Holding True to Beauty

I've never believed in the idea that you should try to find beauty and fulfillment where your feet are. To me, that seems to deny so many things - your true heart, your self-love, your hope for something better, and your will to move towards what you would prefer. Of course, try to be happy where you are. Look around for loveliness, and appreciate what you have for your sustainment. But never lose sight of what beauty really feels like for you, and never stop striving for it.



photo gingerlillytea


My ideal beauty is an English countryside in the early summer. It is impossible for me to live that dream, for all kinds of practical reasons, unless I was to suddenly come into possession of significant wealth. (Anyone want to buy my next book for two million dollars? I'll use your name for the heroine.)  It is also difficult for me to make a similar dream come true in my home country, because we simply don't have things like oak woods lush with wildflowers, or hedgerows, or the bones of kings and poets beneath our carparks.

But what I can do at least is keep the atmosphere of that beauty within my own heart. I can be myself a flowering wood, a quiet afternoon, a deep well of history and dreaming. I can hold my spirit apart from punga trees and traffic, sticky vines and flowerless gardens. I can refuse to say something is beautiful when I don't feel that it is. Beauty should always remain sacred, true, an ideal, a thing worth fighting for.



photo gingerlillytea


It's ironic I should aver this today, considering my latest project is not especially beautiful or dreamy, but is currently a rather wry tale told in a straightforward style, much like the little fairytales I share here. I've spent months focussing on composing poetic loveliness that gets me nowhere; I'm in the mood for a little fun. But there are still bluebells, magic, and morning birdsong in the story, and I hope the substance of it is a beautiful dream even if the style is more prosaic than my wont.





Self-Regard for the Nurturer




This morning is very cold, almost zero degrees celsius, which is not cold to those of you in the north but has that fierce bright chill of a sea-borne cold, which somehow makes it feel icier. I have many things I should be doing, but can't manage to extricate myself from my soft cosy blanket.

Last week, after a summer of gentleness, I found myself returning to my winter mood, just in time for the freezing southerly winds. This is the mood of brown wool, brown bread, old smoky tales from eastern mountains, incence. I thought it would last as it usually does for several months (whatever time of year it comes), but after only a few days I am veering back towards gentleness. It frustrates me. I can not write about Russian witches, as I am trying to do, when my heart inclines towards English rose gardens. (And although I have just had an image of Baba Yaga standing with a suitcase in Heathrow Airport, that is not a book I'm brave enough to write! Although now my imagination has gone off dancing without me.  Eek! Someone stop it before it breaks something!)

I took a personal brand test with Cerrie Mooney. I wasn't surprised that my results were "nurturer". That's accurate, and I recommend the test. It's lovely and insightful, and fun to take. But the idea I am a nurturer is also unhelpful, because that self-brand doesn't tell me anything about myself, only how I am in relationship to other people. It tells me I'll make tea for another before myself, but not what kind of tea I like to drink. It tells me that I'm inclined to write books I think other people will enjoy, but not how to come up with tales to interest myself - and how to have the courage to write them longer than a short story or a blog post.

(It's like saying Baba Yaga is a witch - it doesn't tell you how she finds inner peace, what home decor she prefers, or what kind of luggage she would choose for an international journey. Something vintage, with leather straps? Or a pink Hello Kitty suitcase?)

But then, it's not surprising we would think "the nurturer" is enough to say about someone, and not look deeper. Its very name is others-focussed.

I wrote recently about how motherhood fulfills me, and its true, because I am a nurturer. But it's also true that nurturers, empaths, and people who were taught all their lives to put others first, need to know as well how to have empathy for themselves. It's a joy to help others, and to give whatever you can for them, but there's a steady happiness too in being there for yourself, especially as no one ever thinks to nurture the nurturers. It doesn't mean you have to be self-centred or stop taking care of other people. It just means you have to be you. Sometimes that is harder than it sounds.



Measuring Mother Time

Many years ago, I set aside my writing dreams so that I could raise my child wholeheartedly. For me, writing isn't just the act of typing down words, but imagining scenes, viewing the world through the lens of characters, changing my speech patterns so I can get into natural rhythm with those of the story. I feared having all of this warp my mothering, and so I did not write. Instead I knitted, sewed, baked, made fleece fairies and gnomes, taught, drew, and expressed my creativity so fully in a myriad of ways that I never missed that one.




But I am a writer in my soul, and as soon as I felt it reasonable to return to that, I did. At first, it was difficult, because I had always been a closed-door writer ... which is to say, I wrote in a room alone, with the door shut and the world forgotten. I had to learn how to write at the heart of the house, with noise all around me and frequent interruptions. For I understand that mothers need alone time of course, and I took that time myself for respite and refreshment, but because motherhood never drew from me, it added to me and enriched me, I never had an impulse to separate myself from it. If I was to write, it would be as a mother; I would weave my writing into my mothering. So my door was always open.




As an open door writer, I did not have great swathes of time in which to write. Nor could I spend all day half-lost in my imagination, for beasts and wicked sorcerers roamed there, alongside resourceful maidens and fretful knights, and these things tend to be distracting. So I had to draw upon Mother-time.

Those of you who are parents surely know what I mean. Mother-time doesn't go by the patriarchal clock. Nor is it a stretching-out. Instead, it is a deepening of small moments.

It is the way parents have of being instantly ready to dive down into dreaming the second they get the chance. It is the full grasp of peace or wonderment. The intensity of doing (but with a gentle consciousness so you don't go mad.)

Now that I am in a quieter phase of life, I find myself at a bit of a loss when it comes to writing. I have hours of quiet and solitary calm - all the time I need. And it feels too quiet. I am having to learn all over again how to write alone.



art by lee s. hee

Fear As An Invitation to Love

The winter mother is singing me back into the slow, smoky, wild dance of the dark half of this world's heart. I can see stars everywhere I look.




I've been thinking a lot lately about what I should be writing. I've been looking for more than just an interesting story to tell, a vessel for my words. I want to write something true to my heart and resonant with my sincerest imagination. They say, what makes us afraid, we should write that. I've never believed it. I think we should write what we love. 

But isn't it true that all too often what we love opens us to fear? Fear of not being accepted, not being good enough. And so we fall into imposter syndrome, and ultimately silence. Or we let our creations and dreams be stolen. I've done all that. And I've relinquished what I love so I don't have to feel fear, and chosen another love instead where I can succeed in a small quiet way that almost, sometimes, feels halfway good enough. There is comfort in choosing second best. It doesn't matter then what anyone else thinks about you or the things you do, and it doesn't matter if you fail - or succeed in a small quiet way - because you're not truly invested in any of it. 

It's a gentle, cosy tragedy, isn't it? To live your life as a surrender. A shrug of the shoulder, a stepping back. Because the thing is, you still end up getting hurt. Perhaps infact you hurt even worse, because you've given up fear for grief instead. And while fear is a leap of the heart, a wild pain in the throat, it usually passes. You take a deep breath, you follow your heart into the unknown, and usually you land just fine. But grief soaks into your bones until you can barely move from it. Especially when your loss is compounded by the fact you did not actually lose what you love, you gave it away. You abandoned yourself. 

Maybe when loving something opens you to fear, it's worth sitting a while to see what the real issue is. Usually, it's a lack of love. The lack may be within yourself - as in, your faltering self-love, or your failure to love others - or it may be with the community, where all kinds of things can get in the way of mutual respect. 

Perhaps fear offers us an opportunity to do the work of love. 

When it comes to writing, I must remember that not only can fear be a silencer, but it can also deafen us to the music that I believe is the very thread of existence: the song of Love. If I really want to write to my own satisfaction, I must focus only on listening to what Love wants to tell through me, and to do that work. 

So they're right in the end after all. I should indeed write what makes me afraid - or more accurately go through the opening fear offers me, rather than just sitting with the fear itself - because through there, on the side of dreams, is true love.




The Memory of Stars




The sky is a velvet silence tonight. It has rained on me twice today. but that's all right. That's winter's kind of love. I am trying to figure out how to take the dark and the rain and turn them into story, so in the meanwhile here are some of my favourite old blogposts about the sky ...


Instructions For When the Sky Falls
My Heart Is Hooked By the Sun and Stars
Wise Child
The Moon & The Water Magic


In the early days of the earth, a piece of it was broken off and sent into the deep sky. I know the scientific reasons. But I can't help thinking of a brave child going out alone to hold light for us in the dark, at the threshold of forever. Is the light her only consolation? Or does the silence give her peace? Can she hear the wolves and cats and poets singing her name? Maybe in the oldest days to come, she will return home.




The Fairytale Princess

They said it was a powerful moment of modern feminist independence as Meghan Markle walked alone down the aisle. But all I could think of was how profoundly it reminded me of Cinderella. The bride presenting herself with dignity, beauty, and a pure heart, to her prince. For that matter, it made me think of the earth after night, rising to her sun, becoming luminous and warm with his light - the goddess coming before the god, the soul before the divine. That bride entering alone into the church was sacred; she was all of us approaching Love. The sight of her touched something deep in my soul.




For days there has been social media commentary about how not every girl wants to be a princess. Clearly, people have lost the old understanding of what being a princess meant in stories. In most of the classic tales, the heroine was a strong character who worked against adversity and risked all to bring change to her life, while all along staying true to herself and keeping a good heart, until at last she won for herself Love as represented by the prince. I can not, off the top of my head, think of any passive fairytale princesses - even Sleeping Beauty had some agency in the original version of the tale (especially if you view it as an allegory of the divine marriage, as the goddess bestowed power and wisdom on the king through their union.)

When I first heard that Meghan was going to walk the aisle alone, I felt a little disappointed - for I love tradition, and this seemed one step too far towards modernity. But when I saw her enter beneath the roses, my heart swooned at the romance and feminine magic of it. For that moment, she was an image of the fairytale heroine, having gone through her own dark woods, hurt by her step-siblings, abandoned by her father, and yet so strong, brave, luminous with love.

The wedding was of course also a happy-ever-after story for the fairytale sad prince, and there were moments that made me cry with joy for him, just as I did for William at his wedding. So many people have negative things to say about the royal family but I am grateful for the way they give us, through their sacrifice to tradition, history, and duty, a living loom of story. A reason to share happiness as a community, and tears, and love.

But most of all I was transfixed by the heroine of the tale, the bride. If women want examples of female agency and power, they could do no better than to look to the old-fashioned fairytale princess.



(There was also all that heart-melting love between the couple ... the elegance, grace, and emotion of the bride's mother ... the fact Harry picked the bouquet flowers that morning from his mother's garden ... the kiss ... the beautiful veil ... I do love a wedding!)



Rain and Romance

Today I walked home in a downpour which soaked me so thoroughly, I might as well have been swimming. By the time I got indoors (having had to detour to the back yard to bring in my sodden laundry from the line) I felt painfully cold and really quite wretched. It was wonderful! I love being out in a storm, getting drenched, coming home to warmth and comfort. True, I would rather remain at home the whole time, watching the storm from within shelter. And I don't ever like getting wet on my way somewhere other than home. But to me, cosiness is made all the more lovely by having been slightly miserable beforehand.




Tonight I will be watching the royal wedding, wrapped in blankets, with hot chocolate and popcorn. I love these occasions. I remember as a child watching the wedding of Charles and Diana in the home of the only family member who had a colour tv; several others had gathered there for the same reason. I have seen all the Windsor weddings since. (I loved Catherine's dress best but thought Sarah the prettiest bride.)

As I wrote on instagram this morning, love is almost always the reason people struggle through the trials of their life - it is what we fight for, what we open ourselves for. Commentators have been deriding the current excitement for the wedding, especially given what tragedies are occuring around the world. But I say that when we get the chance to celebrate love, we should take it. Without a little shared happiness, loveliness, and romance, we might all become bleak with despair. Just because I enjoy the sweet and silly wedding fervour doesn't mean I'm unaware of homelessness on London streets, or American school shootings, or the war in Yemen.




And somehow, the misery of the world makes the beauty of marriage all that more enchanting. Of course, I would rather we did without war, corruption, grief. If the world was a peaceful place, our marriages would probably be stronger, happier, more enduring. But romance in dark times is surely a blessing.




Roses and Rain




She sat in the garden, alone. Rain was falling profusely yet gently over the roses, and gathering the sky in upon itself. She watched it from beneath her umbrella, beneath a tree. The umbrella was white. Her dress was white. It had come from France. Her scarf had lace trimming its edges. When she was a girl, she had longed for lace, and always smiled with a quiet wonder that she had it now. These little things gave her contentment. There was so much she had wanted for herself that never came, never would. And there was pain, weariness, grief. But for a moment in a garden she could look at white lace, rain on roses, and feel peace.



If you want to read more tiny stories, you can find them here.

Guardians & Drifters in the Holy Land




One of my dreams is that nations never evolved, and that people everywhere had the courage and soulfulness to understand that this world is for us to share, not to claim in pieces for our own particular use. Imagine if we considered ourselves guardians of a certain acreage, rather than owners and exploiters.

Imagine if we felt the privilege, honour, blessings, of being such a guardian. Imagine if people had to train for it, intellectually and spiritually, before being given the chance to care for some land. And imagine if accolades were bestowed upon those who did a good job - who nourished the soil well, sustained a healthy balance of life, and acted as wise, loving companions and guides to the botanical life on their land. Imagine if equal to the guardian was the guest. And that every guest came lovingly, with a gift for the land.






Imagine too if there was honour for the unlanded people, the wind children, whose souls resonate with mapless distance and dreams. They would give us stories, wonder, wild possibilities. Imagine if their strangeness and gentleness was considered as valuable as common sense.

Just imagine if humanity had chosen to live with a spirit of love and kinship, instead of selfishness and greed. If every conversation was a welcome, every ground considered holy, and holiness indescribable as a deep soul thing personal to each man and woman.


Stories and Dreamlike Skies

Last night, white clouds rushed across the dark sky like ghosts of morning. Like a Victorian vicar's daughters having relinquished propriety along with their bodies to scud across the moors of their uncouth dreams. Rain fell - wild poetry of the sea.

This morning is dew-laced sunshine and chiffon skies.




The world is not a story but a compendium of tales. Or maybe not even that, but a gathering of excerpts, poems, glimpses, untitled pieces, tossed about. I used to think I was the same, but I'm learning slowly that I am a novel - intricate certainly, and with half-poems in the margins, but a contained body of work nonetheless. It's only that I have been reading aloud from other people's books for too long.

I am the afternoon falling quietly, rose-lit and cold, into a night storm. And you? What weather, what form of story, what strange metaphor, are you? You don't need to tell me, but I wonder, do you know?




The Ageing Reader (and Writer)

When I was younger, I almost exclusively read fantasy novels. This was back in the day when it was uncomfortable to say you read fantasy - or worse, wrote it - because many people, at least in my country, had more lurid ideas of what fantasy meant than dragons, chivalrous knights, wizard-kings. You had to say science fantasy if you didn't want to get weird looks.




I discovered the genre when, one rainy afternoon in my local library, feeling a little sad, I came across Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsinger and fell in love at first sight with the cover. From then on, I became not only an avid fantasy reader, but my own juvenile writing went from sardonic comedies to fantasy tales involving lost princesses, evil elves, and beautiful winged horses in lieu of dragons. I also read an almost equal amount of science fiction, because after all that was the 1980s and there was so much excellent classic science fiction to read, as well as some amazing sci fi posters (sold at record stores) to inspire writing.

Thirty years later, I still tend to write fantasy. This is probably because my imagination was almost entirely constructed from its tropes. But increasingly I find myself moving away from it, especially as a reader. I haven't picked up any new fantasy book for months, perhaps years, although I have bought some science fiction novels. I still read my old favourite fantasies. But generally my reading tastes have changed with age and circumstance. When I was younger, I wished the world was more enchanting than reality showed itself to be, and so I became absorbed in the magic of fantasy, the marvels of science fiction. Later, as a homeschooling mother, I had a great excuse to lavish my mind with information from a vast array of non-fiction books. Now that I'm middle-aged, I'm interested only in relationship stories - women's fiction I guess, regardless of genre, now that I feel secure in my own womanhood. 

This week I read a brief description of a new fantasy novel that will soon be on sale. Part of my mind sang out at the beauty of it, the wonderful magical imagery of it. But I didn't actually find myself wanting to buy the book. And when I contemplated writing something with similarly enchanted imagery, I felt discontent. I still believe in magic, but the sort of magic that reality has in its bones - and that I can see, and feel, now I've gone through decades of experience.

Maybe it is because fantasy belonged so much to my youth that I find it unsuited to me now I'm middle aged. Or maybe my brain has changed. These days I want magic not as escapism, or even enchantment, but as an exploration of the wonder and peril and wild beauty that really does exist. True magic.


The Peace Makers

I have been thinking of how ingrained the attitude of strife has become in our society. Consider all the things we must "fight" every day - the traffic, the crowds, our desires, the elements, other people who might contend for our space. Even in death we are called to battle through our last hours, raging rather than allowing ourselves and our families the comfort of peaceful, trusting acquiescence to nature's bend in the road. Ours is a society that has internalised war.




I was thinking of this as I contemplated how strongly these days society calls women to participate in the fighting. To leave behind caregiving for the pursuit of paid occupation, striving for a dollar. It occured to me that men have been called to this even more relentlessly for a far longer time. Now that both genders are drawn in to the paradigm of battle, competition, strife, who is left to hold peace?

I'm not saying women shouldn't be allowed to work outside the home if they want to. I believe absolutely that every woman, and every man, should have the choice of how they want to spend their lives, as much as possible. Honestly, this is not about gender, except insofar as historically women have been the peacemakers, homemakers, caregivers. Now they have liberated themselves from that requirement, which is good - no  gender group should be forced into a circumscribed identity. However, I do wonder if our liberation has changed the dominant masculine paradigm of society in any truly fundamental way, or if women have become even more entangled with it, joining the fight rather than working to spread the homey peace we used to be responsible for within our limited sphere. Perhaps in a society ruled by the great golden king Dollar, real change is impossible.

Certainly it seems that the idea of holding peace is no longer valued other than in terms of paid occupation - ie, how much monetary value there is in being a carer. Many people of all genders work to better the lives of others, care for the environment, and bring political peace to the world - but what I'm especially thinking about is the everyday role of creating serenity and safety for one's family and neighbourhood; the dedication to the gentling and comforting of life. I fear as we turn more and more to consumerism, we are losing peace from our days, our language, our entertainment, our imagination, and our attitudes towards each other.

And that's all I have to say today. I'm just noting an issue, and grieving for it. I have no solutions. I'm not even sure there are any.



art by vladimir volegov

an autumn morning

the moon, above dawn-burned trees : my breath contributing to the frost : hard broken beats of hot blood against cold bones : white cosmos with their lithe serpentine stems rising amongst the rigid lavender : a moment of slow, of gentle, of waiting to see what would happen : roses like scripture : the long reach of the light, touching her face, touching his hands, holding the trees so softly for a moment that felt like a moment in an old, unworded marriage : vines, fallen petals, traffic, children : peace in a small street behind it all : peace in my eyes





I haven't been writing here as often as I'd like. There are all kinds of excuses but I don't need to give any, do I? No obligations here. Just a love of writing and a sense of the encroaching silence in blogland and a wish to fight it for as long as I can because I love writing and captions on instagram are not enough. There is a feeling of richness here, even in readers' silent perusal - a feeling of my words being taken for real words, not just captions, you know? In all the jumble of life there will always come a moment like an autumn morning when I remember what my heart never forgets - that words are my first love, words for poems, words for skies, words for stories; I don't know why. It's just how the universe resonates in me. And so I'm sorry for not writing here more often. Sorry to myself.

The Consolation of the Sky

The clouds this evening were like honey and milk. I am so grateful for the consolation of the sky. It's been one of those weeks, and the gentle linger of sunset was such a soft, comfortable beauty that it felt actually benevolent, even though I know all the rational facts of the atmosphere, the water cycle, the different formations of clouds. Sometimes I think we need to take our facts and sing them, dance them, and then we'll realise they aren't so much facts as the living poetry of the soul-infused world.






I can not look around me for loveliness. Every time I do, I see another tree missing, another wall or house gone up. Even the occassional flowers have gone now that winter is almost upon us. But I can look up. The sky is an endless source of beauty and conversation. And with the easing of the long bland summer, it is even more interesting than ever. I find it helpful to remember that I stand always within the sky; that it is not up there but all around me, and flowing through me; we are not just sisters and brothers of the trees and animals, but of the winds too, the moonbeams, the filaments of sea drifting through light, the world's breathing.