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Showing posts from October, 2017

The Heroine

Once upon a time there was a heroine. She was clever, brave, resourceful. She could save a life with a flower. She could charm a heart with her beautiful face. Having fallen out of her life into a dark and wild place, she became embroiled in battles not her own that soon became all about her, because she of course was the heroine. Despite these travails, she survived to rise up another day with a witticism in her mouth and the world (certainly most of the men in it) at her feet.

There are some things they don't tell you about her, though. Such as the fact she can't easily get to sleep without reading first, even just half a page. Her jaw aches when she's stressed. Inevitably she will become weak and unwell trying to survive on a bit of bread and a few scraps of flame-cooked hare which someone snatches away from her before she's finished eating. She'd never ridden a horse prior to her adventure, and so gets saddle sores. Often when she's staring solemnly into …

The Woman With a Monster on Her Back

Once there was a woman who woke with a monster on her back. A heavy, clammy monster whose claws dug into her skin and teeth chewed on her hair. She tried to fight it off. She tried to shake it off. She tried and tried but the monster held fast, unrelenting. It breathed bad memories into her ear. It weighed her down so she could barely climb out of bed.

For weeks, the woman limped through her life with this monster on her back. No one else could see it, although she was asked once or twice if she was feeling quite all right. She only smiled. What could she say? I am monster-plagued. No one believed in monsters. Or if they did, they would say, just shrug it off. Pretend it isn't there. The woman had tried these solutions along with everything else, so she said nothing, and suffered.

One day, she could not bear another moment sitting hunched on her sofa, listening to the monster breathe. So she went to the local public garden. The sunshine felt nice on her face. The flowers smelled …

The Legacy of An Ordinary Woman

There was a woman who lived quietly in the world. She won no awards, saved no lives. Mostly, she did the best she could to get by.

But she loved. People, trees, skies, animals, moments, promises, roads, words. She took the time as much as she could for wonder, enchantment, and appreciation.

She did nothing great with this love. Her art was small, simple, like her life. She would never be famous. She would probably be forgotten.

But love needs no fame to thrive. Each smile she gave to a stranger, each flower she pressed in a library book, each hug for an unhappy child, each moment in which her love shone out, would not die. It would echo on down through time. The books she wrote would be those quiet words of encouragement someone got stuck in the back of their mind. The art she painted would be memories someone could look back upon always to make them smile. The healing she did would be taught on through the generations - how to bandage a little scrape, how to sing a lullaby. She was …

The Woman Mystic

There once was a woman who wanted spiritual enlightenment, so she went out from her house, out from her city, into the wild. And she found a tree and sat beneath it. Crossing her legs, closing her eyes, she began to meditate.

But a butterfly came by and persisted in distracting her with its flapping golden wings and hungry presence. After a while, the woman opened her eyes and sighed. She looked about. She saw how nothing grew thereabouts but the tree and the long grass. So she walked back to the city and, after a while, returned to the tree with a basketful of flowering plants. Milkweed, rosemary, black-eyed daisies : she planted them, and smiled to watch the butterfly come. And a score more butterflies come. And bees.

Then she closed her eyes and meditated.

But a feral cat came crying by, distracting her from her peace. She sighed. Opening her eyes, she saw the despair in the cat's stare. So she walked back to the city and, after a while, returned to the tree with fishes and wa…

The Forager in the Wild Wood

Once (or twice) there was a farmer's daughter whose task it was, at least once the dishes were washed and the laundry hung out, to forage in the woods. She had a knack for finding treasures there - wild blackberries, truffles, an ancient magician's heart in an acorn, apples. And so in she went, curious and full of star-bright wonder.

But after a long while of this, the ways she took became paths, tramped down by her own feet. And once she got on a path it was hard to get off it again, to go wading through undergrowth, to ramble freely. Her efforts consequently began to dwindle. She brought home less of value. And yet, each time an unpathed part of the woods beckoned, the farmer's daughter remembered how tiring and time-consuming it could be to rummage in the weeds, looking for something tasty, something interesting. She feared that, after all her work, whatever she might find - a misshapen nut, a strangely beautiful bone, small mushrooms, always so random - would not be …

Songlines of the Heart

Some dozen years ago, I learned about the Native Australian songlines, the dreaming tracks that range across the long red land. They are a beautiful way for people to travel, but they are also a sacred gift and duty. The Creators first walked the world, singing it and all its life forms into existence, and now people must sing them on without ceasing in order to keep the world alive.

A songline maps the way ahead, but as such it is also inherently the way that has been. It is future and past interwoven. I have been thinking lately about how each of us must surely have private songlines through our own hearts. The ways we have been guide us to the ways we might move within ourselves, through the dreaming and the wishing, both remembering and creating as we go.

I've long believed that our names can encapsulate our heart-songs, except that we have the strange custom of letting others name us before they even know us, and then abiding by those names whether we like them or not. If I…

Feeling The Way Backwards

I write between the broken pieces of unwanted sentences. I take it slowly, searching always for the perfect note of quiet. When the great ones talk of their passionate drafts, their weeks of beautiful madness giving way at last to the scrupulousness of editing, I know I will never be great myself, because I'm obviously doing it wrong. It's hard to believe in yourself when you're small in a world of overflow.

I wonder, how many women never go beyond private pages of small, fine-boned stories, because literature is strong imagery, powerful phrases, emphatic plots? I wonder too, how many artists, surrounded by brazen displays and technicolours, believe their delicate visions are not art?

It feels to me when I write that I'm not putting the story word by word onto the screen, but instead drawing the words out of the white. Feeling for story, rather than composing. And so the sentences get typed then backspaced then retyped, coming slowly into their own shape. It's a b…

Whispering to Monsters

The sky was full of stars like jasmine flowers. It smelled of summer peace. The woman sat on her threshold, drinking tea. The tea was full of moonlight. She sipped that old, wrinkled moonlight and the gleanings of hedgerows - roses, nettles, elderberry leaves. And in her heart was peace.

Behind her, indoors, the television murmured something about someone who had done wrong. Something about people who were roaring for truth. She knew about that. She knew it decades ago. She had done her roaring; she had spent years with an open, aching throat. Still people needed to be roaring. Still truth seemed like a silent thing. The woman wondered how long people would go on roaring before they gained the strength to speak directly, when it counted the most. How much roaring would it take to make society kind, safe, supportive? How many arguments, how many swords?

Truth was a moon, she thought, drinking it down. Truth was a million flowering stars. Truth was that the monsters in the world were r…

The Wild Child

Her feet were stained with the dreams of what earth she had walked across. Her eyes were full of stars. She might have been a queen's daughter or a crofter from some old, soaked shore; he could never tell, and never did ask. He went with her into the fields of lost forest and peat. He learned to dance with her the way skies danced, circling round the oldest truth.

She had rings on every finger and tin bells in her voice. She had hair redder than his heart beating fast for her. And when she was gone, she was gone. And she never came back again.

But three times three months later a child's cry woke him from a dream of ravens over white tides. He found the infant lying swaddled in a rowan cradle on his doorstep and an old woman walking away towards the dawn. She dragged a shadow like it was a sack of dreams unlit by moons or promises. She did not listen to him calling, calling, his voice and the child's mingling, both of them lost this side of wild love.

The child only grew …

A Path of Roses

I have been giving new names to old places lately, Anne-like. I find it draws me into a closer and more empathic relationship with them. And so my neighbourhood has become to me Three Waters, due to its being situated, yes, between three bodies of water. Walking through Three Waters is very different from walking through the officially named neighbourhood. I could almost believe people here are charming and friendly (infact, some are) and that I happily belong here (I never will). Some days I even imagine a castle over the hill to the north, and that I might see a gallant knight riding the long road, taking roses to his lady, or patrolling against dragons.

I wonder if there are any other people in this country who dream their days into quiet magic. Probably not - especially not adults. Once we grow up, we must change our dreams from knights and roses to houses and cars and overseas holidays. But even children these days are asked to take on a new Anne spirit, bold and shrew and darke…

How To Be A Witch

Many wise women (and men) on the internet these days are witches. You may look at them and admire their skill with potions, herbs, and community building. Well, you won't get anything like that here. I am not a kitchen witch, hedge witch, herbal witch, or coven witch. I no longer write about being a witch, nor do I participate in witch communities - probably because I feel no space of belonging for me there, since I couldn't make a healing tea if you paid me, I don't do rituals, and I don't smudge anything. But I am a witch, and have been one my entire life. So this is what I believe you have to do in order to be one too:


You don't have to do any particular thing. Witchiness is about how you are with the world.

You can be a Catholic witch if you want. Or an atheist. You can believe and do whatever is best for you. There are no witch creeds. No dress codes. And yet a witch is a very specific kind of person.

That old cynical atheist Terry Pratchett had the…

Tea Date With Baba Yaga

She did not take sugar. It was bad for the teeth, she said, and clacked them together with an old Ural smile - all stone and strange weather. She put sweetly fragranced flowers instead in the kettle, and hopefully they weren't poisonous. Mashka watched tiny blue and purple petals rise to the surface of her tea, petals the colour of bruises, pieces of the ancient forest. She swallowed anyway. Her teacup was bone china. The tea tasted exquisite. Afterwards, Baba Yaga read the petals and the tea leaves and promised her good fortune. That smile reared up again. Mashka thought of all the secrets buried inside Ural mountains, and took a soothing mouthful of cake. It was the colour of the hearthfire smoke, and eggs from Baba Yaga's hens, and the walls of her house - white as the leavings of a ghost. It tasted of walnuts and really was delicious; have another, said Baba Yaga, so of course she did.

They talked about gardening and the care of pigs. Mashka's father was a pig farmer,…

Small Flowers

The Old Forest

She was born to a house amongst the trees. Her first language was the language of the forest, a medley of slater and leaf and hummus and rain and more. Her first friends were faeries that lived behind bark and beneath ferns. From childhood, she was taught by her elders - humans, birds, storms - to weave forest shadows, dreaming winds, leaves and lost rivers, and to listen to the sun. Never did she think of skill, for this was a way of being rather than doing. It had no emblems, no poems. It was in the smoke she breathed, the tea she drank, the wild wise silence of mornings when she sat gathering story out of dirt and thresholds and insect tread and dusty books.

But when she was older, others discovered the forest. They came with love and wonder amongst the trees. They saw her and her family and spoke of them - the ones who came before, they called them. And yet they never spoke to her. Enchanted by their personal wonder, they cared only for self-discovery and making the forest their …

A Heart of Roses

Once there lived a woman who might have been beautiful or might have not. These determinations always change, depending on who you ask. Certainly though she was quiet and shy. In her heart, she surrounded herself with a lovely garden, and the garden with a high stone wall. In reality, she lived alone in a simple cottage at the edge of a village, and her days were filled with neighbours and shopping and sweeping floors. She helped Old Kate with firewood. She talked politely to the lame tinker when he came to her open gate - buying this or that little thing from him so that he had pennies for food or new shoes. And she made pies for the summer fete every year.

Never did the woman imagine herself as beautiful. But she did imagine roses. She dreamed one day they would grow all over her cottage, wild and gentle, brambled with magic. She dreamed a wall to hide the village. And no more gate. Then the world would become small, fragrant, lovely. It would not matter how she looked, for she wo…

Gathering Acorns

Some days it felt like there was nothing she could do. Her strength did not hold up the light, her softness did not withstand the storm. So she went to the forest.

And there she walked, and there she bowed to collect acorns from the ground. Not too many, for the tree needed them - just enough to fill a pocket and rattle around inside her heart. She had collected acorns as a child, back when the woods were only woods and not a sanctuary from the world.

She had no intention. No expectation of healing in the forest. She only went because she felt like there was nothing she could do. But see, the bowing, the plucking of shine from dirt, the old-fashioned tumble of acorn against acorn in her cardigan pocket, brought her the simplicity of childhood. Not peace. Just a reminder in all the complexities that simplicity could still be found if she needed it. Simplicity like a mother's wordless hug, a warm glass of milk, the light going gold before dark, the bandaid over a bruise.

She brough…