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.

Weekly Poem – Sunday Morning Meditation

This is the mystery of writing. While you may practice it sitting on your arse staring at the blank page or screen, it happens in other ways, too. The late Dermot Healy once said in a master class I attended that all reading is writing. Even when you are slogging in a very muddy garden performing the autumn clear up tasks, writing is happening on some back burner in the brain. We sleep and dream and wake wanting to write it down and unriddle those images that stir us and make us confront the secret anxieties of our waking life. The longer I am at this writing lark I realise that wielding the written word is a coping mechanism for life. Or perhaps, it is more accurate to say that the creative process is what configures hope, peace, faith and love. It’s just that writing is my preferred creative vehicle driven in this life time. Next one, can I please be a visual artist?

We are living in anxious times. It’s difficult to ignore even if you strictly ration the gloomy news. If you duck the gunk going on the macro, the micro news carried by friends, acquaintances and colleagues cannot be given the blind eye. In my Zoom creative writing class this past weekend I used a quotation from a Leonard Cohen song as the spark for our in-class writing.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in

Leonard Cohen, Anthem
Goosebumps! This guy is just so good! Bravo maestro!

So the spark for part of the session was about cracks and where the light can get in or out. That is going to be an ongoing exercise over the next few weeks. Even though 92% of the Irish population over the age of 12 is vaccinated, the HSE is still prepping for a “difficult winter.” Medical staff are exhausted, between Covid and the cyber hack of the HSE computer system. Most everyone is flagging emotionally, mentally or physically. Who does not know someone who is down with the ‘cold that is not Covid?’ Resiliance is feeling a bit threadbare. A friend’s 95 year old mother said she felt this past 18 months had been more difficult in many ways than World War II. People may have been dying left and right then, but you could have a cup of tea with a neighbour if you felt down. Or go dancing, while not dodging bombs.

Sunday morning, even though for the first time in a week it was not raining, I woke early and grabbed my notebook. I had a very leisurely few hours of writing ‘downtime.’ The Weekly Poem is the result. It is an abecedarian. It is similar to the acrostic, with lines beginning with a word in alphabetical order over the course of the poem. It was a new form for me to experiment with.

BTW, I recommend finding one day a week for dedicating a morning to just mooch, or lie abed late, or stare out the window for a full hour. It can help steady the centre of world that is fizzing, fizzling, and sending up frantic distress signals.

Sunday Morning Meditation

A milky mist obscures next door’s field, and out
beyond I hear geese honking, a wailing a long way from home. Can it be
Canada is just their summer 'vacance'? Or is Lough Moneen 
   their winter palace?  What is home? I guess it

depends upon how you look at it. I watch them fly
east towards the mountain most days going
forwards and back from the lough, a noisy
gaggle in tight formation, expostulating.

How can we transliterate their soundings?

I look out as the morning gradually takes shape, mist receding over 
    the murky horizon. 
Jays have not visited the garden of late. Are they seasonal, too? 
    How is it that I do not
know my year round neighbours and which are the blow ins 
    from the Arctic?

Listen. Even in October there is some birdsong playlist, several species
making conversation. Or concert? Con-something or other.  Together,
notes make chilled jazz for a Sunday brunch ambience.

Onyx-eyed magpie stares straight at me as I write behind the window’s glass, bemused 
    or beseeching
perhaps. What can a bird want of me? One  likes to 
quantify symbolisms, let the bird’s shape signify, elevate it to messenger from
realms beyond the mist, but by nine o’clock

sunshine breaches this early autumn cloud. The world comes into sharp definition, the day’s light no longer
totally eclipsed. But do you feel the chill
underlying the light? Take the pulse of the unseen, the unheard, untold
verities, a
world of meaning craving anyone’s ear. Or eye. Or heart, offering itself up to be as revealing as the

X-ray that lights up the shadows, showing everything in photographic negative 
     when really what is needed is a very positive
'Yes!' To life. And yes to mourning. And yes to the lost,  and the already gone missing. 
     They are missed. Why did we never notice that once there
     was an ark, but now a

Zoo is an asylum for very nearly, almost, listed, life extinct.

Featured image Photo by Dewang Gupta on Unsplash

Back in the (Writing Practice) Saddle Again

The new fountain pen arrived on Saturday. A pristine notebook was beckoning. There was no excuse but for a daily writing practice to resume. On 15th September 2018 I began to post a poem each day. After three months I wondered if I could keep it up for a whole 365 days. I did it! Which is to say that the month of July was actually brutal and at times felt like forty days in a desert. So close to the end, but that last lap was really tough. I signed onto Angela T. Carr’s 30 Days of Summer poetry prompt e-course which got me through the writing dog days of August. (She is doing a similar course for Samhain this year. Check it out here: https://www.adreamingskin.com/spellbound-30-days-samhain-writing-challenge if your writing practice needs a nudge.)

I actually have been toiling for the past couple of weeks on a piece of creative non-fiction to submit for competition. Inthe early Noughties I wrote a regular column and contributed features fairly frequently to Sagewoman magazine. So I was used to churning out 2,500 words of prose on at least a quarterly basis and could knock things off in a pretty business-like manner. But I shifted more towards poetry in the past ten years and I have to say, composing what turns out to be something like 2,200 words has felt like a bloodletting.

They do say writers open a vein and bleed ink. Rather melodramatic and also a bit like P T Barnum doing your promotion. But still…writing is not easy. Trying my hand at a formal piece of creative non-fiction after such a long interval has been a real challenge. Writing can be hard work.

What writers don’t often mention is the amount of time you are thinking about the piece when you are not actually sitting in front of your laptop or doodling in your notebook. You read things…you see things… you stare out the window at the bird feeder and think idly of something, nothing, then another thing and then THE thing. And you walk the dog and think some more about THE thing and wonder to the aloud to the deaf dog if it fits into the heart of the piece. And then determine, as Maggie Hannon said to me during the poetry mentoring of 2019, if it a Siammese twin that needs surgical separation and to be put into its own cot!

I can offer some first drafts of poems from this morning’s writing practice this week.

We are the Mycelium Field

An underground life 
can be just as -
or more -
widereaching than
the width and breadth
of forest floor.

Airborne
fungi send their spores
below goes
above
and over
and down
and round again

Just watch a puff ball go
POOF!

An underground life
dreams
what we will see
not just the trees
not just the forest

Underground breeds
whole federations of trees and
above ground their leaves
rustle in the late summer afternoon breeze.

They do their alchemy
so we all can breathe

Some fungi I photographed on our Sunday walk in the woods. The air was heavily scented with ‘shroom!

The Townhall Cavan had a exhibition last month created by artist Jane McCormick divertingly called The Museum of Broken Things. Read more about it here: https://www.anglocelt.ie/2021/07/09/the-museum-of-broken-things/. I was so beguiled by the title I wrote a little fragment of a poem on objets cassé.

A Bunch of  Broken Things

The bust watch face
for which time never stopped

The chipped mug
that cuts your lip with every sip

The ragged wedding veil
that moths made into a sieve for your vows

The tarnished cigarette lighter
its flint rusted stuck

You
Me
the severed limb of a tree

Have a good week. I hope you have a creative practice each day. The world needs us to be creative. Find a sliver of each day to dedicate to your creativity. Even if it is during your lunch hour. I wrote a lot of haiku and micropoems over the years during lunch hours.

Writing Practice

I last posted a blog 17th of August. While I did post some old posts via social media, I have needed down time from writing. After the great black mould battle, redecoration, entertaining house guests and reconvening a social life within current Covid guidelines, three weeks have slipped by. Since Monday I have considered writing. I have drafted some lame poems. Finally, I admitted how out of practice I am with writing. Yes, I had been on a kind of vacation. But do you ever really take a vacation from writing practice? I haven’t for….a really long time. Probably not since August 2018 actually.

Just as out of practice I was with socialising. I am only talking five people max for tea (or lunch or supper) on the terrace, but gosh it is Exhausting with a capital E. Don’t get me wrong. It’s lovely to see people and especially to exchange ideas. We have had two visits with some Cavan Artists in Residence for the River Residency. Vicki and Paul from Boredom Research really charged me up with an exchange of artistic ideas and concepts; they are a tonic!

You can get plenty of inspiration online. Zoom has been an outlet for creative writing class exchanges. But to have a small group outdoors in sunshine where we can talk, sing, read out poems and excerpts from books grabbed from shelves, tell stories – in person – well, mind blowing!

I have just spent a few hours creakily resuming some form of writing practice. Normally, I write a first draft by hand with my trusty fountain pen. But tragedy struck and the nib that sketched out all those Poem a Day first drafts gave out two days ago. Which left me feeling very sad. Writers are strange beings. We get attached to certain rituals and the demise of that fountain pen left me feeling bereft. It, together with the Quink black ink cartridge refills have given service for at least the past four years.

The new moon was on the 7th and it felt like I needed to start with a fresh pen, a fresh notebook and not a thought or note to sing in my head.

Maybe I was ‘written out.’

Maybe there was nothing left to say…

Which really scared me…

I went on Amazon and ordered the pen on the 8th.

This morning looked at the rough out of an idea for a nature essay and opened the laptop. I aimed to put the meraki into that piece. Meraki is more often used when talking about pouring your soul into your cooking. Given all the entertaining that has happened this past fortnight my kitchen has been the heart centre of much outpouring of love.

Meraki also speaks of pouring something of yourself into your creative efforts and that led me to some autobiographical musing. The writing I have done this morning touches on the major ‘inner happening’ of my adult life. It was twenty-five years ago now, more even. Twenty-five years marks the line before and after neatly. From a distance now I can write without the attachment to the subject I had even twenty years ago.

It’s good to return to a theme or subject when you have made peace with it, with yourself and it.

And I am not sure what will become of what I wrote this morning. Something. Nothing. But I resumed some form of writing practice after nearly a month of pouring my meraki into redecorating my living room and preparing for visitors, cooking and baking and sharing all manner of things – elbow bumps, masked pandemic hugs, coffee, tea, cake, poems, songs, ideas, queries and advice, laughter and sober consideration – at a beach, beside a lough, in the woods and overlooking our garden.

My new pen may arrive as early as tomorrow..In the meantime, I sit at my trusty old ‘steam powered’ laptop. I tap, tap, tap, stop, revise, delete, tap, tap, tap, read. check for verb agreement, spell check, go drink tea, have a sandwich, and come back to it again after an hour.

There is plenty of space for meraki , to leave pieces of myself and my love over the next few months. The garden is beckoning. There are still home improvement projects that should keep me out of trouble over the winter. Some of my students are requesting that I resume the Zoom creative writing this autumn. I am thinking that the theme for this autumn will be “Write from the Heart.” Which is also very meraki!

In a time where the outer world can feel pretty bleak, creative expression – no matter what your medium – done with love offers a shaft of light in the darkness. Art done with love, in love, elevates the creator as much as those who receive that creation as a gift freely given.

Which is a lofty idea that brings me back to writing practice, the craft, oiling those creaking gears of creativity when my new pen arrives soon and the ink can freely flow again.

PS. I also played a LOT of scrabble with my friend Pen who was staying with us. To her

for all the great words!

Featured image Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash