An E-course to Light December’s Dark Days

A Light in the Window: A 21 Day Journey Together Through December’s Dark Days

How are you? Are you okay? It’s dark outside most of the day. Most of us are staying inside, working at home, cocooning from the corona virus, shielding, trying to maintain and sustain life in a new, strange and inconvenient normal. Isolation can feel lonely even with the internet, telephones, Zoom and FaceTime. The dark days of December beckon us into silence and contemplation. This has always been so. But it has also been the time for storytelling beside the hearth and sharing experiences with those who gathered around.

This e-course is both a guide and companion. Each day you will receive an email with a short piece of writing for reflection. From that lit candlewick you can journal around the topic. You may spend twenty minutes or two hours. You may choose to write a poem, or write a memory, or make some visual art inspired by the prompt.

That is your journey.

But journeys benefit from companions, so this e-course is supported by the option to Zoom over the evenings of December 6th (St. Nicholas Day), December 13th (Day 4 of Hanukkah), and 20th (Winter Solstice Eve)  with me and any fellow traveller who choose to check in and share their light with one another.  It is not compulsory, but for those of you who may not be seeing or speaking to others often, you are welcome to my virtual fireside on those evenings.  We will light our stove and tune in via Zoom 6-8pm Irish Time on those days. That will mean North Americans can brunch or lunch with us while continental Europeans can sip their evening cocoa as we swap tales like 21st century Canterbury Tale travellers. Zoom invitations will go out with the Sunday email.

If I ask my husband very nicely I am sure he might be persuaded to give us a tune.

December marks the celebration of light festivals in three religious traditions. Christians will light the first candle on their Advent wreaths on Sunday, 30th November on a day that is a full moon, as well as a lunar eclipse. Jewish families will light the first of eight candles on their menorah on December 8th. Pagans will celebrate the shortest day of winter solstice on 21st December (depending upon where you live in the world) as the rebirth of the sun.

Photo by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash

Treat each daily email as a kind of window to open on an Advent calendar.  Treat it as some daily  low-cal, hi-inspiration. We are waiting for the return of the light – physical and metaphorical. Darkness can be frightening for some, but we can befriend it. We all grew out of the darkness of our mother’s womb to emerge into the bright lights of a delivery suite or the softer lighting of a bedroom. Most of us started life with our eyes shut tight, but gradually we adjusted to this new brightness and clarity.

We are in a time of change and uncertainty. Yet, this autumn the whooper swans flew over 800 miles from Iceland and made their winter home once again in local Lough Moneen. They honk overhead daily, just as they have done each year we have lived in our little home in West Cavan that  has a view of hills in County Leitrim and the wind turbines on Corry Mountain in Roscommon.

This e-course requires the most rudimentary of tools. You need a notebook of some sort to journal. You will need a pen. Crayons or coloured pens and pencils might appeal to some of you.  You may decide on some days to use craft materials that you already have around the house.  What you may not have is a candle. This could be a tea light or something fancier and scented; in the interests of home safety you may use a battery charged candle.  Keep it simple and safe and work with the requirements of your household.

No matter what you spiritual or religious tradition or upbringing, celebrate the light during these dark days this December. You are invited to reflect and contemplate as you wait for personal and collective epiphanies. We have the means in our hands and hearts. You are welcome to my virtual fireside each Sunday to share what is sparking within you.

The e-course will cost you 21 $/£/€ – or whatever is your local currency – for all twenty-one days.  You can register for the e-course using the form or by emailing bee@sojourningsmith.blog. You will receive an email to direct you to the Paypal account that will ensure that you receive your daily emailed ray of light during the dark days of December.

Featured image Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash.

Finding the Light in December’s Dark Days

2020 has been, to quote one of my favourite YouTubers, Bernadette Bannerman, a dumpster fire. I am sure that all of us have had lows and then still lowers over the course of the year. To mention just one anxiety: the statistic that there were one million Covid-19 positive tests in seven days just last week in the USA alone.

This does not bode well for the holiday season. The UK is in lockdown for a month in the hopes of saving Christmas. Ireland has had a six week lockdown that is due to ease on 1st December. But…as we configure our bubbles there are going to be not a lot of face to face meetings over the holidays this year because indoor groups beyond a household are dubious. This is despite the Aldi Christmas ad where an anxious child keeps asking his parents “Is he coming?” He is constantly reassured. The viewer thinks…oh, Santa. Of course. But the last scene is the child running to the front door and rugby tackling the knees of a elderly gentleman crying, “Grandad!”

My personal Christmas wish is for dry outdoor weather that will allow another household to have hot chocolate outdoors with us. Bring your own cup and chair. My husband is already figuring out how to make a fire pit to help keep us warm. Given Ireland’s damp Christmases Past this is a Big Wish. Are you listening, Santa?

We know we are lucky. We have each other, pets, and good telecommunications. I Zoom twice a week with my creative writing groups, so I get some social interaction beyond the household, even if it is virtual. I phone friends for chats on a daily basis. We have bolstered one another through Lockdown 1 and now Lockdown 2. We have remained well. Lockdown 2 has been a lot harder than the one last spring though. With holidays coming up and getting cancelled or pared down to the minimum there are some doldrums rumbling.

I am not unaware of how a lot of people find the dark days of December very hard in the best of years. And, as said before, this is a dumpster fire of a year. So I have written a 21 day e-course that will drop a little bit of hope, inspiration and virtual company into your email box from 1st December to Winter Solstice. This December may be a bit tougher, but we can still focus on the return of the light, the wheel turning again sunwards and the new growth in 2021.

My aim is to place a light in your inbox window each morning for those twenty-one days. So I have named this shared journey based on a short reflection and daily journal prompt A Light in the Window: A 21 Day Journey Together Through December’s Dark Days.

Dark Days of December

Like those Canterbury pilgrims of old, we need companions. So there is the option of Zooming into our cottage’s fireside deep in the West Cavan countryside on three Sundays, 6-8pm Irish Time/ 3-5pm EST/12-2pm PST.

The cost will be 21 dollars, pounds or euro or whatever is your local currency.

The first email goes out the morning of December 1st, 10am Irish Time.

You can send your expression of interest to bee@sojourningsmith.blog, which will get forwarded to my personal email account. I will contact you with registration and Paypal details. You can also gift the e-course to family and friends who need a little light during the dark days of December.

Let’s spread some light this December!

Here’s a poem based on a memory from last December. When shall we sing again in a small, crowded space?

A Pool of Light

A splash in this December night, the motley
assembly of voices raised in chorus,
virtual strangers picking out harmonies,
humming along when words fail, beating
time to the tunes , clapping, snugged up
in this small country pub, turf fire warming
the crowd of bodies at the bar and we are

singing, singing, carried along by
melody, camaraderie, joy's memory.
Hope sounds like our rowdy laughter,
applause, the respectful murmur of 'good man' ,
the parting glass wishing all  a 'Good night!'
as Ben holds open the door, formally shaking our hands
as we leave that pool of light and walk out
into winter's dark night.

I hope you will sojourn with me during the first 21 days this December 2020 so we can bask in that pool of light.

In Transit

The theme for #30DaysOfSummerWritingChallenge is ‘At the Station.’ Regular readers of Sojourning Smith will be familiar with my distaste for airport departure lounges. I have taken trains and buses a fair amount over a lifetime, and become infatuated with ferry terminals at times. There were vivid memories of getting trapped in an Amtrak bathroom before the train had even set off for my transcontinental trek back in 1978. (I did eventually release myself.) But in the end the title demanded its hearing, as did the journey remembered from early childhood. I may get back to stations at some later date though.

In Transit

" Are we there yet?"
We clop lopped over concrete slabs
of the northeastern extension
of the PA turnpike.
We were a long way
from there yet.

So we made up games,
listing each new state's
car license plate.
I learned how to rhyme
in a Studebaker backseat,
defeated by orange.
Determined to make
a new word up.

Pitstop Neshaminny Howard Johnson's.
Prepare to hold your nose in Bristol
going past rotten egg Rohm & Haas.
Cross the Delaware River
to Grandmother's house we go.
View the ships in bottles,
great-uncle corraling clippers
in glass. But we're not there yet.

Pass the Chinese supermarket
in Brown's Mills before skirting
forlorn Pine Barrens
more Brother's Grimm
than sylvan

"Are we there yet?"
said somewhere near Lakewood
when nose began to sniff and give
a feral quiver, an atavistic
sense of subtle shifts

in ozone, air recalibrating.
Then the definite tang of salt,
rotting seaweed, crossing
Barnegat Bay's old metal bridge
rattling over onto the barrier island's sandy spit.

Roll down Ocean Avenue,
hang a left at the Catholic Church.
Stop, pile out of station wagon
to peels of aunt's laughter
as it goes up and down the scale,
our cousins' clammer.

Later, after a noisier than usual dinner
we go down to the street
to see the Atlantic Ocean.
Walking the beach, getting feet wet,
we face the edge of earth
to look out at the mystery.
We are not nearly there yet.



Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Featured image of ‘Old Barney’ from sandcastlelbi.com

Journeying

We are all sojourners, temporarily resident on this precious planet. I woke early this Sunday morning and broke my usual writing routine. I played with the Saturday paper’s crossword first. Once I had tanked up with a second very large mug of tea I dipped into Ruth Padel’s The Poem and the Journey. Poems, as with journeys, are built on connections. As are all human relationships. Brené Brown has observed that we humans are hard-wired for connection Yet, any number of studies in any number of countries are warning that we are in an epidemic of loneliness, which will shorten a life span faster than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, over-eating, or not taking exercise. No wonder there is a demand for poetry anthologies that offer prescriptions like a literary rescue remedy.

Travellers are often those hungry for new connections. So, too, I believe is true for poets. There are many forms of journeying. But the prefered destination for all is genuine connection.

Two little poems this sunny Sunday morning. The first is for a writer friend who is wrestling with a manuscript while on a sojourn in a friend’s borrowed mountain cabin.. Retreats are often places where we best connect. It’s a quotation poem that takes its first line from Margaret Atwood on writing. The title is robbed from a line in an R.S. Thomas poem. Writers have a tendency for moods swinging between thinking that what they have written is the most wonderful arrangement of words ever and then that all they do is play with a pile of crap.

despair, writing, trail

And emerging from my early morning dreamland.

Night Passage

I sail , Chagall-like,
in inky illumination,
and colliding dimensions,
meeting those close to me
who are also far, far away

in a Dreamworld Departure Lounge
we will all soon fly from,
having checked in,
dropped our bags,
dutifully visited the shop's check out

where we greet each other
with delight, in surprise,
in confusion at our displacement,
this serendipitous meeting
and simultaneous leave taking.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Happy journeying through the next week.

The Beach

While it would appear that in the US the road trip is the most popular form of family vacation, the beach is still a popular destination for a holiday in just about every country with or without a coast. The sea is a powerful lure even in countries like Britain and Ireland where there is no guarenteed sunshine and you often see children paddling in the Atlantic in insulated surf suits. The seaside holiday sojourn rose in popularity of the Regency period, when the Prince Regent routinely decamped court to Brighton. Jane Austen’s Persuasion included a seaside sojourn upon which the plot turns. Something about the ozone or the negative ions in the are, the salt spray, the invigourating chilliness of water on sunburnt skin, is universally appealing. It’s cooling in hot weather. You can legally run around nearly naked (although Jane would disapprove of that sort of disrobing.) The seaside is so damn, well, elemental. One quote I came upon celebrates that fact that you can do nothing far more easily there than anywhere else. Although I would query that definition of ‘nothing.’ Kite flying, beach combing, fossil hunting, fishing, swimming, surfing, rock pool skimming, walking, sunrise and sunset watching. These are not nothing. But they are all ways of leisurely letting your mind go out with the tide.

I am fortunate enough to live fifty minutes from the coast, so we can take day trips as and when we find a window. Winter beaches can be quite as wonderful (and less crowded) than summer ones.

Today’s Poetry Daily celebrates my favourite summer place since childhood. It truly does embody my happy place. The first line is a quote from Umair Siddiqui.

Corleck Head

Everything before written records is mystery and speculation. That makes it a writer’s imagination’s playground. Even archaeologists speculate and best guess on the assembled evidence. But it is palimpsest, the layers of our own conditioning and experience inform the guess. Back at the Cavan County Museum another artefact grabbed me. The Corleck Head was found near Kilbride, Brigid’s Church. From that I infer that the cult of the goddess Brighid was important here before the Christian St. Brigid took over all Her associations and pre-occupations (fertility, poetry, healing, smithcraft). It is supposed that the Celts thought the human soul resided in the head, although I am unclear of the provenance of that belief. Brighid was a triple goddess – the triune maiden, mother, crone – and the Corleck Head with it’s three-way visage does echo that, although the faces look quite masculine to me. 

At any rate this Sunday you can have fun making up your own story!

Corleck Head

Back to back

Facing out three ways

Who know what might

Be met at the crossroads?

One to watch. One to fight.

One to sound alarm and live

To tell the tale.

Walls

In my recent sojourns I visited stoney landscapes. When I was musing over the subject for the Poetry Daily I flicked through past snaps. The stone walls of various destinations I’ve visited are frequent subject matter. Orkney has a distinctive style of stonewall building that is quite different from the way they erect field walls near where I live close to the Cavan Burren (burren meaning a stony place). Last year I was in the southwest of England and in Cornwall they built their own distinctive ones of slate.

Clockwise from far left, stone walls from Avebury, Wiltshire, Orkney, Scotland, Tintagel, Cornwall and the Cavan Burren, Ireland

Of course, walls have been historical boundary markers. Living as I do close to the Brexit contentious Irish border we have lived for the past twenty years with a ‘soft border’, an invisible line that exists on a map and in some people’s state of mind. But I was brought up short in a Easter workshop when an eleven year old talked about the “Teresa May’s Wall”. In the child’s mind the talk of a ‘hard border’ had been conjured as a wall, rather like the one Donald Trump wants to build.

Given that I grew up during the Cold War with an Iron Curtain and a Berlin Wall, I am not a fan of walls. Like the so-called ‘Peace Walls’ built in Belfast and Jerusalem I view walls as a failure of imagination and negotiation.I understand the practicality of being able to keep your cattle corralled. After all, I do live in the country and know the hazards of cattle wandering the long mile of a country road, blocking the rare motorised traffic. It’s not easy to coax a ton weight of cow to move when it is happily grazing on the verge’s cow parsley. Truly, I appreciate the validity of psychological boundaries. I simply object to humans trying to categorise other humans as cattle that need to be penned and kept out of particular territories whose ownership or stewardship is always a matter for debate. That is, in nugget form, history, which is often a continuing saga of ownership as theft and grievance. And grief.

However, I do appreciate the skill and aesthetic of a finely crafted stone wall.

This morning I was a bit stumped for poetry practice subject matter. You can probably gather that I had a long rumination on walls before I plumped for the more medival subject of anchorites. If this is an alien word to you, an anchorite was a Christian ascetic (often also a mystic) who chose to be walled into a small cell, usually adjoining a church. There was a narrow opening where food and communion wafers could be passed. St. Julian of Norwich is probably the most famous example in the English-speaking world.

Anchorite

Fill it in
stone by stone
with me sitting
within
silent
as the mortar sets
the mason's scrape
the only sound
bar the faint
hiss of prayers breathed
incessantly
from my lips.

The fasting
is a way to become
light in a dense world
of sin and shame.
I do not do this
in the name of self.
One day I could no longer
remain
without stain or blame.

I could live
however
without
touch or small talk
within
this small space and
the love of these walls
their relentless matter
containing
my very
hollowed out
heart
which some call
the chaos of
my soul.


Copyright © 2019 Bee Smith. All rights reserved.

Wanderer’s Return

I am home. Having slept long in my own bed, I am feeling that poetry practice should be a bit frivolous. There is a dream I need to unpick and hold like a talisman. It is not for sharing. At least not yet. Scotland was epic. But I do feel a loyalty to my mountains that are technically not  mountains, not on the same scale as the Cairngorms or Glencoe at least. But they are my  mountains, the ones I see and know that I am close to home. Scotland also has a great sense of humour and the absurd. It is also a land of makers, which was generous enough to fill my own creative well during my sojourn. Today’s poetry practice takes imspiration from a witty customer ‘polite notice’ in P&O’s toilets. My own verse version is more preachy. But any opportunity for climate change PR! 

PLEASE DON’T FLUSH



Your iFone or your maxed out credit card.

There’s a fleet of tech and plastic floating

In the sea already. It can be hard

Not to flush down your sick fears and spite.

Stow ’em! Go lash them to the for’ard spar!

Just consider the first rule of boating:

This recepticle was made just for shite.

The ocean’s not your personal junkyard.


DOWN THIS TOILET

Prime the Poetry Pump

The road trip ends today as we ferry over to Northern Ireland this lunchtime. The final day before we journey home found me wandering happily in a museum and a creative gallery space in Glasgow. (After beaches, my second most happy place.) I wish I were gifted with the talent to make beautiful things with my hands. I am in awe of visual artists and crafts persons. Wandering around exhibitions primes my poetry pump.  One medium meets another. Today’s poem takes its starting point from work in the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art. The provenance will be revealed at the end of the blog post. The poem acts as a response to the call made by another artist working in another medium who was responding to her reading of an author. That all were women and creative artists was apt. The actual exhibit was placed in a slightly lower gallery on the fringes of larger exhibition entitled Domestic Bliss. That creative artist’s work and living space often overlap, especially for women, made its placement within the wider context especially clever.


Studio Echoes


Study me this list:

Trophy             Treason       Traitor

Friend          Acquaintance         Manipulation

Defunct

Then this:

Prize      Priceless      Imprison

Mate    Pal     Twist

Defeat

Take the salt down from the cupboard.

Cast your circle.

Step into your space.

Learn to forget dirty plates.

They are outside the magic circle,

The frenemy of creativity

Study this:

the twist

of the steak knife

in the cutlery

drawn against

blank canvas

the skin of your memory.

Copyright 2019 Bee Smith

Last Leg of the Scotland Road Trip

We’ve travelled down from the tip of Caithness from Scrabster and overnighted at Helmsdale in Sutherland (a town torally swaddled in the aroma of gorse this tome of year.) then was the long drive day, working our way southwards. There was snow flurries coming through the Cairngorms; thendash told us it was 4C. By the time we lunched in Pitlochrie it was sunny and a balmy 14C. Pitlochrie is a spa town,  a kind of Gaelic Harrogate, all weighty stone buildings, purveyos of old-fashioned sweets in jars- violet creams, Berwick cockles, Irn-Bru balls. Also an especially short, shortbread in very generous rounds. On this trip I have had haggis, Orkney ice cream, shortbread. I am going off to seek the experience of square sausage in Glasgow shortly.

But first poetry practice. We are just outside Glasgow, just past the Trossachs, but close to the base of Loch Lomond, which my travel companion tells me is the gateway to the Highlands. We are staying with her 83 year old widowed father in the house he built with his own hands. An engineer by trade he also has mad mandolins. I woke to his own music practice. He was also an avid hillwalker back in the day.

Hillwalker’s Lament



When old and sight faded,

No longer seeing hazards, crags and skree,

Unable to meet the heady heights anymore,

In morning time a tune emits

From the whistle’s lips-

A lilt, a lament, a memory

When sturdy legs reeled around dance floors

With his bonnie lassie in his arms.

But she has gone before.

The high and low notes

Tenderly render the spread and breadth

Of a life knowing love

Being loved in return 

In a tune on a sunny

Scotland Saturday morning.

Copyright 2019 Bee Smith