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November 2011

October 2011

Happy Hallowe'en

Twilight
It's a potent time of year, a week of mythic significance in traditional calendars: All Hallow's Eve and Samhain (October 31), The Days of the Dead (November 1 - 4), and All Souls Day (November 2)...the time, according to folklore and myth, when the borders between the worlds grow thin, transparent, and permeable; when the dead return, and faeries ride the hills, and the twilight shimmers with ancestral magic.

Standing stones on Dartmoor

In previous posts, we've talked about myths of descent and ascent in relation to creativity, and nature's cycles of death and rebirth -- an appropriate discussion on the eve of Samhain, the Celtic turning of the year. For more on this theme, have a look at the "Death & Rebirth" issue of The Journal of Mythic Arts (2006) -- which includes Jane Yolen's gorgeous story "Godmother Death, a link to Veronica Schanoes' equally gorgeous story, "How to Bring Someone Back from the Dead," and some beautiful poetry steeped in the myth and folklore of the season. 

Spinster's Rock

Images above: "Twilight" by Brian Froud (from The Land of Froud, 1977), "Standing Stones on Dartmoor" by Helen Mason, and "Spinsters' Rock," the remains of a Neolithic burial chamber in nearby Drewsteignton.


Recommended Reading:

We Are All Born Free illustration by Alan Lee

* Howard & Rex at John Barleycorn have now posted Part II of their "Around the Table" chat with illustrator & film designer Alan Lee -- discussing landscape, art mediums, the storytelling aspects of tango, and more. It's a great conversation...and I'd like to ask your help in spreading the word to let people know about it. There are a lot of Alan Lee fans out there who might never stumble across it otherwise.

The drawing above is by Alan, created for We Are All Born Free: the universal declaration of human rights, illustrated for children, published by Frances Lincoln & Amnesty International.

* Speaking of art and politics, I recommend OccupyWriters.com, featuring writers in support of the Occupy movements world-wide (of which I am one); Matthew Battles' short article, "Tactical Utopia," on the role of books and libraries in social revolution; and a video of Elif Shafak (the Turkish author of such amazing novels as The Mystic, Mirrors of the City, and The Flea Palace) discussing The Politics of Fiction. Also, The Guardian has a YouTube channel in which people from all around the world answer the question "Why occupy?"

* At RavenWood Forest, Valerianna Claff continues the "Moveable Feast' conversation on creative burn-out and nature's cycles: "As people around me speak their dread of the coming cold and the growing dark," she says, "I sink into my roots, release summer's fire through my fingertips, and begin the composting of the year. Dreaming into the dark, I tap the ancient well of blood-wisdom. In the spring, dreams will rise up through my veins like the sweet sap of a sugar maple."

And at Amused Grace, Thalia Took picks up the thread of the conversation: "My daimon, my Muse, has disappeared," she writes. "Now, understand, I mean that perhaps rather more literally than most artists do when they speak of their Muse. I mean that friend of mine, that spirit guide or whatever he is, the one I could See clear as day, who was always there, has become absent. I do not believe for a minute that he is actually gone, mind you, but on my end I can't see him at all. I don't miss him. That disturbs me, very much. It is like I am forgetting to remember something very important, but my brain is carrying on as if nothing at all is wrong, as if this surface world is the real world and that life is just fine when it lacks richness and depth."

Previous posts on this topic: Erzebet YellowBoy Carr, me, Deborah Biancotti, Christina Cairns, and Joel Le Blanc. (If I've missed any others, please let me know in the Comments.) Related to this issue, I hope by now you've all seen Elizabeth Gilbert's inspiring talk on "Nurturing Creativity," posted on the TED site in 2009.

Other "Moveable Feast" topics and links can be found here.

* While looking for something else entirely, I happened to come across a fascinating interview with Robertson Davies, discussing his life, fiction, and creative process (from The Paris Review, 1986): "I do know the story when I begin," says Davies, "but I don’t know how it’s going to end. I know about two-thirds of it, and then the end emerges as I go on. I shrink from saying this, but I’ve agreed to come here and talk about it, and it’s true: I hear the story, I am told the story, I record the story. I don’t pretend that some remarkable person somewere else is whispering in my ear, or that a beautiful lady in a diaphanous garment is telling me what I should write. It is just a part of my own creative process that I am not immediately in touch with and certainly not in full control of. And so the story emerges."

And speaking of stories, don't forget the Stephen Fry program on stories that I mentioned a couple of days ago, which is only up on the BBC site until November Ist. It's terrific. (You'll see some of Alan Lee's illustrations on the program -- in the section where Fry talks to Peter Jackson about Tolkien's tales.)

* At the excellent UK children's book blog, An Awfully Big Blog Adventure, Ellen Renner (author of  Castle of Shadows) discusses where ideas come from, and Linda Strachan (author of Dead Boy Talking) has an interesting post on creative collaboration. Anne Rooney (author of Off the Rails) wonders who reads writers' blogs (is it just other writers?) and pleas for comments from silent readers. That's a sentiment that many bloggers can sympathize with -- so if you follow any of the links here today, please consider leaving comments (even short ones) to let blog writers know that their efforts are appreciated. (And I admit it, I'm usually guilty of being a silent reader too.)

* Katherine Langrish (author of West of the Moon) continues her discussion of mystical journeys in myth and legend at Seven Miles of Steel Thistles.

* Neil Gaiman discusses his new audio book line, "Neil Gaiman Presents," in his online Journal. I'm pleased about this, as it will bring new attention to some very worthy books. Good going, Neil!

* Stephanie Piña discusses the color green in Pre-Raphaelite paintings at the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood blog. The post was inpired by Piña's reading of Elizabeth Hand's brilliant novel Mortal Love. (If you're a Pre-Raph fan and you haven't read Liz's book, I have just three words for you: order it immediately.)

* Theodora Goss displays the gorgeous Pre-Raphaelite-inspired design of her new book,  The Thorn and the Blossom, and discusses how the book was written, on her writing blog.

* David Wyatt demonstrates the process of creating his cover to The Ballad of Old Goat and Heron, from sketches to finished art, on his illustration blog Posterous.

* MJ Létourneau  discusses her tumblr, printed-ink, in a post on the End of March blog -- featuring the printed word presented as art. (I was tickled to find my own words included in the post.) Alas, I can't seem to load printed-ink itself on my computer (perhaps you'll have better luck than me), but the examples displayed on End of March are intriguing.

* And a few last, random lovely things: Donna Q.'s fairy tale poem,"The Way the Wolf Woos," at Enchanted Spirit: Lens and Pen; the re-birth of Jen Parrish's studio (hooray!) at Parrish Relics; the magical little bowls Julianna Swaney has created in collaboration with Paloma's Nest, displayed at Oh my Cavalier...as well as her Weekend Deer paintings, one of which is pictured below.

Have a good weekend.

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Alchemizing life into art

With young faeries in the Deer Park

"My work is emotionally autobiographical. It has no relationship to the actual events of my life, but it reflects the emotional currents of my life."  - Tennessee Williams

"All art is autobiographical; the pearl is the oyster's autobiography."  - Federico Fellini
____________________________________________________________________
photograph by Carol Amos


Telling our stories

Alan Lee & John Howe

"Writers write because they cannot allow the characters that inhabit them to suffocate them. These characters want to get out, to breathe fresh air and partake of the wine of friendship; were they to remain locked in, they would forcibly break down the walls. It is they who force the writer to tell their stories."  - Elie Weisel

Daughters of ElvinThe drawing above is by Alan Lee & John Howe. The photograph is of my husband as a unicorn dancer with Katy Marchant's medieval music troupe Daughters of Elvin, performing in a medieval church.


The job of a storyteller

Apple tree in autumn

"I write at eighty-five for the same reasons that impelled me to write at forty-five; I was born with a passionate desire to communicate, to organize experience, to tell tales that dramatize the adventures which readers might have had. I have been that ancient man who sat by the campfire at night and regaled the hunters with imaginative recitations about their prowess. The job of an apple tree is to bear apples. The job of a storyteller is to tell stories, and I have concentrated on that obligation."   - James Michener


Three Recommendations:

9781931520300_big* Delia Sherman talks about her new YA novel The Freedom Maze in a podcast over on the Small Beer Press website, chatting about "her southern roots and the nature of dreams." It's a terrific little podcast -- and the book in question, a time-travel fantasy set in Louisiana, is quite simply one of the best YA novels I've read in years. (For more information on the book, including a download of the first chapter, go here.)

* Stephen Fry discusses the subject of storytelling in Episode 5 of Fry's Planet Word over on BBC Two. Fry asks "what makes a good story and why some writers just do it better. He reveals what stories make him shiver with joy or, conversely, shudder with horror. From Homer's epic to Joyce's modern-day reinvention with Ulysses, from taking in Shakespeare, PG Wodehouse, Tolkien, Orwell, Auden, Bob Dylan and the even the mangled web of words that became known as Birtspeak, Stephen uncovers why certain words can make us laugh, cry or tear our hair out." Watch this soon, as it will be online only until November 1.

* Christina Cairns continues the discussion on "creative burn-out" in her excellent new post "Decending into the underworld, the labyrinth, the abyss" on A Mermaid in the Attic.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Since the subject of shamanic journeys came up last in last week's discussion of artists' blocks and burn-out, today's music comes from the shamanic yoik tradition of the Sámi people of northern Europe. Above, "Mun ja Mun" by Adjágas, a young band from Norway who are part of the contemporary yoik revival there. (Adjágas is a Sámi word for the period of time, and mental state, that occurs between waking and sleeping.)

Below, one of the masters of contemporary yoik, Mari Boine (also from Norway), talks about her creative journey.

More information on yoik can be found here, and links to other yoik musicians here. More information abut Sami history and culture can be found on the Galdu website (The Resource Centre for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples).


Recommended Reading:

Dartmoor stone

I'm staying close to home today, with a series of recommended links that all have a Dartmoor connection:

* First, to put you in a Dartmoor mood, have a listen to "On a Dartmoor Day," a beautiful new song by my friend Chris Back (of the Levi Moretons). It never fails to make me a little teary eyed, for it so perfectly captures what I love about this land and the community of people in it. I particularly love the last verse, about musicians and friends sitting 'round an old oak table, because Howard and I have been around that same old oak table with Chris, and such nights shine in my memory too.

* And speaking of sitting around the table with friends, today you can do so with Dartmoor artist Alan Lee (the award-winning book illustrator and Oscar-winning film designer) over at John Barleycorn. It's the first of a two-part "Around the Table" chat with Alan, discusing his creative process and influences.

* For a virtual visit to Dartmoor (for those of you far away), have a look at the gorgeous work of two of the moor's most accomplished photographers, James Ravilious (1939-1999) and Chris Chapman. I also recommend Anna Walls' distinctive pictures (have a look at her photograph of swaling on Dartmoor, the burn-off process I referred to in a previous post), the dramatic landscape photographs of Alex Nail, and the lovely black-and-white work of Jen Bryant. Also, please visit my friend Susan Derges' website, featuring her stunning and very magical "camera-less" photography. (You'll find her pictures in the Gallery section of the site, at the bottom of the navagation menu on the left of her homepage.)

* Last, but not least: the Autumn 2012 issue of Goblin Fruit is now on line. As usual, editors Amal El-Mohtar and Jessica Wick provide a delicious feast of all-new poems based on fairy tales, folklore, and world myth...plus a Feature on Canadian poet Neile Graham. The Dartmoor connection? Amal was living here in our village this summer while putting this issue of the webzine together.

* Oops,  one more: For those of you who live on or near Dartmoor, the good folks at Chagfood (who you may remember from this previous post) are hosting an early Halloween Festival tomorrow (Saturday, Oct. 22) from 3 pm till late in the field. There will be kids' activities in the afternoon and a bonfire in the evening, with cider & pumpkin soup, music, and storytelling around the fire -- some of the later provided by Rima Staines and Tom Hirons. All are welcome (directions here), just be sure to bundle up warm.

Have a good weekend everyone.

Standing stones on Dartmoor by Helen MasonStanding stones on Dartmoor (photograph by Helen Mason)


On Creative Burn-out: a final post

Autumn hills out the studio windowFrom the studio window: Meldon Hill in autumn, beneath a Maxfield Parrish sky

A few more thoughts on creative burn-out and blocks from writers who have walked this path before us:

May Sarton: "When one’s not writing poems -- and I’m not at the moment -- you wonder how you ever did it. It’s like another country you can’t reach."

Toni Morrison: "When I sit down in order to write, sometimes it's there; sometimes it's not. But that doesn't bother me anymore. I tell my students that there is such a thing as 'writers block,' and they should respect it. You shouldn't write through it. It's blocked because it ought to be blocked, because you haven't got it right now." 

Agatha Christie gives the opposite advice: "Write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you are writing, and aren't writing particularly well."

Maya Angelou concurs: "What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, 'Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'"

And William Faulkner: "I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o'clock every morning."

Clouds over Meldon Hill

Of course, there's no right way and wrong of getting through writer's block or creative burn-out. Like everything about the creative process, we each need to find our own natural rhythms and then to shape our lives in order to work with those rhythms and not against them. One last quote, which addresses precisely this subject, from Bernard Malamud:

"If the stories come, you get them written, you're on the right track. Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you."