the start of the story

We are told most often that, when a heroine's story begins, she finds herself propelled into action, sometimes against her will. But I like to look at it in a different way. I think that, at the beginning, a story opens itself for the heroine. And always she chooses how to respond. Her choices may not be good ones, but after all that's what story is here for - to help her learn better choices, stronger ways of being her true self.

It's not really so helpful to talk about beginnings, though. Nothing is ever new. Every heroine stands always in the residue of what has come before, and it never actually leaves her. Even in the depths of story, when she is facing the dragon in its dreadful lair, she brings with her childhood memories, and things her mother said, and scars from smaller dragons she's met along the way. So a beginning is really just a reforming, perhaps a deepening, of the long tale her soul is telling over and again.





As the story opens, as the world offers its heart to her in sorrow or excitement or fear, the heroine decides how she will respond. Will she meet the invitation of the world with a spirit of hospitality or rejection? Will her love for life show through courage or fear? How she steps over that threshold into story is, for better or worse, something she needs to resolve before she come home again. And how she chooses at first to see the world's heart is, I believe, the very essence of the journey she makes.

Because it's never just about the heroine in the isolation of her own heart or mind. Every story is a tale of relationship between a wo/man and the world, a woman and the dragon, a woman and the stories she has always believed which now must be untold in the process of finding new, better, stronger words with this retelling.

So I don't like to hear about how a heroine is thrust into sudden calamity. The stars of destiny have always been on her brow. The dragon has always been waiting. Over and again the story of her life has opened itself to her in large and small ways, in dreams and portents and the bread not rising, the summer not thriving - and she's turned away in fear, in innocence - or she's gone into that story, only to misunderstand, and underperform, so it must return and offer itself again to her.

And even when she succeeds - the dragon is dead! the hand of the prince is won! - still the story will come again, opening to new shapes - the child will not sleep peacefully, the ministers are corrupt, the dragon's spawn is rising -

Because the truth is, my heroine, you are the story.


(the heroine's journey)



illustration by john bauer


a house of wolves and ungentle whispers

There's a landscape the old stories know about but which I seldom see these days in poetry or shared dreaming - the house. Oh, we talk alot about tables and sofas and lovely decorations, don't we? But few of us equate a high, windowed room with hills, or the dark and narrow twist of a staircase through a building's heart with shadowed woods.




Recently I was talking with a friend about our favourite landscapes. Sea, mountain, forest - I had to admit, with a truth long denied, that mine was the large and half-empty house. Perhaps it's because I lived my most important years in a home that was spooked to the bone with wild old hill wind and night secrets. But then I moved to a brand new one with perfect carpet and pale yellow wallpaper - and it too had a depth, a hidden murmuring cave of depth; and a breathless height always full of a white horizon dream; and it had, despite its newness, somehow a long and haunted memory that was as profound and affecting as any ocean on any broken shore.




Everywhere is the world. A house is trees and burned seas and millennia of buried things. I'd rather stand in an empty room, watching net curtains swell in the wind, than feel that wind brush against me mountain-high or coming in from the tide. And I'd rather sit on an overly-trodden stair, with my hand against the wall, than in a woodland. I'd dream of the once-trees. I'd feel the memory of generations of feet beneath me, trembling through me. And I'd be as deep in the world as I would in any forest outdoors.



Highly recommended: House of Wolves, such beautiful haunting music, and the soundtrack for my current work-in-process.


the dream spirit of a story

This morning I lay in bed listening to the rain and reading the last chapter of a beloved book. Just the last chapter, just because. And its sweetness lingered in my heart all day.

But this evening I read some reviews of the book which turned my sweetness bitter. Apparently, anyone who values the book must be unintelligent because it is such a terrible book. Badly plotted, badly written, with shallow characters. Surely, the only reason the book won awards is because the writer herself is popular.




I came away from those reviews feeling foolish for loving the book. But after a while of thinking and sighing, I concluded that my experience of it had been so different from those clever reviewers because I'd read it in a very different way. I'd been completely uninterested in the author's (faulty) research, and I'd skipped most of her (unnecessary) rambles. I loved the book because of what I brought to it.

I personally believe a story belongs first and foremost to its writer. But I believe too that every writer creates two stories : the one she consciously knows, that she puts down on the page, and the dream one which works with the reader's own perspectives, thoughts, and life experiences.

That "badly written" book is treasure to me because when I was a small child in school, we had to listen to recordings of air raid sirens ... and because I was raised to be proudly British in a country which was becoming increasingly Americanised ... and because of a department store I visited ...

And even because the words of the book were brown, and they tasted like rich bread and heavy honey.

Not knowing the book I'm talking about, you won't understand why it evoked those thoughts. But even knowing the book, you still might not understand. That's my point - we are all as readers completely unique.




(A caring writer is surely aware on some level that her story has a dream-spirit, and will let it flow beneath her consciousness, through her sentences. What a privilege for her, to be able to put something into the world that will become so much more than her own vision, her own words!)

There's another book I own which is such trash, I skim most of it. However, it contains a few scenes I read over and again. I'd never admit to loving the book, I'd be too embarrassed. But at the same time it has given me pieces of a story that my own heart transforms into beautiful magic.

How can we judge people on what they read when we don't know the story they are experiencing in the profoundly unique environment of theiir heart? And how can we savage a book just for the words on the page without pondering how we, each of us, met its spirit?


Elsewhere on the subject of reading.



the prince and the brambles

As you know, I grew up in a big old house deep in forest, reading fairy tales and myths and antique children's books, listening to the tales of the wild ocean wind. So it's not really surprising I guess that my favourite story is what I believe to be one of the oldest and most important stories we tell each other. As a child, I encountered it in Sleeping Beauty especially, but also in many other old stories.

It is the story of a lost princess and the prince who searches desperately to find her. I'm sure Christians understand this story well, and any pagan versed in the old feral tales will likely understand it too. No matter if we lose our consciousness, become lost, become surrounded by brambles, we will be looked for - we will be found - by a prince of peace, a prince of storms, who will always believe in our beauty, our worth. (Of course, the language changes according to your spirituality or science.)

Over the past couple of nights I have been re-reading Connie Willis' Blackout/All Clear. The story is enormous, and I must confess I've just been dipping into it - mostly reading the parts that make my heart lift and my breath stop so that all in me is perfectly silent while the lovely song of the story rings inside my soul. It is absolutely the most romantic book I own, even though the romance is limited to a sentence here and there, and the main characters never even kiss. I find the romance in the heroine's unwavering certainty that her hero will keep on searching for her, and in the hero's longing, despair, and relentless determination even when he is told she's dead.

In real life, love gives up all the time. People lose faith in each other, betray each other in big and small ways. But I could happily spend my whole life dreaming the romance of unfailing love - the sword that cuts through brambles - the longing that finds a way - even the wicked old woman who turns out to be a force for good after all, behind her supposedly cruel spells.

Of course, the most interesting stories tell about the lost faith and betrayals. But I think the best ones believe in love.



winter stars on songbirds

I went out in the calm and the quiet today, and I wandered through a little flock of birds who were wearing constellations against the cold. We don't usually get many of their kind in our neighbourhood, so it was nice to be on a hill away from home and glance down to see night wings - only starlings, such ordinary little birds, but who says ordinary things aren't precious?

Like quiet windchimes made from shells through which the sea has washed a hole ...




Like days when you don't do much more than wander about looking at things, loving them.

Like stories that have no amazing cleverness, only good, mindful words in the service of relationship.

Like everyday friends and kind, humble people.

Like home.


And like this short video on how wolves change the environment.



[Today's picture was processed with a Kim Klassen texture]

from the moon to a meadow

Last night I looked out my sea-facing window and saw a half-born moon drawing secret colours from the dark - rainbows, and a haze of gold that looked like love. There was so much sumptuous peace to the scene, I was enchanted although I am long used to moons by now.

When I woke this morning, I could still feel that winter-deep peace in the quiet song of birds and the pale, moon-cold air breathing through my kitchen window. It's the kind of day that makes a person want to go for a picnic in some lovely, wildish place. Then again, maybe I am just influenced by this video, which looks like something out of The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady.



the language of longing

I stood looking out at the distant hill. I did not see the jumble of old suburbia inbetween me and the faraway slant of pine trees. I did not even really see the trees themselves. Just beyond that hill was a pallid ocean. And something else. A memory, a desire, a calling forth or reaching back ...

We need a word for this, I thought at the time. A word for the ache of distances - spacial distances, temporal ones. English is such an earthy, practical, bull-headed language. We have nothing like toska, saudade, hiraeth. No specificities for the beautiful pain of yearning. Ours is a language of farmers and warriors. It does not easily sing us outside of ourselves.





Or perhaps I simply know English too well. With familiarity comes a loss of the spirit of loneliness, and of groping towards something that is at once precise and insubstantial ...

For that matter, do we even have a term for the poignant, dream-inspired groping through silence? For the wish to pinpoint an exact word and yet the fear that we will, thereby turning magic into something mundane?

I took a photograph of the distant hill. Later, I deleted it. I'd only managed to capture trees, ocean, suburban rootftops tangled amongst bushes and streets. The sense of it ... the sigh from my heart, and perhaps from the hill itself, looking back at me ... the fragments of books once read, and childhood afternoons at the edge of school holidays, and the smell of pine, and the memory of the sea breathing on me, and the love of the soft-coloured sorrow that made a space between me and the hill, me and who I used to be ... none of this could be captured in imagery any more than it could in a word. And that felt right. To codify the longing, the love, would take away its meaning.




the midwife moon

June is my favourite month, for all kinds of reasons. I will always think of it as the month of pearls and roses, even though it is, in my part of the world, more like the month of storms and wild songs.

I call this white winter moon the midwife moon, in honour of the mythic crone who is midwife to the sun, and to a girl's innocence, and also to our own creative imaginations which are seeded in darkness, in dreams. Some time this year I hope very much to tell you more about my schedule of moons and what they mean to me, and how they tell a story.




I'm writing this in the most vulnerable hour of night, its first hour, when darkness lies tenderly over the land and there is a sense of magic waking but not yet afoot - an hour like that before rain, when nature knows what is coming, and seems to hold its breath in wonder and longing. Funnily enough, I always sense this most strongly in the city and suburbs. Perhaps the countryside has a more intimate, comfortable relationship with magic.

I love this time of night. All times of night, really. But this time in particular reminds me of when I was a child and would visit the museum. It was a very old place, with corridors that rambled through silence and darkness. I always felt a little thrill that I might follow them down into faraway time. The animal models were dusty, rather clumsy, but that somehow gave them a special kind of life missing from today's technological wonders. Standing in a barely-lit exhibit chamber with gleaming trees and ancient giant birds around me made me really feel the haunting, frightening, beautiful spirit of the long lost forest. That is how it is in the unfraying of night and half-mad moonlight. The spirit is waiting, breathing, outside the glass, on the other side of the dark. Anything might happen.




A couple of posts to share today:

Antoinette at Dark Side of the Broom has chronicled her day. I've done posts like these in the past but could never write one now. My days are always so different. Today, it was walking for miles, and sitting just outside the edge of the rainfall, and Poldark. Tomorrow, I anticipate storms, and a little writing if possible.

Melissa Wiley has written a wonderfully rich and thoughtful post about blogging, and being an artist/writer, privacy, and more.