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all the days of a dog

Casper first came to us in the pocket of my mother's raincoat. He was a little pale wriggle, a plaintive look. We took him back to the island where he promptly became the sidekick dog. Always there was another more interesting dog who took the lead - leaping gracefully off the wharf into the water while Casper belly-flopped, disappearing mysteriously one day never to be seen again, being quite mad, being sleekly beautiful, stealing all the shoes. Quite a few dogs, when I think about it. Lovely black creatures, shining bright and brief ... and fat blonde Casper. Even the cats were more remarkable than him. Even the temporary chickens.

But you know how these things go. Casper outlasted them all. He got so round and dozy by the end, he could barely walk. I used to sweep him with the broom in lieu of a proper dog brush. I was a kid when he came, an adult living on my own when he left. All those years with two moons in my life - the rock in the sky and that pale round pup.

I hate how so many authors use animals as plot devices rather than real characters. I guess they know how much we love our furry friends and so we'll relate when the protagonist is spurred into furious action by the loss of their pet. But it seems like such a failure of empathy to treat animals merely as a tool for the stories of humans. All the years Casper lived with us, he was going through his own life, his own story. He had a relationship with each brief black dog, and mourned their loss. He had to adapt to different environments as we moved from the island to various other places. I wonder, did he miss the sea? Did he dream of forest, of running along the sand with my brother, of being tucked inside coat pockets?

No one, not even a dog, is the sidekick in their own story. And everyone is living their own story. Every person, every animal - I know, it's a lot to think about. So much empathy needed, sometimes it can feel overwhelming. But it's only that way if we consider ourselves the sole heroes.

Soundtrack for this post: a lovely little song by Cat Stevens.

remembering wood-witches and poets I used to want to be

I remember the old days, wordpress days, when you could blog like a dream. I had a site once with five columns, like strands of shells and pale driftwood hanging in a window. Everyone was being wayward, creative, finding new trails in the forest, back then. Now we pretty much all do the same thing.

I miss the wood-witches who used wonderful old fonts to write about their wonderful lives. I miss the pebble-voiced earth poets who have no doubt moved on to more interesting things. There were people who had a way of putting together the barest elements and making something special. Now we can buy big, gorgeous, semi-professional if we want. And if we don't want, then we can stay on the fringes with our default templates and old-fashioned ideas and fewer comments.

I remember in particular one young woman who wrote a luminous, slightly disjointed poetry that was so impossible to ignore, I became a poet too out of sheer love for her words. She doesn't do it any more. She still has a weblog, writes stories, makes digital pictures; she has found her place. I don't write poetry for her poems either; every now and again I'll put some words together for twitter, but they're more solid and considered than they ever were. That's the thing - it's not just the internet which has changed, we have too. We've smoothed our dialects, focussed our visions. I rather miss the half-mad, excitable lot we used to be.

Of course we had to grow up. I rather envy those who have done it properly, leaving blogging behind. Sometimes I feel a little lost - slow adaptor that I always was, having finally understood what I loved best about weblogs, and now looking up to see everyone else moved on long, long ago to the next thing. But then I feel the same about real life.

I wish I could tell the woman whose name I don't remember that I'm grateful she taught me to grok the mama earth. I wish I could re-experience the first open-mouthed wonder on finding Rima Staines' blog. I wish I was grown up enough not to wish these things. Maybe I should just go write a small, aching poem.

A little background music for the new template, should you want it.

The Gift of Love

This is a subtle truth:
Whatever you love, you are.

- rumi -

The gentling of the year at autumn always brings me back to what I love, cosiness and comfort and the flourish of little cottage flowers in my garden after the long months of drought.  I can finally wear soft layers and lovely big socks. 

I can bring out my blankets, my candles, my teapot, and snuggle into cold starry nights to watch the inexplicable lights that flicker and dance over the ocean; i can settle into the deep peace. I don't like the word hygge, because I have an aversion to all things trendy, but I do adore the idea of it - of comfort, of homey warmth and caretaking. I think if we all prioritised these things in our lives, the world would be a nicer, gentler, more benevolent place. 

And I have a theory that we aren't only what we love, but that the things we love are what our souls see the world needs, and draws us to them so we can be them, make them, give them - our love is who we should be, so the sake of everybody. 

Your love is your blessing on the world. I don't mean that we should all do a job we love, because this isn't about money and the economy. I mean that if we love soft cosy blankets, we could take that and make our voices soft, make our countenance warm, wrap ourselves gently around problems, be the qualities that we love in a blanket. I mean that if we love flowers, we can be a moment of beauty and charm for other people, whether we live in a garden or in a stone cold city.

I've found that when I embrace what I truly love, rather than what I think I should love, I'm not only happier within myself but also my days become nicer, my creativity stirs more readily and more honestly, and I am better at solving problems in a way that works best for me.

What do you love best? Do you gift it to yourself, to the world? Or have you let the world tell you what you should love ... who you should be ... instead?

as above, so below

I am living under cathedral skies. They convert me. By the end of summer my heart has been muted by endless perfect blue, and it's not that I don't believe in the divinity any more, but that my sense of my being part of the goddess-body has dried and crackled away beneath light and heat and peace, and my love for the wild-that-is-god, the trickster-king, is silenced. All I can hear is the fan whirring, making whatever storm I can just so it's possible to breathe through the relentless light and heat and peace.

But now autumn has come. Cold mornings, crowded skies, breezes. It brings back my spirituality with it. The king has transformed his fierce power to something deeper and more poetic. It's almost like he's learning balance. I can bear him now. And I can feel myself revitalising. When something is too much, we can not be enough in response. Coming into balance with each other requires not just being true to ourselves but also, oddly, being slightly less true too. Giving and letting go. Compromising.

I have to see this for myself, and tell the story on my own. There is not much intricacy available about the god for the pagan woman. We have many tales of the mother goddess' annual cycle, the way of the earth. But earth can not be without her sky, just as sky has no point without the earth. I love to consider the rise and maturation and sleep of the wild god in equal relationship with the blossoming and fullness and sleep of the goddess-who-is-us-all. I love to chronicle the seasons by how the clouds change, the colour of the sky changes, the moon takes new paths.

All through the times of the world, women have told soul-stories. Myths, wisdoms, fairytales. I know for millennia it has been men's voices that have spoken them, but so often the stories come first from the women - the mothers, nurses, herbalists, mitochondria, breastmilk, lullabies. Too often, women have passed on the messages of the patriarchy; but they have also been keepers of the older stories, household stories, tales of ordinary magic, true love instructions, seed & bread & hearthfire wisdom.

Lately our feminine voices have been able to speak directly and honestly, at least more than they were before. I hope we will hold a better balance than men have done. For instance, I hope we will tell the stories that give the mythic king a nuanced character, alongside the mythic great mother, just as our ancestresses did. I think it's a mistake to simply replace God with a Goddess. We'll never achieve balance and harmony if we can't let go of a little of ourselves to let the other in.

When You Feel Sorry For Yourself

Self-pity is one of the most reviled emotions in Western culture. I've written before about how sad I find this, I even wrote a story with self-pity as the theme, and I'm going to write about it again, because I think it's something that bears repeating. To have pity for yourself, to grieve for your sorrows, is a good thing. You deserve such care.

To embrace your vulnerability is a good thing. You are entitled to it.

To allow yourself to wish for more, nicer, easier, gentler, is a good thing. You are worth it.

I've never understood why it is laudable to pity others but not ourselves. Nor why grief is only allowed to go so far. Self-pity is a kind of grief. It tells us what we are missing in our lives, what is unfulfilled, what is lost. It is our sad and wishful voice. We need to honour it just the same as we do our determination, anger, instincts - all the other feelings that are somehow considered more acceptable, even though they are often just different ways of expressing the same thing: I wish for better.

Of course, we are trained from a young age to not believe we deserve better. Instead we are told to be resilient, grateful, cheerful, and not self-interested. So we spend our entire lives judging, repressing, silencing, and discounting, ourselves. We are made ashamed of feeling sad when our lives are hard - even if our lives are sometimes almost unbearably hard. If someone else had our lives, we could feel sad for them, we could pity them, but we must not feel that way about ourselves.

Do you ever find yourself sorrowing at the grave of certain hopes and dreams, but you can't have a good cry, a temporary collapse, a period of wearing the blackest black and accepting no invitations, because self-pity is unacceptable?

For example, you may "wallow in self-pity" because you did not get the job you dreamed of for years. Or you may "wallow in self-pity" because a friend you loves leaves you. In both cases society says it's okay feel sad for a while and eat ice cream, but then you must get over it, pick yourself up, and soldier on - never mind that what's actually happened is a deep loss. And yet if you were expected by society to treat yourself with compassion and comfort, and to think of how you might care for your grief, soften it, find a way through, then perhaps you would emerge from the process of self-pity with a soul radiance, rather just another scar that makes you thicker-skinned but always slightly disfigured. Or you might save yourself from getting stuck in grief so that it congeals into despair.

Feeling sorry for yourself is a way of loving yourself.

If you don't listen to the pain, how will you learn to trust it? And if you don't trust the pain, how will you ever truly heal?

When Things Get Real

We are leaving the balanced moment of the equinox and falling towards a new moon. The sky above me is all bruises and brights. The trees are tarnishing. I accepted today that I had to let go of something I'd been working towards with no progress. I still wish for it, but my life at the moment simply doesn't support the effort. Trying instead to find a new way, I opened my file on the heroine's mythic journey and read about letting go. 

I rediscovered that letting go is spoken of in the season of deepening autumn, the very season unfurling outside my house right now ... the month of April which is almost upon us ... the moon of sparrows. It always makes me smile when I realise yet again that I'm in a long quiet conversation with the blessed universe.

This is the brief description of Sparrow Moon, a late waymarker on the heroine's road ...

Change always brings inner consequences. The heroine must release her old wishes, accepting now that they will not come and the world is different from how she imagined it would be. She must also let go of all that is no longer needed, lay down her sword, and bury the dragon's bones so they may nurture future growth. It is like autumn leaves are falling, and she is a mature, if weary, middle-aged woman. Once again she is facing her grief, but more deeply, for she better appreciates now what she had truly sacrificed for the sake of a better future. This is the Sparrow Moon, when things get real.

For months now, I have been trying to draw the dragon from its lair. I am in love with the poetry etched on its great stone teeth. I dream of seeing its wings, gem-scabbed and pocked with gold, making new constellations as it flies. But my efforts have been continuously diverted by the various real life requirements. I have to decide now if I will let the dragon lie and turn instead to sparrows, moths, smaller magics. Even if just for a while. 

There's a story going round that if you wish hard enough for something, you can make it happen. I don't believe that. Sometimes you can, but other times you can't, and that's just life. When a wish is not working, what helps is to accept that reality, and contemplate why exactly it isn't working, and learn what will work instead. Maybe you need to change your life so it better supports the wish. Maybe you could make the same wish only smaller - or an altogether different wish that will lead you down a path you never knew existed. Or maybe do no wishing at all for the moment, just resting, just peace.

After all, farmers don't seed every field every year. Some, they leave fallow. 

Waymarkers along the road aren't there to tell us which way to go. They simply mark that there is a road. If you have to change your choices, that's not failure. It's seeing obstacles, mud puddles, briars, and doing what is needed to avoid them. Because although I'm talking myth and metaphor here, the fact is our actual lives are rife with obstacles, and we have to get real about them so we can keep moving. Cut through the briars by all means - they might be there to strengthen your determination. But if you can't get through, you just can't. Maybe the blessed universe put them there to protect you. Let go : release the old wish, move on. 

illustrations by angela barrett

Today is a poem. The sky, all bruises and brights, rears over my fragile garden where one of my treasures sits temporarily. It might rain - they say it will but they're often wrong - and the thing is, I only want rain when everything I care about is inside. I'd been warned that a woman becomes protective as she grows older but I'd never understood that means wanting to keep others safe even from the things you love.

Today I shall make things small. When you were educated with freedom, you have to teach yourself later your own mental discipline. Sometimes you never can, and then you have to put things in boxes, in tagged folders, outsourcing a mental function other people keep inside their actual minds. Can you imagine an actually realistic cloning centre of the future - a gene replicating machine and a whole stack of papers, phone apps, and scribbled notes which contain the parts of the person they could never quite fit into their half-decrepit human brain.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe

Last night I read The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James. The whole novel in two hours. It's not often I come across a book that's truly unputdownable. Sometimes I have trouble stopping reading, but that's a different thing from unputdownable. There was simply nowhere in Lauren's book that I could take a breath long enough to sleep.

The novel tells the sad story of Romy, a teenaged girl alone on a generation ship heading for a distant, hopefully inhabitable, planet. Something terrible happened, leaving Romy alone for the past five years. But now a new spaceship from Earth is racing to join hers, and as Romy shares messages with its commander, a charming young man named J, she begins to fall in love with him and count down the days until his arrival. Then suddenly things go wrong on Earth, and on her ship, and what began as a fairly standard romantic YA novel turns into something so thrilling that I left my light on when I finally went to sleep.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe isn't perfect by any means, but it is very good, not only to read but also to study for its effective techniques. I felt it could be longer, and I never got a powerful sense of Romy's aloneness - the writing could have been sparser, perhaps, or a touch more haunted. But some things are done very well. I almost wish I was still teaching creative writing so I could add this book to the course.

I've actually had a few story ideas about isolation, silence, and uncertainty at the back of my mind for years now, but have never developed a light enough touch for them. Lauren's book reminded me of how much I love the atmosphere of such tales. It also reminded me of the power of story itself. I've been working on a couple of projects that are focussed on lyrical imagery, and while I could happily excerpt many of their paragraphs, I find myself growing impatient with the actual telling. Artistry is admirable, but I grew up with science fiction and spy adventure novels; more than anything, I like story. It can be gentle story, or thrilling story, but it must tell me something. The Loneliest Girl in the Universe does this well. If you read it, I'd love to hear your opinions.

Old Woman Wisdom

They say women used to be wiser, and I think maybe that's true. I could light a candle and look into its smoke, drum my hands against earth, sing to the moon, and that old woman wisdom would sing and drum back on through my bones. I've done it and I know it's profound. Only, it doesn't help me with the dead cricket in my kitchen sink.

I've always been an introvert, and when I do spend time with others I tend to get on better with men than women. But even I want and need a connection to the communal spirit of womanhood for the sake of empathy, mutuality, relatability. There's really nothing quite like it. Put a few fifty year olds together in a room and watch how quickly the conversation turns to menopause. Sure, you can read about the subject in books and on the internet, but stories of real life experience, shared with laughter, are invaluable not just as information but to feed a woman's sense of belonging, her identity and security within womanhood.

I see everywhere women yearning to be in womanhood. To know they are not alone. To say #metoo.

And I see one response to that is a realigning ourselves with the wisdom and sacred practices of our ancestral mothers, such as natural medicines, menstrual rituals, meditations, special diets, ancient prayers. It's a wonderful, beautiful thing to do. And yet, I also think it maybe comes from privilege -

The privilege of unencumbered youth ... or wealth (essential oils may open your chakras and connect you to the goddess energy but that's useless if you're almost out of toilet paper) ... or having time ... or belonging already to a group who can share experiences and resources for sacred ancestral wisdom and soulful living.

Not being in such a place of privilege doesn't make you bad or lesser than. It just makes you busy, committed to other things, focussed on the practical, prioritising differently, or needing something else. I myself take little recourse to soulful practices at this particular time in my life, although I have done so before. You see, there are crickets - not frightening, but just another small hassle at the end of a long day. And there are small hassles, long days. If I'm going to connect with a source of wise womanhood, it will be with someone who can recommend a great moisturiser and nod empathically when I whisper my fear of going to yoga class. (My wise ancestress might tell me to bend my body and soul into the lotus position and feel the goddess spirit flow through me, but she never had to do it in a room full of young women wearing skin tight lycra.)

Not so long ago, feminine communities were stronger because women stayed in a limited sphere alongside mostly other women. We don't want to shrink our lives again, but I do think we benefit from women's groups, women's blogs, women's politics, and simply women friends, to support our uniquely feminine experiences. For some, learning and reconnecting with wise, wild, sacred practices is deeply healing. And for those who need to spend their money on groceries rather than immersion workshops, and are too busy or worried for luxurious self-care rituals ... even though they might like to do these things and would benefit from them ... it would help maybe to know that the ordinary everyday of today is sacred also. 

This here now - scouring your kitchen sink, letting a friend cry over the phone, going out of your way to help your grandfather, endlessly picking up children's toys, trying to figure out how they got crayon marks so high up on the wall, making a diversity of meals from half a dozen eggs - all of this is womanly wisdom. Honour it, share it. We need your real, right-here-now voice.

How To Go Viral

Over the years, I've seen these techniques work, and I'm sure you have too. Success is almost guaranteed - although you might never know about it. Going viral is actually quite easy, and it will cost not a single cent.

Open a door for someone. They might thank you, they might not, but the easing of their way will ease something from their mind, even if they barely notice it, and the next time they come to a door, or a possibility in a conversation, or a moment when they can ease someone else's thoughts, they might very well open it for another person. And that person, eased, may do the same for the next person, and they for the next ...

Say good morning to the bus driver. Say good morning to the check out operator, the ticket dispenser, the woman making your gingerbread latte. Acknowledge other people, let them know in this simple little way that you see them as part of your community. Then notice how the person behind you will say good morning too, and the person behind them, and how soon everyone is smiling. Good manners can be contagious.

Share something of yourself. You have a thousand tiny stories behind your eyes. They are gifts you can give the world. How you found two four leaf clovers in the garden. How a bird sat on your hand to eat breadcrumbs. How a man in a meadow played pipe music for you. Tell your tiny stories so that other people think of their own stories and wonder if maybe they could tell them too. Before long, more people are sharing themselves, and the community is enriched with all this secret beautiful magic.

Make people laugh. These are dark days. We can't all pass important laws, or address parliament, or grow our own food. But we can be a moment of simple joy for others. Share a joke and see how far the laughter ripples. Maybe it will go all the way around the world.

Pass on what you know. Notice I didn't say teach. I am an old hippy, I have an aversion to people setting themselves up as teachers (except for, you know, actual teachers). Simply share your knowledge. It doesn't really belong to you anyway. It was given to you - passed forward by another person, or unfolded for your understanding by the benevolent universe. Pass it on. And on it will go, and on.

Appreciate others. It could very well be that we're here in this world, in this way, because we can help each other. Not one better than another, but everyone different, with something unique to offer - a brilliant theory on quantum physics, a perfect scone recipe, a gentle smile, the height to reach a tin stored on the top shelf, artistic talent. Everyone is important. Everyone is special. Give what you can to others, and appreciate what they give to you.

Be Brave and Gentle With Yourself

I can almost never afford to buy roses, so on days that I need them (and I'm sure many people have days of needing roses) I go to pinterest and look at pictures of them until my mind is full of all things roses. In some ways its better than having them in vases in my house.

Pink roses, white roses: a gentling of my inner vision.

Today I needed that. I had to do something very brave, and I had no alternative because there was no one to help me and the consequences of doing nothing were unacceptable. And so I was brave.

The actual doing was not particularly difficult. For all that I would never make a hardy farm woman, I can be practical when necessary. Where things got most difficult for me was afterwards. I suffer from anxiety, and sometimes the greatest courage comes from having to deal with having been brave. I was mindful to take care of myself, and when anxiety symptoms began arising to remind myself quietly that they were only anxiety symptoms, nothing worse. (One of the best things I ever did for myself was to learn the physiological responses to being alarmed, so as to know exactly what is happening and why, thereby not adding to the panic.)

I'm sitting here now in my softest clothes, drinking warm tea from my favourite cup, listening to music that will draw the stress out as gentle tears, and it's as if I have wrapped myself in roses. Writing this post is perhaps more than I should do today, but maybe it will speak to someone, and so may be worth it.

Imagine a world where there were all knights and no poets. Or a world where all that grew were hardy succulents, no soft flowers. Sometimes we have to be brave, whether we feel it or not. And for many people, sometimes can mean several times a day. How ever often, how ever big or small in other people's opinion, it's exhausting, overwhelming, and can even make us feel like we will break. Comforting ourselves under such circumstances is not an act of weakness. It is being an angel for ourselves ... holding our own hand ... giving ourselves roses.

The Language of the Cosmos

What I believe about stars is that they are poems from the deeper sky. We try to translate them but we're laying numbers on argent poetry and looking for alignment, and I think all that will get us in the end is finding out how much we think about stars, and not about stars themselves. Maybe they burn for each other across the long dark, and when they shrink it's from sorrow, or a way of giving birth to themselves in a sky beneath our sky, a place we have not yet imagined.

Maybe the universe connected Hawking, Galileo, and Einstein forever to the same date because she wanted to say listen to my song. Three great men who spoke with profound intellects about the science of life - and the universe trumped them inexplicably, powerfully, with time.

We have a name for that. We call it coincidence. We have a name for everything, don't we. Maybe the universe was telling us this week that we

The Old Songs of Imagined Lands

Sometimes a story will continue to whisper to me long after it's written. Usually when that happens I just go back and read it and am calmed. But one that has continued to bother me unappeased for the past couple of years is Aftermark, the story of a peaceweaver bride, told in The Coracle Sky. I've probably told you this already. I tend to be repetitive, I know.

I've been advised that the characters of this story are my least appealing, and perhaps that's right. But it's the two kingdoms I love best anyway. Over the past couple of years I've found myself unintentionally compiling a collection of Erlish folk songs and old poems from the dragon king's library. Copper and roses, fishing boats and swords, war and sunlit dreaming. I've drawn maps in my mind and walked their coastlines, their hedgerows. I miss the wind over the northern moors and the fragrance of the ornate gardens in Celanthwy.

I doubt I'll do anything with this. (For a start, I could never write a novel about someone called Igrane - what on earth made me name my heroine that? Secondly, I'm working on one of the stories I mentioned in my previous post.) But there's a strange, lonely loveliness to wishing for a country that does not actually exist. I know many people feel that way about Middle Earth, Pern, and other imagined lands. (I myself certainly wish at times that I lived on Pern, but only if I could be a dragonrider, and only during Falls.) But there's a limit to how far a fan can explore such places, whereas one advantage a writer has is that they possess the entitlement and authority to invent anything they like within their own worlds.

A lullably in Erland would sound something like this, whereas music in Celanthwy tends to be more elegant, like this. I would like to live in Celanthwy myself, so that I could long to live in Erland.

For me, dreaming of other worlds is not about escapism, but of living more imaginatively than daily existence can allow me. We enrich our homes with scent, plant flowers in our garden; filling our minds with imagined wonders is much the same thing.

What paper worlds do you wish you could visit? (I'm betting at least one of you answer with Ursula le Guin's land of the Kesh.)

photos found on pinterest

An Enchanted Picnic

The moon children are walking suburban streets, half-lost amongst our ordinary. 
You think you don't see them, but really they are nothing like ordinary, and you simply don't understand what you are noticing. The old odd hat. The eyes like gold. 
They try but they don't get it quite right. They are otherwordly, ancient story. 
They traipse that story through our lives and leave us glints of wild enchanted poetry. 

I went for a quiet little picnic today. With sandwiches and fruit in my bike basket, as well as a book to read and a book to write in, I rode to a nearby reserve. Halfway there I decided to treat myself to a cherry blossom cake, which is a favourite of mine from childhood. I couldn't really afford it, but sometimes a girl needs cake.

The woman in the cake shop put down a broom to serve me, and although I am rather anxious about germs I chose to smile and say nothing, rather than frown worriedly. There was something gently beautiful in her eyes. She admired my bike and said it reminded her of when she lived in the South of France and would cycle everywhere on her velo : "You see so much more, and appreciate it more, when you are cycling." I agreed, and told her how lucky she was to have lived in the South of France. She said it had been a dream of hers, and she'd kept her heart open for twelve years until the dream came true. "When your heart is open, all kinds of doors can open," she told me. I rather wanted to buy her a cup of tea and sit to hear the wonderful stories I'm sure she could have told me.

At the reserve, I walked my bike over the grass until I found a lovely place shaded by trees. Here I was alone for as far as the eye could see, other than mynah birds and a fleet-footed pukeko. My book remained unopened; I simply sat soaking in the peace. Everyone loves summer, but autumn is very much more beautiful to me.

I must admit, I was a little sad, as we all can be at times, and for some reason got to thinking about Christ, about how he was my first love, and how his voice must sound like the wind through the autumn leaves. Did you know a person can be pagan and still believe in the universal christ? Well, there you go. As I was sitting thus dreaming, an elderly couple walked by. Usually I will keep my eyes lowered, since I am shy and this is Aotearoa where we don't really engage with strangers, especially when they stroll through our perfect peace. But today I opened my heart and waved to them. They waved back cheerfully. And then they stopped, and the man lifted an etched wooden pipe from out of nowhere, and began to play to me.

Old music of stone and mist, sunlight and memory, danced around me. Macedonian folk music, he said, and we got to talking delightedly, brokenly, for Macedonia is very special to me. After a while they wandered on, and his pipe music floated over the grass, through the trees, as he went. I imagined a part of myself dancing behind him into dreams.

Keep you hearts open, friends, for Love is always waiting to walk into your quiet with a song of magic and old, wild beauty.

This Morning With the Author

It's not that I want to be reclusive. It's that I'm always a bit clumsy on the fine line between not-enough and too-much, so I've learnt to be careful. But here today are some things about me, incase you were ever wondering if I'm a real person or a robot.

* I was born deep in the night, beneath a full summer moon. And maybe night and the moon were my midwives, and maybe they each left a bone or word like a wish in me, for I've loved them always.

* As soon as I could talk, I was trying to change my name, and have continued that effort all through my life to no avail. I suspect part of the reason I wanted to be a writer was so I could have a nom de plume. I regret that I chose Sarah for it, I should have gone with Rainsong or Windhaven or Charlotte.

* The first stories I told were to my dog, sitting on the kitchen doorstep watching the rain outside and waiting for everyone to wake up.

* My first love was Jesus. Regardless of all the various thoughts and experiences I've had of spirituality, my heart still goes still every time I see a realistic portrayal of him. I wonder for how many other people that longing just never goes away?

* Sometimes I wish I'd had a better school education, sometimes I'm glad it was all dungeons & dragons and lying dreaming in the sun. I suspect the best education I got was from the science fiction and fantasy novels I bought with my babysitting money. Certainly I'm grateful that I went on to university and learned about poetry and what a sanctuary the classics library can be.

* Really, I was just filling in time until motherhood. It saddens me how women these days are not allowed to have that as their only ambition. Or how many men have never been honoured for wanting to be stay at home fathers. I would have had half a dozen children if I'd been able.

* I can hardly wait for the new Royal baby to be born, but I'm worried they will call her Mary instead of Alice, and altogether I wish our society cooed over babies more often, and was far less cynical, and in less of a hurry to send children away.

* Of all my characters, I'm most like Isolda, without the bright red hair.

* Of all my short stories, the one I most want to make into a full novel is Aftermark.

* Living alone as a writer can be difficult. I find myself moving from the computer to the grocery store to the library and back again, more inside story than the real world. I've heard this is not healthy.

* Some of the trees in the city have turned to gold. The mornings are growing colder. Autumn is here, with its whisper of winter, and my heart feels endless relief. I may have been born at midsummer, but I live for the dark half of the year.

An Evening With the Author

I ate too much ice cream today. I left a woman at the side of a river that might be dangerous or might simply be a river - I haven't decided yet. She's kind of bewildered that I wrote her into shape, gave her a voice and gave her a dark silence, and then just walked away. I might go back. But I've also left a girl in an empty apartment getting shot by a man who loves her, and a girl in a bookshop listening to whales sing in the starlit harbour, and a woman walking a haunted island where she really shouldn't be. My shadow is littered with broken stories.

I had peaches with some of the ice cream but they were the cheap kind so it's not as nice as it sounds. The woman by the river has a magician for a lover but apart from his eyes I don't know much about him and I'm not sure how much there is to know. I haven't fallen in love with him yet; it worries me. The man who shot the girl in the apartment is not bad enough. There's a man at the docks listening to the whales, same as the bookshop girl, and the way he translates their old music, and her dusty silence, enchants me. The people in town suspect he's made from rain and moonlight. Who knows. And on the haunted island, holding the hand of the woman who shouldn't be there, is the same man pretty much as the one who shot the girl in the apartment. I need better heroes.

I found the bookshop one day a couple of weeks ago, although it was actually a coffee house; we sat outside and drank coffee and listened to the peace of old stone walls and trees. We told the woman behind the counter that she had the best shop in the city. She liked us. The island haunts me. I don't really think much about the river, it's just a thing to put my story beside. And the apartment keeps opening doors in my mind.

Is it time yet for tea?

Stupid question. It's always time for tea. And maybe another spoonful of ice cream.

Seven Things

1. I sit before the white compose box and wait for a certain feeling to fill me. Not quite a calm, but a strange tranquility, a synchronicity with the atmosphere of that other place - the one where stories and poetry live. When that comes, the words come with it. If I try to proceed without it (as I'm doing right now), my language is stilted and my meaning hard to articulate.

2. I'm sure scientists would tell me I'm just tapping into a different part of my brain, but that kind of thing is why I don't feel any cultural loss with the passing of Stephen Hawking. I am truly sorry for his family and all those who loved him. I also do very much appreciate that he was born on the anniversary of Galileo's death, and died on the anniversary of Einstein's birth. But to me, that's the universe singing. We aren't listening, of course. Not in that way. Science is a language - a beautiful language, to be sure, but it can only translate from a perspective. There are other ways of understanding life, and who knows what is right. I tend towards believing that if an explanation is so complex almost no one can understand it, perhaps we need to go right back and reconsider the perspective that created the explanation. Stephen no doubt has learned more since his passing; he has maybe flown through a black hole or the vagina of an endless goddess. I wish him joy.

3. I believe in technology of course, and am grateful for it. I do think however that we humans tend towards categorising everything, making systems, building boxes, and it's a shame. Anyone who has followed my weblog for some time will know I'm apparently incapable of keeping to a category or box.

4. Which is why I can highly recommend this beautiful music and this also.

5. I love music but I also love silence. Sometimes I find them interchangeable.


When Your Voice Is But A Whisper

What do you do when, although you might shout, you are barely heard in comparison to others? Maybe you should shout louder? I wonder.

I've actually been contemplating this for a while now, and have decided to write an introspective meta-blogging post incase anyone else ponders it too, either in regards to their blogging or their daily life. Although I'm sharing from a personal perspective, I've seen this happen with other writers, as well as photographers and artists. Over and again, I will write about something, only to have someone else write the same and get more attention and appreciation for it. Of course, as a woman and an English-Kiwi, raised with the firm principles of humility and discretion, I know I should not want attention and appreciation. However, as a writer trying to leverage my words into funds, I do. It behooves me to ask myself where I'm going wrong. This is not about other people, who deserve success, nor about me feeling jealous of them. I am interested only in my own process. I've noticed a few things ...

It's not only what you say but how you present it.  Internet readers are drawn to imagery. What imagery do I offer, and is it suited to the story I am telling here? Is it imagery I myself love, for that matter? Does it resonate with me so I can use it fluently?

Confidence is key. People love blogs where they get something to inspire or encourage them. If you want to be considered an expert or guide, you have to present yourself as such, not as a wonderer and seeker. This is tricky for me, as I honestly believe it's more beautiful to share something through the lens of wonder rather than lecture about it.

Associate with the right people.  Internet success is so often about impressing the right influencers. When well-known people share a link to one of my blogposts, its views can go into the thousands. (How does one hob nob with influencers? I don't even dare to ask people for a blurb for my book.)

Be legitimate. Despite huge advances in self-publishing, most people seem to have greater respect for those who have a traditionally published book. Some bloggers are able to flout their self-publishing style, probably (luckily) not having been raised with firm (repressive) principles of humility and discretion. (That sounds awful, I hope you know what I mean. Women, you probably do.) To be honest, I've had articles published in real respected magazines, and although I don't know if it's influenced my stats, it didn't really excite my heart as I thought it would. I love my quiet little books, I've achieved alot with them ... it's always lovely to know you've written someone's favourite book ... and I self-publish to fundraise.

Writing all this down clarifies my problems for me. I've stumbled into the wrong circle on a Venn Diagram of blogging. I'm a poetic dreamer with my head in the clouds. Many of my interests - songlines, fairytales, magical creatures who dwell on the other side of the liminal space - are shared with earthy women who drink interesting tea and wear wool, and so I've attracted that audience (hello! love you!) but I fear I don't know how to address them fully, richly, intuitively, fluently.

I believe we are always in communication with the universe, and so when my voice is but a whisper and I ask, should I shout instead?, I know the answer from what the universe has already been telling me.

Whisper even more quietly.

Because what brings success most of all ... success in your ventures and in your own sense of worth ... is when you are true to yourself.

A Sorrowful Tale

One of the stories I think we may need to tell a bit better in our culture is grief. For grief is a beautiful thing, a facet of love, and it deserves to be told wisely, fully, in all its wild loveliness.

I grew weary a long time ago of the relentless positivity imposed upon women. Count your blessings. Always look on the bright side. Be strong, be fierce, let nothing get you down. Have a survivor mentality, not a victim one. All these things are good in moderation, but too often they deny us our pain. They do not give us permission to lament. To suffer. To crawl away into the deep soil of our souls so that we may rest.

Do you know how often I've seen women having to be taught how to grieve what some awful crime has done to them? About as often as I've seen men bewildered by themselves because their grief process doesn't fit the various official stages of mourning. About as often as I've noticed the judging looks given to parents who confess they grieve not having a daughter, or an able-bodied child, or a second child, or the experience of parenthood they always dreamed about. As if grief somehow negates love.

Even if we are told there's no right way to grieve (apart from the five stages*, which are seven stages on some websites) - we still hear things like, is he marrying again so soon? and why is she not crying? When my beloved cat Bella died, I couldn't be in the same room. It was too much for me, and I had to leave her in other people's caring hands. I could not bear to see her afterwards either, and her body was buried on my behalf. That was what I needed. It tells you nothing about my love for her though - it's been twenty years and I still grieve the loss of her. When Radical Honey's cat died recently, she went through a warm and soulful process which culminated in one of the most beautiful burials I've ever heard about. Grief is normal, but it can not be normalised. It makes my heart ache when I hear people say it's okay that you're in the denial phase, or the bargaining phase. Let grief be wild and wise. And let no one give you permission for it - just do it, phaseless, beautiful, terrible, for all the wrong reasons or all the right ones.

And fear not to weave grief-strands through your story of life and selfhood. Sorrowing for what you don't have does not negate gratitude for what you do have. It just allows you to be full-souled.

Let me tell you, I grieve that I was born in my particular country. I try to find the beauty here, the magic, but really I wish I lived elsewhere, for many reasons. Any story I tell about my home is woven through with that sorrow and longing. If I didn't allow my grief, then my telling would not be wholly true.

I will count my blessings. And I will weep.

* Elizabeth Kubler-Ross regretted that people took her description of five common experiences of grief 
and made them into a framework for the grieving process, 
rather than a simple recognition of what some people feel in the face of loss.

On A Path of Narrative Therapy

Waymarkers for the Lost

I believe in the power of stories to heal. As a young child, my first creative writing was usually motivated by an effort to explore and resolve issues within myself and my environment, but then a formal, Westernised education taught me properly about psychology and suppressed my instinct for it. I learned technical models and manualised pathways towards healing, but no one ever mentioned story or soul. Only after I left my work as a counsellor and spent time in a Waldorf learning environment did I rediscover that old instinct for narrative therapy. I've since come to believe very strongly that no one can achieve true healing from their griefs and troubles without weaving together mind, body, spirit, environment, and heritage into a revitalised story for their soul.

kin fables

Throughout my training, I had caught glimpses of this paradigm when talking with Maori practitioners. So I wasn't surprised to read recently about a new project in which Maori mental health workers are using narrative therapy to help people heal from psychological problems. In this programme, the workers are known as Mataroa, or change-makers. They use the stories of the gods to draw whanau ("family," as opposed to patient or client) back into their culture and rediscover their strong, beautiful Maori identity there. They are decolonising mental health and achieving wonderful results.

Unfortunately for those of us with a Western heritage, our culture has become so unravelled, we have experienced such a diaspora - both physically and spiritually - that it's hard to say if anything truly resonant remains for some of us. It's perhaps easier for those who dwell in the north, where the mythic stories of life were born. For those of us in different lands, descended from European pioneers, disconnected from the very winds that sang our heritage, a different path may be needed. Our ancestors may have conquered the dominion of natives, but in many cases they also deprived us of our mythic heritage. Maori suffer from colonisation trauma, and dare I say it many of we Pakeha (white Europeans) suffer from it too, but in a different way.

And so we have two choices. We can rediscover that heritage, which many people are doing. Or we can make a healing path shaped from our own land, laid across with timbers and ferns from various ancient stories as well as private histories, but sung with the voice of our individual souls. A path for an ancient gypsying heritage.

I believe some of those timbers must be made of grief. We rightly speak of how native peoples have been terribly hurt, and we ought also acknowledge how many of our recent generations feel bereft, stranded from any sense of native belonging, their heritage now no more than diminishing churches and children's fairy stories.

I used to live the narrative of the year through it's cycle of pagan-inspired festivals, but as I recently mentioned, I am now beginning to rework this because the narrative is almost meaningless in my part of the world. I'm finding the same thing with individual narrative therapy. Increasingly, heritage is a box of broken and jumbled things. For example, for me personally, although I am from Irish and English heritage, it is in the stories from Wales, the French tales, and some Greek myths, where I find connection. But then, how many of us can trace our lineage back to one land and yet our genetics to many? Stories from all the different communities of the past can be a gift for everyone now.  The storyteller must listen and watch carefully, generously, deeply for what is needed for each one-who-heals, so that the work to create a rich personal culture can be done. It is harder, more complex work than simply taking from one specific culture, as some lucky people can do, but when your belonging has been broken, it is perhaps the most important work of all.

And maybe those who feel lost will find their first strands of belonging in that lostness, in the drift of humanity away from old lands - they will call themselves community, although they may never meet each other on their distant shores. A community of dreamers, longing for story, longing for home.

Moon Juggler At the Dream Circus

She would put her fingers in the old dead rivers and toss up the moon, and the audience would watch it spin through tinsel stars, tinted spotlights, before it came slowly down. They gasped at all the right moments, frightened for her, but never once had she failed to catch it. Imagine that: the moon cracking to pieces all over the floor.

She would stand on the elephant's back sometimes to perform her routine, while Arlo led elephant, woman, moon, in circles around the stage. You know I have to say it: they were in orbit. And their centre of gravity was the Ringmaster in his cape and cold-eyed watchfulness. He saw dollars, not magic, in the moon's dance. He saw dollars, not thighs, hips, through the juggler's diaphanous black dress. She did not see him. She was divining the rise and fall of the moon. But later, they would leave their money and their magic on the outside of their caravan, and she would brew Russian tea, and he would sing Welsh songs, and between their eyes and their mouths was the real enchantment of the circus, although the patrons never knew it.

When she spoke, her words sounded like cinnamon, cloves, kissed sea ballads. But she seldom spoke, not even with him. She lived in the shadow of the moon. She did have friends - the elephant, the stage-sweeper. And her best friends were the two-headed woman. She had been known to smile, she had been heard to laugh. But not often, and there weren't enough people who wondered why. They saw the thighs, hips, through her diaphanous dress, but didn't look into her eyes.

A thousand stars lay behind those eyes. An endless, soundless dark. The Ringmaster knew it, when he took off his top hat and remembered how to be human. The elephant knew it. She herself though barely knew it, for she drank it down like black smoke, and she tossed it up like cold wild light - and only when the moon reached the apex of its rise, and tipped, and in that moment could come down to her waiting hand or, caught by a breeze, a miscalculated angle, an elephant's sigh, come down to break all over the ground - only then, for a second, did she feel the infinite dark, and herself a tiny light in it, that might dance or might fall, cracking into pieces.

Just as I was finishing this tiny story, I received a message from Rachel Nightingale to say her interview with me is up now on her website. I had to smile askew at my trickster muse, for Rachel is the author of Harlequin's Riddle, a novel about travelling players.

ps, the elephant here is only a device for the story, in real life I am strongly opposed to the use of animals in circuses & I'm even in two minds about zoos.

For the Love of Art

Neil deGrasse Tyson (I think he's someone famous in America?) wrote on twitter:  "Creativity that satisfies & affirms your world view is Entertainment. Creativity that challenges & disrupts your world view is Art."

I replied from a place of deep, womanly weariness. Why must we persist with this notion that art has to be adversarial to the artist and audience? Why are we so set on disrupting ourselves and others? Does there ever come a time when we are permitted comfort, certainty, peace?

I believe great art uplifts and encourages both the artist and their audience. I believe that the gifts of joyfulness, satisfaction, affirmation, acknowledgment, reflection, and transcendence allow for a far deeper experience than entertainment. Art like this can help us name ourselves, accept ourselves, and even save lives.

Several months ago, I began writing something which I loved. It was inspired by a sentence fragment someone tweeted - a tiny bit of affirmative art. I empathised with what they wrote and it drew me into my own creativity.

But over time I began to worry that the project was not clever enough. Not challenging enough to the awful state of political, social, and economic affairs all over the world at the moment. It seemed merely entertainment. I knew I could produce something "better" than that, so I set aside my project and tried working on others. Politically motivated stories. Mythically resonant stories. Stories that would really mean something. But none of them worked.

So I looked again at my original project. And a great swell of emotion immediately went through me - as if the potential story was a living thing, and I felt empathy for it, love for it, a sense of homecoming. I felt the racing heart and trembling nerves which come with knowing you are in a satisfying relationship with Life. This is not just entertainment. This is the universe speaking story to a need in me. I write back to continue the conversation.

I'm not creating anything that scares me, challenges my world view, or threatens the certainties of other people. I'm writing something Life wants to say, and its coming through me because I empathise with it, resonate with it - not even on an intellectual level, but in my blood somehow. This is a joyful collaborative experience. The muse/creative force lifts me up and strengthens me so I can do the work. It sends me fabulous music and showers me with images. And it makes me happy so I want to do the work. I'm not being entertained, I'm being cared for. Hopefully if I get it written and sent out into the world, others might feel that the story cares for them in some way also. It won't be especially clever, innovative, or remarkable, but maybe it will reflect some people's experience, give them permission to be more true to themselves, encourage them, or reassure them that they are not alone in the way they see the world. These seem like powerful and valid aims for an artist.

Maybe it will even be entertaining as well.

Writing With Clouds and Stars

I have written before about how much it has helped me to realise that I do not have a voice naturally woven through with oak roots and the memory of nameless herb-witches; I am a wild sky writer. My storytelling instinct is not drawn from the old earth, nor is it grounded. I want to write the spaces.

Even knowing this for certain, I've spent the past few months struggling with it. I suspect this is because I am entering the age of deep womanhood, and our archetypes for this seem to be earthy, dark-forested. It's hard to think of many mythic old women riding dragons, questing for the sake of a lover, or transforming themselves into white-winged birds merely for the passion of flying through light and shadow, beyond the world. Old women are generally the hearth-keepers, pot-stirrers. Baba Yaga has her mortar and pestle of course, but she is seldom the heroine of an adventure. Seldom are her vulnerabilities explored, her silences unravelled.

I have been trying to resonate with the energy of deep womanhood, but I guess I will always tend windward. For example, I spent months developing a beautiful vision of a post-apocalyptic utopia, complete with its own poetry and mythology - only to find myself wanting to take the heroine out of it, sending her to wander the empty wild places instead. I know most of my readers would be more interested in the utopian community, but my imagination couldn't bear to sit still within in. Maybe one day I will be old enough to write that book.

My stories are generally not deep, in the earthy, rooted sense. They speak of a moment, a space, an horizon. I write about sorcerers doing the wrong thing, well-meaning knights getting involved with strange or dangerous women, the moon in love, the afterwards of stories, and quite a few birds. I have tried to plant story in rich ancient soil and grow something mythic that will speak with seed and leaf, sunlight and fungal scent - but then I can't breathe. I'm in my wrong element.

I wonder though how many women feel the same as I do, and that's why Young Adult literature is more popular with adults than teens. Maybe it's not that they want to read stories about teenagers, but that they want stories which draw them aloft, carry them with a thrilling uncertainty, and share with them a sense of the delicate, mysterious nature of life. Maybe that's what romance novels do for them also. I'm beginning to accept that we need high, loose, free, invigorating stories just as much as we need deep ones. Not every reader finds resonance with the earth element.

The Wish & The Belonging

There is a house on a hill I have never entered, but it feels like home. It faces the sea, and I'm sure every day its rooms fill with briny wind and waves of shadow, and every night the peace of stars. I stand outside its white wooden walls and look through the door at its gold-brown wooden floors, and wish with all my heart I lived there.

It feels like home because inside there is a woman who looks out at people like me - tourists clambering the old hill paths, having picnics in what is practically her back yard - and I have been her in another house, a distant place. I have stood in the belongingness to a land which other people visit, many of them wishing to belong there. But the thing is, I belonged to a land I didn't really love.

Oh, I knew it well. I could run its paths blindfolded. Even decades after I last did it, still cover my eyes and I could do it again. Those paths are veins of my wider body. But I do not love them in the way I love a soft track through tall calm forest, or a swathe of foot-pressed grass over a hill.

And so the hill house feels like home because it reminds me of both what I had and what I wish I'd had. To be honest though, I feel a great deal of guilt for not wanting what I was given. My stony ground and dusty hill and familiar paths love me, yearn for me - I feel them calling all through my days for me to go home. Sometimes the call is overbearing, other times I am happy to be there a while. It makes me wonder, does belonging equate to peace? And is there a difference between empathy and belonging, between familiarity and belonging? For that matter, can we belong somewhere due to the force of that land's desire for our presence?

Ultimately, I am within myself both what I had from life - damp shadow, old smoke, witch-murmured dreaming - and what I wish I'd been given instead - apple-scent, gentle light, new bread braided with wishes, white sheets gathering high clean wind. The trick is working out which one is my shadow and which my soul.

And maybe this is the case for many people. Maybe it's even the Way home. Life gives us situations, influences, the longings of others, and we must work our way through them to find who we really are and perhaps even what we'd like our heaven to be.

Do you have a place you belong, and a place you wish you belong, and are they the same? If not, how do you reconcile that?

In the Garden With My Ghosts

I'm sitting in my garden watching the full Gathering Moon rise. I keep trying to think of descriptions for it, tiny poem words I can put on twitter, but honestly it's too wild and lovely to write down. All my ghosts are sitting here with me, including the barefoot teenaged me, the me that used to roam midnight streets looking for the boundary of dreams (always on the horizon), the me that made fleece fairies and wrote stories of elves. Without them, I'd be alone tonight.

Two hundred metres south, something discordant with the night is pacing the main road. I can't see it because of the bend in my road, but I can feel the serrated energy. Maybe it's just the traffic, or maybe it's one of the mad folk who live in the little woods, whose nests I have hurried past, and voices I have heard moaning across the water, scattering swans. My eye keeps being drawn in that direction, so there's something, and I stay close to my door. To the north, rainclouds are gathering. It won't rain though. It seldom does anymore.

So the moon is wild and lovely - but all the stars seem wrong. There's part of the Southern Cross, but it's upside down, and the rest of it has gone. Maybe the wind has scattered them. Or scattered me. Its sea-salted voice is gentling beneath those broken constellations, as if saying that nothing has to be exact any more, including me. I remember this is why I will not cut my hair - so the wind can go through it and bring me to wild peace. Almost it works tonight. Almost.

I wonder how many nights in my life I've sat alone in gardens, sighing, crying a little, thinking the world could break at any moment. I wonder if other people do it too.

art by lucy grossmith

Wise Child

It was thirty years ago now. Actually a little longer than that, although I can still see the translucence of the candlelight, as if it was a ghost of real light, swaying quietly against the patchwork walls. I can still smell the brine of the sea just outside the door. I sat curled up on the ancient sofa that's still there now, and I listened to records on my portable stereo. Joan Armatrading. Roberta Flack. Pink Floyd. Music, tide, the scratch of the stereo needle. Every now and again a possum or wallaby leaping onto the roof.

Outside, a moon would have been slipping away into the deep of the sky, then coming slowly back in again. A moon always was, of course. The light it cast on the forest looked like threads amongst the tree darkness; looked like yearning, although maybe that was just me. I sat on that old sofa which was also my bed, because there were too many ghosts in the bedroom, and I wrote about sea, stars, moonlight.

I wanted to grow up to be a wise strong woman with herbs in my hair and poetry written on the back of my hand. But those island nights unravelled each thread in me and left a wild darkness I've never quite mastered, let alone stitched back into good sense. But you know, I recently came across someone asking that old question, what wisdom do you have now that you wish you could pass on back to your younger self, and I think in some ways I was wiser then. I spent most of my money on music and books. I left my shoes behind more often than not. I knew where the magic was on the path to home (literally: in a knot of roots that had broken the surface of the stone, and when you stepped over it you sometimes went through several minutes, and got back to the house later than you reasonably should have.) For years after I left the island, I would panic at the mere thought of returning there. Sometimes now I wish I could, though. Maybe not the actual place, but the candlelight and dust, the music soaring across sea and forest, the feral dreaming in me lost in long, star-burned nights.

So, what wisdom would the teenaged you pass forward to the you of now?

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Thanks & Blessings.