Spinning straw into gold, pain into art
Myth & Moor update

Wild daffodils in the woods

Wild daffodils

Hound and daffodils

Spring is truly here, at long last. The earliest flowers in our garden have done their work to wake the land from sleep: the primroses and grape hyacinths, the purple aubretia climbing up the stone walls, the columbines that have seeded themselves and will soon run riot on the hillside. The cherry trees are preparing to bloom, with the apple and plum trees to follow. The woods behind the studio are golden with wild daffodils, which in turn will give way to the smaller pleasures of cranesbill, sicklewort, and bluebells.

Picking wild daffodils

The movement of the landscape through its seasons reminds me of the energy and vitality to be found in cycles and circles...and as someone who works in the narrative arts, I find that I need that reminder.

Drawing by Helen StrattonNarrative, in its most standard form, tends to run in linear fashion from beginning to middle to end. A story opens "Once upon a time," then moves -- prompted by a crisis or plot twist -- into the narrative journey: questing, testing, trials and tribulations -- and then onward to climax and resolution, ending "happily ever after" (or not, if the tale is a sad or ambiguous one). In the West, our concepts of "time" and "progress" are largely linear too. We circle through days by the hours of the clock, years by the months of the calendar, yet our lives are pushed on a linear track: infant to child to adult to elder, with death as the final chapter. Progress is measured by linear steps, education by grades that ascend year by year, careers by narratives that run along the same railway line: beginning, middle, and end.

But in fact, narratives are cyclical too if we stand back and look through a broader lens. Clever Hans will marry his princess and they will produce three dark sons or three pale daughters or no child at all until a fairy intervenes, and then those children will have their own stories: marrying frogs and turning into swans and climbing glass hills in iron shoes. No ending is truly an ending, merely a pause before the tale goes on.

Daffodils

As a folklorist and a student of nature, I know the importance of cycles, seasons, and circular motion -- but I've grown up in a culture that loves straight lines, beginnings and ends, befores and afters, and I keep expecting life to act accordingly, even though it so rarely does. Take health, for example. We envision the healing process as a linear one, steadily building from illness to strength and full function; yet for those of us managing Drawing by Helen Strattonlong-term conditions, our various trials don't often lead to the linear "ending-as-resolution" but to the cyclical "ending-as-pause": a time to catch one's breath before the next crisis or plot twist sets the tale back in motion.

Relationships, too, are cyclical. Spousal relationships, family relationships, friendships, work partnerships: they aren't tales of linear progression, they are tales full of cycles, circles, and seasons. The path isn't straight, it loops and bends; the narrative side-tracks and sometimes dead ends. We don't progress in relationships so much as learn, change, and adapt with each season, each twist of the road.

As a writer and a reader, I'm partial to stories with clear beginnings, middles, and ends (not necessarily in that order in the case of fractured narratives) -- but when I'm away from the desk or the printed page (or the cinema or the television screen), I am trying to let go of the habit of measuring my life in a strictly linear way. Healing, learning, and art-making don't follow straight roads but queer twisty paths on which half the time I feel utterly lost...until, like magic, I've arrived somewhere new, some place I could never have imagined.

Guardian hound

I want especially to be rid of the tyranny of Before and After. "After such-and-such is accomplished," we say, "then the choirs will sing and life will be good." When my novel is published. When I get that job. When I find that partner. When I lose ten pounds. No, no, no, no. Because even if we reach our goal, the heavenly choirs don't sing -- or if they do sing, you quickly discover it's all that they do. They don't do your laundry, they don't solve all your problems. You are still you, and life is still life: a complex mixture of the bad and the good. And now, of course, the goal posts have moved. The Land of After is no longer a published book, it's five books, a best-seller, a major motion picture. You don't ever get to the Land of After; it's always changing, always shimmering on the far horizon.

I don't want to live after. I want to live now, moving with, not against, life's cycles and seasons, the twists and the turns, the ups and the downs, appreciating it all.

Hound at the woodland's edge

Today, I walked among spring's first flowers, chose a few to bring back to the studio -- where they sit on my desk in a pickle jar, glowing as bright as the sun and the moon. At my desk, I work in a linear artform, writing words in a line across a ruled page -- and the flowers remind me that cycles and seasons should be part of the narrative too. Circular patterns. Loops and digressions. Tales that turn and meander down paths that, surprise!, are the paths that were meant all along. Stories that reach resolutions and endings, but ends that turn into another beginning. Again. Again. Tell it again.

Once upon a time...

Wild daffodils on my desk

Words: The wondeful poem in the picture captions is from Bitter Angel by Amy Gerstler (North Point Press, 1990); all rights reserved by the author. Pictures: The fairy tale drawings are by Helen Stratton, a British illustrator born in India (1867-1961). Photographs: A coffee break in the woods behind the studio, with hound and daffodils.

Related posts: Storytelling and Wild Time, The Wild Time of the Sickbed, and On Time, Technology, and a Celebration of Slowness.

Comments

The way we experience other people’s lives through social media streams or ‘feeds’ consolidates this linear conveyor-belt like approach to living too. It’s a real shame that people seemingly do not know anymore how to paddle to the side of the ‘stream’ and go for a wander/wonder! A little bit of disruptive chaos can often be a good thing...diverting the flow!

Wonderful post.


A lovely post Terri. Having been buried in the end of life cycle taking place with my mother; we grasp the precious smiles and few words she has for us despite age catching up with her. For some months the wheel turning has been downward and it has been difficult to come out of the darker moments.
But you are so right, the cycle continues as my friends welcome their new chapters to the story and we see the next generations come into being. Life is truly bitter and sweet and the stories never really end, they just take up new threads and follow new paths.

Happy spring! My daffodils are sitting in a mayonnaise jar. :) e

Was thinking deeply on this earlier this morning after another (witchy and wise) friend posted some musings on transition and change and expectations. This has been quite the roller coaster week; thank for this beautiful wisdom and helping me make sense of it all. I appreciate your words so much. I also love hearing descriptions of your woodlands during the changing seasons and love seeing Tilly enjoying herself!

I think I spent the first half of my working life always expecting there to be a blinding flash of light when a new book was published and with it a completely changed (better) life. After far too many of those expectations only brought dissapointment not change, I realized that instead, each new project is an opportunity to learn something more about being your true self, slowly walking your creative soul along the twisting path through the great wood of life. Now, I mostly just enjoy the process of creating something new and try to ignore the expectation of blinding revelation. "Step by step and row by row, that's how we make our garden grow."

I so loved reading this...I love the natural cycles we see all around--in the seasons, months, days; in seed, seedling, plant, flower, fruit, death, compost, rebirth. And like you, I experience it in my own life as well...

Thank you for such a lovely exploration of this particular riddle of being human. We are part of the cycle, but too often we can only focus on the linear aspects of our lives. I wish I had a nickel for every time I caught myself thinking, "If I can just get through X-Y-Z...." only to discover that there was no parade or choir singing, just more of something to "get through." I have spent a lot of time pondering our dependence on language, how it is both a boon and a limiting filter. Thank you for demonstrating how the cyclical and linear can be part of the same story.

Lateish on the evening of a bright blue blustery Manhattan day that blew all the mean away. NOW, though virtual, I'm super delighted by this gift of time in your woods and thank you for it.

I often find that in watching the seasons shift, the cycles ( themselves) for thaw, blossoms, and hibernation stray from their normal path or process. The upset of schedule and expectation only makes the high desert more spellbinding. It conjures new realizations along with feelings and impulses. It creates an unfamiliar story that suddenly becomes familiar. It makes one pause and remember their sense of wildness, the need to return to something natural and fierce, a latent tenacity that grips the unknown and defies the comfort of routine , of knowing an end result.


Breathtaken, By The Unusual

The dogwood blossoms are late this year. A long month
sulking in frost;

but those on the Joshua trees
ornament the field with white finials. Art
emphasizing an odd but ancient species -- whose leaves
were once sacrificed for rope and baskets. Who now become
humbly beautiful as they hoist
their limbs to grasp -- something echoed in the wind and sky;

a song, a scent, an instinct. The random shift
of rocks in the canyon or stars in the desert night. And behind
the perennial vines on my garden wall, a bird's shadow
keeps flapping its wings -- as if it were a soul, a woman's soul
struggling to slip loose

from this knot of landscaped grace. Her real body ( out there)
hidden in the maze of misshapen branches, waiting to feed
off the seeds of their flowers, and fly.
___________________________________

Hi Teri

I was mesmerized by your beautiful and introspective ideas in this post. I love how you approach the significance of cycles and patterns, how they relate to our lives beyond the normal and the linear path we are trained to follow, accept. The pictures are gorgeous and the poem, "In Perpetual Spring, truly sublime. I know the feeling of being in a garden like that one. Soooo
glad you are back and feeling better.

Thank you for this,
take care
Wendy

sorry this poem seems scattered, but with the margins, the breaks readjusted themselves in a disarray.

A lot of wisdom in there, if I may say so.

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