Letting judgment fall where it may

The Angel of Story,Terri Windling

From "Blood and Guts," an autobiographical essay by novelist Erica Jong:

"When I look back on the years since I left college, and I try to sum up what I have learned, it is not to fear change, not to expect my life to be immutable. All the good things that have happened to me in the last several years have come, without exception, from a willingness to change, to risk the unknown, to do the very things I feared the most. Every poem, every page of fiction I have written , has been written with anxiety, occasionally  sketch, Terri Windlingpanic, always uncertainty about its reception. Every decision I have made -- from changing jobs, to changing partners, to changing homes -- has been taken with trepidation. I have not ceased being fearful, but I have ceased to let fear control me. I have accepted fear as a part of life, specifically the fear of change, the fear of the unknown, and I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: turn back, turn back, you'll die if you venture too far....In the past several years I have learned, in short, to trust myself. Not to eradicate fear but to go on in spite of fear. Not to become insensitive to distinguished critics but to follow my own writer's instinct. My job is not to paralyze myself by anticipating judgment but to do the best that I can and let judgment fall where it may. The difference between the woman who is writing this essay and the college girl sitting in her creative writing class in 1961 is mostly a matter of nerve and daring -- the nerve to trust my own instincts and the daring to be a fool. No one ever found wisdom without being a fool. Writers, alas, have to be fools in public, while the rest of the human race can cover its tracks*. But it is also painfully true that no one avoids being a fool without avoiding growth."

sketch, Terri Windling

From "Freedom from Fear" by Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi:

"Fearlessness may be a gift, but perhaps the more precious thing is the courage acquired through endeavor, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one's actions, courage that could be described as 'grace under pressure.' ''

sketch, Terri Windling* Jong's essay comes from The Writer on Her Work, edited by Janet Sternburg (1992). It should be noted that her comment about writers being fools in public (while other people are better able to cover their tracks) was written before the rise of social media, of course. Now we can all be fools in public. Suu Kyi's great essay can be found in Freedom from Fear and Other Writings (1991), and has been widely reprinted. My painting above is "The Angel of Story," and the "little people" are from my sketchbooks.


An altar to the Tenth Muse

A detail from ''The Angel of Childhood'' by Terri Windling

In her essay "Nine Beginnings," Margaret Atwood discusses why so many talented young people lose interest in writing as they grow up. The essay was published in a book about women authors and she focuses on issues common among girls, but I'm sure there are boys and men out there who will relate to this as well:

"There's a lack of self-confidence that gets instilled very early in many young girls, before writing is ever seen as a possibility. You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer, an almost physical nerve, the kind you need to walk a log across a river. The horse throws you and you get back on the horse. I learned to swim by being dropped in the water. You need to know you can sink, and survive it. Girls should be allowed to play in the mud. They should be released from the obligations of perfection. Some of your writing, at least, should be as evanescent as play.

"A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The waste basket has evolved for a reason. Think of it as the altar of the Muse of Oblivion, to whom you sacrifice your botched first drafts, the tokens of your human imperfection. She is the tenth muse, the one without whom none of the others can function. The gift she offers you is the freedom of the second chance. Or as many chances as you'll take."

Sketchbook page, Terri WindlingArt above: A detail from my painting "The Angel of Childhood" (which now hangs in a Family Room of the New York court system, watching over children who are waiting to testify in court), and some "little people" on a sketchbook page. Atwood's essay was published in The Writer on Her Work, edited by Janet Sternburg (Virago Press, 1992)


New Year's Day

New Year's Day

I've been thinking of Neil's wise words today, for among the things I'd like to leave behind as I cross the threshold from the old year to the new are self-judgement and perfectionism of the sort that lead to procrastination and risk-aversion ... and which are, of course, the enemies of art, originality, authenticity, and joy.

The Lion in Love by Charles RobinsonAs for my wish for all of you in 2015, please forgive me if I repeat the words I wrote here exactly one year ago, for this wish hasn't changed, and perhaps never shall:

"May the year ahead be magical, transformational, and wildly creative, but also calm and thoughtful, harmonious and balanced. May your pathway lie clear, your desk clean and ready, with the tools that you need always right near at hand. May your body and mind and spirit be strong for the things that you know in your heart must do -- and may this be the year that you finally do them. May your work go well, and your rest time too. May problems be fewer and friends be many. May old hurt soften and old grief lighten. May life, art, and love never fail to surprise you."


Illustration by John Dickson Batten

The fairy tale illustrations above are by Charles Robinson (1870-1937) and  John Dickson Batten (1853-1917).


Bunnies, bones, & birthdays

They'd been very naughty and peeked inside the presents, but they promised not to do it again

Bunny Family Portrait

I'm taking a day's retreat as a birthday present to myself, and I'll be back online tomorrow.  I wrote a long post reflecting on mid-life birthdays last year (prompting some lovely discussion on aging) -- so today, by contrast, I'm going to keep it short and give you some bunnies and hares instead....

Bunny Sisters

“It is a mistake to regard age as a downhill grade toward dissolution. The reverse is true. As one grows older, one climbs with surprising strides.” ― George Sand

Indeed.

European Hare

Rabbit Warrior from the Pontifical of Guillaume Durand, Avignon, before 1390

''Baby Bunting'' illustration, artist unknown

The Hound and I send our best birthday wishes to any of you who are also winter babies.

Birthday boneImages above: a few of my wee bunny girls - "Bunny Gifts," "Bunny Family Portrait" and "Bunny Sisters"; a European hare (photograph from the BBC site); a Rabbit Warrior from the Pontifical of Guillaume Durand, Avignon (drawn sometime before 1390); and a vintage "Baby Bunting" illustration, artist unknown -- sent to me by my good friend Midori Snyder, who is well aware of my bunny fixation! (I blame Beatrix Potter.) Also, Tilly with a birthday bone.


From the archives: When Women Were Birds

Birdie copyright T Windling

This was first posted back in 2012, but seems relevant to the conversation this week....

I've recently read Terry Tempest Williams' new book, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice, and I'm completely under its spell. It's a beautiful meditation on land, love, family, faith, activism, and art...all rooted in the red rock of southern Utah; a book that I already know I'll return to often in the years ahead.

When Women Were BirdsWhen it ended, I found myself so unwilling to part with William's clear, honest voice in my ear that I pulled out a stack of her previous books: Refuge, Red, Leap, etc.. They are wonderful to re-read all at once, in the sequence of publication, which allows one to follow the evolution of her work, politics, and spiritual beliefs. And although I first read these volumes when I, too, lived in the American South-west, returning to her books from the green hills of Devon underscores how universal our need is for connection to the wild.

Today's quote is from When Women Were Birds -- excerpted from a passage in which Williams reflects on the powerful art installation pictured below, in which the birds are made out of X-ray film from hospital MRIs. The author comes from a family that has lost many of its women to cancer (almost certainly due to radiation from bomb testing in the Utah desert), and had been diagnosed with cancer herself at the time that she wrote these words:

"Now, in a shift of light, the shadows of birds are more pronounced on the gallery's white wall. The shadow of each bird is speaking to me. Each shadow doubles the velocity, ferocity of forms. The shadow, my shadow now merges with theirs. Descension. Ascension. The velocity of wings creates the whisper to awaken....

"I want to feel both the beauty and the pain of the age we are living in. I want to survive my life without becoming numb. I want to speak and comprehend words of wounding without having these words become the landscape where I dwell. I want to possess a light touch that can elevate darkness to the realm of stars."

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Swoop by Julia BarelloThe installation art above is "Swoop" by Julia Barello. Please visit the artist's website to see more of her work. The sketch above is one of mine. For a previous "Into the Woods" post on on the folklore of birds, go here.


Fairy Tales by Terri Windling

Some little people looking for a good home, at the Interfictions Online fundraising campaign. (And I should add that the print is nicer than the image appears here. It's on heavy paper and almost looks like an original drawing.) Please support the good folks at the Interstial Arts Foundation if you possibly can.

"'Deeper meaning resides in the fairy tales told to me in my childhood than in the truth that is taught by life.'' - Friedrich Schiller


Notes from the desert, Wednesday:

Javelina

Javelina seem to be the patron animals here at Endicott West this week, as they've been coming around quite regularly -- particularly out at the Bunk House, where I'm sleeping, where they snuffle around both day and night and prowl right through my dreams.

Javelina

During one of the times when Howard was here in Tucson he remarked that javelina, despite their bristly bulk, looked to him like ballet dancers en pointe as they crossed the desert on oddly daintly little feet. This sparked the following little drawing by me, followed by a charming poetic ditty by Howard, from which these words are drawn....

Dancing Javelina

JavelinaSince the local javelina herd has an uncanny knack of appearing only when my camera is not nearby, the photographs above come from the Tucson Weekly site (photographers uncredited).