Fiji – notes from the Elizabeth Gilbert keynote address

“What are you willing to give up to have this life you’re pretending you want.”
“You need to say no to things you want to do….When you start saying no, people won’t like it, and they will reject you. But those who stay around, keep them.”
“The word women need to embody, and is revolutionary, is RELAXED. The MOST relaxed woman in a room is the most powerful.”
“What we all want is to be reassured that it’s all going to be all right.”
“Priorities, boundaries, mysticism.”
“If you were told at birth that you were going to be gifted one special talent or thing, and you’ll spend time working on it, then you will monetise it, then teach it, wouldn’t you have a panic attack? Destroy the word ‘purpose’. I think it’s abusive.”
“I can honestly say that I love you all, but I do not care about you all. I will pay attention to the few people I care about…..draw a circle and say everything inside that is sacred. You choose what’s in that circle, and at the centre should be you.”
“The only model of feminine divinity we have in the Western world is Mary, the endless giver and forgiver.”
“Any question beginning with why is a hotline to hell.”
“The word worry is one of the ugliest words in human language.”

Tarot Planner session 4

Where do I truly want to be in five years’ time?

What do I want to achieve? High Priestess. The integration of my spiritual self with my everyday, seeing everything as holy and magical. Being able to lead by example. To accept that my writing, tarot, Reiki, dance, carer, mother, wife, grandmother, and all the other labels are part of one magical being.

Who do I want to be? The traveller. Lol. Just when I thought I was getting beyond this rushing around. In terms of the HP, though, it could mean making the journey to integration, and taking that to the world.

What do I want to conquer? My fear of being alone. That I can meditate, that I can be alone, still, and that’s okay. A small life is good, too.

What do I need to know? 10 of Cups. I have all the tools I need. Abundance, safety, pleasure. Rest is part of evolution, too.

What do I need to do? 6 of Wands. Light my own way. Remind myself often if all the goals I’ve already achieved – professional writer, books published, blurb by Ray Bradbury, blurb by Elizabeth Moon, workshop with Marge Piercy, remarried, children grown and happy, Reiki Master, columnist, professional belly dancer, pro belly dance teacher, travel, pro tarot reader.

Poem: An Unkindness of Ravens

You say an unkindness of ravens followed

you from McDonald’s to home,

and you felt uncomfortable?

You don’t believe in the Norse Gods,

so Hugin and Munin mean nothing to you.

Why would old Odin be seeking information about

boring old you?

You don’t believe in The Morrigan,

and how She can turn into unkindness.

Why would She be interested in

boring old you?

Ravens are the symbol of the magic

you don’t believe in.

You sing boring old nursery rhymes

in your dull old voice

to your brand new grandchild.

A song of black birds baked

in a pie whose steam and savour

reaches the gods.

The are coming on wings,

and curling claws,

the Old Ones,

and ravens are their path.

I wouldn’t walk to McDonald’s tonight,

if I were you.

Your flesh is too much like burger mince

and the gods are hungry.

*****

This poem came from my walk last night to McDonald’s and back. As I came out of Macca’s, having had my dose of Coke for the year(sudden craving, more likely for sugar than for Coke in particular, but strangely satisfying), an unkindness of about 70 ravens flew overhead and settled on telephone wires, and poles. Plenty of cawing to set the air thrumming. I was the only person not on my phone, or wearing ear buds, and the only person interested in the real world. I watched some of them rearrange themselves, flying from wire to pole, to nearby building roof. I said to the universe: ‘if this is The Morrigan reminding me that She keeps watch over me, please have a raven fly directly above my head’. Not three seconds later, three ravens flew directly over my head, and settled on the roof of the Blue Cross nursing home behind me. So I bowed my head, and thanked Her for Her continued guardianship of myself.

I turned and began to walk home. As I did, about 20 more ravens took flight and settled on the nursing home roof, and more joined them as I rounded the corner and continued along the side of the building. Once I cleared the nursing home, there was no more sound or presence of the ravens. They were settling in for the night. The brilliant orange of the sunset was fading into a dirtier colour, promising a stinking hot day tomorrow(today).

Just now, as I began to read a back issue of Andromeda Spaceways, conscious that yesterday I had a new poem visit me when I started reading a back issue of Star*Line, I wondered if a poem might come to me as I read ASM. I hadn’t ventured more than twenty words in when this poem came forth. Not connected with the contents at all, but sometimes my mind works like that. I made space for a poem possibility, and my mind delivered.

I’m loving that January is becoming a poetry month. I feel that what I’m writing is fresh, and good. I’d like to submit some of my new poems generated here, but to do that, I’d have to take them off my blog, and prevent any new ones from appearing here.

I do so like the daring of poems, fresh to the blog page.

Even with less than 50 readers here, maybe as few as 4 regular readers(I don’t look at the stats), this still counts as publication, so I’d have to find markets okay with reprints.

The dilemma of the modern age.

Poem

The latest poetry prompt from Imaginary Garden With Real Toads is this: I want you to write about where you write poetry – home, office, car, back porch. It can be any length or form. Just tell us about it. The scents, the sights, the music, the cat or the dog in close proximity, the kids interrupting your flow of thought, your thoughts over the first cup of coffee in the morning or the last cup of tea at night. I don’t want to know the why, I want to know the where.

I started this post this morning, and I was not feeling writerly at all. I’d had an emotional day yesterday, and the hangover of that was strong. However, I’ve now taken a small child to the park, sat through a session of Monstrous Women, had lunch, done some prep reading for next week’s Monstrous Women, and told my brain: ‘we’re taking the dog to the off-leash park. I hope you find something there that will turn into a vampire story’.

And lo, a vampire story did emerge from two  circuits of the park.

Now that I’ve kicked myself into writing gear, I feel sane again. I can come at this poetry prompt without brain sludge.

Those starving writers can keep their garrets,

Annie Dillard her Tinker Creek.

I have the brown couch.

My mother’s brown and green couch,

and two ugly dark couches

through two marriages, and five houses.

The poems lie in the air above them,

hovering like dust motes.

No matter how nicely I might position myself

next to the Yarra River,

or overlooking Port Phillip Bay,

my best poems come from couches

the colour of 1970s Australian homes,

and dark chocolate that’s sat a while.

I have a desk, but it’s to the couch I turn

when writing is upon me.

My desk gathers dust and papers

in layers like the Grand Canyon,

while I carve deep like the Colorado River,

through the fertile soil of my mind,

and the bedrock of the brown couch.

The story crept in on cat’s paws

This morning, faced with yet another day of Not Rewriting BELLY UP, I thought I’d go mad. Another day of mentally beating myself up, of carrying What’s Not Done on my back like a burden the size of Uluru.

Sensible thing is just chip away at it, right?  Just a paragraph here or there, and it will slowly get done.

No.  Apparently, I want to expend considerable mental and emotional energy not rewriting, and driving myself crazy.  I want to Avoid like I’m training for the Avoidance and Procrastination Olympics, which will be held when the committee gets around to holding a meeting to decide on a venue.

Glum at the thought of another day like that,  I first of all made 4 servings of avocado chocolate mousse. Then I sorted out some tarot decks I am posting to buyers. Then I started reading Robert Drewe’s SWIMMING TO THE MOON.

I was charmed by his description of a local agricultural show.  Then the feeling came upon me – the itch in the back of my skull, and that weird jangling tingle that means “I want to write right now”.

My go-to, when I can’t think of a suitably science fictional idea, is to simply choose Mars as a setting. I return again and again to the world I built in A WOMAN OF MARS (PS Publishing, Stanza Press, 2011). Homesteaders, colonists, the first 100 years of settlement on Mars.

An agricultural show on Mars. Seriously?  How’s that going to work?  I waded in, stealing shamelessly Drewe’s opening, and transposing it to a Comms operator on Mars. I took Drewe’s pacing, paragraph by paragraph, and Martianed his scenes. A world without livestock, so bring on the genetically engineered plum trees that grow meat-plums.  Diversify the women’s and men’s domains of cake stalls, and wood chops.  Substitute welding for wood chopping.

My story grew, and suddenly, at 800 words, was done, much as Drewe’s article was. A small snapshot of a Martian colony.  No real plot, no real characters. Part of a series that will likely never exist.

The idea crept in on black cat paws, crept out again at 800 words.

That’s it, itch, we’re done?  Apparently so. Is there any more of this? No.  Any more like it? Not unless you read Drewe’s other book,  which is sitting on your bookshelf. Oh. I see. Well, maybe I’d best go wade through that.

Is there truly no, more Muse? Not today, wee writer. Go do your posting, come back and see about organising dinner, for tonight, you and the hubby go to your street latin dance class.

Oh. Okay.  Um, thankyou Muse, for padding in, and out again. Please come again.  Soon.

Big Magic: Idea Transference

Yes, more on the topic of Elizabeth Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC.  She talks of idea transference.  How an idea, if not tended to, will up and go find another creative to work with.

There are more than a few things I can cite from my own life.

Around 1984, I started writing an Arthurian novel, concentrating not on the ‘once’ king but the ‘future’ king.  I dreamed up a post-apocalyptic England, people scrabbling for survival a la THE DAY AFTER(which had made a huge impression on me the year before), and into that comes a reincarnated King Arthur. A young man called to save England.  Slowly, his reincarnated knights return to him.  His Guinevere was based on Annie Lennox. Lancelot was middle-aged.

Now, I was very young, and was only just feeling my way into writing good solid short stories.  I was still badly infected by ideas I’d picked up at college about what constituted literature, and few of them had anything to do with the spec fic I loved to write.  I’d never written a novel before. So, around the 10,000 word mark, it just died.

Move forward to 2017, when I discover the comic book series CAMELOT 3000, written by Mike Barr.  Aliens invade Earth. King Arthur rises. The energies of his knights come into the bodies of people of that time. They gather. They fight the aliens.

I’m glad that the story got told.  The idea must have hunted long to find the right person to give it expression, because my friend Sarah reported yesterday on storyboarding a ‘future king’ film when she was at film school.  She had no intention of making it. It was simply an exercise and she needed an idea.

Imagine this poor idea’s search. Tries a very young, inexperienced writer.  Nope, she can’t bring it to fruition.  Give her a year or so.  Still no.  Move on to a similarly young Sarah.  Oh, she’s not going to birth it.  Move along, move along, move along.  Ahh, finally, Mike Barr.

I can also cite writing about a young wizard undergoing his exams; two stories I wrote in 1987.  Wizard at wizard school?  Sounds familiar.  Good luck with that J.K.Rowling.  Perhaps you can do more with it than I did.

In the early noughties, I played with crossed genres.  I wrote what’s called a mash-up. Pride and Prejudice crossed with War of the Worlds.  My writing mentor proclaimed it the worst thing I’d ever written. I quickly shelved my other crossed genre mash-ups, and moved on with poetry.  Ten years later, enter PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES.  Yeah, a little peeved about that one. But if I trotted my story out now, it would be called derivative. Although, I still speculate on my PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK one…

So yes, Liz, I totally agree with you.  Ideas are entities that want to be born. They will seek out the most likely and willing entry to the world, and if that suddenly isn’t the right place, will move on to the next recipient.

Which is why I’m going to be reserving more writing, and thinking time from now on. The ideas have been coming thick and fast these last few weeks.  I need to birth them before they pass on to the busy pens of Neil Gaiman, J.K.Rowling, or Carmel Bird. Let other ideas visit them.

Yes, I’m just that greedy.

The Big Magic of Ideas

Once a year, I re-listen to Elizabeth Gilbert’s book BIG MAGIC on cd.  I drive and take in what she has to say, and it’s thoroughly nourishing.

Yesterday, I heard her talk about the entity known as the Idea, and how it can come upon a creative person, and if they’re not ready, leave them again.  She cites a particular poet-farmer who would be working in the fields, and sense a poem rushing towards her, but if she didn’t make it to the page in time, it passed through her, and went on to find they next poet to inhabit.  Sometimes, she would catch the poem by the tail, and haul it back, hand over hand, so that the poem appeared from last word to first word on the page.

I had that experience most clearly as a teenager.  I knew I was a writer. And I could feel a particularly itchy tingle, first in the back of my head, and then in my body, as a story idea inhabited me for those few minutes, seeing if it could nest, or had to move on.  Sometimes, I was free, and could write the idea down, or get started on drafting straight away(the best scenario).  Other times, I was in school.

Once, I remember being in a much-loathed craft class, where we were forced to use great hanks of wool to weave upon a threaded bicycle wheel to make…I think it was supposed to be a small circular mat.  I felt a story idea coming upon me, and cast around frantically for pen and paper.  None in sight.  My school friends watched me as I twisted from side to side, my hands clutching.  And then going limp as the idea left me again.

Many long years of depression (mild in my teens, becoming bad after I had my babies and suffered post-natal depression, medicated only in my mid-40’s) have seen to it that those wild sensations of being inhabited are now mild head tingles, and often as not until this year, the idea has slunk away again.  It has encountered a writer who has either taken a story idea and chopped it down to a poem, or shaken her head sadly at it, and said: “I don’t know how to write story any more.”

This year, I have reclaimed story, and it’s been delicious, scary, and wild.  Now, when ideas rush in on me, there’s opportunity to at least be noted down, and tended to.

This morning, in the midst of talking about mythology with sister writers, new ideas tumbled around me like golden retriever puppies. It was all I could do to catch my own words as they came out of my mouth.  Now, a couple of hours later, I’m striving to haul those ideas back, word by word, and put them into note form.

Oh, please don’t leave me, wild ideas.  Let me at least build you a comfortable nest to sit in, and I’ll tend to you with water, green tea, chocolate, and almonds very soon.  I promise I’ll make room and time for you.  Don’t leave, don’t leave! What was it that went through my head as we all talked this morning? Why didn’t I take notes?

Gods and Goddesses of Inspiration, I call to you.  My desk is yours.  My mind is yours.  Muses, let me hear your words! The rest of this afternoon is yours, as I lie on the couch and read.  Interrupt my reading with memory and thought.  Come to me, come to me, wild and wide!

Brigid Sends a Poem

I’ve signed up to do an online writing course called MONSTROUS WOMEN, run by teacher and writer Carina Bissett.  I got so much (not the least of which was productivity) out of my previous class with her (Intersections) that I signed up again.

The past few days, I’ve been going through the reading matter for the first module, Animal Brides, and thinking of various settings and ways to tell an animal bride story.  Being an Aussie, I dearly wanted to include Australian fauna, and was thinking along the lines of a kangaroo-woman, or some such.

The course is mainly focussed on stories, but poetry is allowed as well.

I knew the first stories were due on the 7th of this month, only a few days away.  Now, last time I did a course with Carina, I went through a lot of angst, sure each time a new module dropped that this would be the time I couldn’t produce anything.  There was a lot of beating my brains, sweating, and a little crying.  But each time, admittedly sometimes at the last moment, a new story or poem came chugging out of me. So I have a little more faith in the machinations of my own creative mind this time around.

I woke this morning, and suddenly, there was a burning knowing in me that a poem was coming, and it was about selkies.  I was barely sat at my desk when the poem came pouring out.  Several references made it clear that the speaker was of Irish heritage (thanks, Brigid), and then the end surprised me with a reference to Australian oceanic fauna.

My daily devotions to Brigid have certainly paid off.  Plus, I think it’s a darned good poem, powerful.

Great Goddess Brigid, thankyou for the sending of this poem.  It rocked me to my core.

(I won’t be publishing it here.  Even a blog publication counts as ‘first publication’ and many professional journals won’t consider the story or poem then.  So, I’m saving this one for workshopping, and then sending it my favourite journals.  My goal: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  That’s my number one place, the heart’s desire.)