The Grand Silence

Long time, no blog. 2022 has been a year, hasn’t it? My much beloved Windows 7 steam-powered laptop finally expired and I am test driving the new laptop with this blog. Which, in part, explains the long blog silence. As a touch typiest who learned on a manual typewriter (yes, i am THAT old!), I hate typing on a tablet. But sometimes if you don’t feel there is anything fresh to offer, then it is best to shut up and garden. And work on the house. My husband and I have done both. They have been grounding activities as we have wrestled with online banking and branch closures and other administrative frustrations all this year posst-pandemic.

Note to young readers out there: the older you get the less elastic your adaptability becomes, especially after two years of sequestration. And why are they closing bank branches just when we hunger to see faces and can safely deal with human interaction? Somedays it feels like the War of the Robots is the new business model for just about everything! Now, I REALLY sound old!

My husband is quite extraordinary. As a sort of throw away wish during lockdown, I said aloud that I wanted part of the garden to be dedicated to Brighid (aka St. Brigit of Ireland or the goddess Brigid). I researched plants associated with Her. We walked the acre and identified a spot that looked a likely place to put it. Come Imbolc this year, Tony began digging out rushes, orris root and comfrey that had run amuck. The site is slightly sloping so he needed to level it some and also put in drainage in parts. This is West Cavan after all and though we have a lot of ‘black gold’ peat , there is also a lot of clay, some of it that blue daub that you could make into dinner plates. We began with some rockery plants, including one rock rose called ‘The Bride.’ Because there were also a lot of large rocks he dug out.

Then he created small raised beds and made a bamboo pallisade to support a wall of sweet peas this past summer. We put in a number of perennials, like veronica, wild plants like Lady’s Mantle, teasel, and milk thistle. I planted red-orange coloured gladioli to give a ‘flame’ effect in the summer. When I visited Bloom in Dublin this past June I scored two hardy fuschia; fuschia is a flower that symbolises abundance and so does Brighid. We kept one patch of rushes at the heart so I can weave St. Brigid’s crosses this coming February. This past month or so we have cleared the sweet peas and planted spring flowering anemones and and narcisssi – Anemome St. Brighid and The Bride and Narcissi Bride’s Crown. A winter flowering jasmine has been added for some winter colour and a heather bed.

Friends have pitched in with making signs and a hand made bench will arrive so you can sit and meditate in the space. I got an online company to print my poem “Brigid’s Mantle” onto a non-PVC banner and it has gone up.

Next Spring will see an Orangery erected so I can write in a midge free zone during the milder months. I will also be able to invite friends to sit in and drink tea and look out at the flowers in all weathers.

This does not include the many vegetables that we harvested and that I cooked, froze and processed. We are still eating potatoes that Tony planted in tubs. So we are about three-quarters self-sufficient in spuds this year. There are still broad beans in the freezer and there were some home grown green beans left in the freezer for a Thanksgiving green bean casserole.

Now we are in the middle of a major kitchen tear down, rehab and re-wiring job. Which I hope will be done by St. Brigit’s Day, a new bank holiday in Ireland in 2023 for the first time. And not before time! She actually was born in Ireland, unlike St. Patrick! It feels like a good sign that women will be getting more rights and that misogyny will wane. St. Brigit was the most canny of women. And a survivor and adaptor par excellance! She evolved from pagan goddess to a Mother Abbess – and a bishop!

Once the Poetry Map project was launched for Cuilcagh Lakelands Global Geopark in March, I was badly needing some time out. I continued with my Zoom group of women writers throughout the year, but my own output has been very small, scappy and first draft languishing. Nothing was getting my pulse racing. No ideas or projects felt diverting.

So it seemed sensible to remain silent. Editors and readers want something fresh. While I had plodded on throughout various Lockdowns, maybe I needed to admit to myself that I was as tired as the World itself.I repeatedly heard people report fatigue and exhaustion. Maybe it was partly because so many of us embraced activities that have been impossible for two years. (We returned to a community drum circle this autumn and singing/music practice with two other friends.) But interaction with more than a handful of souls was a skill that had gone a bit rusty. In our rural fastness I found I was much more sensitive to loud noises and crowds. A trip to IKEA in Dublin was way too over-stimulating for my nervous system.

Perhaps it will take a while for the World and Its Wife to re-boot after two years of virtual seclusion. You would have thought I had had about as much silence as I could take, but then again…The world was knocked off its axis and it has not yet regained its balance. Things are still very wonky and people are still getting sick.

I do still believe in the healing power of words. But I also know that stillness and silence are even more profound and very deep medicine indeed. Staying connected to the earth and nature have been grounding not just for me. Maybe I have also been doing some of it for you, who may not have nature just outside the front door. Maybe it has been more important to remain anchored when so many are uprooted by war, economic recession, and bereavements of so many sorts.

Stay grounded. Bear witness. Testify when it is time.

And in the estremely severe temperatures in Ireland this week – frost on hoar frost on hoar frost – -7C most nights

When I Am Not Writing I Am Writing

Samhain season is here. The clocks have fallen back in Europe and North America. This is the season of the Cailleach (sounds like call-yuck). She is the Old ‘Un, considered the creatrix of the island of Ireland. The myth says that this Mother Winter piled stone upon stone to create this island in the North Atlantic. While autumn temperatures are still nmild here, and the Virginia creeper was slow to turn crimson, the darkness has crept in. I want to be a bear and sleep in my den. Maybe that has to do with solar flares, or the clock time shifting around, or the darkness that requires artificial light in at least some corners of the house all day. How did they cope before electrification? Most any time of the day requires some extra light for reading or writing or any close work…

While not ascribing to writer’s block, I do believe there are creative lulls. Sometimes it just needs to be pen down. Meanwhile, I have hoked out bag after bag of comfrey root before dibbing in many kilos of narcissus bulbs to naturalise. I also felt an urge to make an effigy of the Cailleach. Tis her season after all! And then I still had some wool and made her a Wyrd Little Sister. Or Maid. Or Assistant in the creation of the world. While the Wyrd Sister has the button face that many folk Bridéogs have had, I really felt that the Cailleach needed a blank face…sort of like Original Face, since she is Origin. I also found a piece of felled tree branch that works as a stick for her to lean on and into the winter gales. She is a giantess and the Wryd Little Sister is considerably smaller even with her bending into the wind. They have stones in their aprons in accordance with some legends and stones at their feet as they empty load upon load. Creation begins…over and over.

Which really does prove that putting tools down and getting away from the screen or the page can fuel your creativity. Sometimes, some other creative activity will fill your well. I play with wool, collage, cook, bake; I specialise in garden demolition work! The words will come eventually, but first I need to shush the mind chatter and emotional whirlwinds. I need the silence. Perhaps silence is the writer’s equivalent tool to an artist using chiaroscuro in a painting. Silence helps delineate the light and shadow.

Onward to the Weekly Poem in its infant form… It arises from a interrogating myself on what do I want and need to myself at this Samhain time.

Silence and Juice

I want more...
silence to quell the deep uncertainty out there beyond
our small sanctuary of green beginning to sleep,
beds caped against frost, for the frost will come,
it will bite, it will bleed the juice from the comfrey
that will wilt and blacken and lie flat
down on the ground, macerating.

I want
some of that juice. Let it flow.
Let it allow something new to grow.
Let it be strong and useful and somehow
even a little bit beautiful.

I need some of that juice from the get go.
Also
deep sleep, like some bear in its winter lair.
I need this darkness
though some may feel despair...

There is the soft heart beat
of seeds waiting for more light, 
for more warmth,
for some water and some wind,
some thing...

I need to just put my ear to the ground
counting earth's twenty-three beats per minute
even in the winter,
even in the dark,
even in the cold.

I want silence for myself, but I need the beat.
I want the beat for myself in the silence.
I need the silence to hear the beat.
I need the beat to soften the silence.

I need to trust the unexpected.
I want to pay the price of all with my all.

If you need a little light in the season of darkness I am going to be conducting some Sunday Zoom reflective writing sessions from the first night of the Festival of Light, Hanukah, until Winter Solstice on 21st December. Because this is a spendy time of year I am only requesting a donation, pay what you are able. Sometimes you just need to have a lighthouse in your living/dining room and beam it out so others don’t run aground. Message me if you are interested in joining.

Silences and Writer’s Voice

A series of unfortunate technical lapses has imposed a digital silence these past three weeks. Which is not to say I was not writing, just not giving public voice to the thoughts that manifested onto the pages. My laptop and iPad and mobile phone all had ‘charging’ issues. Which led me to explore the metaphor of my becoming incommunicado. Now that I have at least one reliably working device I am not hurrying to reach for the cure for the others.

Once successfully charged, I topped up my iFone with credit; it then immediately showed ‘No Service’. I do live in a bit of a mobile signal dead zone, but even in populous areas where Vodaphone gets a good signal it still is in Refusnik status.  Allegedly a new Apple brand charger will be the solution to my original Apple brand charger that now only logs a draining of charge. I love the iPad mini for taking photos, but again, I find I am not hurrying to buy one online. I know that at some point I need to address the mobile phone issue, because how else do you get to reset my husband’s Twitter account if we don’t have one they can text the new password?!

These are first world problems and ones that are boring me already. I’ve never been one to embrace cutting edge technology or go to see blockbusters or buy touted bestsellers.  I want something that works for me and my life rather than what some corporation feels will plump up their bottom line.

While the internet offers a great deal that is positive – companionship with the like-minded, cheap communication flow across international borders, crossword puzzle cheats, quick checking of references that a nearly 61 year old memory has lost its instant recall groove – it can become a bit like an ultra-demanding toddler gobbling up all your attention.

The digital world can also be a form of white noise. Not just a distraction, but an actual shield against the deep silence from which all creativity springs. The silence is what I am not willing to give up, at least not just yet. I am rationing my white noise.

Without the ‘publication’ access of the internet, where my thoughts and feelings are broadcast, I pondered the nature of ‘voice’. Writers consider this quite a bit – the authentic voice, one that is recognisably just one’s very own instead of a clone that can be fit into a convenient category or genre. What all publishers state they want – vaguely, mysteriously, sinisterly – is ‘a fresh voice.’ This strikes me as a bit of a grail quest, since most of us are rumpled, creased, slightly soiled, sweaty, anxious and generally not bandbox  fresh out of the store’s cellophane wrapper.

Prose crisp as just picked salad. Poetry that still has compost clinging to its roots.  No artificial additives. Completely organic.

My salad days are long past. I cannot be perky enough to harvest while the morning dew is still on the leaves; damp is bad for my knees.  I am more like a hardy perennial that needs periods of mulch, comfrey feed (which stinks incidentally for the uninitiated), and periods of dormancy.

Silence is like the winter for the writer in me. Technical glitches have been my equivalent of fresh manure feed. I have no pretentions or ambitions towards being all winsomely green and succulent; I am going for evergreen. Age gives you a spikeyness that redefines what ‘fresh’ can mean for a writer’s voice.

When I was young I was a mezzo-soprano with a three octave range. I still have that range, but it has shifted right down towards tenor. Age has given my voice depth and timbre, as well as a lot more soul.

Silence is also a member of the orchestra. No composer has ever managed to notate it’s part in the arrangement, but nonetheless silence plays a crucial role in any composition’s timing and rhythm.