Tunes for a Monday Morning
Why stories are subversive

The gift blocked up


From The Gifts of Reading, a gorgeous little chapbook by Robert Macfarlane:

"Great art 'offers us images by which to imagine our lives' notes Lewis Hyde in his classic 1983 book, The Gift, 'and once the imagination has been awakened it is procreative: through it we can give more than we were given, say more than we have to say.' This is a beautiful double-proposition: that art enlarges our repetoire for being, and that it further enables a giving onwards of that enriched utterance, that broadened perception.

"I was given a copy of Hyde's The Gift -- and I don't have that copy any longer, because I gave it to someone else, urging them to read it. Gifts give on, says Hyde, this is their logic. They are generous acts that incite generosity. He contrasts two types of 'property': the commodity and the gift. The commodity is the acquired and then hoarded, or resold. But the gift is kept moving, given onwards in a new form. Whereas the commodity circulates according to the market economy (in which relations are largely impersonal and conducted with the aim of profiting the self), the gift circulates according to the gift economy (in which relations are largely personal and conducted with the aim of profiting the other). In the market economy, value accrues to the individual by means of hoarding or 'saving.' In the gift economy, value accrues between individuals by means of giving and receiving.

"This, for Hyde, is why gifts possess 'erotic life,' as property: when we give a gift, it is an erotic act in the sense of eros as meaning 'attraction,' 'union,' a 'mutual involvement.' ... Unlike commodities, gifts -- in Hyde's account and my experience -- possess an exceptional power to transform, to heal and to inspire."

White pony

Lewis Hyde's The Gift was a seminal book for me when I first encountered it as a young writer/editor, forming the way that I think about art: as a passing of gifts through the world, through time, and through the generations. I write, edit, and paint to make a living of course, to put food on the table and keep a roof overhead, but for me the first and most important impulse in the art-making process is, as Pablo Neruda once said, " to give something resiny, earthlike and fragrant in exchange for the gift of human brotherhood" ... to which I would add the gifts of sisterhood, and of a deeply cherished relationship with nature and the more-than-human world.



In a previous post on gift exchange I noted:

"Making art is a form of gift-giving, made wondrous by the way that some of our creations move outward far beyond our ken, gifting recipients we do not know, will never meet, and sometimes could never imagine. And I, in turn, have received great gifts from writers, painters, musicians, dramatists and others who will never know of my existence either, and yet their words, images, or ideas, coming to me at the right time, have literally saved me.

"The paradox inherent in making art, of course, is that it's an act involving both giving and receiving. Like breathing, it requires both, the inhalation and the exhalation. We receive the gift of inspiration (inhale), give it shape and form and pass it on (exhale)."



And yet somehow over the last few months, I seem to have lost the knack of breathing: the natural and mostly-unconscious cycle of in and out that sustains my life. I was working...writing...but the work didn't flow. My regular morning posts for Myth & Moor slowed down to a trickle, then stopped altogether. My inbox filled with unanswered mail as my ability to communicate -- the very thing I've built my life and career upon -- seemed to vanish altogether. I can point to particular reasons why: Exhaustion. Medical problems, both time-consuming and worrying. Too many demands upon my time and attention, and too few spoons to distribute among them. The weariness of spirit caused by the constant assault of the daily news since the Brexit vote and the American election. It was all of those things and none of those things. I hadn't gone to ground intentionally; I kept trying to speak, and found myself dumb -- which is not a comfortable situation for a professional writer, a creature with language at her core. As novelist/memoirist/poet May Sarton once wrote:

"The gift turned inward, unable to be given, becomes a heavy burden, even sometimes a kind of poison. It is as though the flow of life were backed up."

Cow on the hill

What has changed, then, since the silent summer months, allowing me to return to work and resume this blog?

This, too, is mysterious. Perhaps it's simply the turn of the season: the air growing crisp, the leaves turning gold, the reminder that nothing in nature stands entirely still. Perhaps it's just the need to breathe out after holding my breath for too long. Perhaps it was a visit by two old friend, writers themselves, pulling me back to the literary world. Perhaps it's the way that the things that serve to frighten us into paralysis -- whether medical issues or other challenges -- eventually grow familiar, become the things you simply cope with, learn to fold into your days because you must...and life goes on...and the birds still sing...and the hound still wants her afternoon walk...and you find yourself speaking, once again, hesitantly at first, and then just a little the yourself...until one day your fluency in your life's language returns.

Cow on the hill

Braising on oak leaves

"The earth offers gift after gift," writes Kathleen Dean Moore, "life and the living of it, light and the return of it, the growing things, the roaring things, fire and nightmares, falling water and the wisdom of friends, forgiveness. My god, the forgiveness, time, and the scouring tides. How does one accept gifts as great as these and hold them in the mind?"

By noticing them. By honoring them. By holding them close when the world goes dark, and passing them on when the light comes back.

Climbing the hill

The door of my studio stands open. Myth & Moor is back on schedule again. Autumn is here. I am moving forward, and I suddenly have so much to say.

Reaching the top

Moore  Hyde  & Macfarlane

Credits: The passages quoted above are from The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane (Penguin Books, 2016); The Gift by Lewis Hyde (Vintage, 1983); and Wild Comfort by Kathleen Dean Moore (Shambhala, 2010). The May Sarton quote is from her novel Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (W.W. Norton, 1975). All rights reserved by the authors. Three related posts: Gift Exchange (and the making of art), Doing It for Love, Knowing the World as a Gift.


It's wonderful to have you back. I hope the autumn treats you (and the rest of us!) kindly.

So glad to receive your gifts again!

You are a gift and so happy to have you back. I believe planets were stirring in the heavens and probably the sensitives felt the burden of it. Yes, things feel lighter now and taking action seems easier. I want to thank you for your words and work. They are received with the greatest of respect. 🦋

So glad to see you here again. Health problems sap energy and
must sometimes be attended to. A lovely autumn to you!

This is so gloriously moving and inspiring. So happy to hear things are looking up for you. Autumn always has a deep impact on me, whether it brings deep thought and melancholy, or energy and ecstasy. usually it falls somewhere in between, because there are so many small pleasures and distractions specific to the season. Work (creative and mundane) seems to take on a shifting patina: both more urgent and more thoughtful. My own blog has lain fallow all summer also, and I feel ready to get back to it...

Thank you for this, for giving us the gifts of your wisdom, inspiration and words. And for these glorious photos!!! The cows! Tilly! The trees and hills and woodlands!

It's good to have you back, Terri. I look forward to hearing you again! xxoo e

so good to see you back and with such a brilliant post, the circle is strong magic is afoot!

These times are very trying - they're hard to tell from depression but in my experience they aren't quite that, perhaps more of a dying down to one's roots - whichever it is, it's good to see you back :) .

Great to have you back, with "much to say." Thank you for this post, like balm for those of us who have been feeling something of the same. Your words seem a way of joining hands and moving forward together, a little hopeful, less dismayed. Blessings and thanks to you.

Thanks so much for this shared breath of fresh air!

summer is always hard for me, both physically and mentally/spiritually; and this one harder than most. autumn, as much as ever the spring, seems the right time for rebirth, stirrings, faring forth again. it is good to hear your voice again.

Thank you so much for returning with these beautiful words. The time, energy and effort is very much appreciated

Thank you for your soul-quenching words. I had only discovered your blog shortly before you took your hiatus. Reading this reminds me why I subscribed.

…. and mercury was in retrograde, and it normally takes 9 weeks to be back on track completely. A natural pauze, to make a mind shift.

Thank you all for your very kind words. It's good to hear from you, and to be in the generous Mythic Arts community once again.

I think so many of us can relate to this, and so thank you for sharing it. One of the very hard lessons I've had in my life is that when I cam unable to give - when the creative flow has stopped, and I'm forced to ground - that perhaps this is a gift to me. It doesn't seem it at the time. But perhaps Story knows that my body needs the poetry of rest and cell-rejuvenation, or my days need simplicity, or my voice needs silence. I find it hard to bear, but can only try to accept it graciously, remembering that there are so many kinds of ways Story can move through me. I'm glad you're on the mend, and I hope you have all you need to keep improving.

Such a beautiful post, so uplifting. Thank you for this gift, Terri.
I feel the magic rising.

A Caesura for Terri

You did not stop,
nor did we,
it was a breath,
a moment in our music,
as important to the sound
as the sound itself.
It was the hesitant step
onto the bridge,
the lift before the leap,
the moment between sleep
and the better dream.
A comma, not a period
between friends.

©2018 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

"A comma, not a period
between friends." Simply beautiful, Jane! The whole and the final line.
Thank you, Mokihana

Wise words, Sarah. Thank you for this insight, so poetically expressed.

Oh, Jane. Thank you, dear friend.

Dear Terri

This post has been of immense comfort, inspiration and familiarity to me. I am so glad to see you back and creatively attuned to your surroundings and inner voice. Losing one's ability (even temporarily)to speak from a writer's heart and mind, is not only frustrating but also invokes a sense of helplessness, a feeling of being anchored to a drought-stricken earth with wings that flap redundantly in the wind. I know because I have been there very recently due to a variety of reasons related to health, family, spiritual or emotional inertia and simply a multiple of starts that could go no further than few words. Your essay and perspective really allowed me to reflect on this season of "the blocked up gift and what I experienced earlier this morning. I have a large window on my stair landing that is guarded by the shade of a dogwood tree. Sunlight filters through the foliage every morning and it's a beautiful infusion of gold with green. This morning, however, I noticed something different, significant, the way sun and leaves combined to form an impression of butterflies in the branches, a gift of metaphor that uplifted me. It reinvigorated my urge to write; and ideas that had been dormant or discarded for failed efforts to launch into flight, were reborn through new phrases and extended themes. For a moment, I perceived monarchs in the dogwood, returning from the deadened world of inspiration, perhaps spiritual guides created out of a changing season and consciousness. Again, thank you for this gift of words and philosophy, you bring much light and creative impetus into our world.

The Poet's Equinox


in its own sac of white noise, my voice
hasn't broken free in weeks, At best, a shadow fluttering
beneath a paper lantern --lit
by the breath of routine. But this morning it's different --

the risen day

more than vestal fire
as light filters through shade
re-shaping soft orange and dark leaves
into winged forms that palpitate
in our dogwood tree. A mirage of monarchs (returning)
with miscarried impulse

and words

that have lingered like unborn souls
in a limbo I can't define. Water keeps falling
in the distance, the street sprinklers
symphonic in size , and I smell the christening

of a new season.
Again, thank you so much for all you do!
Take care

Hi Jane

It was a breath,
a moment in our music,
as important to the sound
as the sound itself.
It was the hesitant step
onto the bridge,
the lift before the leap,

what a beautiful way of describing that pause that leaves us in a state of silence but underscored by a need perhaps for more reflection, rest and recognition of where we have been and where we are heading. Indeed, the breath , itself, is filled with notes of music. Thank you for this poem, it's beautiful and very reassuring!

Take care

Aren't we all taking a deep breath now that Myth & Moor is up and running again--as is dear Terri.

Thanks, Mokihana.


Wendy, I have missed YOUR poems and reflections. Thanks.


Can I offer a prayerful poem in response?

In Limbo

that have lingered like unborn souls
in a limbo..."--Wendy Howe

What is this grey wweb,
spider's weave,
binding my mouth,
leaving me in a Literary Limbo?

a poet should be wet with words,
a waterfall of discourse.
Our fingers should braille
the keys,opening locks.

I look at what I have written,
what you have written,
when we did not stutter.
It seemed so simple once.

Do you see the shoreline,
the undertow of life.
Hold my hand. If we are to drown,
let us drown in words together.
I will not let go.

--for Wendy and her poetry

©2018 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Dear Jane

What a poem, stunningly beautiful and empathetic to those times when we seem tangled in that spider's web of tongue-tied silence, of bewilderment trying to understand why we have become suspended in voice and thought. Your opening
states this perfectly, with such precision --

What is this grey wweb,
spider's weave,
binding my mouth,
leaving me in a Literary Limbo

And yes, the poet ideally

"hould be wet with words,
a waterfall of discourse."

all should flow spontaneously, at random and with a clarity that comes from experience and revelation. But it doesn't always happen that way and we become stilled, caught up in efforts of trying to extricate ourselves from that web of stasis. Yet, as poets and writers we bond, we understand this is part of our craft and our artistic state of being. We come together at the shoreline, at the edge of something past and something about to happen. The beautiful thing is that we mutually can relate to this part of the process. Women artists are sisters who know this and can take comfort in each one us understanding the struggle and supporting each other as we drift, float, sink and rise again in the journey.

Do you see the shoreline,
the undertow of life.
Hold my hand. If we are to drown,
let us drown in words together.
I will not let go.

This poem touches me deeply and as always, it shines with your stellar perception and empathy. Thank you so much for this!

I love it!

As I love yours, especially:


that have lingered like unborn souls
in a limbo

which of course began my own poem,

but the uplift of the last line that--even in the middle of the leashed voice, there is hope of

"the christening

of a new season."

Which we all--especially in this political climate, need.

"Losing one's ability (even temporarily)to speak from a writer's heart and mind, is not only frustrating but also invokes a sense of helplessness, a feeling of being anchored to a drought-stricken earth with wings that flap redundantly in the wind."

That's it exactly.

And your poem captures that moment when you feel everything about to change....

Thank you, dear.

Oh my, Jane. What a lovely "call and response" these two poems make.

I love these words in particular:

"a poet should be wet with words,
a waterfall of discourse.
Our fingers should braille
the keys,opening locks."

Yes, yes, yes.

Which reminds me of Brianna Saussy's Guest Post, "Tenderness, the Breaker of Curses" (Nov 2016):

"To be cursed," she writes, "is to be dried up, devoid of moisture and suppleness, brittle and lacking the essential ingredient of life: fresh, circulating water. The most harmful afflictions of body, mind, spirit, and soul are those that seek to take away, ignore, and otherwise exploit our ability to be tender towards ourselves and towards one another. The remedy for this affliction may take many different forms, but always includes blessing what is tender within you."

Hi Terri

Thank you so much for this wonderful and insightful comment on my poem. I deeply appreciate your input and perspective. I think those moments of stasis and silence , within us as writers, is part of both our human and artistic condition. It really plagues us when it happens but when the moment breaks and new energy is released along with momentum, what a feeling. It is in a way a process of being reborn.

Again, thank you,
my best

So much gratitude to you, Terri, for this truly wonderful post and for coming back to us. I am catching up slowly.

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