The small things

2169_o_woman_lying_on_a_bench

I was up much later that usual on Wednesday night, waiting for my husband to return from a work gig in London -- a simple journey that turned into a nine hour ordeal due to multiple train failures on the way. The whole transport system was in chaos that night: every single train from Paddington Station cancelled; and then Waterloo Station, where the weary travellers were directed, paralyzed by breakdowns as well. He finally got home after one in the morning, and I couldn't sleep until he'd made it back safely.

Public transit frustrations are an ordinary part of modern life, of course (at least here in Britain, where our rail system is a disgrace) -- so why am I telling you about it? Because these small, everyday, uncontrollable events affect those of us in the arts with long-term health conditions disproportionately. After losing just a few hours of sleep, I woke up on Thursday morning to a spoon drawer close to empty, my studio schedule disrupted once again. This was not a major problem, of course. I rested up, did some work from home, and I'm back in the studio this morning, catching up on the tasks that I'd missed. My work plans are often affected by these kinds of things, so small and common that they're rarely mentioned....

Carl Larsson

 But today I decided to talk about it. Shining a light on the difficulties of the art-making process can be as important as noting the things that inspire us or help us progress --  including the particular challenges faced by artists with disabilities or medical conditions.

Most healthy people can understand, and empathize with, the disruptive nature of a large medical crisis; but the daily effects of life's random ups and downs on those of us with limits of strength are perhaps less obvious. These small things -- trivial and constant -- chip away at our work time, our output, our income, and sometimes even our self-esteem, as we watch healthier colleagues speed ahead of us, unencumbered by the weight that we carry.

The saving grace comes each and every time that a friend or colleague stops, looks back,  sees us struggling on, and extends a helping hand. That happens often too. The trials of illness are many; but so are the blessings, which shine bright as the moon.

 by Carl Larsson

The second reason I have chosen to write about this is to express my solidarity with all of the writers, painters, and other artists out there coping with various medical conditions: determined to keep working, keep creating, keep contributing to the social good, but not always able to control exactly how and when. Viewed from the outside, our work pace can seem slow, or flakey, or lazy compared to the pace and output of those with reliable strength -- yet as a group, we tend to be more self-disciplined and hard-working, not less; for when energy is limited, you quickly learn to make good and efficient use of whatever work time the body allows.

This wasn't the post I was planning for today. This isn't the week I was planning to have. But this too is part of the artists' life. This too is part of the discussion.

Carl Larsson

Art above: Four paintings by Carl Larsson (1853-1919). Related posts: On blogging (and spoons), Every illness is narrative, and The beauty of brokenness.


Animal Medicine

The Tale of Original Kindness by Caroline Douglas

Come into Animal Presence
by Denise Levertov

Come into animal presence.
No man is so guileless as
the serpent. The lonely white
rabbit on the roof is a star
twitching its ears at the rain.

Lady of the Lake by Caroline Douglas

The llama intricately
folding its hind legs to be seated
not disdains but mildly
disregards human approval.

Embroidered Life, Hero, and Holy Roller Dog by Caroline Douglas

Sculpture by Caroline Douglas

What joy when the insouciant
armadillo glances at us and doesn't
quicken his trotting
across the track into the palm brush.

Two clay sculptures by Caroline Douglas

What is this joy? That no animal
falters, but knows what it must do?

Checkerboard House by Caroline Douglas

Two clay sculptures by Caroline Douglas

That the snake has no blemish,
that the rabbit inspects his strange surroundings
in white star-silence? The llama
rests in dignity, the armadillo
has some intention to pursue in the palm-forest.

Fox sculpture by Caroline Douglas

Fox Chair & Roller by Caroline Douglas

Sculpture by Caroline Douglas

Those who were sacred have remained so,
holiness does not dissolve, it is a presence
of bronze, only the sight that saw it
faltered and turned from it.

Relocating by Caroline Douglas

An old joy returns in holy presence.

Sculpture by Caroline Douglas

The art today is by American ceramicist Caroline Douglas, who received a BFA from the University of North Carolina and has worked in clay for over forty years, inspired by mythology, fairy tales, dreams and the antics of animals and children. Since sustaining a serious injury in 2000, Douglas has been exploring the relationship between healing and creativity in her dual roles as artist and teacher:

"Our imaginations are sacred," she explains. "At the deepest level, they can put us in touch with the collective unconscious that we all share. I create in clay a version of my intentions and dreams. Making something real in physical form makes it real on many levels. In my classes we travel a journey of transformation and exploration through art to find a deeper place, a more fulfilling place -- that place where stillness reigns and time stretches out and magic has its way with us. It is an alchemy of sorts, a turning of lead into gold. "

Please visit the artist's website or Facebook page to see more of her deeply magical work.

1925337_945537035467926_8541521880293740788_nThe poem by Denise Levertov (1923-1997) is from Poems 1960-1967 (New Directions, 1983). All rights to the art and text in this post are reserved by the artist and the author's estate.


Home is Imaginary: depression, imagination, the power of stories

Woodland gate

This week has a dark significance: it is the time of year, statistically, when the most suicides take place; and the majority of those suicides are related to depression.

Depression is on a sharp rise in the West, increasingly afflicting our young people -- and young men in particular. Several conversations with friends this last week have centered on what we -- as writers, as artists, as members of geographic and artistic communities -- can do to support younger generations to grow into lives that are mentally healthy, balanced, grounded in values beyond the marketplace, and connected to the physical, natural world, to the numinous, and to each other.

Art plays a role in this, of course, for the imagery we put out into the world helps to shape it, for good or for ill..and each of us is responsible for our small part in the collective creation.

Through the leaves

"Young human beings need exercises in imagination as they need exercise in all the basic skills of life, bodily and mental: for growth, for health, for compentence, for joy," writes Ursula K. Le Guin. "This need continues as long as the mind is alive.

"When children are taught to learn the central literature of their people, or, in literate cultures, to read and understand it, their imagination is getting a very large part of the exercise it needs.

Leaf and moss

"Nothing else does quite as much for most people, not even the other arts," Le Guin continues. "We are a wordy species. Words are the wings both intellect and imagination fly on. Music, dance, visual arts, crafts of all kinds, all are central to human development and well-being, and no art or skill is ever useless learning; but to train the mind to take off from immediate reality and return to it with new understanding and new strength, nothing quite equals poem and story.

"Through story, every culture defines itself and teaches its children how to be people and members of their people -- Hmong, !Kung, Hopi, Quechua, French, Californian....We are those who arrived at the Fourth World.... We are Joan's nation.... We are sons of the Sun.... We came from the sea.... We are people who live at the center of the world.

Rock hound 1

"A people that doesn't live at the center of the world, as defined and described by its poets and storytellers, is in a bad way. The center of the world is where you live fully, where you know how things are done rightly, done well.

"A child who does not know where the center is -- where home is, what home is -- that child is in a very bad way.

Rock hound 2

"Home isn't Mom and Dad and Sis and Bud. Home isn't where they have to let you in. It's not a place at all. Home is imaginary.

"Home, imagined, comes to be. It is real, realer than any other place, but you can't get to it unless your people show you how to imagine it -- whoever your people are. They may not be your relatives. They may never have spoken your language. They may have been dead for a thousand years. They may be nothing but words printed on paper, ghosts of voices, shadows of minds. But they can guide you home. They are your human community.

Through the leaves again

"All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. Without them, our lives get made up for us by other people....What a child needs, what we all need, is to find some other people who have imagined life along lines that make sense to us and allow us freedom, and listen to them. Not hear passively, but listen.

"Listening is an act of community, which takes space, time, and silence.

"Reading is an act of listening."

Entangled

The passage above comes from Le Guin's 2002 essay "The Operating Instructions," which I recommend reading in full. You'll find it in her excellent new collection Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life & Books, 2000-2016 (Small Beer Press, 2016).

Related reading:

* Danuta Kean's recent article "Library cuts harm young people's mental health services" (The Guardian, January 13, 2017)

* Jane Yolen on the value of fantasy in "Children, reading and Tough Magic" (Myth & Moor, August 26, 2016)

* My own thoughts about early storybooks in "The stories we need" (Myth & Moor, February 25, 2016)

* Jay Griffiths on children and nature: "In the forest, the child. In the child, the forest" (Myth & Moor, June 11, 2015).

On the hillside

Words Are My MatterThe text above is from "The Operating Instructions," a talk given at a meeting of Oregon Literary Arts in 2002, and reprinted in Words Are My Matter (Small Beer Press, 2016). All rights reserved by the author.


The art of vulnerability

The Cloutie Tree in Autumn

Autumn leaves

Although I'm making a good recovery from last year's health crisis, which kept me confined to bed for long stretches of time, recovery is never a steady, straight line. As everyone with a long-term health condition knows, the only predictable thing about managing such an illness is its utter unpredictability. One day you're doing fine, the next you're down again, for one reason or another; or for no discernable reason at all. You can rage about it, or flow with the ups and downs of it as gracefully as you can...and I'm still learning the latter after all these years. I was down for the last four days and now I'm up again. Go figure.

The post below was written in 2011, but it could just as easily been written today, for some things never change -- like illness, and art, and the deep soul-medicine of the Devon woods:

In the fairy wood

To make art and to recover from a long illness are two things that are never an easy mix...and yet, I remind myself, the philosophers and spiritual traditions that I trust the most do not prioritize "ease" in the living of an artist's life. It is often precisely from what is hard that our best work grows, our ideas deepen, and our spirits mature.

Betwixt and between wood and hill

The Irish poet/philosopher John O'Donohue (1956-2008) is a writer I often find myself re-reading during difficult times -- usually while sitting in the woods behind the studio, morning coffee in hand and Tilly close by. My little black familiar sits patiently, ears cocked and nose twitching in the rustling, breathing forest, as I turn the crackling pages and lose myself in O'Donohue's words....

"When you become vulnerable," he says, "any ideal or perfect image of yourself falls away."

That's certainly true during periods of convalescence. Who am I during the long, quiet days when I can't write, or draw, or even think properly? What is left at the core; what is still me when the parts I value most are stripped away?

"Many people are addicted to perfection," he continues, " and in their pursuit of the ideal, they have no patience with vulnerability."

Tilly at our morning coffee place

There's nothing wrong with ideals themselves, he adds.

"Every poet would like to write the ideal poem. Though they never achieve this, sometimes it glimmers through their best work. Ironically, the very beyondness of the idea is often the touch of presence that renders the work luminous. The beauty of the ideal awakens a passion and urgency that brings out the best in the person and calls forth the dream of excellence.

Ivy, moss, and stone

"The beauty of the true ideal," Donohue insists, "is its hospitality towards woundedness, weakness, failure and fall-back. Yet so many people are infected with the virus of perfection. They cannot rest; they allow themselves no ease until they come close to the cleansed domain of perfection. This false notion of perfection does damage and puts their lives under great strain. It is a wonderful day in a life when one is finally able to stand before the long, deep mirror of one's own reflection and view oneself with appreciation, acceptance, and forgiveness. On that day one breaks through the falsity of images and expectations which have blinded one's spirit. One can only learn to see who one is when one learns to view oneself with the most intimate and forgiving compassion."

Writing in the woods

Who am I, then, when I glimpse into that mirror? A writer and artist still, on the days I can work and on the days when I can't. And also just a woman reading and writing in the woods, a dog beside her. Healing. Healing.

Autumn leaves

Beauty by John O'DonohueWords: The passage above is from John O'Donohue's Beauty: The Invisible Embrace (HarperCollins, 2004); the poem in the picture captions is from Otherwise: New & Selected Poems by Jane Kenyon (Greywolf, 1997), who died of leukemia in 1995; all rights reserved. Pictures: The autumn woods, photographed this morning.
Related posts (on banishing perfectionism): "When Every Day is Judgement Day" and Dare to be Foolish"


Coming up on Saturday, August 20th:

Poster art by Jeannie Tomanek

This will be my last event for the Widdershins 2016 exhibition: a talk on folklore and myth in healing traditions, woven with storytelling by my husband Howard Gayton, an actor and dramatist. I haven't given this particular talk before -- it's a new piece spurred by some of the things we've discussed here on Myth & Moor, so it would be lovely to see some of you there, if you're in striking distance of Devon.

Faery drawing by Brian FroudGreen Hill is also sponsoring two film showings that you may be interested in: There's an evening devoted to Labyrinth on August 12th, presented with a talk by Widdershins artist Brian Froud, who designed the film. And there's a matinee showing of Willow the following day. Follow the links for more information. 

Tickets for all of these events can be purchased at Green Hill, through the Green Hill website, or by phoning 01647 440775.

The gorgeous painting above is by Jeanie Tomanek. The faery sketch is by Brian Froud.


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.


Wildflower season

Wildflowers on my desk

Although it's still too cold to feel like spring, the wildflower season has begun. The bluebells are unfurling, and soon our woods will be a Faerieland carpeted in flowers.

Bluebells are especially loved by the faeries, and as such they are dangerous. A child alone in a bluebell wood might be whisked Under the Hill and never seen again, while adults can find themselves lost for days, or years, until the faery spell is broken. Other names the plant is known by: Faery Thimbles, Wood Hyacinths, Harebells (in Scotland, for they grow in fields frequented by hares), and Dead Man's Bells (because the faeries are not kind to those who trample willfully upon them).

Bluebells in the house can be lucky or unlucky, depending on where in British Isles you live. Here in Devon, it's the former: a bouquet of bluebells, picked with gratitude and tended with care, confers the faeries' blessings on the household and "sweetens" spirits sagging after a long winter. Love potions are made of bluebell blossoms, and a bluebell wreath compels the wearer to tell the truth about his or her affections. Despite this association with love, bluebells in Romantic poetry are symbols of loneliness and regret; while in the Victorian's Language of Flowers they represent kindness, humility, and a sense of wonder.

Devon Bluebells

Bluebell Faery by Brian Froud

In Some Kind of Fairy Tale, Graham Joyce captured the uncanny magic of a bluebell wood:

"The bluebells made such a pool that the earth had become like water, and all the trees and the bushes seem to have grown out of the water. And the sky above seemed to have fallen down to the earth floor; and I didn't know if the sky was the earth or the earth was water. I had been turned upside down. I had to hold the rock with my fingernails to stop me falling into the sky of the earth or the water of the sky."

(Graham's faery novel for adult readers is both magical and sinister, and highly recommended.)

Devon bluebell wood

Harebell Faery

Wild violets are often associated with the Greek myth of Persephone, for she was out in the fields gathering the flowers when Hades abducted her into the Underworld; they are flowers of change, transition, transformation, and the cycle of death-and-rebirth. In the Middle Ages, the violet represented love that was new, uncertain, changeable or transitory; yet by Victorian times, in the Language of Flowers the violet was a symbol of constancy. 

Here in Devon, old country folk are wary of bringing violets (and snowdrops) into the house, for this will curse the farmwife's hens and make them unable to lay. Dreaming of violets is lucky, however, as is wearing the flowers pinned to your clothes...but only if the violets are worn outdoors. Take them off at your doorstep and leave them for the faeries, alongside a bowl of fresh milk.

Wild violets 2

Wild violets

Milk for the faeries

Primroses guard against dark witchcraft if you gather their blossoms properly: always thirteen or more in a bunch, and never a single flower. On May Day, small primrose bouquets were hung over farmhouse windows and doors to keep black magic and misfortune out, while allowing white magic to enter freely. Primroses were braided into horses' manes and plaited into balls hung from the necks of cows and sheep as protection from piskie mischief on May Day and Beltane. Hedgewitches made primrose oinment and infusions for "women's troubles" (menstrual cramps) and "melancholy" (depression), while oil of primrose, rubbed on the eyelids, strengthened the ability to see faeries. Primrose wine was a courting gift, proclaiming the giver's constancy -- though by Victorian times, in the Language of Flowers, primroses symbolized the opposite, so a gift of them demonstrated how little you trusted a fickle lover's fine words.

Primrose Faery by Brian Froud

Primroses

"Flowers lure us into the present moment by the miracle of their beauty," writes Judith Berger (in Herbal Rituals, a lovely book about medicine plants through the four seasons).  "Watching and waiting for a particular plant to bloom gives birth to patience within us. We slow our rhythm down in order to fully experience the process of flowering; expectancy and excitement deepen hand in hand with our patience. As we observe, we come to see that the full unfolding of the flower petals is the culmination of an unhurried dance in which the flower senses and responds, moment by moment, to the environmental conditions which surround and penetrate it. These conditions include termperature, moisture, light, and shadow, as well as the more subtle influences of sound vibrations, heartful care, and respect.

"In Buddhist poetry, there is a verse which reads: 'I entrust myself to the earth, the earth entrusts herself to me.' To entrust is to place something in another's hands with the confidence that what has been given will be cared for."

VioletOn this cold wet day, after a long hard winter, I entrust myself to the woodland's flowers. Bluebell, primrose, stitchwort, pink campion: they're all emerging now despite the weather, bursts of color and joy in the rain-soaked hills. They are not waiting for a "perfect" day to bloom, and neither must I await the "perfect" time to write, or paint, or to pick up the reins of daily life once more. Recovery from a long illness is not like stepping through the door into bright sun; there is no clear line between "sick" and "well," only the deep, invisible processes of healing, slowly unfolding day by day. To wait for strength, ease and "perfect" pain-free hours is to wait for life to begin instead of living.

This is life. This is spring. Cold, wet, and grey...but full of wildflowers.

Woodland daffodils & other wildflowers

Dog & wildflowers 2

Dog & wildflowers 2Words: The passages quoted above are from Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce (Doubleday, 2012; winner of the 2013 Robert Holdstock Award), and Herbals Rituals by Judith Berger (St. Martin's Press, 1998).  Pictures: "Bluebell Faery," "Harebell Faery," and "Primrose Faery" by Brian Froud, from Faeries by Brian Froud & Alan Lee (Abrams, 1978). All rights reserved by the authors & artist.


Every illness is narrative

Tilly at the window

One of the strange things about a long-term medical condition is the abruptness with which it can overturn your life. Most of the time it simmers quietly in the background, folded into the rhythm of the days, time-consuming and annoying perhaps, but also familiar, under control. That control is entirely illusory, however, for bodies are complicated things and don't always act in the prescribed ways that medical textbooks say they should. And when they don't, there isn't always a clear and demonstrable reason why. One day you're just like everyone else: doing your work, paying your bills, making plans as though the future is ordered and predictable; and the next day you're flat on your back. Again. Feeling like Charlie Brown the umpteenth time Lucy pulls the damn football away.

Why, you wail, is this happening again? You can blame yourself, you can blame your doctors, you can blame the Man in the Moon if you want to, but the desire to place blame, to find a reason, is a desire to maintain the illusion of control and to make life predictable once more. If I do X, then I'll stay healthy. If I don't do Y, then getting sick is all my fault. But life is not a straight-forward equation; it is random, messy, surprising and confounding.  You can fret, fume, cry, and tie yourself in knots trying to determine where you went wrong. Or you can give yourself over to Mystery, and turn your energy towards healing.

Bedside reading

"In the secular world of modern medicine," writes Kat Duff, "we try desperately to rescue ourselves from the grasp of the Unknowable. Doctors have supplanted the gods, deciding when life begins and ends, working miracles, and taking credit for their successes. This aura of divinity that surrounds the medical profession in our society, and the extraordinary expectations that come with it, is the source of much pain and frustration for doctor and patient alike, especially when cures are not forthcoming....

"The sense of diminishment we often experience in the grasp of the Unknoweable, the face of the uncurable, probably has something to offer us from a spiritual perspective, but in the secular world of [modern] America, it is without meaning and so intolerable. That is why the first commandment in illness is to get well. Sick people are under tremendous pressure, from themselves and from others, to overcome their ailments, and return to life as usual in our fast-paced, production-oriented world."

Wild Comfort by Kathleen Dean Moore

Books in bed

Books and notebooks

The pressure to get well.

We all know that pressure -- and, as Duff makes clear, it comes from within us just as much as it comes from the expectations and norms of modern society. It's hard to reconcile the slow, gentle rhythms that deep healing processes demand with the pace of life going on all around us: our families, friends, and colleagues whizzing by us in the fast lane, a blur of motion. Yet there is much to be learned from the fallow time and enforced solitude of illness; from those hazy, sweat-soaked, fever-dream days when the mind, like the body, is cut off from its usual pathways and preoccupations. Illness strips us of the things we believe to be central to our identity: our daily tasks, our creative work, our usual roles in family and community. What's left is the naked, vulnerable Self who lies buried beneath these things: the person we are, not the social construct we build, and that person is worth knowing.

Books in bed

In the aftermath of her cancer surgery, Rebecca Solnit observed:

"There is a serenity in illness that takes away all the need to do and makes just being enough. In that state I've only been in before with severe flu, there is no boredom, no restlessness, no thinking about what should be done or has been done. You are elsewhere than consciousness, than everyday life, than the usual bodily awareness and social engagement. We call it doing nothing or resting: the conscious mind does little but the body works furiously, under cover of stillness, to rebuild, rewire, recharge."

A major illness or injury, she continues, "is a rupture that invites you to rethink, to restart, to review what matters. It's a reminder that your time is finite and not to be wasted, and in breaking you from the past it offers the possibility of starting fresh. An illness is many kinds of rupture from which you have to stitch back a storyline of where you're heading and what it means. Every illness is narrative. There are the epics in which you ultimately triumph over what afflicts you and return for awhile to your illusory autonomy, and the tragedies, in which the illness will ultimately triumph over you and take you away into the unknown that is death, and the two are often impossible to tell apart until they resolve.

"Then there are the enigmatic illness whose prognosis is uncertain, in which well-being comes and goes unpredictably, with the difficulty of a story without a plot, or an unfathomable one. Doctors are forever being implored and pressured to read the future from the medical evidence to the present, to confirm the story, but early on they learn that rules are rubbery: the near-thriving suddenly collapse, the person at death's door travels all the way back to rejoin the living, and the time line of death and likelihood of recovery remain unforeseeable."

The ups and downs of such illnesses, in other words, remain a Mystery.

Flowers in the window

The Joy of Snow by Elizabeth Goudge

Although I spent the last month confined to bed, watching the world through window glass, I was simultaneously making a long journey: from the land of the well to the sick and back again. It's a journey we all make sooner or later, for as Susan Sontag famously said: "Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place."

Books, like the faithful Hound beside me, have been my boon companions on the journey: volumes grown thick with scraps of paper and margin notes pencilled in a shaky hand, marking passages I'll return to here on Myth & Moor in the days and weeks ahead.

Right now, however, I'm still in that liminal space between one world and another: between bed and studio, sickness and health, winter's end and the approach of spring. I haven't fully transitioned back to normal daily life and I know (from having made this passage all too often) that the transitory process should not be rushed. Released back into the world, everything is strange, fresh, and remarkable, undulled by familiarity. The sunlight shimmers, the woodland cries its welcome, the hillside hums with a numinous enchantment. And what better state can there be for a fantasy writer to work in?

Even illness has its gifts.

Primroses, and Kissed by Fox by Phyllis Stuckey

The HoundThe passage above by Kat Duff is from The Alchemy of Illness (Bell Tower, 1993), the passage by Rebecca Solnit is from The Far Away Nearby (Viking & Granta, 2013), and the Susan Sontag quote is from Illness As Metaphor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1978). All three are highly recommended. The poem in the picture captions is from New Ohio Review (No. 9, Spring, 2011). All rights reserved by the authors. Photographs:  Some of the books I've been reading (or re-reading) in the weeks of crisis and return; plus the faithful Hound and bedside flowers. The beautiful quilt was made by Karen Meisner. Some related posts: Stories are Medicine, the four "On Illness" posts beginning with In a Dark Wood, and Books, the Beast, & Me.


Myth & Moor update

Helen Stratton

 

Gentle Readers, I'm out of the studio again due to health issues. I'll be back to Myth & Moor just as soon as I can be. Thanks for your patience.

If anyone else here is coping with an illness, here are two good essays on the subject that I stumbled upon recently: "On the Harmed Body: A Tribute to Hillary Gravendyk" by Diana Arterian (The LA Review of Books) and "Tiny Little Messes" by Simone Gorrindo (Vela Magazine).

And if you need some cheering up, try "Dogs I Would Like to Own in Art, Even Though They Are Probably Dead Now" by the divine Mallory Ortberg at The Toast. It certainly made me smile. (There's a sequel too.)