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February 2011

The "Moveable Feasts" Page (regularly updated)

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In Mythic Arts circles, the term "Moveable Feast" is used when a number of different bloggers choose to address a common topic. Moveable Feasts tend to occur in a spontaneous fashion, and all are invited to join in -- either by contributing a dish to the Feast in the form of a blog post, or by joining the conversation via the Comments section on each participating blog.

The name "Moveable Feast" is a nod to Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast," his memoir of the time he spent among writers and artists in Paris in the 1920s. Whereas Hemingway and Fitzgerald and their colleagues once met up in Paris cafes for conversation, a circle of bloggers can meet up on the Internet despite living in different locations all around the world.

Here are Moveable Feasts that this blog has participated in (updated as the Feasts occur):

 

The Desire for Dragons: What Brings Us to Myth & Fantasy?

* "The Desire for Dragons" at Myth & Moor (Devon, England). Also: "Shaping Stories and Being Shaped by Them," "Finding the Colors Again," and "Dreaming Awake."

* "Dining in the company of Dragons" at Chest of Delights (Nottingham, England)

* "The Trouble With Dragons" at Posterous (Devon, England)

* "why i write the way i do" at Knitting the Wind (New Zealand)

* "Gift for a Dragon" at Omniscrit (northern England & central Italy)

* " dragon-wise" at The Drafty Garret (Troy, Ontario, Canada)

* "Dragon Decanter" at It's Crow Time (Sydney, Australia)

* "Desiring Dragons: On Facts and FairyTales, Science and Myth" at Omniscrit (northern England & central Italy)

* "The Blue Chamber" at Tea and a Notebook (The Blue Hills, North Carolina, USA)

* I come (to Faerie) because" at Sideways-In (North Carolina, USA)

* "Scafti (a dragon carving for a carousel)" at Carousel for Missoula (Missoula, Montana, USA)

* "Painting the Marvelous" at Small Offerings (Suffolk, England)

* "Why Do We Desire Dragons? A Dragon-Seeker's Quest" at Untraveled Worlds (Sydney, Australia)

* "I Desired Dragons" at I Saw the Angel (rural France)

* "The Windings of the dragon track..." at A Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* "Of Dragons and Devils" at Tea and a Notebook (The Blue Hills, North Carolina, USA)

* "Red Hibiscus and Dragon Wings"  at Makua O'o (Langley, Washington, USA)

* "The Place of Myths" at Wildspell (Mineapolis, Minnesota, USA)

* "wings of story" at Beneath the Bracken (Munich, Germany)

* "The Desire for Dragons" at Spinning Straw Into Gold (Florida, USA)

* "The Desire for Dragons" at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles (Oxfordshire, UK)

* "The Desire for Dragons" at Mused by Magdalene (North Texas, USA)

Related articles and posts: Tea Obreht's "High-school Confidential" in The New Yorker (2011); Lev Grossman's "What Fantasy Does Best" at Tor.com (2011); "Trading Stories" (and the Jhumpa Lahiri article it links to) here on Myth & Moor (2011); my "Fairy Tale Reflections" at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles (2011); Midori Snyder's "The Monkey Girl" in The Journal of Mythic Arts (2002); and Helen Pilinovsky's "Spells of Enchantment" in The Journal of Mythic Arts (2001).

Am I missing anyone in the Feast list, or do you have a related article to recommend? Please let me know -- and don't be shy, all are welcome to add a dish (or dishes) to the Feast. This is a community after all, so please join in!   

 

Mother Tongue:
On the entwined subjects of land, language, art, and storytelling

* Here at Myth & Moor, my contribution is a series of posts quoting various authors on the subject (Terry Tempest Williams, David Abram, etc.), beginning with "When Women Were Birds" (Sept. 4, 2012) and on-going through the month of September. (And a number of the August posts on animals relate to the subject too.) Many of these posts contain beautiful new poems from Jane Yolen, in the Comments. (Location: Devon, England, for me; Scotland & western Massachusetts for Jane.) 

* "Song Without Words/A Day With the Mosses" at RavenWood Forest (western Massachusetts, USA)

* "Being Still" at A Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* "Animal Nature" at Makua O'o (Langley, Washington, USA)

* "Nettle-Eater" at Coyopa (Devon, England)

* "Drifting Veils of Morning" at Beyond the Fields We Know (Ottowa, Ontario, Canada)

* "Mother Tongue" at The Birch Grove (Houston, Texas, USA)

* "The failure of language part 1: forgetting" at A Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* " On Mother Crane's oral recitation of 'Goblin Market' by Christina Rossetti" at Tales of the Mythical Muse (Mount Savage, Maryland, USA)

* "Beginnings and endings...they are often the same" at Tales of the Mythical Muse (Mount Savage, Maryland, USA)

* "The failure of language part 2: transparency" at A Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* "Until we understand what the land is..." at Milagro Roots (south Texas, USA)

* "Telling Tales" at The Old Burrow (Hampshire, UK)

* "The King in Kensington Garden" at Unsetttled Wonder (Scotland)

* "The Ocean's Dream" at The Indigo Vat (Berkeley, California, USA)

Related posts: "Coming Home: Uncivilization & Sense of Place" at The Articulate Journey, discussing The Dark Mountain Project's recent Uncivilization Festival; "Silencing of Nature..." by Jay Griffiths at smh.com.au; and "Herman Hesse on What Trees Teach Us..." by Maria Popova at Brain Pickings.

 

On Artistic Inspiration:

* Brian & Wendy Froud discuss inspiration (and collaboration) on the John Barleycorn blog, and I respond here at Myth & Moor (Devon, England).

* "Turn the page and a few thoughts on process" at It's Crow Time (Sydney, Australia)

* "Giving them away" at Greenwoman Healing Arts (Western Oregon, USA)

* "Inspiration or madness...or both, Part I" at Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* Inspiration or madness...or both, Part 1 and a half" at Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* "Courting the Muse" and "The Madness of Art," a couple of small side dishes here at  Myth & Moor (Devon, England)

* "Intuitive Writing" at Sideways-In (North Carolina, USA)

* "Oh, the Mad, Magical Mind" at Temporary Reality (Göttingen, Germany)

* "Where go you get your ideas?" at Magical Moments (Jefferson, Georgia, USA)

* "The Spark of Madness" at The Drafty Garret (Troy, Ontario; Canada)

* "The Way of the Muse -- A Feast of Honey-dew?" at Bookish Nature (Bristol, England)

* "The Artist as Shaman, the Shaman as Artist & the Inspiration for Both" at Milagr0 Roots (Texas, USA)

* "Florence and the Mythic" at Temporary Reality (Göttingen, Germany)

* "You will stand in my danger" at Makua O'o (Langley, Washington, USA)

* "Of Otters and Words with Roots" at The Indigo Vat (Berkeley, California)

* "The Dark Woods" at I Saw the Angel (France)

Related posts: "On Reality" at Center Neptune (2012), "The Alchemist" at The Hermitage (2012);"Wooing the Poem" (2011) at Coyopa: Lightening in the Blood "Dare to be foolish" (2011) here at Myth & Moor; and "Artist as...shaman" (2009) at Mermaid in the Attic. Also, a related article: "Madness, Shape-shifting, and Art in The Wood Wife"  (2003) in The Journal of Mythic Arts. 

 

On Artisan Blogging

An interesting conversation on "artisan blogging" (i.e. blogging as an art form) began with Rima Staines, Howard Gayton, and Rex Van Ryn on the John Barleycorn blog, and then spread to:

* "Reflections on Blogging" here at Myth & Moor (Devon, England)

* "The Imagined Village" at  A Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* "The Moveable Feast in the Forest" at RavenWood Forest (western Massachusetts, USA)

 * "On Blogging" by Theodora Goss (Boston, Massachusetts, USA)

* "The Imagined Self" at A Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* "Magpie Blogging" by Midori Snyder (Tucson, Arizona, USA)

* "To everything its time" by Erzebet YellowBoy Carr  (Papaveria Press, England)

* "Around the table with Rima Staines, Part II" at John Barleycorn (Devon, England)  

* "The Gate at the Edge of the Village" at The Hermitage (Devon, England)

* "Late to the Table" at 5preciousthings (southwest Scotland)

* "Gratitude" at Milkmoon (Wicklow, Ireland)

* "Reasons to be blogging, one, two, three" at Lunar Hine's Blog (Devon, England)

* "My pasta dish for The Moveable Feast" at Conversations with the Muse (southern California, USA)

 

On Artistic Influence:

* A conversation with French artist Didier Graffet on the John Barleycorn blog kicked this topic off, followed by...

* Two posts on the topic (On Influence, Part I and Part II) here at Myth & Moor, followed by...

* Further discussion with British artist David Wyatt on the John Barleycorn blog.

 

Meditations on Home:

* "Homesickness" here at Myth & Moor (Devon, England)

* "The Things That Save Us" here at Myth & Moor (Devon, England)

* "Meditiations on Home" at Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* "Thoughts, Walks and Hares" at Moonlight and Hares (Wiltshire, England)

A related article: "The Folklore of Hearth and Home" (2008)  in The Journal of Mythic Arts

 

On Creative Burn-out:

* "Creative Blues" at I Saw the Angel (West Yorkshire, England)

* "Autumn Cleaning: On Creative Burn-out" here at Myth & Moor (Devon, England)

* "On Burnout" at Deborah Biancotti's LiveJournal (Sydney, Australia)

* "Descending into the underworld, the labyrinth, the abyss" at A Mermaid in the Attic (Perth, Australia)

* "On Creativity and Burn-out" at The Rabbit Hill (Christchurch, New Zealand)

* "Into the Mystery" at RavenWood Forest (Western Massachusetts, USA)

* "Return" at Amused Grace (New England, USA)

Related articles: The entire Winter '06 issue of The Journal of Mythic Arts on "Healing and Transformation" tales is relevant to this topic, as is the Spring 'o6 issue, on myths of "Death and Rebirth."

 

...If I've missed any posts related to any of these Feasts, please let me know in the Comments. The illustration above is by the great Swedish painter/illustator/designer Carl Larsson (1853-1919).


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Today's first tune is a live performance of "Ever So Lonely" by the exquisite Sheila Chandra, whose influences range from Indian, Irish, and other traditional musics to the exploration of drone sounds from cultures around the world.

"I think this whole orchestral thing and this pop thing with chords and everything is just this maverick offshoot," she says in a fascinating interview with John Schaeffer that ranges from drones to mythic crones to celestial harmonics. "Its kind of an upstart movement, isn't it? That has nothing to do with what our biology dictates, because we drone. As long as we're alive we drone. We emit frequency, from the stapes bone in the middle ear, where apparently we emit the average of all the frequencies that we are, and also the blood rushing in our ears, and I think that stapes bone thing can be heard late at night when you can't sleep and there's this awful high pitched drone which seems really, really loud? I think that's the one it is. So, drones are present so long as we're present, so long as the listener is present. So, it's almost true to say that drones are at the essence of our aliveness."

Below, Chandra "performs a piece of vocalised taal — a kind of really-old-school beatboxing used by Indian classical music percussionists to practice their parts without an instrument."

A lovely way to start the week and the workday, centered in the "essense of aliveness," of blood and bone and balance and beauty.


Recommended Reading:

Drawing by Rima Staines

First, we have a new course served in The Moveable Feast: "Around the table with Rima Staines, Part II," over on John Barleycorn, where Rima, Rex, and Howard continue to explore the joys, challenges, and dangers of living the artist's life. Good stuff.  

Second, over on the Publisher's Weekly site there's a good interview with Franny Billingsley (author of the richly folkloric YA novels The Folk Keeper and Well Wished), discussing her new novel, Chimed, and her writing process.

And third, a reading recommendation from librarian and author Els Kushner, who says: "For the past week or two, I've been following a blog called Lion's Whiskers that's discussing the importance of raising kids to have courage. One of the blog authors is a children's book author, and the importance of story is a continuing theme."

The particular post Els recommends is "Stories Made Me" by Jennifer Armstrong. Here's snippit: 

"Stories make us who we are. I spent hours and hours of my childhood on two occupations: making up stories to act out outdoors, and reading stories indoors....What counts, I believe, is that I spent hour upon hour with undaunted characters who persevered, who vanquished evil, who faced natural and supernatural challenges, who made sacrifices to a greater good. They were my models for every kind of courage. "

Drawing above by Rima Staines.


On Your Desk

Virginie's desk 3

Today's desks come from two friends of mine who are wonderful artists in La Gacilly, which is a beautiful little town in the Brittany region of France, not far from the mythic forest of Broceliande. La Gacilly is as full of artists as our own little village is here on Dartmoor, and thanks to the Two Legends project, there is now a lot of backing-and-forthing between the two places. Long may it continue.

The first desk (above, and in the next four photos below) belongs to doll-maker and multi-media artist Virginie Ropars. Virginie earned a Masters degree in graphic art, then worked in the computer game and animation industries (for TV cartoons) before discovering a needed to make art with her hands, not a computer, and to express her own aesthetic vision. She now creates works that fall in the interstices between sculpture, doll-making, fashion design and illustration, using a variety of materials to reproduce the enchanted characters and worlds that haunt her imagination. Her figures are bright and dark by turn, beautiful and broken, capricious and transcendent. Her art has been exhibited all throughout Europe,  Russia, and the United States; profiled in many magazines and journals; and honoured with the Spectrum Silver Award.

Virginie's desk 1

"I have this room dedicated to my work," she says; "I also have another spare room with shelves covered with boxes full of fabrics and working stuff."

Virginie's desk 2

"I bring all I need for a new creation in my working space and when it is finished I put everything back into boxes. I always need to start a new project with a clean space, which is why sometimes people visiting find my studio 'neat'."

Virginie's desk 4

"I can't work without a wall in front of me, as it helps me to focus on the work only, but I cover it with pics of things I like: works from other artists, a bit of my work too, and inspiring things. I sometimes leave books open on the tables all around while I work; it is always good to have beautiful and inspiring things surrounding you."

Virginie's desk 5

"My cat keeps me company from time to time between naps. I watch dvds while I sculpt, or listen to music. I don't like working in silence. Despite living in a small town, I can see the woods through the studio window. In spring time and summer I work with the window open, and it is like working outside. I especially love hearing the birds' songs."

One of Virginie's magical art-dolls is below (a dark fairy for all you fairy fans out there), and more of her work can be seen here and here.

 

Fee Predatrice by Virginie Ropars

 

Our next desk belongs to David Thiérrée, whose art is also thoroughly bewitching. David is a self-taught artist who has been working as an illustrator since 1989, his commissions ranging from CD covers to book illustrations. He works in a variety of mediums, often combining watercolours, pencils, and computer techniques to achieve his enchanting style of mythic art. He finds inspiration in the work of Alphonse Mucha and the Art Nouveau movement; turn-of-the-century illustrators such as Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen, and Edmund Dulac; and comic book artists ranging from Windsor McCay to Charles Vess. His first art book, Mondes Imaginaires, (which many of us are eagerly awaiting), will be published by Spootnik next spring.

Workshop4

"Here's a picture of my ridiculous work place," he says about the photograph above. "I can hardly find enough space for a A4 paper sheet, but, I don't know why, that's the way I draw. In a urge, between two other things to do, while thinking of a lot of things, with not enough room for my own body."

Workshop1

Above: "Pencils, pencils, and more pencils... I need to display nearly all the spectrum when I work, to try anything possible to save my work from mediocrity."

Workshop3

Above: "Work done, work in progress and work to do all gather in a small space. My workspace is tiny, because it's not so important. I learned to draw everywhere, anytime, and my surroundings aren't so important in fact. I can draw in a rolling train, while talking with people, or on the phone, in a bar, at friend's places, during parties, or with my kids running amok around me."

Workshop5

Above: "Computers, printer, and more pencils...."

Workshop6

Above and below: "Another part of the space in which I live and work... Books, books, music, old boardgames, reading rabbit, and more books."

David's bookshelf

One of David's enchanting drawings is below (I love this big, clumsy fellow), and more can be seen here.

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More desks anon.

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All readers of this blog are welcome to contribute to the "On Your Desk" series. You'll find more information (and the address where you should send your photo) in the first post of the series.


On Myth & Writing

The Mystic Wood by JW Waterhouse

This little essay is not new, but I thought I'd post it here today for those who might not have come across it before, as it too deals with issues of creativity and work/life balance.....

The Sorceress by JW Waterhouse The act of creation, it has always seemed to me, is one of the great magics of our world -- an ancient magic, guarded by the gods, blessed (and coveted) by the fairies. In mythic cosmologies found the world over, specific gods are associated with each of the creative arts: building, weaving, instrument making, theatrical productions, etc., and these gods must be petitioned for their aid, or propitiated against their hindrance. Tribal poets, dancers, musicians, storytellers used their gifts to cross over the boundary lines separating the human realm from the spirit realm and the lands of the living from the lands of the dead; artists performed an almost shamanic function, creating new worlds, new ideas, new realities.

John_william_waterhouse_2 In many ancient cultures, the creative arts were used (both literally and metaphorically) to heal, blight, praise, curse, celebrate, lament, and renew. Inspiration could be sought through one's genius, which was a personal spirit–guide in Greek mythology — or through the Muses, those lovely daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (memory): Clio (history), Euterpe (lyric poetry), Thalia (comedy), Melpomene (tragedy), Terpsichore (dance and song), Erato (love songs), Polymnia (divine hymns), Urania (astronomy), and Calliope (epic poetry). In Celtic lands, the Leanan–Sidhe was a faery mistress who inspired poets with her touch — but if misused, her powers could burn too brightly and lead to an early death. The White Deer Woman of Cherokee tales likewise inspired poetry and song, but only to those who show showed her respect as she roamed through the woods in deer form.

Lady_clare_by_waterhouse In the field of mythic arts, many of us still seek our inspiration deep in the archetypal forest, following trails blazed through the centuries by the writers and artists who have gone before. We chase the white deer through Shakespeare's fairy plays; through magical poetry by Keats, Goethe, and Yeats; through the visions of the Pre–Raphaelites, the Symbolists, and the Surrealists.

The Muses speak to us not only through stories and dreams, but also through all the creative acts of life: making food, making love, making conversation, making community, making a poem or a prayer out of each moment lived. To some, creative inspiration comes only during life's quiet times; to others, when life is abundantly full — and as artists, we must each learn our own individual ways of summoning the Muses.

Destiny_by_jw_waterhouse Perhaps, in this non–animist age, few leave out wine and flowers anymore — but we still have our Muse–summoning rituals and talismans: the favorite pen or brand of paper, coffee in a certain mug, paints arranged just so on the palette, the e–mailed box emptied or the phone switched off or the desk surface cleared before we can work  . . . all those small rituals we do each time, every time, in order to clear the mind, to focus, to prepare for the crossing from the physical world to the realm of imagination. That moment of crossing is a mythic moment — as potent as the old folk tales where the hero crosses running water (once, twice, three times) to enter Faerieland. John_wm_waterhouse_4Some days it is easy to make the crossing and to lose ourselves in the creative process; some days it is much harder — and we rarely know which kind of day it will be in advance.

On the most difficult days, one can't cross at all — as if Janus, god of the threshold, or Hermes, god of boundaries, stands firmly blocking the way. Occasionally I've recognized this "writer's block" as a necessary thing: a time to let the dry well of inspiration fill up with water once more. At other times, it feels like a banishment, and I fear that the gates might stay locked up too long. "When I don't write," lamented Anais Nin (in 1966, at the height of her success), "I feel my world shrinking. I feel I am in prison. I feel I lose my fire and color. Writing is a necessity, as the sea needs to heave, and I call it breathing."

 

The Mermaid by JW Waterhouse Sometimes it's not a lack of inspiration but a lack of time that interferes with one's ability to create. In May Sarton's splendid novel Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing, a poet's struggle with her Muse, and with the tools of her trade, are often overshadowed by a deeper, less romantic struggle: the effort to push life aside long enough to actually get to her desk. Thomas Mann echoed this sentiment in his Autobiography of a Novelist. We can't wait for those perfect moments, he warns us, when daily life seems to melt away and nothing exists but the fire of inspiration. Those moments of grace are precious, but rare. Treasure them, he says, but don't depend upon them; for the rest of the time we must be able to work despite the bills clamoring for attention, the dog barking, the telephone ringing, and the mailman at the door.

The Easy Chair by JW Waterhouse In her inspiring collection The Gates of Excellence, writer Katherine Anne Paterson has what is, for me, the last word on the subject of the artist's perpetual struggle to find a balance of time for both life and art: "I had no study in [the early] days, not even a desk or file or bookcase to call mine alone . . . .It might have happened sooner [the writing of work worthy of publication] had I had a room of my own and fewer children, but somehow I doubt it. For as I look back on what I have written, I can see that the very persons who took away my time and space are those who have given me something to say."

As for me, it's the siren call of nature and the richness of life itself that keep luring me away from my writing desk...but which, conversely, provide me with tales to tell when I find my way back. Then, like all writers, I'm faced with that frightening and holy object: the blank white page. But it only takes one sentence, one word, to begin. . .and then, gods willing, the Muses come.

And I'm away with the fairies....

                                                                  Fairy_by_alan_lee_3

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The art in this is post is by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917), a painter in the "second wave" of the Pre-Raphaelite movement...except for the little fairy at the end, which is by Alan Lee.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Today's tunes are both from Scotland, and both are sung in the Gaelic language.

In the video above, Julie Fowlis performs a traditional Gaelic song, "Hùg Air A' Bhonaid Mhòir." Fowlis is a native Gaelic speaker, an amazing singer, and also a scholar of the social and cultural history of the Highlands and Western Isles. (She's from the Outer Hebrides herself.) This particular tune can be found on Songs from Cuilidh, but all of her CDs are equally good.

Below is Mànran, a Glasgow-based band that's been getting a lot of attention here -- created by six young musicians interested in promoting Gaelic-language music to a new generation. This performance was filmed on New Year's Eve, when they were the house band for the BBC ALBA Hogmanay show. I heard three of the band members interviewed recently, and they sounded sweet, sincere about their Gaelic-language mission, and also like they were having a lot of fun. They've got one single released so far (co-produced by the great Phil Cunningham), and an album is in the works.


Reflections on blogging (and spoons)

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Over on the John Barleycorn blog, Rima Staines discusses the art of blogging, and how she started, and why she started. It's a strange kind of art form, blogging; and the question of why reasonably sane people feel compelled to blog [that hideous word, I wish there was a better] is, for me, an intriguing one. It's got me to pondering why I blog myself...which I've actually done for quite a long time now if you count the years that Midori Snyder and I ran a blog for the Journal of Mythic Arts, although that was a good deal less personal than this one. And like Rima, it took me a while to find a comfortable “blogging voice” when I began The Drawing Board.

The thread of my Rima-stirred thoughts about blogging is all knotted up with a number of other things that I've been pondering lately – about art, and life, and energy, and “spoons” -- and out of this tangle there's something specific I want to unravel, but I'm going to have to tease it out slowly from the snarl of other threads, so please bear with me.

This is also going to be a more personal essay than the others I've posted here, touching on the rather intimate subject of living with chronic illness. And that's a subject I approach gingerly, for an essay about illness can be mistaken for a plea for sympathy ("Oh, poor, poor me!"), or as a means of defining oneself as part of an aggrieved minority ("Us sick people don't get no respect!") rather than what it actually is: a creative/intellectual attempt to understand the process of living with illness while simultaneously living as a creative artist. (I'm thinking in particular of some very misguided reviews Nancy Mairs received for Waist-high in the World, her sharp, insightful essays on life with MS.) So I hereby give notice that I am about to tread further than usual into this murky territory today...and perhaps in speaking of the personal, I can find my way back to more general thoughts about living the Artist's Life; or, at very least, give voice to issues that others dealing with illness might find familiar, or useful.

Carl Larsson First let me define my terms. I'm going to refer to the limited energy one has when dealing with a chronic illness in terms of “spoons” -- so if you haven't yet read Christine Miserandino's very useful "Spoon Theory" essay, it might be helpful to do so. And by the term “blogging,” I'll be referring specifically to the writing of individual, personal blogs (like Rima's blog, or this one) rather than other sorts of blogs: professional, commercial, multi-author, etc..

With Rima's words running through my head, I was walking in the woods with my dog earlier (where I ran, quite unexpectedly, into Brian Froud and his dog, but that's another story...), thinking about the “art of the blog,” and why, after a somewhat trepidatious beginning, I find it so congenial. I'm in a different stage of my life and career than Rima, and thus my answer to the question “Why write a blog?” is bound to be a different one from hers, or any other young artist's. The answer that came to me suddenly as I trudged up the hill through the mud and leaves came from a thoroughly unexpected direction. It has to do with chronic illness and spoons and the thorny issue of communication.

Now, I can't speak for everyone with a serious and/or chronic illness, and my own (which I prefer not to name; the specifics of it aren't important here) has its rhythms and quirks that may be slightly different from other medical conditions like MS, or HIV, or fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue...but what many of us with differing health problems share is a constant need to juggle whatever spoons we have to hand on any given day. And for me, the simple act of communication is one that consistently threatens to empty my spoon drawer.

Perhaps it's because I communicate for a living, and therefore the spoons specifically shaped for that job are ones I particularly have to hoard in order to meet the daily demands of my work. All I know is that the simple act of a writing a letter to a friend, or answering an email, or (especially) picking up the phone are entirely beyond me when those spoons are used up – and they're precisely the spoons I tend to run out of first, due to the nature of my work.

This is an aspect of my life that constantly frustrates my dear, patient, long-suffering family members (back in the United States) and friends (both in the U.S. and here). I drop out of sight, I don't pick up the phone, emails drop into some kind of cosmic black hole. I'm warm and engaged and present on a good day, and retreat into mumbles and chilly distance on a bad one. Sometime I'm a reliable sister/niece/friend, and a regular part of others' daily lives...and sometimes I disappear for days, weeks, months on end with no warning at all. If I were a hermit by nature, none of this would be a problem, but I'm not -- I'm a person with a wide, deep circle of close relationships; an artist who thrives on connection and community; an outgoing woman whose natural rhythms are often disrupted by the over-riding rhythms of illness.

Carl Larssen 3

What has all this to do with blogging, you ask? It is this: Writing short pieces for a more-or-less daily blog is, for me, a means of communication, of maintaining vital connections: with friends, with colleagues in the publishing field, with the wider Mythic Arts community. Yes, it takes spoons, but not many of them (now that I'm comfortable enough with the form and technology that I can put up a daily post reasonably quickly) – and when compared to the number of spoons it would take to stay in frequent touch with the many people I know and love, to answer every email and return every call, those couple of spoons become negligible and well worth the cost. Blogging, for me, is my daily missive from the trenches of my creative life to the people, near and far, who make up my world. It's a form of round-robin letter to say: this is what I'm doing, this is what I'm thinking, I haven't disappeared. I may not be entirely well, but I'm still here. And if other people whom I've never personally met are reading these missives too, well then that's fine by me. I assume they're here because they also love books and folklore and mythic arts, and that means they're not really strangers, they are part of my wider community too.

Carl Larrson Now here's where I'd like to see if I can make the leap from personal circumstance to something that might relate to other artists as well, beyond the small subgroup of folks also coping with illness or disability. It's almost always difficult for artists in any field (except, perhaps, for a very privileged few) to balance the time needed for creative work with all the other demands of life. The need to manage ones time and energy may be more extreme and urgent for the chronically ill, yet I know few writers or artists (heck, do I know any?) who don't wrestle with the details of work/life balance. If it's not medical issues taking up ones time, it might be children, or elderly relatives, or a day job, or community obligations, or all of these things at once. The sheer busyness of modern life can feel relentless and overwhelming...and that, in turn, conflicts with art's requirement for time, solitude, and periods of sustained, uninterrupted concentration.

I think that even if illness was suddenly, blessedly removed as a factor in my life, I would still be at this same point in my journey: having reached the years of middle age, and recognizing that time is not infinite, I feel compelled to turn inward and focus my time and attention on truly mastering my craft. The social gregariousness of youth is no longer possible, or desirable; there are only so many hours in the day, after all. And yet, the life- and art-sustaining web of connection begun in ones early years remains important even as one grows older, slower, and more protective of ones time. That, for me, is where blogging comes in. It maintains that web of connection.

Here's what blogging is to me: It's a modern form of the old Victorian custom of being "At Home" to visitors on a certain day of the week; it's an Open House during which friends and colleagues know they are welcome to stop by. I'm “At Home” each morning when I put up at post. Here, in the gossamer world of the 'Net, I throw my studio door open to friends and family and strangers alike. And each Comment posted is a calling card left behind by those who have crossed my doorstep.

Carl Larsson But it's important to remember that the flip side of the Victorian "At Home" day is that it also provided boundaries -- for it was widely understood that visitors were not to drop by on other days of the week. Visitors could leave calling cards with the butler, but the Mistress of the house was not instantly available to them. Like every artist (and particularly artists deficient in health and energy), I too need large periods of time when I'm simply not available to others: when I'm working, or resting, or off at the doctor's, or re-charging my creative batteries, or working out thorny plot problems while roaming the countryside with the pup. In these days of speed and instant access, of Facebook and tweets and 8-year-olds with their own mobile phones, it's almost a revolutionary act to say: I'm not in to callers. You can't reach me now. And yet artists need this. We need to unplug. We need to spend time in the world of our imaginations, where the 'Net and mobile phones cannot go.

But here's what I find interesting: The very same technology that threatens to force constant communication upon us can also be the thing that allows us to create necessary boundaries. Blogging, for all its intimacy as an art form, is also an excellent boundary maker. Yes, we open up our lives on our blogs...but only this much, not that much, and each blogger decides where that line will be drawn. The blog is a controlled kind of publication. It doesn't provided instant access to its maker, unless the blog's author specifically wants it to. The open, generous space cultivated on a blog need not (indeed, probably should not) be duplicated in the physical world; for in the world, what a working artist truly needs is the equivalent of the butler at the door, politely turning callers away: The mistress is not 'At Home' today. She is working. I will tell her you called.

This, then, is why I write a blog: not for the reasons so many young artists do (as they build their careers and find their audience), but because, as an artist in my middle years, it helps resolve one of life's central conflicts: that both illness and art demand solitude, yet the heart requires communication and connection.

I am also a woman woefully short on spoons and at this point in life I have learned to accept it. (Okay, my husband would say that I am learning to accept it.) Calls will continue to go unanswered. Emails will routinely begin with the words: Please forgive me for taking so long to respond.... Friends will continue to worry when they haven't heard from me for a week, or a month. But these days, at least, they know they can always find me here at the Drawing Board...with fresh coffee brewing, Tilly at my side, and a pen or paintbrush in my hands.

In the physical world, my studio is my work space, not a social space, and a rather fierce butler stands scowling at the door. But here, in my online studio, I am "At Home." And everyone is welcome in.

Carl Larsson studio

The art in this post is by the Swedish painter Carl Larsson (1854-1919).


Coffee or tea...?

Rima

This morning, I recommend running on over to the "John Barleycorn" blog. Once you're there, pull up a chair and join my husband, Howard, and his comics partner, Rex, for a cup of coffee (or tea if you prefer) with the brilliant young artist/writer/bookmaker/animator/accordion-player Rima Staines. It's the first of a two-part "Around the Table With..." discussion, and the coffee is fresh and hot....

The Coffee Pot by Rima Staines