Standing, holding uncertainty

As part of my weekly cherishing of myself, this past Sunday evening I registered for a live Zoom by Dolores Whelan and Mari Kennedy on the “Gifts and Wisdom of the Celtic Tradition for these uncertain times.” The Celtic religious traditions – both spiritually and socially – were quite different until Christianity went the way of Rome after the Synod of Whitby in 665 CE. Between the Celtic spiritual sensibility and the Brehon legal system based on reparative justice as opposed to punitive measures, life on the Celtic fringes was the light that blazed during the Dark Ages. Brehon law lingered in the Gaelic areas of Ireland up until the 17th century and was a liberal system that enshrined women’s rights when few existed elsewhere in European civilisation.

Nor did the Whitby Synod completely extinguish the underpinnings of Celtic spirituality and religious practice. The popularity of John O’ Donohue’s writings tapped into a hunger for that older wisdom creating something of a renaissance.

Ancient Celtic wisdom revers nature, contemplative silence, the giving of hospitality as a sacred duty, and the porous veil between our material world and ‘the other world.’ Dolores gave us an Irish proverb in translation- “Tir na nÓg is behind my house.” As Mari Kennedy discussed, the ancient Celtic world a millenia and more ago operated so that individuals were responsible for being in ‘right relationship’ with themselves, with the land, with their neighbours and with their god. Sovereignty was not just for the high king. It was, and still is, about living with integrity and maintaining that wholeness in all one’s dealings. That right relationship with all four is the cross surrounded by the circle of wholeness. Right relationship opens a way for there to be reparative justice rather than the punitive justice of our current systems.

The Celtic Cross – a symbolic unbroken wholeness as referenced in Whelan’s and Kennedy’s Celtic Wisdom webinar

The Celtic world was not afraid of darkness or death. The Cailleach is a terrible hag and rules winter. But she is also credited with being the Creatrix of our known world. The Celtic New Year – Samhain – or Halloween as it is known elsewhere – is at our darkest time of year. Out of that darkness the light is reborn at winter solstice.

I am reminded of the time I listened to our cat Zelda purr her litter of kittens into the world as she sat beside me. A few months earlier my husband sat with our cat Sophie as she purred her way out of this world. Birth and death both require labour; they are two sides of the same coin.

We are in that liminal space (there’s another point that Mari brought up in the webinar!) where we are witnessing the death of our old known world. The birth of the ‘new normal’ is not yet with us. We stand on our threshold with the door open. We are between the old model of our known world and the yet to be seen new model. We are needing to hold our uncertainty and stand with it – in our own integrity.

This was all very synchronous for me. The previous Friday I sat with my husband and a friend outdoors mulling over how I might devise a course that would speak to the the long days of December. With indoor visitations disappearing across the map as areas lockdown because of localised Covid19 spikes, I wondered how the Covid19 Christmas would look in 2020. I had already emailed siblings in the States asking that we don’t do the present parcel routine this year. I really do not want my siblings – all over 69 years of age – queuing for a long time in a post office, potentially exposing themselves to pathogens.

On Saturday, a discussion with some students who stayed in the Zoom room after class helped clarify what I can offer. And, credit where it is due – thanks to the late Mammy Rountree who helped construct the name for the course.

Which will be…21 Days Journey through the Dark Days of December. I will be writing more about this next week. For now, just know that my hope is that there can be a community of souls helping each other hold the uncertainty as they wait upon the return of the light.

If you want to learn more about the wisdom of Celtic spirituality I refer you to Dolores Whelan’s website (http://www.doloreswhelan.ie) and Mari Kennedy’s Celtic Wheel year long course starting soon. (https://www.marikennedy.com).

Turning

I am sitting tapping out this blog post wrapped in a yak wool shawl made to withstand Tibetan chill. The season has turned here. Primary school age children went back to their classrooms in Ireland this past week. My friend’s secondary age child will start this Wednesday. This also signals that those of us at the opposite end of the age spectrum need to nestle into their cocoons once again. We shall start using the Seniors’ Hours to do the weekly trip to the supermarket. And resort again to online shopping for what cannot be found close to home. We live in a very rural area, but with the exception of one seaside trip, we have stayed within twenty miles of home. We have kept to necessary journeys; the beach jaunt was necessary for my soul.

Young ones need to be able to interact with one another. But it also creates a big unknown in our Covid19 world. It is a calculated risk taken by the government. They are banking on kids only getting mildly sick and not having long-term health problems. They are banking on grandparents not interacting with grandchildren, getting infected and landing in hospital. They are banking on the public exerting a restraint unlike that displayed by certain politicians and public figures who assembled, flouting government restrictions, in what has now become known as GolfGate.

The season’s turning

Whatever eventuality, I am ready to launch my first online Creative Writing Workshop on 1st September with the introductory Pick n Mix course. I reached my maximum number and will now have participants Zooming in each week on a Thursday night and Saturday midday Irish time. They will be beaming in from the East Coast of the USA, Ottawa in Canada, Northwest England, Northern Ireland, and three different counties in the Republic. Even if the parameters of the local world may shrink, we can still meet, participate and co-create through technology. And may the Technology Angels and gods please bless all of us with a good bandwidth and steady signals!

And now to the Sunday weekly poem, in which aforementioned shawl makes a guest appearance.

Turning

The nip at light fabric
during the early morning dog walk

The brave-faced golden splash
of sunflower bloom. And tansy.

The tongue of monbretia
hissing through their tangerine lips

The berries - jewel trees -
garnet, ruby, amethyst sparkling

The red squirrels scrambling -
that feeling of being akin

The honking of wild geese -
their gathering, their leave taking

The fire in the grate
as dusk falls earlier each night

The reaching out - an in -
the yak wool shawl on shoulders

Have a good week. Get plenty of rest. Check your fury so that it does not exhaust you. Read some poetry. Fill your well. Create.

Zoom into Your Creativity

It is raining hard. We are getting a preview of the seasonal curve down into the dark autumn and winter here in Ireland. The low cloud demands that I have on the electric light even though I am writing this at 10am. Some folk have problems with the dark part of the year, when daylight hours are in short supply. In a damp island climate, there can be weeks when the only motivation to stir outside is to be at service to the dogs’ commands. Yet, these dark months are also creativity’s gestation.

Into the wild landscape of imagination

As much as creativity demands solitude, it also thrives with periods of collegiality. We can spark off each other. We can encourage one another to keep going when self-doubt creeps in. Also, it good for the heart and soul to have a laugh with a group of people who are makers.

CREATE – COLLABORATE – CELEBRATE

I make with words and have facilitated face-to-face workshops for the past six years as Word Alchemy. I usually magic up poems, but I have also worked in creative non-fiction, mostly with Sagewoman magazine over ten years, and written short fiction. Covid-19 has spurred me to take my workshops of small groups of no more than eight participants online. To allow for how wonky people’s work and life patterns are in this pandemic, I am offering a weekday evening course (which allows for some North Americans to join us in Ireland) and a Saturday midday option, so that you need not miss a session because life or work has intervened. We all need to be a bit flexible these days. Except about keeping a social distance and wearing masks when indoors and cannot keep our distance.

We can co-create and collaborate in the Zoom Room this autumn!

In September I am hosting an Introductory workshop I call Pick n Mix, where each week we have a taste of a new genre. During October we will spend dive into short fiction writing. After the clocks go back, November’s dark days will offer four weeks when we can gestate many poems.

If you are interested in participating in these workshops, please register your interest in the form. Pick n Mix is basically full, but one more could fit. There is already one person registered for Short Fiction in October. So please bag your space now.

I look forward to welcoming new faces in the group, along with students who have returned year after year, carving out a space in their schedules for creative expression and companionship. The Pick n Mix groups (so far) includes participants from the East Coast USA, counties Fermanagh, Cavan, Leitrim and Galway. The Short Fiction group already has someone from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland signed on. We are a hospitable lot here in Ireland.

I am sure that you may have questions. Let’s have a conversation.

Bee Smith
Bee Smith invites you to join with other creative colleagues in her Word Alchemy workshops on Zoom

Creative Writing Workshops on Zoom

Zoom creative writing workshops

There are just a couple spaces left available on the introductory creative writing workshops I will be facilitating on Zoom from 1st September. With Covid19 cases rising and our Taoiséach announcing further restrictions, I am hoping that creating literary art in a group will lift spirits and keep everyone safe through the autumn and winter months as medical science grapples with this new phenomenum.

Make a little nest for your feelings about being alive, nurture them that they may fledge and fly.

Grayson Perry, Guardian Weekend, 15 August 2020

Even if writing is not your thing, find some art form to practice – dance, drama, a musical instrument, photography, fabric art, sculpture, painting – ANYTHING! It is good for you head and excellent for your heart. You don’t need to be perfect. You can dabble. You can be downright awful, but you sure may have some fun doing whatever art form you tackle. I seriously practice the craft of writing, but I have loads of fun making collages and doing plain knitting. Nothing fancy, just playing like I did when I was a kid and trying various things out when I was working on my Girl Scout badges.

Why try creative writing? Because you may surprise yourself with what you can imagine. You may also gain useful insights into your own life and motivation. You may entertain others, inspire them, move them with your bravery at saying the things only you can say. Before you actually say those words out loud, you practice by putting them down on paper or tapping those words across the screen in the safety of your own room.

Word Alchemy creative workshops are another safe place where you can explore expressing yourself with the written word in a safely held group. And, as Grayson Perry also observes, making art in a group is good for our mental health. And this new virus is hammering the mental health of many. Given that fact, I want to give a shout out to the Covid19 Project, a free counselling service that is available to those living on the island of Ireland thatis being run by My Mind. https://mymind.org/covid-19-project.

All art helps us comprehend our world, both the outer and inner variety. If you would like to learn more about the introductory course I am running this September, check out my previous blog, which also includes the registration form. Only two more places left!

Be sure to check out the details at https://sojourningsmith.blog/2020/07/31/zoom-into-creative-writing-this-september/. I hope to see you on the Zoom screen soon. And we will have lots of opportunity to collaborate with others in making art with words.

High Summer- It’s a Beach

How was your week? It may sound a bit ridiculous when I say we have simmered and sweltered in the sun; the temperature has had a high of 24C (that’s 75 degrees ‘in old money’, as they used to say in England after they changed to a decimilised currency back in the 1970s.) But it is a very humid 75 degrees. I don’t like sweating. With the windows left open at night to welcome Morpheus, the biting insects also fly in overnight. Afternoon naps have become a regular feature of most days.

And, be clear, many of us very pale persons are just not used to  hours of continuous sunshine. My husband spirited his wilting wife off to the seaside mid-week; regular readers will know the Atlantic Ocean is Bee’s Happy Place. We went early and left by lunchtime as sun broke through the cloud cover. It was low tide at Mullaghmore and I waded out to thigh high, kicked the water and anointed myself in salt water. Is there anything more delicious than licking your upper lip after washing your face in seawater?

Mullaghmore Beach
Mullaghmore Beach- It wasn’t quite this empty this week, but there was plenty of social distancing, especially if you kept dogs on extendable leads.

The other important bit of news I need to impart is that there are just a few more places left available on my Zoom Creative Writing Workshops starting on 1st September.

glen-carrie-AzyqGr35vH0-unsplash

You can find full details and the registration form here: Zoom with Word Alchemy in September.

As to the Sunday weekly poem, I am cutting myself some slack this week.  Suddenly, my writing practice has taken a prose turn. It has been a long time since I dipped into writing creative non-fiction and the first draft is a hot mess. But you just have to push through the the merde first draft and see what can be cleaned later. I am 4000 words deep into hot mess first draft and have barely scratched the surface.

So as I looked out my window at an eerily still landscape I decided that a haiku was appropriate.

The restless sleeper
Twists out from sweaty bedclothes
Heat haze shrouds the hills.

May you have a peaceful week. I hope you find your Happy Place, too. And if you cannot physically visit, may the memory of it be vivid and quenching to your parched soul.

Zoom with Word Alchemy in September

Since publicizing the Zoom introductory creative writing workshops starting on 1st September, we have had the first international student join the group! I figured an evening slot might draw a few participants from different time zones and I am pleased to be able to include them. The places are rapidly filling up. There is a maximum of eight, so if you have been just thinking about registering, you might want to act on that impulse sooner rather than later.

Why do I call this introductory program Pick n Mix?

There are still some places available in the workshop that will allow you to try out several different types of writing form – short fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and memoir. I call this introductory programme ‘Pick n Mix’ because it caters to many tastes. And you might be surprised to find out that you do have a craving to write short fiction or poetry even ifyou think you are strictly a non-fiction kind of writer.

These online weekly workshops include some in-session writing exercises, as well as group sharing of homework and ongoing work. We will explore these forms over the course of September, a different form each week. You will receive emailed course reading material, inspirational video resources at the beginning of each unit, some weekly homework, and a weekend motivator email to help you keep on track with your writing practice.

This is the outline for the Pick n Mix introductory course over September 2020:

Week 1 – September 1st -8th – Short fiction

Week 2 – September 9th -15th – Poetry

Week 3 – September 16th -22nd – Creative Nonfiction

Week 4 – – September 23rd – 30th – Memoir

The course format includes:

  • One weekly emailed assignment
  • 2hr  weekly Zoom seminar from 8pm-10pm  Dublin time on Thursdays, September 3rd, 10th, 17th, and 24th And/or 2 hr Zoom seminar from 12noon – 2pm Dublin time on Saturdays, 5th, 12th,19th and 26th September
  • One weekly writing motivational email

Block book the four weekly sessions for a cost of €45/£41 payable by Paypal. Alternatively, Residents of Republic of Ireland and UK may pay by cheque if they prefer.

Word Alchemy creative writing workshops are held spaces where we can inspire, encourage, and share ideas with one another. We collaborate in the process of beginning with raw ideas and support the magic as they are transformed into something meaningful for both writer and reader. I love teaching creative writing – and would really miss sharing the glory of creative expression using the written word. Covid-19 has challenged me to reconfigure the way I can continue working. These Zoom seminars are the way forward for me as a creative writing facilitator. Under the trading name of Word Alchemy, over the past seven years I have worked with kids from ages 9 to 14. I have worked with adults in all women and all men groups and mixed gender groups. I have worked in schools, community halls, arts centres, outdoors and in prisons. I have conducted workshops outdoors at sites in Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark. It’s a bit of a vocation for me.

As I tell those who have walked around the Cavan Burren Park with me while visiting the megaliths created by our neolithic ancestors -humans craved making art from our earliest beginnings. They made rock art before they got around to inventing agriculture to create food security for the growing population. They connected with the numinous and aligned their dolmens with the stars at important seasonal points in the year.

As the wheel of the year turns toward the darkening in the Northern Hemisphere, nurturing our creativity is one way of asserting our being human. Covid19 cannot take that from any of us. We just have to get canny with how we continue to connect and create.

Want to sign up? The registration form can be found here! zoom-into-creative-writing-this-september

There were some initial issues with the registration form, which WordPress tell me is now working fine. But if you do wish to register and experience a problem, please do not hesitate to email me at dowrabeesmith@gmail.com.

I am looking forward to meeting old friends and new participants as we all encourage each other to deepen our writing practice.

Breaking the Lammas Loaf

It’s been a tumultuous week! And I am not just talking about the news cycle. On a personal level, I began to promote my Zoom creative writing seminars that will start with an introductory month in September. Each week you get to try out a new genre – it’s a taster to see which one may be you particular favoured form of creative expression. But as with all new ventures there are hiccups. In my case it is the registration form on the blog post https://sojourningsmith.blog/2020/07/31/zoom-into-creative-writing-this-september/. Needless to say, my first few punters alerted me to the issues and I have referred them to WordPress. I hope to have that unsnarled within the next couple days. Do keep trying and add comments about your experience.

Also, the Celtic Wheel of the Year has cranked into the season of Lammas, or Lúnasa as we call it Ireland. That is also the Irish for the month of August. The season’s theme is the gathering in of the first harvest, as well as releasing. I spent the past few days in activities very much in keeping with the holiday. I sorted out seeds for saving. I made like the squirrel and added more items to the emergency winter provision cupboard. And, quite unconsciously, I found myself baking a loaf of spelt bread on Lammas Eve. (For that, many thanks to my English friend who sent me dried yeast in the post. All through Lockdown there was none to be found in any local shops. Maybe they figured the nation would only bake soda bread at home?) We took the first cut on August 1st. And very tasty it is, too! I am getting more proficient at this bread baking lark.

As for my releasing, that was the announcement of the Zoom courses I am devising for anyone’s delectation this autumn and, with any luck, into the winter. I sense we will need some diversion at home for the restof this year. Flexing one’s creativity muscle is the best kind of exercise, especially in the months at the dark end of year.

In the meantime, it is Sunday. And yes! I have a seasonally appropriate poem!

Lúnasa First Light
 
Dawns can be sketchy –
a tease of cobalt cloud shot through
with gilded light, threading Midas like.
 
The lupins, aquilegia and foxgloves
have dropped their heads.
I empty seeds out
 
into paper envelopes.
Not tumbrels. No fanfare. No drumroll.
Just the cutting
 
into the spelt bread I baked
on Lúnasa Eve. The ancient grain
ground down. The pips dibbed in
 
sweet sour raspberry jam.
Seeds saved for sowing in another season.
Not all is lost, even at our most careless.
 
The light takes a downward slant,
Like a sharp blade angling to cut –
the whoosh and whir of the scythe’s brush.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith 2020. All rights reserved.
 

Sorry there is no pretty picture today. For some reason – either our internet is running like treacle or WordPress is having issues, I have failed to load the featured image after attempts over the past thirty minutes. So…until something smooths the path of pretty pictures…

Zoom into Creative Writing this September

Zoom creative writing workshops

Regular readers of this blog will know that in late June and early July I asked for volunteers to help me learn how to run a creative writing workshop on Zoom. With Covid19, we are having to reinvent our world. Writing is a solitary pursuit, but it does not have to be done in isolation. Writers need feedback. Writers need encouragement. Writers need to find new approaches to help us construct our poems or paragraphs. Mostly, we need to communicate and express ourselves through the glory of the written word.

I loved teaching creative writing – even to reluctant writers. Under the trading name of Word Alchemy, over the past seven years I have worked with kids from ages 9 to 14. I have worked with adults in all women and all men groups and mixed gender groups. I have worked in schools, community halls, arts centres, outdoors and in prisons. It’s a bit of a vocation for me. I have conducted workshops outdoors at sites in Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, usually ones that combine haiku writing with walking in all of nature’s splendour.

Cavan Youth Arts Lab
After a walk on the Cavan Burren, teens create a renga poem
haiku poetree walkers
Ready to ginko down Claddagh Glen at Marble Arch Caves Visitor Centre

Covid19 made me sit down and have a really hard re-think about how or if I could continue. My husband is 70 and I will soon be 64. We have cocooned quite contentedly, but I am aware that others found it hard. We have to keep our social distance and I will shield for as long as necessary because I really want to keep both of us fit and in good fettle for another couple decades. In winter it can be hard to get out on icy roads in our rural area anyway. I generally worked in person in spring and autumn time. But neither am I in denial and think that Covid19 will be magically disappear anytime soon.

We need to keep ourselves occupied and motivated. We need each other, but we also need to keep our distance. These seminars are my response to the challenges of our current circumstances.

Besides, this is what creatives do…we create.

To be clear, I plan to kick off from September when the schools, at least in Ireland, will go back in session. So far, I have three courses planned. In September I will welcome beginners and improvers, those you may not have had a go at writing for some time. While I have a number of faithful students who are used to my methods, I felt that it was important to start with a taster course. Then I will offer month long courses that will focus on short fiction in October and poetry in November.

Because so many of us are working in unfamiliar patterns – working at home, working new and varying shift patterns, on different days alternate weeks, etc.– I have decided to offer two Zoom slots a week to adapt  and include as many who want to nurture themselves  with some creative expression. So long as no session has more than eight participants we can cope! One will be on a Thursday evening and the second will be Saturday at noon.  The time slots can even concievably include people who do not live in my own time zone! (Some have already asked!) If you cannot make your preferred regular slot on any particular week, then you can join the other meeting and not miss out on any unit.

These online weekly workshops include some in-session writing exercises, as well as group sharing of homework and ongoing work.  We will explore these forms over the course of September, a different form each week. You will receive emailed course reading material, inspirational video resources at the beginning of each unit, some weekly homework, and a weekend motivator email to help you keep on track with your writing practice.

Word Alchemy creative writing workshops are held spaces where we can inspire, encourage, and share ideas with one another.  We collaborate in the process of beginning with raw ideas and support the magic as they are transformed into something meaningful for both writer and reader.

I am calling the initial course “Pick n Mix’ because you get to try out a number of kinds of writing and get a feel for what may be your metier. Or, you might even surprise yourself and find out that even though you thought you were a memoirist that actually you have a wicked sense of humour that romps in short story or creative non-fiction forms.

So here is the plan for openers:

Week 1 – September 1st -8th – Short fiction

Week 2 – September 9th -15th – Poetry

Week 3 – September 16th -22nd – Creative Nonfiction

Week 4 – – September 23rd – 30th – Memoir

The course format includes:

  • One weekly emailed assignment
  • 2hr  weekly Zoom seminar from 8pm-10pm  Dublin time on Thursdays, September 3rd, 10th, 17th, and 24th And/or 2 hr Zoom seminar from 12noon – 2pm Dublin time on Saturdays, 5th, 12th,19th and 26th September
  • One weekly writing motivational email

Block book the four weekly sessions for a cost of €45/£41 payable by Paypal. Alternatively, Residents of Republic of Ireland and UK may pay by cheque if they prefer.

I hope to meet new students,even as I welcome past participants who live in Cavan, Fermanagh, Tyrone and Leitrim here in Northwest Ireland. It would be great to have some international students in the mix! The Irish are always hospitable. Even if we won’t be able to lay on the tea and barm brack, we will always have plenty good craíc!

Class begins with the first email to you on 1st September! Want to Join?

Send in this Registration Form!

Bee Smith
Bee Smith invites you to join with other creative colleagues in her Word Alchemy workshops on Zoom

Featured image is Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Hat Trick Eclipse

The Sunday Weekly poetry post coincides with the third eclipse in thirty days. We had a full moon lunar eclipse on 5th June. Then came the solar eclipse that coincided with Summer Solstice. Then the very rare third eclipse within thirty days. Eclipses generally only come in pairs. We will have to wait another eight years before we see the triple eclipse in a month phenonmena.

I am still doing practice runs on Zoom, figuring out how I want to format creative writing Zoom worshops online with my band of volunteers. Yesterday’s exercise involved some rapid associations with the word eclipse. Other than the astronomical and ornithological definitions, it is also used in comparisons to say X has surpassed Y somehow. Also, “to obscure the light.” I asked the usual six questions of what, where, who, when, why and how light is or can be obscured. Then…go!

My own in class cogitations resulted in this word doodle that concentrated on the Lilith – Adam- Eve triangle. I always characterise lunar eclipses as being Lilith kinds of events. Because she was said to like to be on top, which led to a very stormy marital bed with Adam.

Eclipsed

The sun and moon collide.

The full moon rides the sun
like a witch astride her besom.
Lilith left Adam in the shade.

Eve found the desire to know
had a bewitching, heady perfume.
Eve stayed with Adam in shadow. 

Paradise - delayed.

This stormy morning that alternates between heavy rain showers and brief bursts of sunshine, I had another stab at the theme.  Wallace Steven’s sublime 13 Ways to Look at a Blackbird always feels like a suitable poem to read on the Sabbath.  That is a masterful poem, but also a useful reminder to look at a subject from as many angles as possible. This morning I managed eight.


Eight Ways to Watch An Eclipse

1.
Two lovers
astride, ride out the night,
extinguishing each other's light.
Sun. Moon. Wonder.

2.
The blinds drawn
to shut out the cold night.
Also, the heat, the glare
of too harsh daylight.

3.
The closed door
at the end of the dark corridor.
The muffled shouts.
The shove. The fall. The doubts.

4.
A small girl
struck dumb, undone,
the less favoured one
sucking her thumb.

5.
The costume -
a mask, a cloak worn
with dagger drawn beneath its folds.
All is shadow.

6.
Silhouette -
the inch of light seeping
from under the door ahead.
What can we expect?

7.
The pitch spread
repairing the holes in the road.
Look how green shoots so soon
poke through, embed.

8.
Let it fall!
All his beautiful plumage show,
the feathers on the floor before
a new world, in embryo, can grow.


Copyright ©Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.

 

NB: Never look directly at a solar eclipse. It can cause severe visual impairment or blindness.

Featured image is a Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

Who Was That Masked Man?

Another week and this Sunday’s post marks the end of the deepest cocooning of Ireland. From tomorrow we can travel whereever we wish in the Republic and we can get a haircut! We are going to have to wear masks on public transport and are being strongly encouraged to do so in supermarkets. As an enthusiastic masker from the beginning, and usually the only one in my village doing so, I really hope it is embraced. But I am aware that people balk at it on a really visceral level. And in Ireland there is none of that politicisation nonsense happening. So why do some people have such a problem with masks?

These past couple of weeks I have been pilotting a small creative writing class on Zoom with past students with the patience to hold my hand as I fumble through the new technology. While many are plotting their way back outside again, I am plotting a way to get some income through the winter months when weather can cancel classes. Also, I am creating a safe burrow because I do not think Covid19 will magically disappear in winter when Irish hospitals routinely deal with the winter vomitting bug and various strains of flu. I love people, but my more introverted nature is hard-wired for happiness holed up in winter. Fortunately, my husband is similarly hard-wired and we are content with each other’s company though we pretty much tinker away at our own projects all day. We like the quiet life.

So keep tabs on this space when I announce 30 day modules of creative writing Zoom classes this autumn and winter. The dark months in the Northern Hemisphere are perfect for incubating lots of creative projects.

I asked my class to mind map around the subject of masks and then to write a short piece, either flash fiction or a poem. I also sent them a video of Maya Angelou reciting her poem “We Who Wear Masks” before the session as an inspiration. You can view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HLol9InMlc

You might want to try that exercise to find all the various associations you have with masks. See where your wild mind will take you.

My own mind map was all over the place with lots of arrows and squiggly lines that sort of connected disparate elements. For instance, if you excavate the genesis of Halloween costumes and masking children you go back to the folk belief that the veil between our world and the ‘the other world’ or parallel universe was tissue thin. They wanted to fool whatever malignant spirits might want to whisk away their beautiful child to the other realm. So they dressed up children in ghoulish garb to make them unappealing to travelling spirits. Halloween dress up was all about protection.

While protection and survival was one strand on my map, there was the trickier element of the Lord of Misrule, those Masked Balls so beloved by licentious Regency aristocrats and lusty carnival goers in Venice. There was the secret self that is given license to throw off inhibitions or social conventions for a spell. Then there were the superheros and justice warriors like Batman. Many of those Marvel characters mask the upper face rather than the lower part of the face.

Immigrant Muslim women who choose to veil the lower part of their face have received wide disapprobation in the West. Is there something in our Western culture’s collective psyche that is freaked out by not seeing a person’s mouth? We don’t all have to lip read after all! If we consider eyes as the mirror of the soul and you can see a person’s eyes with an upper mask, what social cues are we missing when a person masks the lower face?

Some human beings are gifted at dissembling, for projecting a ‘false face’ even when not wearing a physical mask. So why so much resistance, when wearing a mask can be a matter of life or death for some individuals?

I will let you walk around your own mental labyrinth on the subject. My students came up with very individual ways of entering into that maze. See where it takes you and what revelations await you.

In the meantime, the weekly poem…

 
“Who Was That Masked Man?”
 
Halloween tricksters about!
Hide your beautiful children!
Let them remain unseen
in costumes of Skeletor or Spiderman.
 
Here promenades the Plague Doctor
in our own version of divine commedia dell’arte,
nose full of bitter herbs
masking the stench of destruction.
 
We laugh. We drink.
We dance at the Masked Ball.
At midnight, we unmask our fear of desolation,
left standing, holding our secret selves.
 
We wait for the Lone Ranger and Tonto
to Heighho, Silver! Away!
They ride off to happy end another week’s
episode of injustice.
 
Take up your facial shield and buckler.
If you can see the smile
in the whites of their eyes,
you are standing too close.
 
Copyright © Bee Smith, 2020. All rights reserved.
Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels as the Lone Ranger and Tonto in the TV series that ran from 1949-1957 on US television

I will leave you with my own pandemic face mask anecdote. We needed to get some items from the town 20km over. As we were there already, we picked up some items from the supermarket and used the post office that shares houseroom with the market. I know the postmaster by name and greeted him. When he saw me wearing the mask he queried, “Customer of Bandit?”

We had a companiable laugh.