Fragment I Webs, Roots & Connections
Early morning, I bent to open the gate and as I did, I looked right toward the apple tree. The sun had risen above the roof opposite and bathed the garden in a dreamy glow, reminiscent of old summer photographs yellowing with time. For me, it is the colour of nostalgia, that softening of the light that uses trees and flora as amplifiers, evoking memories of place. September has a particular golden radiance that even in the morning, burnishes everything it touches with an early evening glow. Green seems dominant until September's light sweeps across making leaves and grass mirror-bright. Shadows are not harsh and black, but sift between and under in soft textures of tree-avenue greens and browns. The light draws out the changes that are coming in the leaves before we even see them with the naked eye, detailing nuances of autumnal hues. Only under its warm gaze does it make the bindweed flush with yellow radiance, honeysuckle tips blush apple pink, and sets alight the cotoneaster's fiery berries. Even the cut lawn is of polished gaspeite brilliance.
And I draw my eye back to something that is floating in the air. I stand, and it's gone. I lean, and it's there. A spider web. So fine, it evades the camera lens. It seems attached to nothing, this floating, slightly ovoid disc. Up close, if I turn even a little, it disappears. All night perhaps, a small spider has worked on this web. The anchor points are practically invisible - just a tenuous grasp on stalks of ragwort. It looks both complete and unfinished with its one spiralling thread, and no lines radiating out from the centre. I'm mesmerised by the way it appears to hover between worlds. Of course webs can appear concealed. But this one, tilted and shaped like a supernova, suspended in its own galaxy in which, its maker is also invisible, has brought in Awareness. Breathe and watch; breathe and feel my place anchored in this moment. Noticing this tiny marvel is every bit as important as blithely opening the gate. Seeing this web is stepping out of clock-time. And I wonder, where is the spider? Had she been lost to some drama? Had a creature plundered her while on her path to completion? When my questions stop, there is the sensation of Beingness. Yes, even a spider web can teach you.
I've noticed that whenever I'm hanging out the washing, there is a robin who sings in the apple tree. From the other side of the garden, another robin answers him. Robin song in stereo! There is something exquisite about the range and flow of the notes it sings. The washing line is attached on one end to the tree, and it passes by the branch the robin occupies. I'm right beneath him as I stretch up to hang a tea towel. He pauses his song, tilts his head and looks my way. A smile bursts out of me. Robins are so generous with their cheerful willingness to engage with you. Who me? You're interested in me? Aww. So, I've stopped again, because how can you not look at the robin when it's so willing to let you. A human to fauna connection. Then, breast plumping in readiness he sings again. Flawless notes rise from his syrinx, blossoming its sweet fruit among the apple tree branches.
In the Writing Garden, the wasps living in the stone wall outside my studio are busy. I find watching them during my writing sessions a satisfyingly meditative practice. Given that the wall is about three feet from my door, they never bother Franny or I when we walk past. Wasps can be very aggressive, but it appears we are accepted. As September progresses they increase in energetic labours, with fifteen to twenty wasps visible at any one time. They're like little planes taking off or coming into land. They always approach and leave their home on the diagonal travelling SW. They fly out carrying little black bundles, which look like stones. Waste material from the nest? Sometimes, they bump along the ground before take off. If it's warm enough for the door to be open, I hear their soft humming. I've no idea how big their nest is. They live in a retaining wall that holds back a deep earth bed. I like to imagine they're vessels that go deep, where sight can't follow. They mine ideas before journeying out, carrying their little story bundles. When I observe them, I'm following inwards. It stops the mind-talk. Then, when I return to writing, it makes for conscious creation rather than contrived.
In recent weeks, the nest has been visited by at least two species of Volucella. These are impressive chunky hoverflies that mimic hornets. The wasps take no notice of them whatsoever. Their relationship is symbiotic; the hoverflies enter the nest and lay eggs. Once hatched, the larvae eats the detritus left by the wasps, leaving them with a clean nest.
Andrew and I (along with Franny), have been visiting Central Park on Sunday mornings before dropping into the Barbican. It's become a bit of a ritual. It still surprises me that it was only a few months ago that I first visited the park. For some reason, I never kept it on my radar, thinking it was an inconsequential bit of grassland, and why go there when there's all of Dartmoor to escape to? How wrong I was. It is a great place for Franny to dash around and meet and greet. It's lovely to catch sight of the sea and the view across to Mount Edgecombe in Cornwall. The first time I came to Central Park was in June. It felt like it was giving me a message because it shares some aspects with Oxhey Wood, near where my youngest daughter, Rae lives. When she first moved to Northwood with her husband earlier this year, she told me the wood had a sculpture trail and parakeets. Strolling around the park, I felt a little jab of equal parts separateness and connection to her when I discovered that not only does Central Park have a sculpture trail, it also has parakeets! I remember looking up at them and thinking carved wood and birds connect us, even though you're two-hundred miles away. Rae loves the sea. She was born right on the coast in Porthleven. There is no sea in Greater London, so she misses it terribly. Visits back to Devon always include trips to the coast. The weekend just gone was the Seafood festival. We arrived early, strolled along the Hoe and then down through the narrow streets to window shop. We drank coffee from our favourite little Italian tram kiosk on the marina. There was a buoyant atmosphere with stalls selling crafts and street food; live cooking demonstrations and the volume turned up on sea shanties. I sent Rae a few photos to cheer her up; show her that it's all here waiting for her. Sometimes, for our own growth, we have to leave a place.
I grew up in Birmingham and left it the same year my mother died, in '93. Two small children and a third on the way we moved to Porthleven. Having never seen the house we were to rent until we got there, I found it all rather a shock. Suburban Birmingham to rural fishing village put me in a state for two weeks. I didn't want to be in Birmingham and neither did I want to be in this bleak, alien place. Later, I wondered why Cornish relatives didn't send us a postcard of Porthleven because most of them featured our house, which was just up from the clocktower. I would have felt better prepared even though it was our decision to move. My first sight on arrival was of two buzzards coasting high overhead; I took it as a good sign. At that time, there were no buzzards in Birmingham's skies. I came to love that place, that time. You put your new roots down, and you realise that you never lose your connections with earlier ones; your birth roots. I think, all the years I lived in Birmingham, and this house was waiting all along with other lives occupying it. And here I am, living in it when it could just as easily remained unknown to me. I remember having a map of Cornwall on the kitchen wall in our Kings Norton flat. Sea shells and pictures were added to create a visualisation board. Every day, I sent affirmations to this board. Other factors were at play too: there were Cornish relatives, and the children's father had found work down there. When the house came up, a relative went to view it. She said it looked down on the harbour, which I thought sounded like bliss. So, we moved there, saw the buzzards, and met with the landlord who took us up to the house. It wasn't at all what we expected; it was huge. I remember disliking the kitchen, which was an add-on to the house, and tiny. The bathroom had no hot running water. Instead there was an ancient water heater by the sink. Downstairs in the front room, a coal fire was burning, which was both new and welcoming. When family who had helped with removals left, we were on our own. My closing diary entry for that November day in '93 reads: "I saw the sun setting over the sea; the sea went a silver-grey colour - the waves very green . . . I feel homesick already. What have we done!? So far away from everybody." Over the course of the next few days, 'everything' went wrong: the fridge didn't work, the kettle kept setting off the trip switch, so the kitchen needed new electrics. But, I look back on these diary entries and see a heavily pregnant woman who lost her mother earlier that year, in a new place with her family - a desired location. Life is cyclical and so are all the 'dramas;' they all have their up or down cycle. You have to endure and accept the negative ones. Yet, the wheel turns and you move up with it. A week later, on the New Moon, we walked the cliffs toward Loe Bar, and part-buried in the path I found a quartz point, which I thought was beautiful (I still have it). The children were only small, and when it began to rain we turned back for home. My diary entry notes: "Saw a peregrine falcon hovering off cliff; perfectly stationary in the blowing wind." My dreams at the time either reflect the colour of the sea in objects such as necklaces and earrings that return to their original colour in the sun; travel, namely, making a spontaneous trip back to Kings Norton and surprising family; or being in the sea, having trouble staying over the swell and getting further away from land. I'd also dreamt of my late mum, visiting me in a big tower block. It's easy to see the symbols for anxiety in my dreams; and my growing love for my new environment. I was enchanted by the sea and the moon: "Saw thin crescent of the waxing moon in the sky and the orange-red of the sun going down over the horizon, casting its glow over the waters - the sea turns a glassy silver. Sky twilight-blue, red and orange; delicate hues. The waves crashed pure white against the green water. Lovely to look at." Invariably, as in the turning wheel, one settles in to a routine, finds one's way.
A few of days after the Autumn Equinox, I was closing the gate, and I saw the spider's web. I'm figuring it must be a new one because I could have sworn the other had disintegrated. Yet, this web is in the same position, hanging from the same ragwort (which are now crumpling stalks), and is complete with the radial lines crossing it. No spider to be seen, which adds to the mystery.
I'm still deciding how to order my writing on this blog. While categories help me organise the types of writing, such as Walks, or Work in Progress, I'm not sure I want too many. Is writing writing? Or are we making distinctions between say, writing prose and writing poetry? I think what I'm coming to choose, is that writing that is neatly contained in its 'own frame', i.e. 'this is a poem,' 'this is a walk,' can have it's own category. I'm realising that while my work ends up neatly 'framed' in its completion, much of the process regarding the way I work, comes inherently via the way I see and experience the world.
' The totality of your creativity comes after you have begun your work on the sacred painting of your life.'
Andrews, Lynn V. 'Illumination' in The Power Deck, New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991
My writing process is multi-faceted. On one level, it's powered by inspiration taken from current and past reading. Much of this is more to do with paying attention to what other writers are doing with language - how they find that particular rhythm with words that makes their voice unique, or how clean or dense their prose is and whether it suits the story. Another level works on me a little deeper, and this is story/poem ideas generated from folklore and legend. As a child, I read a lot of Ruth Manning-Sanders' books. She collected tales from all over the world. I also liked Robin Jacques' illustrations that accompanied them. Mostly as an adult, I'm more drawn to British folklore and legends. Seeing earth elementals in my Nanny Owen's garden when I was a little girl added an extra dimension to my reading of fairy tales, and the like. They weren't just made up stories to me, but contained truths that were merely invisible to most people, namely adults. I remember holding my dad's hand, and looking at the lines of mud-men that sat with their backs against my nan's fence. I looked up at my dad expecting him to say something, but I realised he couldn’t see them, and I accepted that. Years later, I asked him if he remembered me mentioning the mud-men; he didn’t. That, and other experiences determined my path and engaged me with the deeper levels from which I write. Spiritually and creatively, it's proved a source that for many years I've flowed in and out from. I’ve not had a life-changing awakening following a cataclysmic incident. Neither has my awakening and writing developed with linear progression into what could be called ‘achievement,’ as if I’d reached an end goal. During my time as a busy teacher, and when my personal life was under major upheaval, I lost almost all contact with that dimension within me. With reference to the 'Illumination’ quotation, I have found that ’waking up out of the Dream,’ and refining who I am, or coming into my Self is expressed through creative pursuits. And if there is to be a ‘totality of my creativity,’ I feel it’s on its way, now that I’m getting back in touch with my Self. It felt like I'd stalled. I stopped finding the time to practise the things I used to do. It's been similar with my writing too, turning down opportunities or 'hiding away.' I was always a very shy and inward-turned child, and threads of this have continued into adult. I'd let doubt come in. Even when I was successful - small successes, something would happen. Or I would make a choice, and way up ahead, the path I thought I was on would dissipate.
Once you go into this labyrinth of spiritual development, you move along in a fog, sometimes not knowing how you would explain, even to your own mother, what you are doing in life; and suddenly, in a timeless moment, everything is clear. You glimpse the purpose and the wholeness of the thing. You feel lighter, more alive, as you go on your way around the next bend in the road.
Noble, Vicki. MotherPeace: A Way to the Goddess through Myth, Art and Tarot (San Francisco: Harper & Row,1983) p14
You can't lose what you've learned. And even when I’ve been in ‘fog,’ I’ve always trusted that I’ll see a way through when the time is right. ‘Big’ teachings, thrum through me with strong energy before a slow taper off. Things are clear, and while the effects can ‘cool,’ I accept that means a time of integration. Then I receive a teaching or have an experience that propels me on again. Whatever plan the Universe has for me, I'm fairly sure that for now it has a lot to do with writing. I can't even explain it to myself. Only, that I’ve always written. In my youth, I kept a daily diary, detailing every mundane action of day to day living. I say mundane, but there are entries on the peak end of scale: about the lives of my pets; the lead up to, and the death of my mother; the births of my children and the minutiae of what they did and said. The tiny script I used at the time means I need a magnifying glass to read it now. Yet, it had to be tiny to cram it all in. Or did it reflect the 'smallness of things?' Occasionally, if I can bear to read my earliest entries, I find myself eye-rolling my nineteen-year-old self. The diaries cover a variety of formats: 1987 was a Dairy Diary for the Home, full of recipes; Friends of the Earth in 1990; there's bog-standard A4 desk diaries (more space was always a bonus); a run of WeMoons; then beautiful blank journals before hitting the Academic Diary phase (did love a new diary at the beginning of the school year), and then a return to the spiritual with Earth Pathways; Country Wisdom & Folklore. 2022 welcomes a moon calendar diary.
In my mid-teens and early twenties, my spiritual (which I acknowledged as Pagan/Wiccan) awakening was coupled with prolific letter-writing (oh, to have the time to do that again!) with like-minded souls discovered in the back page ads of Prediction magazine. The whole practice of letter-writing for me can not be understated. It was a ritual unto itself. Avoiding 'Basildon Bond,' paper was sourced from a variety niche shops: natural sheets with a wood-chip (tricky to write on); vibrantly hued (requiring ’strong’ ink), or printed with beautiful illustrations. On plain paper I would draw Celtic knot-work or flowers, gluing on real pressed petals. A line guide for translucent paper was a must for neatness; that or painstakingly drawing lines that I erased after. I wrote with an Osmiroid italic pen, and used several shades of coloured ink. Then the writing began. There was nothing I enjoyed more at that time, than the giving and receiving of letters from friends I had never met (although a few, I did end up meeting). I loved knowing about their lives; their magickal practice or meditations; favourite books; music they listened to. My memories of shared mix tapes have long outlived the tapes themselves! Apart from one one or two postcards, I no longer have the letters. Shame really. They may have been nice to read again. But, I am a 'cutting cords,‘ kind of person. New brooms sweep through. I've kept dream diaries for thirty-odd years, but I have a feeling I discarded some along the way . . .Rituals, spells, journeying, have all been documented. Writing them down helps me clarify thoughts, and makes it possible to compare results and patterns.
There came a time when significant change happened. The long and short of it was a move to Devon, and later enrolling in university. Eventually, I ended up teaching, which in itself was another significant change. I learned how to function and achieve in a system. My shy self became 'performer.' The fundamentals of teaching, I enjoyed. But, my hope of stirring a joy for literature and writing in students was overall often curtailed by a number of factors when operating in a system that places too much emphasis on targets, exams, teacher rankings. The system is a Goliath that doesn't ( I'm informing you, with great brevity, of my personal opinion) take into account all the variables that occur regarding students‘ backgrounds and requirements. Such diversity cannot easily be catered for in the curriculum. It might look like it can until it's lifted off the page and put into practice in the classroom. Children cannot be neatly boxed. We expect learning and progression to be linear, and for achievement to quantifiable at every given mark. In my opinion, it didn't work putting foreign students with very little English in the same classroom as students who required access to an emotional curriculum before an academic one. 'Difficult' classes turned into 'managing' more than 'teaching.' You also come to learn an awful lot about workplace politics and people in general. For my own growth, I had to experience it. School was my microcosm of the outside world. When I reflect on the holistic approach I maintained on health, pregnancy and birthing, I could wonder why I didn’t choose to teach in a holistic school, except the answer would still be that I needed to experience the ‘ordinary,’ world.
Your primary purpose is to enable consciousness to flow into what you do. The secondary purpose is whatever you want to achieve through the doing.
Tolle, Eckhart. Oneness With All Life (Great Britain: Michael Joseph, Penguin Books, 2018) p32
New energy has entered my space; a return to clarity. I’m working productively. A typical writing day begins and ends with reading. At the moment, breakfast reading is Nicholas Crane's The Making of the British Landscaper. Before bed it's Anne Tyler's Breathing Lessons. Other books are fitted in between. In the morning, cards, dreams and soul-writing are examined for connections (there usually are). By then, I've moved into that quiet inner state necessary for creative writing. If I’m touch with Source, then so is my work.
What's your writing process? How has writing worked for you? Where do you take inspiration from? Do you write for yourself or for others? Or are you creative in other ways? I'm intrigued to know.