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November 2013

What we really want

Water spirit

"Do you know what people really want? Everyone, I mean. Everybody in the world is thinking: I wish there was just one other person I could really talk to, who could really understand me, who'd be kind to me. That's what people really want, if they're telling the truth.''    - Doris Lessing (The Golden Notebook)

Dogs too, Tilly says. Dogs too.

The Fairy Spring

Doris Lessing, 1919-2013

Doris Lessing, 1962

"Writers are often asked, How do you write? With a wordprocessor? an electric typewriter? a quill? longhand? But the essential question is, 'Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write?' Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas -- inspiration.

"If a writer cannot find this space, then poems and stories may be stillborn.

Doris Lessing"When writers talk to each other, what they discuss is always to do with this imaginative space, this other time. 'Have you found it? Are you holding it fast?'

"...We are a jaded lot, we in our threatened world. We are good for irony and even cynicism. Some words and ideas we hardly use, so worn out have they become. But we may want to restore some words that have lost their potency.

"We have a treasure-house of literature, going back to the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans. It is all there, this wealth of literature, to be discovered again and again by whoever is lucky enough to come upon it. A treasure. Suppose it did not exist. How impoverished, how empty we would be.

"We own a legacy of languages, poems, histories, and it is not one that will ever be exhausted. It is there, always.

"We have a bequest of stories, tales from the old storytellers, some of whose names we know, but some not. The storytellers go back and back, to a clearing in the forest where a great fire burns, and the old shamans dance and sing, for our heritage of stories began in fire, magic, the spirit world. And that is where it is held, today.

Doris Lessing and cat"Ask any modern storyteller and they will say there is always a moment when they are touched with fire, with what we like to call inspiration, and this goes back and back to the beginning of our race, to the great winds that shaped us and our world.

"The storyteller is deep inside every one of us. The story-maker is always with us. Let us suppose our world is ravaged by war, by the horrors that we all of us easily imagine. Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise. But the storyteller will be there, for it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us -for good and for ill. It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative.

"That poor girl trudging through the dust, dreaming of an education for her children, do we think that we are better than she is -- we, stuffed full of food, our cupboards full of clothes, stifling in our superfluities?

"I think it is that girl, and the women who were talking about books and an education when they had not eaten for three days, that may yet define us."

- Doris Lessing (Nobel Prize speech, 2007)

Doris Lessing

I have no words...just deep gratitude for her work, her life, her intelligence, and her fierce, bright, irascible, transformational spirit.

Tunes for a Monday Morning

My apologies for posting late this morning. Our Internet service has gone wonky again, as happens all too often out here in rural Devon. It's a sleepy kind of morning, grey and still, so I'm matching nature's mood with a selection of gentle lullabys from around the world. These lovely songs all come from the Howard Assembly Room's Lullaby Project, featuring lullabys old and new.

Above, a Gaelic lullabye and song by Karine Polwart, from Scotland.

Below, "The Apple of His Eye" by Seth Lakeman, from here on Dartmoor.

Above, a traditional Portuguese lullaby peformed by Claudia Aurore.

Below, "Last Night," a traditional Bulgarian lullaby performed by the Perunika Trio.

Above: A Sephardic lullaby performed by Clara Sanabras.

Below: An Arabic lullaby performed by Abdul Salam Kheir.

And last, to bring it all back home to the British Isles:

"The Wormwood Carol" performed by Jackie Oates, with Chris Sarjeant and Belinda O'Hooley.

On the north Devon coast

Looking out to sea

"What will it take to become a society that praises those who care? That honors kindness more than success? That teaches children to love the earth more than accumulate its products? I suspect we will need to listen to different elders -- not the ones who promised wealth but the ones who taught compassion."  - Linda Hogan

Sand and sky

"As a writer, I believe it is our task, our responsibility, to hold the mirror up to social injustice and to create a prayer of beauty."  - Terry Tempest Williams

Salt water journey

"There is a language older by far and deeper than words. It is the language of bodies, of body on body, wind on snow, rain on trees, wave on stone. It is the language of dream, gesture, symbol, memory. We have forgotten this language. We do not even remember that it exists."  - Derrick Jensen (via Jonathan Carroll)

Catch me if you can!

The speech of water,
the speech of earth,
the speech of mud
Are heard by those who listen with the heart.

- Rumi


Back home again....

Rainbow over the commons

My apologies for taking so long to get back to this blog, everyone. Between jet-lag, exhaustion, and the small mountain of mail and work I returned home to, I haven't exactly hit the ground running; I've hit the ground at a snail's pace....

The Singapore Writers Festival was splendid, a thoroughly inspiring experience, and I'll post some pictures from it soon. In the meantime, here are a few favorite quotes from various panels and discussions:

"To be sceptical without being cynical is a virtue that only the best writers have."

     - Ravi Velloor (foreign editor at The Straits Times, Singapore)

"I think all good works of literature give you hope rather than despair, no matter how dark."

     - Ma Jian (whose books are banned in his Chinese homeland)

"In my films [Bluebeard and The Sleeping Beauty] evil is cold, cruel and cold, like the Snow Queen's palace, like the sliver of ice in little Kay's eye. Goodness and bravery are warm and passionate. Passion is life." 

     - French filmmaker and author Catherine Breillat

Tilly and the rainbow

"Paper is the strongest material in the world; paper can handle what I can't."

     - Nadeem Aslam (on the "Culture of Violence" panel)

"As a writer, my homeland is the desk where I work."

     - Nadeem Aslam, on being asked whether he writes from a Pakistani or English identity (on the "Crossing Cultures, Crossing Wires" panel)

A little girl who is glad I'm home.

Interviewed for a film project at the Festival, I was asked where I consider home to be...and as an American writer now embedded in family and village life in rural England, the question gave me pause. In childhood, "home" was a transient thing...while today, as a practitioner of mythic arts, "home" is deeply rooted in the land beneath my feet. But the answer I gave came straight from the gut: "Home is where my loved ones are."

The journey was lovely. And it's good to be home.