The making of bats
is an act
that must take place
in the darkest of spaces;
no full moon,
no starlit skies.
Instead shadows and coal,
Silhouettes and pitch.
Hand to heartwood,
whisper wishes to the owls,
pray they take them, swift winged,
to the goddess of the night.
If you are blessed,
hear the sky fill with wingbeats.
The making of bats is a gift,
not a right.
If you haven’t already, take a look at my post on spontaneous generation and read about some of the ‘recipes’ that were believed to create animals prior to the 17th and 18th centuries. You’ll realise that my own recipe isn’t that unbelievable!
If a mama bear gets angry, imagine the Mother of the Mountains. Mess with Her children, She’ll dust off an avalanche; step out of line, She’ll realign your bones. She’s a blue-eyed beauty, and the mountains have their Mother’s eyes: deep lakes. Gaze into them, you’ll see their thoughts like fish – quick schools, slow rainbows – look deeper, and you’ll learn to dream like a stone. What does She feed them? Rain for breakfast. Anything else? She peels them the sun for lunch. And at night? Big helpings of quiet, then the Mother of the Mountains sings them to sleep with snow. The trees are Her grandkids; She brings them birds to play with. Whenever it’s their birthday, She gives them an owl ’cause though She’s a blue-eyed beauty, She’s still kind. Even soft . . . even fragile . . . Wolves howl to Her to show their gratitude. What about you?
I love this way of looking at the mountain, a true deep personification, the mountain as mother, as provider and as oh so loving.
* * *
If a mama bear gets angry, imagine the Mother of the Stars.
Mess with Her children, she’ll scatter white hot embers
and comets that burn
making Icarus seem like the lucky one.
Step out of line, She’ll set Draco on your trail.
She’s a wild eyed goddess
and the stars have their Mothers smile: radiating luminosity, intensity
Daring you to look and
punishing if you try.
What does she feed them? Diamonds and moon dust,
meteorites and wonderment.
She picks planets as though they were grapes,
offering them out as treats.
And at night? She drapes the sky with lush black velvet
then the Mother of the Stars steps back into the wings and lets her lovelies shine.
The milky way hides her grandkids as they grow;
She brings them tales from the cosmos, millennia old,
to fuel their fires and light the sparkles in their eyes.
Whenever it’s their birthday, she gives them pencils of sunlight
to practice joining dots into constellations.
Down on earth, eyes heavenwards, owls gaze in awe and gratitude.
What about you?
Over on Poets & Writers, a prompt came up which sounded interesting and timely for my weather focus.
In preparation for cold winter months, red-toothed shrews are able to shrink their head and brain mass by 20 percent and then regrow it as the weather warms up in spring. With this survival strategy, they expend less energy when food resources are scarce. Does your energy level or your relationship to your body change during certain seasons? Does your body feel, act, or respond differently in the winter? Write a personal essay about measures you’ve taken, whether moderate or drastic, to adjust your body to difficult times or discomfiting temperatures at various points of the year.
I have touched on my relationship with weather and with winter a few times but this felt like an interesting angle to approach it from. This is not an essay but rather my very initial responses to the topic of winter and me.
As winter approaches, as the icy wind creeps over the landscape, you will find me retreating. You will find me shrinking into my flat, into my bed, into my duvet. I am no longer an outside creature. No longer a creature of the weather. If I could, I would hibernate. But to do so is not possible in a human shell. So instead I adopt the next best thing. A season snuggled into my warm home, blankets, hot drinks and reassuring comfort. I will mark my days with morning chills and evenings nesting. I will conserve my energy. Only moving when necessary and even then, I leave my den reluctantly.
Pyjamas and jumpers become my layers of choice and I will not leave the house without a blanket. I am bundled up, my armour against the bitter winter. Perhaps if I wear enough layers, the wind will not chill my bones, I will not slip on black ice and damage yet more of myself, the rain will not permeate my soul only to be released as tears. Perhaps.
I move slower. The cold tires me out. My joints ache with the low temperatures. Depression pulls like a ball and chain at my ankle, holding me back as I try to step forward. So I stay still, in my nest, in a state of dormancy.
Of course, when I worked, I could not indulge myself in my semi-hibernation. I had to get up, brave the frosty mornings and skate on the black ice to the office. I had to fight my body and my mind to get out of bed, to leave the house. The darkness, the grim shadowy mornings and nights, bothered me more then. To work in the dark, a day at a desk far removed from daylight, then home in the dark.
Now, through my windows and occasional venture outdoors, I see the slither of day. I do not battle my natural instinct to retreat but accept it for what it is and it makes this time of year easier. I prepare, like a squirrel collecting nuts, only I collect ideas and projects and books that can all be carried out slowly from the safety of a blanket. I do not sleep the winter away. But nor do I expect from myself the same level of activity as summer.
I am comfortable now, secure in my knowledge that as the seasons rise and fall, so too will I.
Recently I did my second workshop with Sue Cooper. The first was a few years ago and was writing inspired by artefacts in the Yorkshire Museum. This one was called a writers workout and was about getting imaginations going and getting words down on paper.
She had a great selection of exercises to get us thinking and inspired. I had a great time and was sad when I had to leave early because of pain (boo!).
The first exercise was to write for 60 seconds on a word she gave us which was a great way to start the day:
edited for spelling and grammar only
He had stolen her dreams, her heart, her soul when he had left that day. She had always prided herself on being a strong independent woman who was more than her relationship to her man but that day, when he walked out, she realised she had succumb to him. She had let him steal her heart, her soul, her dreams, her hopes.
Her eyes flicked involuntarily to the corpse by the side of the motorway, a badger possibly, she couldn’t let herself look long enough to identify the rotting flesh. Her stomach heaved but she kept driving, eyes straight ahead, heart blocking out the pain.
A Vietnamese hat
A Vietnamese hat hung in the corner of the room, a reminder of a previous life, a time of travel and adventure, a time of excitement now sitting, getting dusty. A relic of another life, a part of her that she couldn’t bring herself to get rid of yet every time she spotted it, she felt her heart sink. She would never again know the unfettered joy of discovering a new place, a new culture, new people, new food, the delight of turning a corner and finding a temple or a beautiful sandy shore. The Vietnamese hat would forever be bittersweet.
We then did an exercise where we wrote down a list of nouns and a list of adjectives and swapped them with someone else (so you have your list of nouns and someone else’s adjectives). We then used the pairs to spark ideas. Some were really interesting; bitter keyhole, skinny bollard, pallid wheelchair… The one I used to write about wasn’t actually that strange:
The yellow pencil
Nostalgia is a remarkable thing, triggered by the most insignificant of things. The yellow pencil that she turned over in her hands rushed her back to primary school, the smell of the electric pencil sharpener grinding the stick to a point. The simple joy of writing on a clean sheet of paper in your best handwriting with the sharpest possible pencil. She remembered sitting there, thinking as hard as a six year old can, she knew that it was important to write something really good on the first page of her new notebook. In the end, she had given in to the pressure and simply put down her name and the date in her finest joined up lettering.
Holding it to her nose, she inhaled the strange smell of graphite and wood shavings and sighed. How many words had it written, this pencil which was now little more than a stump? Perhaps if she had followed her dream of becoming an author, it would have scribbled down notes for a bestseller or ideas for a children’s book. Instead, this particular pencil, had probably scratched out shopping lists, reminders to herself and parents evening dates in her diary.
We did a range of other exercises and talked about what we’d written. all in all an excellent day!
I’ve seen writing inspiration tarot spreads on pinterest and thought they were interesting. Then a while back a friend asked if I’d do one for her.
I had a look and couldn’t settle on a particular spread, they all had strengths and weaknesses and in the end I pulled together the strengths and my knowledge of writing to make my own.
Half focuses on characters, their motivations and their relationship. The other half is based on the story arc idea with a card for each key point in the plot.
The reading I did for my friend was really interesting with some great stuff for writing I think. I hope so anyway! I was inspired to do my own reading which turned out to be very different even though there were a couple of the same cards.
Normally when I read for myself, I just note ideas down but when I did this reading for my friend, I used full sentences and wrote all my thoughts which turned out to be quite helpful. So I repeated this for myself (PDF).
Following this, an essential step is to actually sit down and write… I did a writers block spread for my friend as well. For me, I’m going to try and create a writing plan or routine which sees me do a little each week. I’d love to say each day but I know that my unpredictable pain and energy levels will mean I don’t achieve that. And once I’ve missed one day, it becomes very easy to miss another and so on… I’m thinking it might be worth adding to my Friday check in /week ahead planning.
If i don’t get far with a plan, then I’ll do the writers block spread for myself but I think I probably know my own blocks; lack of self discipline, lack of energy at times, wanting to get something spot on first time but mostly just not sitting down to write. I have all the excuses… Pain, brain fog, using the computer can worsen my pain, using voice recognition software is frustrating… But I have the time, I have vague ideas and the inspiration from the above spread, I just need to actually turn on my laptop and start drafting and jotting down ideas…
Sometime last year, I bought a few old issues of mslexia off ebay. I’ve got a subscription but I wanted some more to read. The last couple I’ve looked at have had some interesting exercises to get you writing. And as one of my projects for this year is to get back into writing, I figured I should actually give them a go rather than just thinking “oh that’s an interesting idea”…
This is the one that got me onto my computer to write.
Write a list of professions. Come back later and write a list of emotions. Come back later again and write a list of objects.
Then there’s different ways you can use your lists but the idea is that it’s a springboard for a couple of sentences, an idea or a vignette.
I’m choosing three numbers at random and picking one word from each column accordingly.
So 1, 2 and 3 gives me a poet, anger and a banana…
8,9 and 7 gives me a poison taster, courageous and painting:
Everyone thought the poison taster was so brave, so courageous, risking her life each and every day for the sake of saving another. But she knew differently. It was a cop out. It was placing the risk in someone else’s hands. She felt no fear when she took that first bite or mouthful for her boss. She knew the outcome; live or die. But the second she sat at her easel and held a paintbrush in her hands, she froze. Her mind filled with anxiety, doubt, criticism. Overwhelming her, forcing her to turn away. The canvas remaining blank. A stark reminder to her of her cowardliness.
The painting remains unpainted. The poison taster poisoned.
What combinations do you get? What stories do they tell?
So I’m at a crossroads in my life. Or perhaps, more accurately, a dead end. I’ve never had a great life plan or ambition or expectation but I think working full time was just always a given.
warning: this is unedited, apologies for errors
About a year ago it started to dawn on me that I wasn’t up to full time work. By September-ish I had managed to externalise that, with lots of tears. By March it was reality. I had gone from 37 hours a week to 30. Which might not seem a lot but dropping from five days a week to four days a week was terrifying, heartbreaking and agonising. I’ve known for quite some time that my dregs of self-esteem are very much tied up with work and being productive. And saying I can’t manage that stirred up some major issues for me. I was essentially saying that I was worthless because I couldn’t work full time. I was angry that my body had taken more things from me. I was scared and it was a vulnerable place for me. The way I saw it, I was having to put my hand up and say I can’t do this, I am failing at full time work. What would people think of me? More importantly, what did I think of me. Hint: on the whole they were very different responses.
So it’s been almost a year since I told someone I needed to work less. And a lot has happened in that time – I have started getting care, started using crutches, started using wheelchairs and my pain has increased considerably in the last year.
Which brings me to the present day. I have taken more time off work because of pain in the last two months than all my sick leave from the rest of my career combined. And the sinking realisation that I can’t work four days a week hit. It hit with tears and frustration and anger and ranting texts sent to a very patient and supportive friend. A week after I had this realisation, my manager asked how I was getting on with the reduced hours and were they helping enough? No. There’s no sugar coating it, the answer is no, I can’t work 30 hours a week.
And that’s why it’s less of a crossroads and more of a dead end – I can’t keep moving forward. Something needs to change. I don’t yet know what my hours will look like other than less.
And I haven’t yet figured out what those non work hours will look like. When I first reduced my hours it was simple, I would work Monday and Tuesday, rest all day Wednesday, work Thursday and Friday and rest over the weekend. That just about felt justifiable to me. But I can’t comprehend the idea of taking more time off work and resting. I think there is a need to do that to some extent because otherwise I still won’t be fit for work on the days I do go. But, and this comes back to having self-worth tied up with productivity, I feel I need to be doing something.
And financially, I do. Reducing my hours the first time was a huge hit to my bank account. I’ve been supplementing earnings with savings and thankfully was approved for PIP just before my hours reduced so that has helped a bit. But reducing my hours further will put me in a very vulnerable financial situation. Yes there are other benefits which at some point I may be eligible for but (again, self-worth is raising its head) I don’t feel I deserve them (which is nonsense) and I find the idea of being reliant on the government quite scary and it feels like a vulnerable situation. For so long, I’ve been financially independent and before that I was striving to be.
Anyway, to sum up the situation is more ‘free’ time and less money. So surely I can find a way to make money which isn’t going to have a negative impact on my health?
So far all I’ve come up with is photography (with the help of a couple of friends). But that is a scary huge thing to do. So many what ifs and as far as I can see no certainties. Or writing, which has the same risks. The biggest fear is that I will be laughed at – people will look at my work and think why am I trying to sell it, it’s not up to standard, what right do I have to charge people for my work?
If it hadn’t been for my pain, I’d never be thinking about the possibility of taking a risk with the more creative side of me. So maybe that’s the happy ending to this post.
Yes pain sucks, but maybe, just maybe, it means you do things you wouldn’t otherwise do.