I always find that common ground again – usually very quickly – and the smile of understanding begins, as I learn of traditions, beliefs and human stories that inspire me to learn more… as well as to consider their relation to my own personal practice.

In the Monastery tale, the female narrator writes of time spent at this all-male monastery, where she was permitted to live alongside the brothers (gasp!)… and was welcomed into their spiritual world. She speaks of the relevance that such living still has in the 21st century, and how such monasteries are booked far in advance for visiting folk looking to retreat from the everyday world for a while.

My smile began. I know many Pagans who seek retreat time and space for any number of reasons, but certainly to focus on their own spiritual quests and relationship with the sacred. Imagine choosing that path to live, night and day, for years… My respect for those who do this rises with the turning of every page.

Reading on, I then discovered the practice of Lectio, which struck me as rather wonderful – and to be performed at this particular time of year. I love it when books provide information in such a timely manner!:

‘At the beginning of Lent, the [Benedictine] Rule called for each monk to receive a special book from the library and “to read the whole of it straight through.” This practice continues today.’

I was amazed that I’d never heard of this before – what a great idea! But of course, it’s not actually as simple as it sounds. Reading a book ‘straight through’ is no problem at all for me (and I suspect, many of you), but to elaborate:

Lectio [is] “reading with the expectancy that some word, phrase, paragraph, or page is worth stopping and reflecting on – a message that fits somewhere in our search.”… The point of lectio, regardless of the subject matter, is to listen to what one is reading with “the ear of the heart.”

A powerful idea. Monastic time and space is set aside specifically for this reading, to allow total focus and deliberation. How many of us have ever done such a thing? How many of us have that time? Like a retreat, such things might well have to be planned for, with the busy-ness of life making it a challenge in itself!

And yet, I’m sure that most (if not all) of you reading this have paused while reading to ponder a particular sentence that calls to you, that is applicable right now, that answers a question that you weren’t even aware you were asking. The rest of the book might be good, bad or indifferent, but if inspiration is sparked in the reading, perhaps this is touching on the spirit of ‘lectio’.

Setting such time aside for sacred reading may well be something that we need to do in our busy lives. In the manner of meditation, a door is closed, phones and gadgets switched off, and we simply sit to focus. We might not be seeking the same answers as those monks, but their practice is inspiring us in our own. A story which we might otherwise have ignored can help us.

So let’s combine traditions. Seek out a random book – whether something familiar, or a chance pick from a second-hand shop shelf. I’d suggest non-fiction for this, as that will allow you to share directly in someone else’s story, but decent fiction might work just as well, as you follow the characters through their own journeys. Audiobooks may well also work, especially those narrated by the writers themselves.

Set side time to just read. To focus your intention on the pages, the words, the voices and the images they evoke. Find a particular comfy chair, a room where you can see the sky, or even outside in green spaces with friendly trees as company.

Storytelling is sacred. We honour the tellers with our attention, and as we carry their tales forward in our lives – as we listen with our hearts. We see what others do, feeling so passionately that they have written about their experiences. Even if we don’t understand or agree, we can witness and learn, be inspired and explore.

It’s Spring. Time for new ideas.

Note: I apologise if this post is a little more disjointed than usual. Inspiration hits me and I dash to write, but today has been an interesting process, as due to physical injury, my mind is slightly muddled by pain and painkillers. Therefore any inadvertent errors or leaps of topic are entirely my own!

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Words

Dyslexic friends have spoken to me in the past of their frustration with words. How their shapes change on the page, moving in a muddle that’s impossible to decipher. I don’t know how true that is, but I’ve heard variations on this theme, so presume there’s something there.

This has made me wonder if I’m some sort of reverse-dyslexic. Ever since I could read, words have had their own particular patterns to me, each one a tiny shape with specific form, made up of the right combination of letters, forming sentences and thus phrases captured on pages. As a child, when I stared too long at a page in a book, the edges of paragraphs would become clear, dark ink against white paper, the movement of the word-groups moving up and down almost like musical notation, telling their stories from sigils to be deciphered.

And then, there’s the feeling of having lost your grip on language – typing or writing the same word over and over again until it loses all meaning, becoming just a jumble of letters. Water-torture in text, a metronome of repetition seeking a tune?

I’m reading a fantasy/futuristic science-fiction novel at the moment, with a character who can ‘feel’ the contents of books. She walks between the shelves in a library, fingers gently outstretched, touching the sense of story, the tales told, the experiences of the authors. I’ve seen a lot of this recently, the book-love. Trying to make a little sense out of the joy we find in words – sometimes verbal, but mostly literary, captured in print.

The great Jasper Fforde satirises book-love in his ‘Thursday Next’ novels, with the ‘software’ of reading pinned down into programming language. BOOK 4.0 is to be released – that mysterious machinery which translates words from bits of print into images in our heads. Partly scientific, partly magical, nobody really understands how it works – and why, occasionally, it doesn’t (presumably as in text-speak, with its evolution of LOLs and ROFLs). Is this any stranger an understanding than our communication through the medium of Windows or Linux?

Stories are tangible. Whether it’s breaking the ‘fourth wall’ of a book, with a reader being acknowledged as an active participant in the story (the 80s ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ and ‘Fighting Fantasy’ books leap to mind), or the post-modernist idea of a literary character themselves reaching into a book to converse with the characters. The aforementioned Thursday Next book-jumps into ‘Jane Eyre’ to ensure that the ending is correct (Jane ends up with Rochester, not Rivers). Those of us who love that tale are certainly glad that this mistake was fixed! – and thus, we are part of the story too.

We cheer the heroes and boo the baddies in movies… but in books, the lines become a little more blurred. We have more time to get to know the characters and situations as the stories unfold. We ‘lose’ ourselves in a good book, eventually putting it down at the last page with a sigh and a racing heart. I frequently close a book and look around in confusion, wondering which reality is more ‘real’.

Stories make us who we are. Each of us has a story to tell – and very few are not worth hearing. We are the protagonist, which doesn’t mean it’s all about us. It’s about our journey, our understanding, our evolution.

I have always known that I wanted to be a writer. I never dreamed that my first book would be non-fiction (or semi-autobiographical) – the Internet wasn’t invented when I started scribbling in exercise books, let alone blogs. But my first love has always been fiction. When the words start to flow on a story, when characters step up into your mind wanting to tell their tale in their own voice… there is no feeling like it, to me.

This is the creative spark. This is the Awen. We all feel it, in our own way, with our own creative skills. The wonderful musician and Bard, Damh, wrote of it this week. I couldn’t stop smiling at the story of his journey – and cheering, in anticipation of what magical, musical words he’ll bring forth.

The inspiring Nimue has combined a literary idea with Druid practice on her blog, as a result of pondering the meaning of ‘Druid’ itself – slightly tongue-in-cheek, but reminding us of the importance of play, interaction, connectivity and creation. Her idea has already inspired me to write a first chapter in a ‘steampunk Druid’ story. Already, those who’ve seen it want to know what happens next.

And that, dear reader, is the deeper magic for me. When people want to hear more of your tales. When folk are inspired to go and explore themselves, to acknowledge their depths and what they have to bring forth. I love to hear it, and to see it. Such sharing is never a bad thing.

Stephen King spoke of books as a long love-affair between author and reader, requiring commitment on both sides, with varying degrees of enjoyment. Short stories were a kiss, a more focused expression of affection (but no less intense).

Most of my blog posts take an hour or two to write. This one has burst from me in about 15 minutes, at high speed, typing frantically and making my partner laugh at my enthusiasm. A friend told me last week that he loved reading my words, that they always flowed so well. That, I informed him, is because he doesn’t see all the deletions and changes. But here, today, there’s relatively few. A slice of writing life, as it comes. A flow of words, from my mind to yours.

So it’s my brief kiss to you, lovely readers. I always hope to inspire, even if just a smile.

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To Live Your Story

Stories have always been at the heart of my life. From the earliest days of having them read to me, to learning to read myself… and then I was off and running! I’ve often been accused of being a ‘book addict’, but my argument is that it’s at least a non-lethal addiction, and certainly less expensive than some alternatives.

Image taken from here (used without permission but with grateful thanks).

As a species, we have always told stories. The camp-fire tale is one of the oldest, and most fundamentally thrilling fiction (maybe) out there. It developed into the ballad, the urban myth, the mass-marketed best-seller. And from time to time, great stories are told that really make an impact on the wider world – whether re-telling the Hero’s Journey (eg Harry Potter) or reflecting society back at itself in the form of entertainment: almost a subtle satire, as the Ancient Greeks knew.

The Druids were famed for their storytelling. The Bard, wandering the land carrying the tales of the tribes, as well as forming new histories based on current events. From intentionally formal anecdotes to mythological allegories, he (or she) held the secrets of land and people, and was valued accordingly. The Bard would be welcomed at hearth and table from ancient times up to the middle ages, until the advent of the printing press. And while books are my passion, an imaginative experience inside my head, nothing compares to having a tale told – as live theatre can/not compare to a movie. It’s a skill that is as rare in the modern world as it ever was – true inspiration cannot be taught, it must be experienced and developed.

The popularity of different themes in modern children’s storytelling comes in waves. The ‘Choose Your Own Adventure‘ books of the 80s, I recall, as well as  Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl; Diana Wynne Jones in the ’90s. Then, of course, the aforementioned Potter deluge, itself performing the minor miracle of getting otherwise apathetic kids back into bookstores and libraries. Recently, however, an altogether different trend has been forming.

I’m not sure if it was the first, but when I encountered ‘The Hunger Games‘, I was, like so many others, both shocked and drawn in. From the ancient tale of Theseus, combined with the popcorn, throwaway soundbites of reality television, this story (and now movie) is no magical Potterverse. There seems to be a new wave of books for Young Adults (a relatively new genre in itself) looking at dystopian futures… and, in the process, performing the original role of a ‘viral’ story that passes from mouth to mouth: that of the learning experience.

An ancient tale is pushed into the future, by way of a satire on modern habits. We are forced to ask ourselves what we would do in a given situation – this is hardly a true children’s book, but it carries a clear moral, like any good fairytale. I do wonder if parents know what their youngsters are reading – and I’m amazed (and very glad) that the movie was made at all!

Because these books are teaching young people to THINK. They’re encouraging the ‘outsider’ to take pride in themselves, to use their skills to survive – something that every kid learns early on in the schoolroom, with its political cliques and strange ‘norms’. It may be considered escapist fiction, but these tales are actively encouraging the questioning of authority, the importance of individual thought, and the strength to speak up and act against a failed system. This is almost revolutionary. Not the punk kicking-out of the ’80s, but articulate and active anarchism, in its truest sense.

The news often speaks to us these days of young people in gangs, getting shot or stabbed for trivial reasons, but rarely goes into detail as to the reasons behind it. Far easier to blame ‘society.’ But writers – notably John Wyndham and Roald Dahl again – have always known that in each generation, adults who have distanced themselves from their children (not always by choice) can feel afraid, threatened by the strangeness of these curious, active, questioning strangers in their homes. The Childcatcher still scares us – that somehow warped adult whose specific function is to Shut Children Up (we never do find out what he does with those he’s caught, do we?).

Children challenge, in their quest to make sense of the world. Adults should, but many seem to forget how. Sometimes it may be easier to allow the television to become a nanny, but that won’t be enough. Censors have never understood that banning something, or allowing it to be omitted, simply encourages folk to go looking for what they’re not permitted to see.

Many parents I know today delight in teaching their youngsters, encouraging them to explore, read, play. If you’re old enough to ask questions, you’re old enough to hear answers – but they must be conveyed in a way that enables understanding. Television is a mass-market medium, and cannot always provide this.

But while advertisements and a certain type of children’s television seems to actively encourage being ‘one of the herd’ – having the latest style of clothes, make-up, trendy toys, shoes and so forth – there are these quietly subversive texts appearing. Very well written indeed (far removed from the insipid, unquestioning escapism of a certain glittering vampire series), their voices are being heard.

What stories are we telling, then? With our cynical whingeing (look at any national News broadcast), sense of doom rather than optimism, lack of encouragement to do anything because everything is depressed – in mind, body, spirit and bank account.

Or are we following the example of these children who live in worlds far worse than we could ever realize (I hope)… and discovering our own skills, our priorities, what we need to know and do to actively survive? It’s not about greed, acquisition, consumption – it’s about discovery, true friendship, inner truth, and living life well against adversity.

The world may have gone mad, but the storyteller still walks among us. Are you listening? And what is your  tale adding to that of those around?

Further reading:

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

The Hunt, by Andrew Fukuda

The Mall, by S.L. Grey

Wither, by Lauren DeStefano

The Iron Thorn, by Caitlin Kittredge

And general dystopian fiction of the moment to choose from at Goodreads.

Image found on random search on pInterest (if source available, please let me know to update)

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