Previous month:
April 2016
Next month:
June 2016

May 2016

Widdershins 2016

About the exhibition:

Dartmoor, a landscape steeped in mythic and legend, is home to a large number of artists inspired by mythic themes. The works in this show explore myth, folklore, and faery tales in diverse ways, ranging from earthy to ethereal, sensual to spiritual, and frightening to whimsical...shaped into paintings, sculptures, assemblages, magical clocks, handbound books, and more.

Participating artists:

Alan Lee, Marja Lee, Virginia Lee, Brian & Wendy Froud, David Wyatt, Rima Staines, Danielle Barlow, Angharad Barlow, and me (all from Chagford); Hazel Brown (from Torquay); Pauline Lee (from Ashburton), Neil Wilkinson-Cave (from Moretonhampstead); and Paul Kidby (from Hampshire, but with strong Dartmoor connections).

In addition to the main gallery show, Green Hill will display mythic art and crafts throughout the art centre (by Alexandra Dawe, Leonie Grey, Sally Hinchcliffe, Meg Meg Connolly, and others); and books and prints will be on sale in the Green Hill shop. They've also organized a program of related events to run throughout the summer: workshops, talks, film showings, etc., for both adults and children. Please contact Green Hill Arts, or visit the Calendar section of their website, for more information.

I'll be at at the Meet the Artists evening on August 6th; at a Coffee Morning with three other women artists (Wendy Froud, Marja Lee, and Hazel Brown) on July 11th; and I'm giving talk on August 20th on The Power of Story: Healing & Transformation in Folk & Fairy Tales. Do come if you can.

For photographs from the first Widdershins exhibition in 2013, go here (via Virginia Lee) or here (via Rima Staines).

A swarm of fairies by Alan Lee


Myth & Moor update

Tolkien at Oxford

Re-posting this in case anyone missed it:

I will be delivering the 4th Annual Tolkien Lecture at Pembroke College, Oxford University this Thursday at 6:30 pm. The Pembroke Fantasy lecture series "explores the history and current state of fantasy literature, in honour of JRR Tolkien, who wrote The Hobbit and much of The Lord of the Rings during his twenty years at the college." The lecture I'll be giving is Tolkien's Long Shadow: Reflections on Fantasy Literature in the Post-Tolkien Era. Admission is free, but you need to register for a ticket and space is limited. Go here for further details.

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

I am taking a short break from Myth & Moor this coming week to deal with other pressing matters, and to prepare for Oxford. May 30th is a holiday here in Britain, so the Hound and I will be back on Tuesday, May 31st.

May 30th is also the date of the annual Two Hills Race here in Chagford, a gruelling route up and down two steep hills, with brambles and a bog in between. Our nine-year-old friend Fynn has decided to run this year to raise money to support wounded veterans. If you can spare a few pennies to pledge to this young man's heart-felt cause, it would encourage him greatly (and make those of us who care for him very happy too). The site takes Paypal and credit cards in any currancy, and even very small amounts are welcome. More info here.

Have a good and creative week.

At the gateIllustration by Arthur Rackham.


Light and shadow, part two

Path 1

"When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening." - Madeleine L'Engle (Walking on Water)

Path 2

Path 3

PATH 4

I'd been looking forward to a solitary, calm, work-focused week while my husband was up in London...but it turned into one of crisis-management instead, the quiet of my creative voice drowned out by a louder chorus of life's demands. The stress level rose in my studio, and by Friday Tilly had clearly had enough. Normally if I'm too busy or tired for our morning walk she accepts it with good grace, but this time she would simply not give up. She stared and stared. She tapped my knee with her paw, eyes wide, her intention clear. She walked to the door and back, over and over, and then tapped me on the knee once more. And so, at last, I gave in, closed down the computer and laced up my boots.

Path 5

I followed her out the garden gate, through the woods and onto Nattadon Hill, carpeted now with bluebells and swaths of stitchwort like little white stars.

Path 6

Path 7

Work fell away. Words fell away. Heart-ache and worry slowly fell away too. We climbed, and climbed, the air tasting of flowers, and I grew a little lighter with every step. Re-discovering, as Madeleine L'Engle would say, time for being. And for listening.

Path 8

Path 9

Path 10

Path 11

Path 12

An hour later we came back down, following the path through wildflowers and bracken back to the studio. The problems pressing on me hadn't solved themselves, the work on my desk hadn't disappeared, and I wasn't magically flooded with new insight and energy for tackling both those things...but it was better. A subtle, almost imperceptible change, but it was enough.

Path 13

Path 14

As long there are moments of beauty on the hard, dark days, I know that I can keep on going.

Path 15

Path 16

And that you can too.

Path 18

Path 19

Path 20The Madeleine L'Engle quote is from Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art (Wheaton Literary Series, 2001). The poem in the picture captions is from Where Many Rivers Meet by David Whyte (Many Rivers Press, 2004). All rights reserved by the authors.


From the archives: Daydreams and spells

Brambles by Adrian Arleo

I'm afraid it's another post pulled from the archives today (first posted in 2013), as I'm having a week in which the time and spoons for all I need to do is in short supply. I do like re-visiting these old posts, though, and seeing the different kinds of conversations they spark a few years down the road. Which reminds me that I must also apologize for taking so long to respond to comments. I am reading all the comments (and poems!) as they come in, and will go back and respond properly just as soon as pressing work deadlines ease. In the meanwhile, I'm so grateful to all of you here who keep the discussion going. It's what makes this blog feel like more than just mine; it is made by a whole community. 

The passage below is from "Why our future depends on libraries, reading, and daydreaming," a lecture by my old friend Neil Gaiman (we grew up in publishing together) in which he argues not only for the value of reading, but also for the value of stories often dismissed as "escapist."

Consider by Adrian Arleo

"Fiction can show you a different world," Neil says. "It can take you somewhere you've never been. Once you've visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave Siren with Palm by Adrian Arleothem better, leave them different. And while we're on the subject, I'd like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it's a bad thing. As if 'escapist' fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in. If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn't you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with (and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.

"As J.R.R. Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers."

Glade by Adrian Arleo

In her lovely biographical essay "Spells of Enchantment," fairy tale scholar Helen Pilinovsky Oxgaard notes that there are many kinds of children who need escape, even those who don't come from particularly troubled homes:

"Fairy tales, fantasy, legend and myth...these stories, and their topics, and the symbolism and interpretation of those topics...these things have always held an inexplicable fascination for me," Helen writes. Sirens of Rutino by Adrian Arleo"That fascination is at least in part an integral part of my character — I was always the kind of child who was convinced that elves lived in the parks, that trees were animate, and that holes in floorboards housed fairies rather than rodents.

"You need to know that my parents, unlike those typically found in fairy tales — the wicked stepmothers, the fathers who sold off their own flesh and blood if the need arose — had only the best intentions for their only child. They wanted me to be well educated, well cared for, safe — so rather than entrusting me to the public school system, which has engendered so many ugly urban legends, they sent me to a private school, where, automatically, I was outcast for being a latecomer, for being poor, for being unusual. However, as every cloud does have a silver lining — and every miserable private institution an excellent library — there was some solace to be found, between the carved oak cases, surrounded by the well–lined shelves, among the pages of the heavy antique tomes, within the realms of fantasy.

Canopy, A Variation on Romulus and Remus by Adrian Arleo"Libraries and bookshops, and indulgent parents, and myriad books housed in a plethora of nooks to hide in when I should have been attending math classes...or cleaning my room...or doing homework...provided me with an alternative to a reality I didn't much like. Ten years ago, you could have seen a number of things in the literary field that just don't seem to exist anymore: valuable antique volumes routinely available on library shelves; privately run bookshops, rather than faceless chains; and one particular little girl who haunted both the latter two institutions. In either, you could have seen some variation upon a scene played out so often that it almost became an archetype:

"A little girl, contorted, with her legs twisted beneath her, shoulders hunched to bring her long nose closer to the pages that she peruses. Her eyes are glued to the pages, rapt with interest. Within them, she finds the kingdoms of Myth. Their borders stand unguarded, and any who would venture past them are free to stay and occupy themselves as they would."

Tree of Life by Adrian Arleo

Persistence by Adrian Arleo

The exquisite mythic sculpture above and below is by Adrian Arleo, a ceramic artist in Lolo, Montana. "For over fifteen years," says Arleo, "I've been creating sculpture that combines human and animal imagery in a variety of ways. Some of these works elude to a relationship of understanding or connection between the human and animal realms. In others, the human figures possess animal faces, limbs, or other features in a way that reveals something hidden about the character or primal nature of the person.

"The Honey Comb sculptures are another variation on blending the human form with elements from nature. What appeals to me about the quality of this material is its appearance of simultaneously growing and deteriorating. I also like the way the wax approximates the material created by bees, enabling the work to be visual, tactile, and appealing to the sense of smell, like fresh honeycomb. On the flip side, the work might suggest the swarming, stinging insects that create this beautiful material. As with many things in life, beauty and the grotesque can cohabitate."

To see more of her beautiful work, go here. To read an interview with the artist, go here.


Honey Comb Girl by Adrian Arleo

Dog With Hands by Adrian Arleo

Adrian ArleoThe passage by Neil Gaiman is from a lecture delivered to The Reading Agency at the Barbican in London (October 14, 2013), subsequently printed in The Guardian (October 15, 2o13). Follow the link to read it in full. The passage by Helen Pilinovsky is from an essay published in The Journal of Mythic Arts (2001). I recommend reading both essays in full. All rights to the text & imagery above reserved by the authors & artist.


The art of hope

Flora McLachlan

Flora McLachlan

I'm still immersed in Conversations with Barry Lopez by William E. Tydeman, allowing myself only a few pages during my coffee break in the woods each day, drawing the book out and taking the time to really think about what I'm reading. Today, I'm struck by following passage on hope -- for "hope" and "goodness," it seems to me, are too often portrayed as banal, Pollyanna-ish qualities, when in fact it takes great courage and clarity of mind to reject despair, reach for the light and make something beautiful and whole out of lives and times so dark and fractured.

Flora McLachlanThe passage begins with Lopez noting his desire to explore the relationship between emotion and landscape in the context of nature writing (a publishing label, I should acknowledge, that he personally dislikes) -- and the single emotion that he's most interested in exploring this way is hope. I find that interest significant for Lopez can hardly be accused of naivity, having spent a lifetime on the frontlines of activism for social justice and our ailing planet, and having faced true evil in his early years.* Those who thoroughly understand despair have my attention when they speak of hope.

"I think you can evoke aspects of the land in prose in a way that makes people hopeful about their lives, " he says. "I think you can also describe landscapes that are not just physically but metaphysically dreary, and that those descriptions can make a readers lose a sense of hope about the subtle possibilities of their own lives. For me -- and maybe there is some mode of critical thinking about this -- the creation of story is a social act. It's driven by individual vision, of course, but in the end I think story is social, and part of what makes it social is this impact it can have on the psyche of the reader.

"My sense is that story developed in parrallel with the capacity to remember in Homo sapiens. I don't mean 'Where did we cache the food last spring?' but memory operating at a more esoteric level, recalling, say, the circumstances that induced loving behavior. Story, it seems to me, begins as a mnemonic device. It carries memory outside the brain and employs it in a social context. So you could say a person hears a story and feels better; a person hears the story and remembers who they are, or who they want to become, or what it is that they mean. I think story is rooted in the same little piece of historical ground out of which the capacity to remember and the penchant to forget come."

Flora McLachlan

The First Leaves by Flora McLachlan

After reading these words, I flip back to the book's introduction by William Tydeman and find this passage I'd marked last week:

"Most times when Lopez speaks of hope, I am reminded of the simple-minded approach so many critics and intellectuals take toward place-based writing and its expression of hope. Lopez and I agree with an analysis made by Christopher Lasch, who conveys a nuanced view of the multilayered meaning of hope. He argues that 'Hope asserts the goodness of life in the face of its limits.' Hope does not require a belief in progress or prevent us from expecting the worst but, rather, hope 'trusts life without denying its tragic character. Progressive optimism, often confused with hope, is based on a denial of the natural limits of human power and freedom -- a blind faith that things will somehow work out for the best. It is not an affective anecdote to despair.' Those who challenge the status quo and support the popular uprising  for social justice 'require hope, a tragic understanding of life, the disposition to see things through.' Hope is what we need."

It is indeed.

Flora McLachlan

Thistledown by Flora McLachlan

The art today is by Flora McLachlan, a printmaker born in Sussex and now based in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. "My pictures are records of things seen and imagined by twilight or moonglow," she writes. "I take inspiration from my studies of English literature, myth and legend. I try to express a sense of the enchantment I feel is embedded in our ancient landscape. I try to imagine the secret face of the land, when the light fades and the creatures come out to roam. I’m feeling for a lost or hidden magic, a glimpse through trees of the white hart.

"My preferred technique is etching. I love its atmosphere, the deep mysterious blacks and the glowing whites. During the long etching process, my original idea changes, and grows, with the working of the metal. The act of creation continues with the printing of the image; many of my etchings are underprinted with a painterly mono-collagraph plate, and most are complex and demand a concentrated and meditative approach to the inking and printing."

To see more of McLachlan's beautiful work visit the artist's website; and Foxnest, her Etsy shop.

Crossing the Water by Flora McLachlan

The White Hart by Flora McLachlan

Flora McLachlan

* I recommend Lopez' s  beautifully-crafted & wrenching autobiographical essay "Sliver of Sky,"  published in Harper's in 2013, with a trigger warning for abuse issues.

The passages quoted above are from Conversations with Barry Lopez: Walking the Path of Imagination by William E. Tydeman (University of Oklahoma Press, 2013). All rights to the words & images in this post reserved by the authors & artist. A related post from February: Alison Hawthorne Deming on art, culture, and radical hope.


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Jo Curzon and her flock by James Ravilious

We're sticking close to home today with music that is (mostly) from Devon, and photographs by James Ravilious (1939-1999), Devon's great chronicler of rural life.

Above: "The Valley" by Wildwood Kin, three young women from just up the road in Exeter. The group consists of two sisters, Beth and Emillie Key, and their cousin Meghann Loney. They have one four-track EP out so far, Salt of the Earth

Below: "Silver Threads Among the Gold," a beautiful paean to aging by Seth Lakeman, who lives on the other side of Dartmoor near Tavistock.  He's backed up by Wildwood Kin in this performance, filmed at The Convent in Stroud. The song is from Ballads of The Broken Few, due out in September.

Archie Parkhouse & his dog Sally by James Ravilious

Above: Seth Lakeman again, this time with the recording of "Blacksmith's Prayer" for Tales from the Barrelhouse, an album that explores the history and experience of country artisans in Devon and Cornwall.

Below: "Artisan," a gorgeous song about carpenters from the same album. This man is simply one of the finest songwriters working in Britain today.

Hedger's lunch break by James Ravilious

And last, above: "The Carpenter" by Hannah James, a singer, accordion player and champion clog dancer from north-west England. Having collaborated with numerous folk musicians in the UK and abroad, she now performs in a duo with Sam Sweeney, in the Lady Maisery trio, and in her own innovative music & dance show JigDoll.

Reedcombers' tea break by James Ravilious


Painting with language

Conversations with Barry Lopez

Pink cranesbill

From Conversations with Barry Lopez by William E. Tydeman:

"Artists and writers are constantly changing the sense of orthodoxy in perceived relations," says Lopez, "visual, accoustical, spacial, emotional relationships. All this work stimulates thinking. So, we know we are horizontally oriented, it just makes me more curious about the vertical dimension. As a writer, I always want to stimulate a sense of awareness. I want to create and intensify patterns. When I listen to music, I always hear patterns. When I'm walking in the woods, I sense patterns. Walking in the woods with somebody, I might identify a plant, but the naming of the plant comes out of a pattern of movement, the conjunction of the time of year with that particular space. For example, knowing that I'm coming off a ridge and down onto a south-facing slope in May, I'm going to be looking for certain plants that I'm not going to find on the north side.

"So I'm always looking for these patterns when I'm writing, though I'm not necessarily thinking about a pattern -- it's like I've caught it in a sidelong glance and, like a painter, I'm trying to render it. I'm making a pattern in language that stands in the place of a pattern I've seen or felt.

P1300610

Woodland border

Tilly at the woodland's edge

"But this kind of intelligence can also get in the way of a story," he adds. "I have to remind myself sometimes when I'm writing fiction that it's a good thing not to be thinking, because then I might be trying to make a point. Writing a short story to make a point seems vaguely contradictory to me. In fiction I don't want to make a point, I want to report a pattern I'm aware of, make it work in a dramatic narrative, and leave it at that, and trust that the reader encountering this pattern will be compelled to think about life differently."

Tilly at the woodland's edge

Words: The passage quoted above is from Conversations with Barry Lopez: Walking the Path of Imagination by William E. Tydeman (University of Oklahoma Press, 2013). Please note that Lopez is talking about writing fiction here, as opposed to the different mindset one needs when writing nonfiction. The poem in the picture captions is from Heaven: Collected Poems 1956-1990 by Al Young (Creative Arts, 1992). All rights reserved.

Pictures: These photographs were taken earlier this week. Tilly had a small medical procedure yesterday and is now home and resting quietly. She'll be up and back into her beloved woods soon.


From the archives: Picking Nettles

Spring is the time to harvest nettles...

Nettle path at the bottom of Nattadon Hill.

In the fairy tale of "The Wild Swans" by Hans Christian Andersen, the heroine's brothers have been turned into swans by their evil stepmother. A kindly fairy instructs her to gather nettles in a ''The Wild Swans- Picking Nettles by Moonlight'' by Nadezhda Illarionovagraveyard by night, spin their fibers into a prickly green yarn, and then knit the yarn into a coat for each swan brother in order to break the spell -- all of which she must do without speaking a word or her brothers will die. The nettles sting and blister her hands, but she plucks and cards, spins and knits, until the nettle coats are almost done -- running out of time before she can finish the sleeve on the very last coat. She flings the coats onto her swan-brothers and they transform back into young men -- except for the youngest, with the incomplete coat, who is left with a wing in the place of one arm. (And there begins a whole other tale.)

This was one of my favorite stories as a child, for I too had brothers in harm's way, and I too was a silent sister who worked as best I could to keep them safe, and sometimes succeded, and sometimes failed, as the plot of our lives unfolded. The story confirmed that courage can be as painful as knitting coats from nettles, but that goodness can still win out in the end. Spells can broken, and gentle, loving persistence can be the strongest magic of them all.

''The Wild Swans'' by Susan Jeffers and Yvonne Gilbert

Wild Swans by Susan Jeffers

I grew up with the story, but not with Urtica dioica: "common nettles" or "stinging nettles." I imagined them as dark, thorny, and witchy-looking -- and although they're actually green and ordinary, growing thickly in fields and hedges here in Devon, nettles emerge nonetheless from the loam of old stories and glow with a fairy glamour. It is a plant that heralds the return of spring, a tonic of vitamins and minerals; and also a plant redolent of swans and spells, of love and loss and loyalty, of ancient powers skillfully knotted into the most traditional of women's arts: carding, spinning, knitting, and sewing.

Urtica dioica: the common nettle or stinging nettle, native to  Europe, Asia, northern Africa, and North America

Nettle Coat by Alice Maher

According to the Anglo-Saxon "Nine Herbs Charm," recorded in the 10th century, stiðe (nettles) were used as a protection against "elf-shot" (mysterious pains in humans or livestock caused by the arrows of the elvin folk) and"flying venom" (believed at the time to be one of the four primary causes of illness). In Norse myth, nettles are associated with Thor, the god of Thunder; and with Loki, the trickster god, whose magical fishing net is made from them. In Celtic lore, thick stands of nettles indicate that there are fairy dwellings close by, and the sting of the nettle protects against fairy mischief, black magic, and other forms of sorcery.

Nettles with ferns, flowers, and dog.

Harvesting nettles.

Nettles once rivaled flax and hemp (and later, cotton) as a staple fiber for thread and yarn, used to make everything from heavy sailcloth to fine table linen up to the 17th/18th centuries. Other fibers proved more economical as the making of cloth became more mechanized, but in some areas (such as the highlands of Scotland) nettle cloth is still made to this day. "In Scotland, I have eaten nettles," said the 18th century poet Thomas Campbell, "I have slept in nettle sheets, and I have dined off a nettle tablecloth. The young and tender nettle is an excellent potherb. The stalks of the old nettle are as good as flax for making cloth. I have heard my mother say that she thought nettle cloth more durable than any other linen."

Nettles among the wildflowers.

Nettles, stitchwort, and campion.

Nettle path by an old stone wall.

"Nettles have numerous virtues," writes Margaret Baker in Discovering the Folklore of Plants. "Nettle oil preceded paraffin; the juice curdled milk and helped to make Cheshire cheese; nettle juice seals leaky barrels; nettles drive frogs from beehives and flies from larders; nettle compost encourages ailing plants; and fruits packed in nettle leaves retain their bloom and freshness.

"Mixing medicine and magic, a healer could cure fever by pulling up a nettle by its roots while speaking the patient's name and those of his parents. Roman soldiers in damp Britain found that rheumatic joints responded to a beating with nettles. Tyroleans threw nettles on the fire to avert thunderstorms, and gathered nettle before sunrise to protect their cattle from evil spirits."

Nettle tips for soup, tonic, and tea.

The medicinal value of nettles is confirmed by Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal in their useful book Hedgerow Medicine:

"Nettle was the Anglo-Saxon sacred herb wergula, and in medieval times nettle beer was drunk for rheumatism. Nettle's high vitamin C content made it a valuable spring tonic for our ancestors after a winter of living on grain and salted meat, with hardly any green vegetables. Nettle soup and porridge were popular spring tonic purifiers, but a pasta or pesto from the leaves is a worthily nutritious modern alternative. Nettle soup is described by one modern writer as 'Springtime herbalism at one of its finest moments.' This soup is the Scottish kail. Tibetans believe that their sage and poet Milarepa (AD 1052-1135) lived solely on nettle soup for many years until he himself turned green: a literal green man.

"Nettles enhance natural immunity, helping protect us from infections. Nettle tea drunk often at the start of a feverish illness is beneficial. Nettles have long been considered a blood tonic and are a wonderful treatment for anaemia, as they are high in both iron and chlorophyll. The iron in nettles is very easily absorbed and assimilated. What cooks will tell you is that two minutes of boiling nettle leaves will neutralize both the silica 'syringes' of the stinging cells and the histamine or formic acid-like solution that is so painful."

Nettle basket.

Evening sunlight through the kitchen window.

Nattadon Nettle Soup

Melt some butter in the bottom of the soup pot, add a chopped onion or two, and cook slowly until softened.

Add a litre or so of vegetable or chicken stock, with salt, pepper, and any herbs you fancy.

Add 2 large potatoes (chopped), a large carrot (chopped), and simmer until almost soft. If you like your soup thick, use more potatoes.

Preparing nettle soup.

Throw in several large handfuls of fresh nettle tops, and simmer gently for another 10 minutes.

Add some cream (to taste), and a pinch of nutmeg.

Purée with a blender, and serve.

Nettle soup.

If you happen to have some truffle oil in your pantry, a light sprinkling on the soup tastes terrific.

And here are two more good nettle recipes: nettle pancakes and wild nettle bread.

Courtyard

Courtyard

Nettles, folk tales around the world agree, have long been associated with women's domestic magic: with inner strength and fortitude, with healing and also self-healing, with protection and also self-protection, with the ability to "enrich the soil" wherever we have been planted. Nettle magic is steeped in dualities: both fierce and soft, painful and restorative, common as weeds and priceless as jewels. Potent. Tenacious. Humble and often overlooked. Resilient.

Soup is served.

And pretty tasty too.

Tilly guards the nettle crop.The illustrations for "The Wild Swans" above are by Nadezhda Illarionova, Susan Jeffers, & Yvonne Gilbert. The Nettle Coat is by Alice Maher. Related posts: "Swan's Wing" and "The Folklore of Food."


On a misty morning in the Devon hills

Nattadon Hill

Bluebells and bracken

"There exists a glamorized view of hardship and artistic achievement," notes the American writer Chris Offutt. "Young people who believe this can easily become self-destructive in their desire to 'suffer for their art.' They think they need hardship. But we all have hardship in our own way. Genuine suffering can lead to wisdom. It can also lead to despair and cruelty, drug addiction and violence. Artists are people who manage to take all this and turn it into something new. They make something. All artists excel for the same reasons: they are disciplined, diligent, and possess endurance.

"In order to develop artistic skill, you must have time to do so. Due to circumstances, some people simply don’t have the time and energy. Others who do, squander it."

Path to the stream

Oak beside the stream

Time and energy. The raw ingredients of art, for without them, inspiration and intention are ephemeral things. We all know people who squander their energy, time, and talent. And we all struggle not to be those people.

I am deeply grateful to have time to work, and for the circumstances, support, self-discipline and sheer luck that makes it possible. Energy, however, remains in short supply...or rather, my body is using its energy to heal and thus has only a little to spare for things it considers less vital. There is no arguing with the body. My work may be vastly important to me, but healing has its own priorities...and its requisition of the body's energy stores must not only be accepted, but respected.

So here is my prayer as I walk the hills, winding through the bluebells and bracken, led by a black-furred bundle of joy:

Let me not waste time and life on self-pity, kicking against physical disability. Let me use what energy I have wisely and well, working within the haiku of limitation -- crafting new work out of these materials. Working with the life I have, and not against it.

Oak elder

Gold water

Wild violets

Into the trees

"I write every day," says my wise friend Jane Yolen. "Every single day....Even if I am ill, traveling, caring for a sick husband, running around a convention, walking the Royal Mile -- even then I will manage to write something. Because being a writer means that kind of commitment. It doesn't have to be something for publication (though what does get published is almost always a surprise). It is something to get the brain, the heart, the imagination, and the fingers coordinated, working together. Not strangers but a good team.

"After my big back operation, part of my recovery was to walk a mile (or more) a day. As the amazing nurse Donna explained it to me: if you walk a mile at a good steady pace (mine is fast) outside, taking in the fresh oxygen, your spinal fluid moves up and down oiling the spine. Well, that's what writing every day does. It keeps the fluid moving about our brain, oiling its parts. Writing needs such fluidity.

Wildflower path

Wildflowers

Wanderer's path

"Yes, life happens," Jane continues. "It interrupts all our careful plans. A person from Porlock, an auto accident, a shooter in the movie theater, or more happily twins born, a friend stopping in for tea, your book winning the Caldecott, your editor calling to say you won the Nebula, your agent messaging that you sold a book, falling in love. But the bottomest of lines is this: if you are a writer, you write. And you turn all of life's hiccups into poetry or prose.

"How lucky are we -- accidents, incidents, handicaps, heartbreaks all become research, become prompts. So don't ignore them, but use them. Every day.

"Every single glorious, bloody day."

Pathside dwelling

Curiosity

Tilly by the wayside

Wildflowers

P1300484cThe quote by Chris Offut is from an interview in Salon magazine (March, 2016). The quote by Jane Yolen is from a post on her Facebook page (August, 2015). The poem in the picture captions is from Twelve Moons by Mary Oliver (Little, Brown, & Co., 1978).  All rights reserved by the authors.