My Seventh Journey to Ireland

It had been seven years since my last Ireland visit and when I traveled on August 7th, it was my seventh journey to celebrate a January 7th birthday. I hadn’t an inkling there were so many seven occurrences until a few days before I embarked on this trip. A web site about numerology indicated that the number 7 is mystical and resounds with spiritual awakening and that the angels are commending my hard work and efforts. Repetitive sevens indicate dreams are coming to fruition and one should expect miracles, large and small.
I carried this in my heart as I flew to Ireland with two friends to attend a writing retreat at Anam Cara on the Beara Peninsula for a week. Eyeries on the Beara Peninsula is full of angels, according to their web site. I walked along the seashore with flowers, birdsong, and friends, and this indeed was a memory to treasure. The Artist, the Creator of life, and perhaps the pre-Celtic Goddess Cailleach (Hag of Beara) honored my visit and cloaked me in love that seeped into my soul that brought cleansing and renewal. A year before, I was supposed to travel to Ireland, but I had fallen into a dark well of sorrow. Postponed, but timing is everything they say, and thus the journey was a celebration of life that often comes after a dark night of the soul. I brought a rose quartz to offer the Hag, the Creator, and left it on her rock, a symbol of my thanksgiving and further prayer for my life’s purposes.

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After a week in what seemed like fairyland on the Beara Peninsula, a friend flew home, and my friend, Nora, and I visited our friend, Martha, from the States who has a home in the Burren in County Clare Ireland. We hiked daily on the limestone mountains, stepping between giant rock footprints made from ancient bones and seashells. I’ve read that there are over six hundred flowering plants that dazzle and shimmer in this landscape. I spied bluebells, yellow-wort, lords-and-ladies, loosestrife, orchids, and many other flowers. We walked on Burren landscape with the Beltie cows, donkeys, and goats and journeyed on a path created by Lough Avalla Farm down into sylvan glens with thick green moss, streams, and foliage. We hiked ten miles, some of it quite rigorous, and at the end, a tea room situated in a stone fort lit with candles awaited us. Scones with clotted cream and jam, barm brack bread, and tea refreshed and delighted us. I wondered if I was in a fairy tale!

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Honoring the ancestors through historical fiction writing is what I desire to do, and I also seek the presence of the past in famine ruins and holy wells. It is not morbid, but a melancholy endeavor and a spiritual pilgrimage. I feel as if I’m taken out of time and place to a sentient landscape that remembers and invites me to do the same. PJ Curtis (http://www.oldforgebooks.com), a musicologist, former broadcaster, and writer, who holds the stories of the past as a priest holds a communion host, took us on a trek to a few holy places in and around Kilnaboy, Clare, Ireland. A village, annihilated by the Great Hunger, sits in his backyard and we rambled through brush and brier to visit ruined cottages and a holy well. It was difficult finding the crumbling stone homes because Mother Nature was seeking to clothe the memories in her green forgetfulness, eventually absorbing the past into a presence of wild beauty. A sacred amalgam of earth and spirit will eventually thrive and successive generations will wonder what they feel and those who see will see but not fully understand.

I am of the mindset that the ruined village needs to be honored with preservation, like an elder and his or her wisdom. PJ’s great grandfather found a father and son dead in one of the stone cottages during The Great Hunger. They had grass stained mouths and had already been claimed by Mother Nature. We cannot forget. We have solemn memorials for the Holocaust, Viet Nam, the world wars, and a few for The Great Hunger. If we make pilgrimages to remember and to honor, we leave with the imprint of divinity and carry the dead within us, thus they live on in us. We feed the hungry, we clothe the poor, and we give the shirt off our backs. But if there is no memory, no visitation, and no homage given to the past, we live only unto ourselves.

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Tom Hayden writes an Introduction, An Irish Hunger for Meaning, for the book, Irish Hunger:
But some still ask: Why not let the past, with all its horrors, be at rest and be forgotten? First, there is a moral and spiritual need to express reverence for the unknown millions who suffered and died. They have been erased from history, or subjected to demeaning stereotypes. But ‘ “they were a great people” ‘, an old woman told the poet Eavan Boland as a young girl. Even today, many lie in unmarked graves all across Ireland. Thousands died at sea, or at the fever hospitals at Grosse Isle. As their survivors, we should remember and honour them properly in our rituals today.
Second, the deliberate avoidance of past traumas is unhealthy for individuals or cultures. The repressed past does not simply let go of us on command. The “hidden scar” (the phrase again is Boland’s) is transmitted, invisibly and unconsciously across generations. We have become, she says,’“the present of the past, inferring the difference but unable to feel or know it…” ‘ We have not healed from these repressed horrors; it is as if unmarked Famine graves are in each of us.
Third, proper remembrance of the Famine can contribute to building peace rather than reopening old wounds or rationalizing violence.
Fourth, recovering the Irish Famine experience is vitally important to understanding the pervasive crisis of starvation that continues in the world today.

My seventh journey to Ireland was for beauty, for time away to write, for responding to the stanza in Yeat’s poem, “I am of Ireland, And the Holy Land of Ireland…Come dance with me in Ireland.” It was also to march in a parade of redheads. How poignant to learn later that the Crosshaven House in Cork where I spoke about my books, including my book, The Irish Dresser, A Story of Hope during The Great Hunger, served as a soup kitchen during The Great Hunger. Although unplanned, I had come to Ireland again to honor and remember. And to be reminded that my work as a writer is more than just telling a story.

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My Bellissimo Vacation to Italy/Part One

“Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming things you once thought you couldn’t.” This is a quote on the Fly Home web site. Tim Griffin, the pilot who offers a fear of flying program, was certain I could overcome my trepidation about flying so I could journey to Italy for a long awaited anniversary celebration with my husband. It’s not that I hadn’t flown many times over the years, even to far flung countries as India and Japan. However, in recent years, I boarded planes with white knuckles, panic, as well as determination. It stemmed from many reasons, but mostly from not being in control because of leftover PTSD from childhood. Tim says that fear of flying is a closet fear, as shame accompanies this fear. He’s right and also right about overcoming this fear. His program was educational and practical and was delivered with warmth and understanding. It is said that it takes a community to raise a child and it also takes a community to help others overcome difficulties. I’d like to believe that within myself there is enough faith and strength to get me through anything, especially at this age of wisdom. I believe there is, but it is also connected to the love and support of others. I’m not a practicing Catholic, nor am I religious, but my soul is full and I have moments of feeling the presence of the Creator. I live uttering prayers and meditations daily for my friends and family and for myself and the world. I am a spiritual person and reluctant to write about it, for words cannot adequately describe the dance of divine light that I do each day. The rigid fundamentalist would deem me a “cop out,” if I say that I am spiritual, but not religious. So be it. I boarded the plane to Italy feeling the wings of angels and friends.

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Venice is alluring, mystical, and romantic in books and film and I wondered if I could withstand such emotion in real time. Marlena De Blasi writes in her memoir, A Thousand Days in Venice, “I don’t know where to put my eyes. The Venice of myth is real, rolled out before me.” My husband and I arrived in Venice and walked into San Marco Square with church bells ringing and flags flying. It was April 25th and Festa di San Marco and Liberation Day. I, too, didn’t know where to put my eyes and felt as if I was floating eerily in a fairy tale as we wandered amongst the tourists and Venetians in the piazza. There was vibrancy of red splashed here and there as we walked that was in stark contrast to the magnificence of the gray facades of Gothic and classic architecture. People carried red roses for love, for romance, and I felt romanced by Venice herself, her history, and even her haughtiness. In the center of the square is San Marco Clock Tower with all of its bells, ringing with meaning for Venice and for me.

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A custom on this day was for men to give their loved ones a red rose bud. There is an age old love story that has lasted in Venice (of course). A story about a commoner who fell for a noble born lady and went away to war to prove himself. He was fatally wounded, but had a red rose bud delivered to the lady. We left the square and walked onto a narrow lane to gather our senses. I watched a nun pressing a large bouquet of roses to her heart as she scurried down a narrow lane, her serious black nun shoes echoing love. The picturesque lanes, sometimes with laundry hanging between buildings, would always beckon us, as if Venice was inviting us on a private walk. But really, we knew we weren’t that important to her as much as she was to us. The lanes were mostly empty and would give us pause to grasp a modicum of meaning from the layers of stories in stone.

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Florian’s Café in St. Mark’s Square did not disappoint and I felt like Katherine Hepburn in the movie, Summertime, that was set in Venice, for although she found romance with an Italian, it was really Venice that had romanced her. We listened to an orchestra, drank prosecco, and then danced the rumba in the piazza. We left Florian’s Café and walked to where we were gently helped into a gondola with a few others. No, this was not touristy. This was like the movies and Venice had asked us to come into her ethereal, watery world. How elegant and beautiful when an opera singer suddenly stood up in the gondola and sang her heart out to us. Oh, Venice, you have won my heart.

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Phantoms of history’s cruelty linger all over the earth and certainly if I stayed longer in Venice, I would have to learn to step aside when they passed by. But on this day, Venice was aglow with love’s liberation and I just happened to be there. We just happened to be there. Marlene De Blasi also writes in A Thousand Days in Venice, “I wait for a moment, listening for the clanging of la Marangona, the most ancient of San Marco’s bells, the one whose solemn basso has signaled the beginning and the end of the Venetian artisan’s workday for fifteen centuries. Once it warned of enemy approach, saluted a visiting king, and announced the death of a doge. Some say it rings by its own will, that if one arrives in Venice to its great noble clanging, it is proof of one’s Venetian soul, proof the old bell remembers one from some other time.” I’m very pleased that we have Venetian souls.

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Winter Thoughts

The sun is brilliant and is offering me hope, for my winter weariness has become as heavy as the weight of the snow in Boston and the surrounds. I am agitated, angry, and anxious. I have always liked alliteration.

Yesterday, there was news that a young human rights worker, only 26, was killed by terrorists. She had been held in captivity for over a year, but had written she was strong and believed in God. Today, the news is that three young Muslim students were shot to death in NC. They were studying to become dentists and had been involved in fundraising for medical/dental help for Syrian children.

As I watched the expressions of a sunset last night at a tavern with floor to ceiling windows, I was given the certainty and strength of beauty. But why must I wade through so much to get to this beauty? Not one, but three flat screen televisions were in that small tavern. While I drank in the sunset and a glass of wine, I listened to the background noise of the news. Death, snow, tragedy…the backdrop to the pink peach glow intensifying and slowly falling onto the earth. The marriage of light and darkness. The essence of the day laid down with the evening and dissolved in love.

I don’t understand why no-one at the bar wanted to stand or sit in awe at the windows? I don’t understand walking away from beauty and love and what is most important. I don’t understand why there is constant stark clamor of tragedy in every room we walk into. And that knowing it, seeing it, and hearing it brings a little death to our spirits and makes our hearts weak and numb. Next time I come to watch the sunset, I will bring my MP3 player with the recorded nature sounds.

I am off today with AAA and maybe AAAA for I also feel alone with winter shoved up against my office window, keeping me from seeing the sun highlighting the evergreen tree by the driveway.

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And the other A – the agitation over spending $16.00 on a paperback by a new author with Simon & Schuster. Commas everywhere making for choppy writing, no flow in her prose, and awkward usage. Right off, she begins the novel with tragedy. I don’t know the characters. I can’t care about their god damn tragedy. I wrote a two star review. I rarely write bad reviews, for I know how it feels. But it will hardly make a dent in her new found success, this new author who writes poorly. I am angry, but not jealous, for I like my style of writing and have made peace with writing no matter the outcome. But I’m angry at the unfairness and cold winter reality. I have little chance at wide readership and success. And I should have success. Yes, I should. And the young, lovely aid worker should have lived and the three young Muslim students should have lived, but I’m already certain they had success.

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A Woman Needs A Woman to Pray To!

It is a frigid -2 degrees morning with glittering sun-gold snow mounds and I am in need of prayer. I’ve been weakened by the flu and the vicissitudes of life. And yet I am hopeful and grateful this day, even if another foot of snow looms ahead. It is St. Brigid’s Day, February 1st. And because freedom to believe and pray flows through me in various forms and shapes, there are times when, as a woman, I need a woman to pray to.

In my work-in-progress novel, The Irish Milliner, there’s a scene when Norah enters St. Brigid’s Church in New York City in 1863. It is just after the Draft Riots whereby she and the city experienced the ferocity of hate. And Norah needed a woman to pray to. This is an excerpt:

Norah relaxed in Father Mooney’s warm acceptance and perhaps in God Himself, but it was St. Brigid’s presence that gave her strength. This saint she had grown to love, Mary of the Gaels, had always been with her throughout her childhood. She had nearly forgotten her in America, but not in this church, Brigid’s namesake. Norah adored this saint who had been a daughter of a pagan and a Christian who had let her eyeballs swell so she would not be attractive to young men who pursued her. She lived only for Christ, for the poor, and gave away everything she owned. She performed miracles and started a monastery, but mostly Brigid was her own woman and that is what Norah loved best about her. One day when Norah and Katie walked to St. Brigid’s as the setting sun and the dark of evening mingled in an alluring dance over New York, Norah felt courage circulating through the chambers of her heart, rinsing her sorrows with a certain peace. After they entered St. Brigid’s and sat down in a pew to pray, Norah pulled out a prayer card from the rack. No-one was in the church, except Father Mooney, who watched from behind the curtains of the sacristy. Norah and Katie read the prayer in a whisper together:

Brigid, You were a woman of peace.
You brought harmony where there was conflict.
You brought light to the darkness.
You brought hope to the downcast.
May the mantle of your peace cover those
who are troubled and anxious.
And may peace be firmly rooted in our hearts and in our world.
Inspire us to act justly and to reverence all God has made.
Brigid, you were a voice for the wounded and the weary.
Strengthen what is weak within us.
Calm us into a quietness that heals and listens.
May we grow each day into greater wholeness
in mind, body, and spirit. Amen.

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For Serious Writers – A Visit with Jacob Marley

This is from a talk I gave at the Watkins Glen, New York Writers’ Group in October of this year:

“I get up; I walk; I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing” (Hillel) or, “I get up; I walk; I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep WRITING!

Write! Write! Write! I bang my head on the wall three times (but not too hard). Another great quote: Red Smith was asked if turning out a daily column wasn’t quite a chore. …”Why, no,” said dead-panned Red. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

Because this is a room full of writers in varying stages of experience, I don’t want to just read material from my work in progress or from my three books. I want to warmly encourage you to not give up, but I also want to tell you to “fish or cut bait” or “put up or shut up” or in vulgar terms, “shit or get off the pot.”

This past summer I hardly saw the sun because I journeyed through the proverbial dark night of the soul. I was scheduled to travel to Ireland and was going to speak and sell books at a redhead convention. I also had a celebratory trip planned with my husband to go to Italy in October. These trips and my usual itinerary to go to the Milwaukee Irish festival to speak, as well as to Chicago to iBAM (Irish Books, and Music) I decided to cancel. I have experienced many times of discouragement and some depression in my life, especially related to my writing. I think it’s quite common for artists and writers. However, I do not wear this as a badge of pride to be in the club of being a real writer because when depression is severe, you could care less about being a so-called real writer.

We all travel through the storms of life and at a certain age, we hopefully have learned how to navigate through them to get to where we are going, becoming wiser for the challenges. But sometimes the storms are so fierce, we can’t see our way to navigate. During those times, we know we need some strong ropes cast to us from our friends, our faith, and a good therapist. It was this kind of summer. And I don’t have to remind you that the news in the world was intensely bleak, which only exacerbated my personal storms. Storms, not storm. A perfect storm of events.

“Writing is an affair of yearning for great voyages and hauling on frayed ropes.” (Israel Shenker). Before this dark night of the soul, I thought I was on a great voyage with my writing. And I was used to hauling on frayed ropes with the usual things a writer encounters, i.e. rejection, publisher problems, doubt, little money, and trying to find the balance between doing art and having to promote the art I’d already completed. I just wanted to do my art. Early on in our writing experience, we go through the stage of being purists. We like to believe that we don’t need to write for the public more than for our dream, our vision, and for ourselves. The rest will take care of itself, we think over-confidently. But we know just how damn much we need someone to read what we write, affirm us, and shout our praises through reviews, sales, and speaking engagements.

The Historical Novel Society has a reputable magazine that every writer of historical fiction wants his or her books reviewed in. My first two books were given stellar reviews years ago and two years ago my third book, Norah, was reviewed harshly. I didn’t stalk the reviewer, but I cried to my husband, and then spent time looking at every review this reviewer had written in the last year to learn that she didn’t usually give good reviews for any of the books she reviewed. My ego was assuaged, but only temporarily. Then there are the Amazon star ratings and I’d be checking the stars and Googling myself to see if there were any reviews of my books I didn’t know about. I would tell my friends that I only checked maybe once or twice a month. I was not telling the truth. I was checking every single day! Alas, I had become an addict or even a stalker of my own worth as a writer! After the second publisher took on Norah (first one went out of business), I went on a blog tour and had to write blogs, answer questions, do online interviews. And then there were about sixteen blog reviewers who read and reviewed my book. If I got a three star rating, I felt like a failure. Hadn’t I already dealt with the first book being published and feeling naked and exposed, as if people would find out that maybe I wasn’t a real writer? I thought I had. After the many giveaways of my third book with the first publisher, there were many reviews on Goodreads. Fortunately, most of them were four or five stars. Yeah! But there were maybe two or three that gave me a one or two star rating. I thought I was doing quite well not to look up their profiles and learn how they rated other books. I didn’t stalk them online to find out who they were and why they hadn’t given me a higher rating. By this time, I had more good reviews than any bad and I basked in the good reviews. But deep inside, I knew I had a problem with self-worth as a writer.

Don’t get me wrong. I had grown as a writer and a person and had a certain confidence and peace about who I was and what my writing was about. I wasn’t writing for the marketplace, but I was savvy enough to know that the marketplace was important after my writing was completed. I was writing out of that initial purist belief that writing is a calling and a passion. I knew I had chosen the road less traveled and it wouldn’t be easy.

But then the summer came and my equilibrium was thrown off by various pressures all at once. And one of these pressures was that my new publisher’s printer printed my books with sentences that had been lopped off and I didn’t know this until a reader contacted me. I had received the box of books from the publisher, but hadn’t opened them until I needed to ship books to Ireland. And the publisher wouldn’t address the problem for the entire summer. With this scenario came other personal pressures that created the perfect storm whereby I chose not to travel and do much of anything, including writing.

I would drag myself to my computer and work on my novel in progress. Once I was finally there (it seemed that there was a distance of many miles to get there each time), I was translated to another realm, another time, and to this place of writing which had to be akin to what drug addicts experience when they get high and must have more.

In The Creative Brain, Nancy C. Andreasen writes , “In order to create, many creative people slip into a state of intense concentration and focus. In psychiatric terms, this could be described as a “dissociative state.” That is, the person in a sense mentally separates himself from his surroundings and metaphorically “goes to another place.” In ordinary language, the person might be said to be “no longer in touch with reality.”

Wow, I could do it. I could time travel to the 1860s to New York City with my protagonist and other characters! But when I left that dimension and returned to reality, I was still hurting. And then one day a friend asked me how my writing was being affected. I suddenly had the image of big chains on my ankles as I dragged myself to my computer to work and how it felt as if I had to walk a tiresome distance to get there. I blurted out, “I feel like Jacob Marley!”
This image from The Christmas Carol was so vivid that later I meditated on it and realized that symbolically (which goes against the usual interpretation of Jacob Marley) this is who some writers are; we are Jacob Marleys, tormented eternally because we have insatiable greed for words, for story, for worthiness in publishing, for making a difference through our words. It is a sort of a torment, this writing life, and you’re damned if you don’t and damned if you do. “I wear the chains I forged in life,” laments the ghost of Jacob Marley. Jacob Marley visits Scrooge “captive, bound and double-ironed” with chains which are described as “long, and wound about him like a tail; it was made… of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.”

Certainly there are some Scrooges out there reading our words and being affected by them. Jacob Marley had quite the effect on Scrooge (and us) in his heavy chains. Just after this image I experienced, I had a phone call early one morning. A man with a heavy French accent asked for me. A teacher in France, he was conducting a study of immigration and wanted to order my books in a large quantity for the students in his class. It occurred to me to remember way back when my first book was published and how many letters from students I received who wanted to help the hungry of this world. Could my ghostly appearance, chains and all, show up on the pages of my books to affect my readers’ lives? I believe this is so. For many, it can be so.

I need these chains occasionally, I suppose, to remind me of this affliction called writing, and that the only relief is dragging them to the computer and as Paul Valery speaks of the “une ligne donne of a poem – one line is given to the poet by God or by nature, the rest he has to discover for himself.” It is the only way to become unchained.

And thus I’ve been unchained, for out of this dark night, I’ve emerged with a real sense that nothing can take away my art. It has nothing to do with five star or one star ratings. It has everything to do with what I used to write inside the cover of my first book, “Hope dances in the darkness and believes in the Lover who casts light at our feet.”

Be glad for the chains around your writing ankles, but don’t just sit with them. Make noise as you drag them to your art and I promise you that when you are there, you’ll forget they are even there, as heavy as they might be.

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A Little Art Exhibit

 

“Just finish it!” my ninth grade art instructor said with clenched teeth as he stood behind me breathing down my neck as I worked on a sketch of a chair. If only I had more time, I’d get the perspective right. There was no more time, my teacher was impatient, and a ninth grader is very sensitive. “Just finish it” meant I didn’t have a natural gift to draw and paint. I was already creating stories and poems to entertain my neighborhood with, for writing was a natural inclination and I dreamed of becoming a writer like Jo in Little Women. And that I did through years of rejection and perseverance! But as the years went by, the mere mention of an empty canvas and paint stirred something deep within me.

One of my favorite authors, Willa Cather, said simply, Every artist makes himself born! I knew the hard labor involved in writing, but was I willing to struggle with paint on canvas? No, I wasn’t. I was already engaged in losing and finding myself in the process of novel writing. And still, I dreamed of an empty canvas, colors, and Monet’s shimmering colors and light. The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. The most you can do is live inside that hope, running down its hallways, touching the walls on both sides ~ Barbara Kingsolver

As an adult, I went to Vermont College to study with authors as mentors. It was there I was introduced to Charlotte Hastings, an installation artist and writer. She became one of my art midwives and I began to play with texture and expression in collage, expressing myself on canvas for the first time since ninth grade. Her favorite poet was Mary Oliver and after Charlotte left this earth much too early, in my estimation, she spoke to me one day as I was flipping through magazines at Barnes & Noble – Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? (The Summer Day, Mary Oliver)

I was already inside that hope Barbara Kingsolver spoke of, and as I ran down hope’s hallways to dig for the truth of the past, resurrecting history and putting flesh on the bones of my characters, I learned my great grandmother, Grace Matilda Stevens, was one of the first women to graduate from Mansfield State College in Pennsylvania. She rode her horse each day in the late 1800s to Mansfield State so she could study art. Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? My mentor, Charlotte, was with me, and so was my great-grandmother, cheering me on.

And the next woman to become an art midwife was Alyson Stoddard Thompson from Artist Proof Art Gallery in Hampstead, New Hampshire. Alyson’s extraordinary keen eye, patience, and belief in my ability guided me in creating the paintings exhibited here. No, I do not have the natural gift to draw and paint, but I have colors parading through my head that nature gives me and perhaps, as in my writing, I possess the courage to follow a little talent to the dark places in this hallway of hope, touching the walls on both sides.

A Little Art Exhibit is currently at Beantown Cafe in Hampstead, NH.

 

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Nature, Real or Fantasy?

I bought a new T-shirt because it’s April after a long, harsh winter and I need color.

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On the tag it says, “Nature is imagination itself” William Blake

I often think that someday I’ll take the time to read more fantasy books, but I’m not keen on the genre, except for a few, like the science fiction fantasy, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I wonder at my inability to escape into this genre that is so popular. Maybe it’s because so much of my time is spent fleeing to the 19th-century and to the 18th-century to spend time with the dead so I can write historical fiction. If I have a good day of research and writing, it’s difficult to re-orient myself to the present. In a sense, it’s a fantasy to fall down this rabbit-hole into a world that once was and now isn’t.

But mostly, I don’t relish reading fantasy because nature nurtures my imagination and fantasy abounds, or is it not fantasy and very real?  The definition of fantasy is the activity of imagining things, esp. things that are impossible or improbable. I agree with John Muir who said, Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains.

In January, just before my birthday with a big, fat zero O, I was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer. It was sudden and ugly, but treatable, and now I have a little gouge in my thigh after fourteen stitches. I’m grateful, but the timing of it, at first, felt mean-spirited. Hee…hee…how do you like this birthday gift, you vain redheaded creature, you! The day before my scheduled surgery, my husband suggested a walk in the woods on a favorite trail. It had been near zero all winter, but it was a balmy 34 degrees that day. I was reluctant. I just wanted to read all day in bed and not think about this cruel birthday gift. But I relented and just before sunset we went to the woods and the air and light wrapped its arms around me in a loving embrace. I tried to shake it off, Leave me alone. You don’t really mean it. I’m fine. Sometimes our only way to endure is to encase ourselves in our own strength. Who is to say this is wrong and who is to say our strength is not a gift of spirit? But my experience has been that nature, in all its beauty and fury, has a lover’s way with me. I am wooed and eventually surrender.

I volunteered as a bluebird monitor many years ago for the local Audubon Center. I cleaned boxes, recorded findings, but never saw a bluebird. I did this for two or three years. In the past two years, however, bluebirds have visited our backyard and we’ve seen them in the woods. They’re illusive and a bit hoighty toighty, never at the feeder or hanging out with others. Each time we go to the woods, we go with hope to see bluebirds. Mostly, we are surprised by them and our breaths are always taken away. Bluebirds will never lose their magic for me.

Cynthia Neale

Massabesic Audubon Center

Here I was in January trying to throw off nature’s hug around my neck and suddenly I hear the sweet melodies of bluebirds and look up to see flocks of them dancing in the air. At first, I thought it was hopefulness and that I was imagining it. Dozens of bluebirds sang and danced for me and then landed in two trees, becoming silent. I raised my hands and asked if they had come to bring hope and happiness. I went home and suffice it to say, I had given in to another lover’s embrace.

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In Native American lore, bluebirds symbolize transformation, creative power, and healing. A passage into the big fat O birthday, signing on with a new publisher, and healing for the surgery scheduled. Happy Birthday to me! Indeed, it was a very noteworthy birthday gift.

And just last week, as I walked on the same special trail, I had a reminder inscribed on a tree:

20140405_12443620140405_124420Real or Fantasy? Does it matter?

 

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