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June 2011

The Threshold Time

My little black familiar

Anam Cara by John O'Donohue

Following on from yesterday's discussion: Another thing that I love about notebooks is that they're so simple and so portable -- compared to lugging a laptop around, with its limited battery life. That's essential  for a writer like me, whose best ideas tend to come at dawn -- and who can often be found at that potent hour  in the woods behind the studio with a cup of coffee, a book, a pen, and a notebook (or two, or three).

Woodland's edge

"The dawn," notes John O'Donohue (in Anam Cara), "is a time of possibility and promise. All the elements of nature: stones, fields, rivers and animals are suddenly there anew in the fresh dawn light. Just as darkness brings rest and release, so the dawn brings awakening and renewal. In our mediocrity and distraction, we forget that we are privileged to live in a wondrous universe. Each day the dawn unveils the mystery of this universe. Dawn is the ultimate surprise: it awakens us to the immense 'thereness' of nature."

Sun rising through the trees

O'Donohue decribes dawn as a "threshold" time, with a touch of magic, even holiness, in the mysterious daily movement from dark to light. He then laments that "the urbanization of modern life has succeeded in exiling us from this fecund kinship with mother earth. We need to remain in rhythm with our inner clay voice and longing. Yet this voice is no longer audible in the modern world."

Morning sky  New York City

He's right that it's harder to hear our "clay voice" in cities...but it's not impossible, for the rhythms of nature, of seasons and moons and tides, move through urban life too.  Dawn was a potent, creative time for me all through my city years, and I had my sunrise-places and morning rituals there as well.

In New York, I favored particular cafes with good strong coffee, quiet music and a view of the sky -- notebooks and manuscripts spread on the table as the streets slowly lightened around me. In Boston, I'd be by the docks of Boston Harbor in my North End neighborhood, sometimes sitting on the rocks of Pilot House Park with cold bay water slapping below my feet, sometimes perched on the concrete rim of the outdoor seal pen at the old Aquarium (coffee in hand, books and notebooks weighting down my knapsack), sharing the first quiet hour of my day with the seals (who came to know me well), just as today I share it with Tilly.

Magic, of course is everywhere, just as nature itself is everywhere; and daybreak is a time of enchantment wherever we are. The threshold time.

North End harbour, Boston

Seal friend

Paper and Ink


In response to the comments on my last post, the photograph above shows the working notebooks I have on the go right now,  eighteen of them in all -- the number, of course, fluctuating with whatever I am working on in any given season. The cheap, tattered notebooks stacked on the desk above are for various editorial projects (anthologies, etc.), and I don't tend to save them when the projects are done. The nicer hardback notebooks (on the shelf in the photo above, and scattered across the table in the photo below) are for various writing and art projects, and those I do save.

Notebooks-on-the-go 2

Computers, I admit, are incredibly useful things -- but to my mind nothing beats paper and ink for jotting down ideas, roughing out a plot, or capturing stray wisps of inspiration. Now, my husband is a write-it-on-a-scrap-of-paper-and-then-lose-it kind of guy. He trusts in memory, and luck. Me, I'm a hoarder of words and stories, and I like them bound and labeled, where I can find them. We lose too much in life as it is: Memories. Places and people we've loved. The selves we once were, or wanted to be. Dazzling ideas that burned brightly for a time and then just faded away: the books never written, the paintings never painted, stories lost in the winds of time.

So yes, I'm a hoarder of words, of notebooks, of sentence fragments salvaged from the restless winds. Muse willing, those stories will reach completion. Muse willing, someday I'll pass them on to you.

So simple. So true.

Writing desk

"Every work of literature has both a situation and a story. The situation is the context or circumstance, sometimes the plot; the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer: the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has to say."   -- Vivian Gornick, The Situation and
the Story

Tune for a Monday Afternoon

Howard just showed me a clip of the awesome Janelle Monáe performing here in the UK at the Glastonbury Festival this past weekend...and since I haven't got the patience to wait until next Monday to share it, here's a second "Monday Tune" for you today:

The previously posted song, Rise Against's "Make it Stop," fit the mood of a grey Devon morning with rain drumming down on the tin of the studio roof. But now the storm has passed, the sun peeks through the clouds, and the afternoon air is sparkling and fresh. So here's a dazzling perfomance to kick the work-week into high gear, with energy and joy....Lordy, don't they look like they're having fun?

Tune for a Monday Morning

And now for something a little different from the folk, roots, and world music I usually post here of a Monday morning: Rise Against's "Make It Stop (September's Children)" (via Patty Templeton). I love this anti-bullying video (particularly the peering-into-the-future end sequences), and wish it had been around when I was a teen. There's an interesting piece about the creation of the song and video here, on the band's website.

On a related subject: Congratulations, New York State, for finally doing the right thing and legalizing gay marriage. One more piece of light in the world....


Recommended Reading:

Tilly in the garden

An over-piled work desk and friends/family coming to dinner this evening means this will be a very quick posting...but here are a few magpie gleanings I bookmarked to share with you this week:

* Nick Green (author of The Cat Kin) discusses magical cats in the Fairy Tale Reflections series at Katherine Langrish's Seven Miles of Steel Thistles.

* Patricia A. McKillip  discusses her book Bards of the Bone Plain at Locus Online. (It's an excerpt from a longer interview, "Fairy Tales Matter," in the print version of Locus.)

* Robin McKinley discusses her fairy tale novel Deerskin at Days in the Life (via Surlalune, where Heidi Anne Heiner posts a response. Readers might also be interested in Helen Pilinovsky's article on Donkeyskin/Deerskin/Allerleirauh fiction, in the JoMA archives.)

* Harriet Evans discusses ebooks and editors in The Guardian.

* The Los Angeles Times discovers steampunk.

* Rex sulks at John Barleycorn.

* The Intern discusses finding beauty in your manuscript, when you've misplaced it, at The Intern.

* Angela Bell follows the Mallorcan trail of George Sand and Chopin at Bright Star.

* NPR (National Public Radio in America) is compiling a list of readers' favorite sf and fantasy books. (Please vote if you can, as it would be nice to have some mythic fiction and literary fantasy on their final list.)

* Ellen Datlow won two Bram Stoker Awards from the Horror Writers' Association this past week: one for her anthology Haunted Legends, co-edited with Nick Mamatas, and one a Life Achievement Award. (Congratulations, Ellen and Nick!) I recommend Ellen's lovely acceptance speech for the latter,  which she has posted on her LJ page.

* Art recommendations this week: Rima Staines displays some gorgeous new paintings and drawings at The Hermitage; Lori Field shows a splendidly dream-like new piece, "My Love for You is a Stampede of Horses," at Saints, Warriors, Tigers, Lovers, Art (I love the deer); while over on the New York Times website, there's a terrific slide show of photographs by Nancy LeVine -- taken from her most recent project: photographing aging dogs across America (via Gwenda Bond). And if you haven't visited Midori Snyder's In the Labyrinth lately, there are several delights in store, from Persian and Nigerian art to djinns and German black papercuts.

* Videos this week: Basil Jones & Adrian Kohler, of Handspring Puppet Company, discuss the creation of their remarkable "War Horse" puppet; and Malcolm Gladwell discusses the 10,000 hour rule (via Debbie Styer at Bluehour Studio).

Have a good weekend.

The lessons you are meant to learn

A random still life on the studio work tableRandom still life on the studio table, with paints, paper, and birdnest

"What you need to know about [your next piece of art] is contained in the last piece. The place to learn about your materials is in the last use of your materials. The place to learn about your execution is in your execution. The best information about what you love is in your last contact with what you love. Put simply, your work is your guide: a complete, comprehensive, limitless reference book on your work. There is no other such book, and it is yours alone. It functions this way for no one else. Your fingerprints are all over your work, and you alone know how they got there. Your work tells you about your working methods, your discipline, your strengths and weaknesses, your habitual gestures, your willingness to embrace.

"The lessons you are meant to learn are in your work. To see them, you need only look at the work clearly -- without judgement, without need or fear, without wishes or hopes. Without emotional expectations. Ask your work what it needs, not what you need. Then set aside your fears and listen, the way a good parent listens to a child."    -- David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

On Your Desk


Today we have workspace photographs from different sides of the world: Christchurch, New Zealand and Oxford, England. First up: Joel Le Blanc in Christchurch, who says:

"I am a freelance writer, poet, book reviewer, editor, herbalist, reiki teacher and unofficial dog-sitter. I live with my partner in a hundred year old cottage -- and I don't think the house is haunted, but you never know.

"The photo above shows the oak desk where I work, which is a storm of chaos -- so much so I think I could divine the future from the configuration of receipts, papers, books and mementos that tend to populate it. I keep textbooks on medicinal plants, natural medicine and nutrition close by for my health articles. But if the science and health all gets a bit much for my brain, all I have to do is turn to my left and stare lovingly at the growing collection of fantasy and mythology books accruing on my bookshelves. As you can see in the close-up photo below, I am working towards a full Charles De Lint Collection...."




"The office I work in doubles as an art studio for my partner, so the room is filled with the delicious smells of oil paint and turps at various times of the month. Amongst all this I write my poetry, stories, blogs and get my freelance work done. Sometimes I sit studiously at the desk, but after a childhood growing up in the empty and wild north of New Zealand it is difficult to stay cooped up in the studio/office all day. Because of this I get out and about as often as possible with a notebook to a library or cafe (one day I dream to be a writer gypsey on the road, like Rima Staines in her wagon!). If it's a rainy day, like today, I will probably just curl up on my sofa with a hot cup of coffee and a blanket and get a bit of my writing done there."

"I wanted to include one photo at least of my dogs -- this one (below) is called Latte. While I am working hard at my laptop he often will curl up on my toes and sleep, hardly ever leaving my side. We have other dogs, but Latte is the one most dedicated to the 'cause'. At some stage I hope to include him as a character in one of my short stories."



"The newest addition to the team is my Samsung smartphone. I remember quite clearly announcing to my partner in our kitchen that I wanted to disconnect from technology more and distance myself from the online universe. Sometime in the week that followed, it appeared clear that I absolutely needed to spend a week's earnings on a new smartphone. I am not sure how I came to that conclusion, but it's been a great ally to my writing ever since, enabling me to go out to parks and cafe's and get my work done there. I often need the Internet to read medical research or talk with clients, and this little guy helps me do just that and get out of the house at the same time."

Joel is the founder and editor of Wildberries, the online journal of mythic fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art. You can learn more about Joel and his work by visiting his writing blog, The Rabbit Hill.

Next, we go to Oxford to visit the workspace of Dr. Juliette Harrisson, who says:

"I'm a writer, freelance editor, Classics and ancient history lecturer and blogger. My desk is where I edit, write lectures, blog, attempt to write novels, research, mark electronically-submitted essays, etc., etc., etc...."


"I rent a single room in a friends' house, so the first photo (above) is of the room where I sleep, eat, work and pretty much do everything!"


"The second photo is a slightly closer view of the desk, during a rare burst of spring cleaning, with my music on."

Desk pic edit

"The third photo shows the view from the desk chair, complete with stuffed animals, coffee, fridge magnets."


"The fourth photo, above, is a close-up on the Latin and Greek books (and chocolates!) that live under the computer."


"I always have a cup of coffee (sometimes tea) on my desk and, as the final photo demonstrates, in the evening it is sometimes joined by a glass of wine!

"On my blog, Pop Classics, I review all sorts of bits and pieces of modern popular culture that feature anything Greek or Roman -- the 'Mythology' tab is quite over-used! Readers of this blog might also be interest in my Mum's website: she's a fine artist who moved into textiles when serious neurological illness made painting incresingly difficult."

Thank you, Joel and Juliette, for contributing to the "On Your Desk" series! There are more desks & workspaces coming up next week, so stay tuned....


All readers of this blog are welcome to contribute to the "On Your Desk" series. You'll find more information (and the address where you should send your photo) in the first post of the series, and you can view the full series here.

Happy Midsummer's Day

Studio doorwaySweeping out the old and opening to the new: The studio doorway on Midsummer's Day.


"Then followed that beautiful season... Summer....
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood."
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



Sneezlewort Rootmuster Rowanberry Boggs the Seventh,
a Dartmoor root faery from A Midsummer Night's Faery Tale.
You can read an interview with young Sneezle himself
on the Greenman Review site here.


Tilly in the studio gardenTilly in the studio garden on a blustery Midsummer's Day.