Thoughts upon a mid-fifties birthday....

Arthur Rackham

When is one officially "old," I wonder? To me, being "old" seems to come and go, present one day and not the next. There were times as a child when I felt as old as the hills -- and there are times now when I feel like the downiest of fledgling chicks, still flapping my wings, and still just beginning.

Brian FroudOf the two photographs below, the first was taken when I was in Second Grade, in Manville, New Jersey; the second was snapped by my husband in our Devon garden this autumn. The Atlantic ocean, and nearly a half-century of time, stretches between the two. What surprises me is not how much I've changed during those years, but all the ways that I haven't.

"The great secret that all old people share," wrote Doris Lessing, "is that you really don't change in seventy or eighty years. Your body changes, but you don’t change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion."

An old neighbor of mine, sharp and vigorous well into her nineties, would have disagreed with this, however. She felt that changing as you age is exactly the point. "The thing about growing older, dear," she once told me, "is that you don't ever stop being the age you were, you just add each new age to it. So I never envy the young, because I'm still twenty years old myself, and thirty, and forty, and so on. By the time you're my age, you have so many selves to be, and draw upon, and enjoy, that I can only feel compassion for young people, who still have so very few."

Time

Sometimes I'm actually glad that health traumas caused me to doubt, at times, if I'd live to grow old -- for aging to me is precious and magical, and I'm grateful for it. Thus I love these words from rock-and-roller Pat Benatar's memoir (Between a Heart and a Rock Place):

"I've enjoyed every age I've been," she says, "and each has had its own individual merit. Every laugh line, every scar, is a badge I wear to show I've been present, the inner rings of my personal tree trunk that I display proudly for all to see. Nowadays, I don't want a 'perfect' face and body; I want to wear the life I've lived.” 

Fidelma MasseyTime writes across the body in a language that we must all come to know as we grow and age: the language of experience, loss, revelation, endurance, and mortality. Today, I'm simply thankful for the roads, dark and bright, that brought me to the miraculous present; as well as for the unknown roads, dark and bright, that still lie ahead of me. I'm another year older. I'm travelling a little slower. I carry multitudes inside. But I'm here, well-ringed like the oak trees of Nattadon Hill. And I am only just beginning.

Tilly and the Oak

Fairy Godmother by Brian FroudThe paintings above are by Arthur Rackham and Brian Froud. The sculpture is by Fidelma Massey.


On friendship

Friendship

"Friendship has never seemed both more important and less relevant than it does now," writes in a beautiful essay on friendship for the Paris Review. "The concept surfaces primarily when we worry over whether our networked lives impair the quality of our connections, our community. On a nontheoretical level, adult friendship is its own puzzle. The friendships we have as adults are the intentional kind, if only because time is short. During this period, I began to consider the subject. What is essential in friendship? Why do we tolerate difference and distance? What is the appropriate amount to give?"

She then goes on to explore the friendship between writers Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, and the sculptor Wharton Esherick. You can read the full essay here.

Considering how important friendships have been in my own life and in the lives around me, I find it baffling that the joys, sorrows, and complexities of friendship (and for me personally, women's friendships) have not been a central theme in literary and other arts. Yes, the ocassional book or film (and, rarer still, painting or song)...but the numbers are small compared to works dedicated to romance, family dynamics, and personal journeys in which friendships are fleeting or relegated to second tier roles.

Friendship, 2006Yet for many of us, our friends are family; and often, in the early years of adulthood, it's friendship that lasts while romances come and go. Meeting someone with the potential to become a close friend can feel almost as giddy as falling in love; and certainly the end of a friendship can be just as painful as divorce. Sometimes worse.

I'd like your help today in recommending works of art (in all fields) on the subject of friendship. For example, my favorite novel to date on the subject of friendship is Elizabeth Wein's brilliant Code Name Verity, a gorgeously written and harrowing story about the friendship between two young female pilots in World War II. To me, this book captures the absolutely intensity of the bond between best friends. My favorite memoir on the the subject is Testament of Friendship by Vera Brittain (author of the better-known World War I era memoir Testament of Youth). This beautiful book is about Brittain's deep relationship with fellow writer, feminist, and politcal activist Winifred Holtby. (Close runners-up would be A World of Light by May Sarton, a fascinating book in which the author looks at the friendships that formed her world from her mid-twenties to her mid-forties; and Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett, about her complicated, rather difficult friendship with fellow writer Lucy Grealy.) My favorite biographical work about friendship is The Red Rose Girls by Alice Carter, about the artists Jessie Willcox Smith, Elizabeth Shippen Green and Violet Oakley.

And you? What do you recommend on the theme of "friendship," in any form of art?

Ellen Kushner, Terri Windling, and TillyGood friendships aging like good wine: The photographs above, from top to bottom, are of me and my dear friend Ellen Kushner back in the 1980s (photographed by Beth Gwinn); Ellen and me again in 2006 (photographed by Nina Kiriki Hoffman); and the two of us here in Chagford, where she's been visiting this week along with another beloved old friend, Delia Sherman (Ellen's wife), and my new friend Kathleen Jennings. (The third photo was taken by Delia.)


The things that save us

The trees of New York

"Sometimes it is the smallest thing that saves us: the weather growing cold, a child's smile, and a cup of excellent coffee."  - Jonathan Carroll

It's been a difficult week, in terms of dealing with the Life Stuff that has brought me to New York -- but any week that ends, as this one has, with Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Catherynne Valente, Theodora Goss, Lev Grossman, Kat Howard, and C.S.E. Cooney sitting in the the livingroom at Ellen & Delia's flat (where I'm staying) talking about books and the art of writing can by no means be considered entirely bad. It's good to be back in the publishing community again, even under these less than ideal circumstances.

It would be all too easy to focus only on what's difficult right now, ignoring the gifts that the city throws up daily: friends and colleagues, good American coffee, the particular frisson of walking down streets that echo with years of one's personal history. I miss my home and the woods of Devon with an ache as physical as heartburn...and yet there is also value in rediscovering the person that I used to be, back in the days when this was home and these were the trees I walked among. I didn't want to make this journey. But I'm here... and I am thankful for these gifts. These friends. And the damn good coffee.

Sometimes it is, indeed, the smallest things that save us.

Kaffekopp


Tune for a Monday Morning

Today's tune  is "Love is Making its Way Back Home" by Josh Ritter; the wonderful video is a stop-motion animation (made with over 12,000 pieces of construction paper) by Erez Horovitz, Sam Cohen, and Sarah Graves of Prominent Figures.

I'm actually writing this post on Sunday (it's scheduled for automatic posting tomorrow), because by Monday morning I'll be in London, en route to the airport, then New York City. I love New York, where I lived in my twenties as a young book editor, and where I still have many good friends and colleagues, so I'd normally relish a trip back to Manhattan -- but this particular journey is a daunting one, necessitated by the difficult Life Stuff that my family and I have lately been dealing with. Howard, meanwhile, remains in Devon, looking after the pup and the homefront.

I don't know how long I will be in New York, and I don't know what this blog will be like in the days ahead. The blog, like my creative work, is deeply rooted in my wanderings through the leaves and brambles with Tilly and the rhythms of my quiet rural studio...but now my Country Self must be set aside while an older, sharper part of me, the Urban Self, comes to the fore. The road ahead leads into Uncertainty...which is another name for Mystery, and therefore (I remind myself) not always a terrible thing. I'm uncertain of what the coming weeks will bring; I'm uncertain of how my work will progress or of how this blog will function. I'm uncertain of many things, except for the need to be strong and go forward.

Maya Angelou once wrote: “Because of the routines we follow, we often forget that life is an ongoing adventure....Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art: to bring all our energies to each encounter, to remain flexible enough to notice and admit when what we expected to happen did not happen. We need to remember that we are created creative, and can invent new scenarios as frequently as they are needed.”

Morning on the hill

And so here is this morning's prayer, offered to the rising sun from the crest of our hill, sweet Tilly perched on the rocks beside me:

May I see every journey, no matter how daunting, as a mythic adventure, a quest, a story unfolding, a fairy tale in which even the smallest of heroes finds her way through danger and the dark of the forest...and faces down dragons...and wins love or treasure...and then goes safely home once again.

Tilly, February 2012

Dulac

Today's tune goes out to Howard.


At the gate

Gentle Readers,

We're entering a particularly difficult stretch of the Life Stuff that is affecting me and my family, so my on-line time is going to be quite limited in the weeks ahead. This blog will keep going, for--in a quiet moment--I prepared a number of posts in advance (like the one posted earlier today)...and I'll still pop in to read the comments in response, but I may not have time to respond to comments while we're in the midst of the storm. Be assured that I appreciate them all the same.

I look forward to the day when the storms are behind us, and I can return to this blog (and writing! and art!) properly again...


On learning to bounce

Tilly beside the fairy spring, winter 2012

"Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you bounce. "  - Vivian Komori

We've had a setback regarding the Big Life Stuff we've been dealing with, so I'm afraid my blog posts will be sporadic (rather than daily) for a bit, while we digest the news and figure out the best way to go forward. I truly appreciate all the support and prayers we've been sent from so many directions.

I also appreciate all the fabulous responses to yesterday's post ("On motivation")...and look forward to continuing that conversation.

The animal guide beside the path

The Magick4Terri auction site has officially closed now, with a very beautiful final post by auction organizers Mia Nutick and Liz Loveday -- featuring another lovely video by David Shane Odom, with music by the Bone Poets Orchestra.

My heart is full to the brim with the magick all these folks have created, along with the auction's creator & fairy godmother Ellen Kushner, and contributions by so many of you in the international Mythic Arts community. My family and I still have a difficult path ahead despite the enormous pile of  "Tilly bones" collected -- but those bones are giving us the resources to travel the pathway to its end, with expert guidance along the way; and for that we are so very grateful. The power of Community never ceases to amaze me.

Tilly's very big boneTilly and her Very Big Bone


Bones for Tilly

Thank you for the bones

My dear friend Ellen Kushner has asked me to remind everyone that the Magick4Terri auction (*blush*) is ending tonight  at 5 pm Pacific Standard Time (which is 1:00 Friday morning here in the UK), so if there are books, works of art, CDs, or other treasures you have your eye on, this is the last chance to bid.

The LightbringerMy family and I have been completely overwhelmed by this astonishing flood of support from friends and colleagues and fellow lovers of fantasy and mythic arts from all over the world. In the midst of a difficult time, I feel awed and blessed to be part of such a caring creative community. In addition to the practical fundraising help (which will allow us to deal with the things we are facing without sinking into debt on top of everything else), the auction has done so much more for us: it has brightened what's been a dark, uncertain time. To turn to myth for a moment (as you know I always do), we've been traveling through a dark and tangled wood, encountering various trials along the way...and this community has just shown up with a lantern to light the trail back home.

I know (from all the worried email I've been getting) that a lot of people are concerned about us, and would like to know a bit more about what prompted the auction...but I'm afraid all I can do right now is to repeat that there are legal reasons why I can't be more explicit. Perhaps once we find our way out of the woods, I'll be able to talk about it further -- or at least those aspects of the journey that are mine to discuss (without stepping on the privacy of other family members). In the meantime, please don't worry. We've got expert help and advice for the things we're facing; we've got a strong family; we've had an enormous amount of support from all of you; and now we just need to keep traveling forward until we reach the clearing beyond the trees.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone: most especially to Ellen Kushner, Mia Nutick, Liz Loveday, and Deborah Brannon (the amazing, hard-working auction organizers) and their helpers, and to all the incredibly kind donators and bidders...as well as to all the sweet people who've been spreading the word with blog posts and tweets and such. Also to the Faery Godmothers of Chagford, who had the idea of a fundraiser in the first place. I have to say that I never expected anything like this...which has touched my heart, warmed my soul, and created real honest-to-god magic for me and my family.

Plus, Tilly is excited about all the bones -- which she fully expects to be delivered as a great big pile in the studio garden.

Bone 1 copy


Remembering

Pat & baby me

 

Today, it is ten years since my mother died, in eastern Pennyslvania. When she lost her battle with lung cancer, she was not much older than I am now -- for she'd been just a teenager when I came tumbling, unexpected and fatherless, into the world. That she would lose the battle was something we all knew, but it happened a good six months sooner than expected. I'd been making arrangements to travel from England to Pennsylvania to relieve my exhausted half-brother from caretaking duties when I woke bolt upright from sleep one night, knowing, somehow, that she had gone. My brother called 40 minutes later, confirming what I already knew.

Today, it is also ten years (and nine days) since the World Trade Center came down in New York, ash blanketing streets I'd often walked when I lived and worked in the city.

Tomorrow will be ten years from the day that I hurriedly traveled back to the States in time for my mother's funeral. At London's Heathrow Airport, the numb shock I felt at my mother's death was mirrored in every face around me, for most of the world was also in shock as the Twin Towers lay in ruins. The airport was thick with soldiers and fear as international flight schedules slowly resumed. My New-York-bound flight was half empty of course (who in their right mind would want to fly then?), the passengers eerily silent, sitting fearful and white-knuckled all across the Atlantic. A bomb scare diverted the plane to Canada, but I made my way back to New York and then on to Pennsylvania, to a small, private death in a country that had bigger things to think about and to mourn.

Thus today, not September 11th, is the day of remembering for me. Tomorrow I'll go back to books and art, to walking in the woods and loving the land and dealing with some difficult things that are on my plate right now.... But today is for remembering. For forgiveness of the past. For gratitude for the present.

My mother was not an easy woman. Our relationship was not an easy one. But I deeply value the gifts she gave me: a love of beauty, the ability to cope with change, and a capacity for working hard. Today is a day of remembering a quiet young girl named Patricia Ann, who had a baby much, much too young. And did the best she could, in a hard situation. This beautiful poem is for her, with compassion, and with love:

"Flare" by Mary Oliver.

As Oliver says: "A lifetime isn't long enough for the beauty of this world...."


The narrative of marriage

Arthur-rackham-meeting-oberon-titania-img"The Meeting of Oberon and Titania" by Arthur Rackham

I've been re-reading one of my favorite books: Writing a Woman's Life by the late feminist scholar Carolyn G. Heilbrun (1926-2003). Ostensibly a survey of the way the lives of famous women have been portrayed by biographers, this slim volume also casts a sharp eye on the way women's stories are told today...and the manner in which such narratives influence the ways that we tell our own stories.

I first encountered the book twenty years ago, and have re-read it several times since, finding new things to ponder within it at each different stage of my own life's journey. This time, I've been struck anew by the chapter on marriage -- for I'm reading it now as a married woman myself (after spending much of my adult life in a more independent state), and thus have fresh interest in Heilbrun's reflections on marriage and its portrayal in women's stories. She writes:

1st edition "It is noteworthy that few works of fiction make marriage their central concern. As Northrup Frye puts it, with his accustomed clarity: 'The heroine who becomes a bride, and eventually, one assumes, a mother, on the last page of a romance, has accommodated herself to the cyclical movement: by her marriage...she completes the cycle and passes out of the story. We are usually given to understand that a happy and well-adjusted sexual life does not concern us as readers.' Fiction has largely rejected marriage as a subject, except in those instances where it is presented as a history of betrayal -- at worst an Updike hell, at best when Auden speaks of it as a game calling for 'patience, foresight, maneuver, like war, like marriage.'  Marriage is very different than fiction presents it as being. We rarely examine its unromantic aspects."

One of the problems of the "romantic plot" (as it's constantly portrayed in our popular culture: in countless contemporary novels, films, t.v. shows, pop songs, etc., etc.) is that it's a narrative that focuses exclusively and relentlessly on the beginning of a relationship -- and then ends at the point of declaration, or conquest, or the exchange of marriage vows. Thus we're encouraged to think of the heady excitement inherent in a brand new attraction as the whole point of love  -- with no interest left over for the intricate dance of a marriage or long-term partnership: the quieter romance of entwined lives spun out over years, over decades, over a lifetime. We are constantly bombarded with stories (films, songs, etc.) that lay down all-too-familiar scripts for how to behave as lovers in the throes of new passion -- but where are the stories (or films, or love songs)  that tell us anything useful about the mysteries of marriage, the challenging work of true partnership?

And does this matter? Well, I think it does. Not everyone is blessed with the model of a functional marriage in their family background, and thus it's to stories we often turn for a glimpse of how else to construct our lives . . . and what we get from most books and films on the subject of marriage is a resounding silence. We're shown over, and over, and over again that it's courtship that counts, and the social pageant of the Wedding Day -- while marriage is a vague, misty, unexplored state, unworthy of drama or art.  Marriage is the end of the tale.

Another quote from Heilbrun's excellent book: 

Carolyn G Heilbrun"Most of us begin, aided by almost every aspect of our culture, hoping for a perfect marriage. What this means is that we accept sexual attractiveness as a clue to finding our way in the labyrinth of marriage. It almost never is. Oddly enough, the media, which promise marriage as the happy ending, almost simultaneously show it, after several years, to be more ending than happy. But the dream lives on that this time will be different.

"Perhaps the reason the truth is so little told is that it sounds quotidian, bourgeois, even like advocating proportion, that most unappealing of all virtues. But E. M. Forester understood this: when someone suggested that truth is halfway between extremes, his answer (in Howards End) was, "No; truth, being alive, was not halfway between anything. It was only to be found by continuous excursions into either realm, and though proportion is the final secret, to espouse it at the outset is to ensure sterility." Proportion is the final secret, and that is why all good marriages are what Stanley Cavell calls 'remarriages,' and not lust masquerading as passion."

A little later on, Heilbrun explains what she means by the term "remarriage":

"I have spoken of reinventing marriage, of marriages achieving their rebirth in the middle age of the partners. This phenomenon has been called the 'comedy of remarriage' by Stanley Cavell, whose Pursuits of Happiness, a film book, is perhaps the best marriage manual ever published. One must, however, translate his formulation from the language of Hollywood, in which he developed it, into the language of middle age: less glamour, less supple youth, less fantasyland.  Cavellwrites specifically of Hollywood movies of the 1930s and 1940s in which couples -- one partner is often the dazzling Cary Grant -- learn to value each other, to educate themselves in equality, to remarry. Cavell recognizes that the actresses in these movie -- often the dazzling Katherine Hepburn -- are what made them possible. If read not as an account of beautiful people in hilarious situations, but as a deeply philosophical discussion of marriage, his book contains what are almost aphorisms of marital achievement. For example: ....'[The romance of remarriage] poses a structure in which we are permanently in doubt who the hero is, that is, whether it is the male or female who is the active partner, which of them is in quest, who is following whom.'

Cary grant & Katherine Hepburn "Above all, despite the sexual attractiveness of the actors in the movies he discusses, Cavell knows that sexuality is not the ultimate secret in these marriage: 'in God's intention a meet and happy conversation is the chiefest and noblest end of marriage. Here is the reason that these relationships strike us as having the quality of friendship, a further factor in their exhilaration for us.'

"He is wise enough, moreover, to emphasize 'the mystery of marriage by finding that neither law nor sexuality (nor, by implication, progeny) is sufficient to ensure true marriage and suggesting that what provides legitimacy is the mutual willingness for remarriage, for a sort of continuous affirmation. Remarriage, hence marriage, is, whatever else it is, an intellectual undertaking.' "

Oh, how I love the idea that "a meet and happy conversation is the chiefest and noblest end of marriage"!

Some years ago, I read an article about two people in the arts (alas, I can't remember who they were) who'd been married for many, many years. Asked for the secret of their long partnership, they said: "We fell straight into conversation when we met, and we haven't come to the end of that conversation yet."

I can't think of a better model for marriage than that. Or of a narrative more romantic . . . .

Our wedding rings