The Secret Language of Twigs

I think we could all learn a lot from the Double Rainbow Guy. If you’ve not seen and heard his now famous three and a half minutes of ecstasy, click and watch it NOW.

Listen carefully as he sobs: “What does it mean?”

Just like the rest of us walking upright on this planet with large brains, and suffering wisdom teeth and the threat of appendicitis, for Rainbow Guy (aka Yosemitebear) a rainbow is never just a rainbow. It has to mean something. Stories are fables, and planets are gods and goddesses, and homes are castles, and every picture tells a story, and a girl tucking a wisp of hair behind her ear actually fancies you.

Our tendency to attribute meaning makes life rich and it makes us human. We must allow ourselves to be in dialogue with everything our senses encounter. I think philosophy has big words for this kind of stuff: existential phenomenology, personal mythos, cosmogony… but let us be spared them as I unfold ‘the secret language of twigs’.

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heaven espy.
(George Herbert)

My dog loves sticks. She also happens to be one of my most trusted spiritual directors. Many are the things I’ve learned in her company. I thought perhaps I should take her fascination with sticks more seriously.

At first I noticed how different species have distinctive ways of growing that give rise to endless variations within the parameters of their genes. The elder speaks with one set of forms, and the beech with another. And then, a whole world opened up to me that means walking in the woods will never be the same again.

Beech

Beech

Divided Way - The most common and fundamental form of branch. Growth divides and divides again to the left and right. Even choosing not to make a choice is itself a choice.

A choice! Do you, my listener, know how to express in a single word anything more magnificent? Do you realize,
even if you were to discuss year in and year out how you could mention nothing more awesome than a choice, what it is to have choice! For though it is certainly true that the ultimate blessing is to choose rightly, yet the faculty of choice itself is still the glorious prerequisite.
(Soren Kierkegaard)

The top of a wayfarer’s staff often has a fork in it; how many times must a traveller decide between two paths?

Flip it over and you have a confluence of two ways. I’m more aware of divergence than confluence in life. The latter happens so quietly but suddenly you find that someone else is with you, or two creative ideas have joined to make a third.

Lomogram_2014-12-12_06-42-57-PM

Elder

 The Third Way – lest we forget that choices are not always ‘either/or’. If I find myself trying to decide between two things, the question I often forget to ask is: “Is there a third way?”

don’t mean a ‘middle way’, but there’s almost always another option that evades us when we are double bound and damned if we do or don’t do one thing or another.

Other people often present us with an either/or, forestalling our capacity to step back and think creatively whether there’s a potential we’ve missed. That third way may even be to do nothing.

We also have here the footprint of a bird, a creature of the air that has come down to feed on a creature of the earth (a worm). Earth is marked by its feet in a way that air is never marked by its wings … ponder this.

Ash

Ash

The Bow - sacred in human culture from our hunter-gatherer ancestors onward and right across the face of the earth: for hunting, making war and making music.

In the Bible, when God attributes meaning to the rainbow, the original language refers to her ‘battle bow’.

I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.
(Genesis 9:13)

It foretells the hope that the instruments of war will be beaten into plowshares and become tools for nurture instead of destruction.

In numerous mythologies, the heavenly bow is a bridge between the sphere of mortal struggle and the paradise of rest and peace. In Bantu cosmology, it is created by the dance of seven snakes. So, once again, Yosemitebear is not such a fool.

Beech

Beech

 Fe - the first rune of the ancient scandanavian ‘futhark’, signifying wealth and plenty.

‘Wealth’ meant something very different to the inventors of the runic alphabets. It was probably quantifiable in cattle. While we owe a lot of our letter shapes and sounds to these forebears, we may have lost their understanding of wealth. Mine is a number on a screen that pops up after I’ve typed a few passwords and memorable numbers on a keyboard.

When this twig cracked under my foot it seemed to shout in twig-speak: “We are wealth! We are woods, and water, and weather! Wait and listen!” So I did. And all I could hear in the the trees was this: “Ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff…” – a continuous whisper of plenty.

Hazel

Hazel

 Vav – the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, whose pictographic meaning is ‘hook’ or peg. Curiously its equivalent in our alphabet is also … ‘F’ – both in sound and numerical value.

As the very simplest single stroke of a pen or brush, this letter shape has been associated with one-ness and, as a sinuous curve from top to bottom, it has also been taken to represent the flow of revelation from heaven to earth.

Without needing to go down a kabbalist rabbit hole, I’ve found this form deeply appealing since the moment I tried to create it perfectly with a calligraphy pen several months ago.

I think the idea of ‘unity’ encompasses its meaning very well: flowing together, once again, between air and earth, my feet of clay and my wings of aether. All that I do belongs to flying or digging and the art of living is to do both at once: to pray as I work.

Alder

Alder

Tau – 19th letter of the Greek alphabet, final letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

Saint Francis used this (the Tau cross) as his signature and it is fitting that this little alder twig should say his name to us, because he called the Sun his brother and the Moon his sister and was mindful of all living things.

For this reason I have a slight preference for this as a sign of Christ’s cross over the traditional form (which all too readily becomes a sword). This is the final letter, the end of present tyranny and the reconciliation of the whole created order.

Birch

Unidentified

 The Dancer - let the trees of the field clap their hands!

Not only did I find this exultant shape in the woods but it also looks very similar to the lines on my left palm, where I recently discovered the stick figures of two dancing people.

Maybe I’ll show them to you one day. But I’d like to end this epistle of the woods and hedgerows with a few words from the bard himself:

Now, my co-mates and brothers in exile,
Hath not old custom made this life more sweet
Than that of painted pomp? Are not these woods
More free from peril than the envious court?
Here feel we but the penalty of Adam,
The seasons’ difference; as, the icy fang
And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind,
Which, when it bites and blows upon my body,
Even till I shrink with cold, I smile and say
‘This is no flattery: these are counsellors
That feelingly persuade me what I am.’
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.
I would not change it.
(As You Like It, Act 2 Scene I)

 If you enjoyed this, you might like to read more of my ‘Wisdom of Things Found’ posts:

Dipping a Toe in Flash-Fiction Waters

I have ‘artists envy’ for folks who seem to be able to finish stuff.

When it comes to creativity, I can go some way with the saying “It’s more about the journey than the destination,” but surely the full miracle of creative work is in that breathless moment when you can stand back and say, “It’s done.” That’s the elusive hit we’re really looking for. Something is not created until it’s completed and a thing, be it a sculpture, picture, story or performance, stands where before there was no thing.

I think some of us are scared to finish. As long as a work is in progress, it has the potential to be awesome. Once it’s done, it’s either awesome or not. I’m certainly scared to finish things. I trail so many works-in-progress, the drag can be crippling.

1914433_177102515707_3349271_nThis week I’ve been rescued by a little thing called Six Minute Story. I wouldn’t have given it the time of day if not for the suggestion of one of those artists I envy, Xe Sands, who is such a sparkling enthusiast for creativity in general and words in particular that not going along with something she’s excited about would feel like telling a kid that she couldn’t have an ice cream.

Six Minute Story gives you a random writing prompt and a box in which you have just six minutes to write a story. And that’s it … If it doesn’t work out, you can hit refresh and try again.

It’s heady stuff. You go from nothing to done in less time than it takes to hang out the laundry. It’s helped me to write a few stand-alone bites that I’m moderately happy about and to experience repeatedly the breathless moment of “It’s done.”

542337_150333145100783_579289562_nThroughout September, Xe’s ‘Going Public Project‘, which propagates contributed recordings of literature from the public domain and creative commons, is showing off stuff from Six Minute Story. Anyone can get involved even if, like me, you thought writing prompts were twee and ‘flash fiction’ was not quite ‘proper’.

I’m pretty stoked because this week’s post features a snippet of Xe’s voice doing my words and frankly that’s another tick on my bucket list.

So, my writerly readers, go here to start your own six-minute adventure. Or go here to listen to this week’s offerings and find out more about the Going Public Six Minute Story September challenge.

Other things to do

Follow the Going Public Project on Facebook

Read my bits on Six Minute Story

Mandala Meditations

Summers tend to be inherently disordered. Because it’s Summer, because everyone else is on holiday, because there is a wedding to go to virtually every weekend, because it’s too hot to cook and a salad or sandwich will do, because being outdoors is possible and therefore compulsory, because the nights are too bright and warm to sleep normal hours, many habits and routines fall by the wayside and need to be resumed in the Autumn.

As I’ve begun to pick up threads of habit and find ‘normal’ life again in the last week, I’ve taken up mandalas. Jung used them with his patients not only diagnostically but therapeutically. Having noticed their appearance in many cultures and creeds, he went on to find mandalas a useful tool for centering and ordering the personality internally and situating it cosmically:

The severe pattern imposed by a circular image of this kind compensates the disorder and confusion of the psychic state—namely, through the construction of a central point to which everything is related, or by a concentric arrangement of the disordered multiplicity and of contradictory and irreconcilable elements.

This is evidently an attempt at self healing on the part of nature, which does not spring from a conscious reflection but from an instinctive impulse.

To begin with, I’ve just been ‘journaling’ by drawing one each day, usually using forms related to how I’m feeling or what I’m preoccupied about. Well, making pretty patterns and colouring them in is a great way to lose yourself for an hour and is obviously therapeutic. Each of these has become a meditation and a prayer that seems to have gathered and offered, directed and consolidated the day. I think this may be a new creative practice for the next season.

So here are the mandalas from the last four days:

05/09/14 – Potential

08/09/14 - Change

06/09/14 – Change

07/09/14 - Voyage

07/09/14 – Voyage

08/09/14 - Resurrection

08/09/14 – Resurrection

If you want more, here’s a pinboard full of them from my Pinterest.

A good starting point for further exploration is Peter Patric Barreda’s MandalaZone website.

A Doodle a Day Part IX

Sometimes when my journaling habit collapses, squeezed out by the busyness that I perceive in my life (whether it’s really there or not), I still find time to doodle. I have very basic app on my phone that makes it easier.

I like to ask people the question: if you could swap your primary creative talent for another, would you? And what would it be? Most people say, ‘no, I wouldn’t.’ But I’ll admit I have artist’s envy for people who can draw as wonderfully as a couple of people I know. When you’ve looked at these phone scribbles, go and check out the work of a couple of pros:

Daniel Weatheritt – A very inspiring illustrator I’ve had the pleasure of working with recently.

Philippa Cappelman – A gifted draughtswoman friend who has recently launched out.

Self Portrait

Self Portrait

Swift

Swift

I'm still fairly obsessed with trying to draw swifts

I’m still fairly obsessed with trying to draw swifts

Tree

Tree

Dog

Dog

Mooning Hare

Mooning Hare

Crustacean - I love these creatures and wish I could draw them

Crustacean – I love these creatures and wish I could draw them

The Good Land

The Good Land

See some of my previous doodle posts.

I thought it would be fun if we blog hopped

My blogging badly needs a shot in the arm, nay an intracardiac dose, of blah-blah fuel, so it is with great pleasure I’ve accepted Rob Rife’s invitation to a blog hop.

Rob Rife - Ascendant Canadian Bard

Rob Rife – Ascendant Canadian Bard in Yakima Valley

Basically, it’s a writer’s pyramid scheme, blog-based chain letter, tasteful tag-fest thing. I’m one of three writers Rob’s asked to answer four questions about writing and the writing process.

It is hoped that this will entendril the blogging writersphere ecosystem with fruitful vines of interconnection, lead readers to discover new and lovely writers and give others an insight into what makes some of us tick.

Not only because Rob’s said nice things about me in his post but also because, in my opinion, he’s “one to watch” as he climbs steadily the ladder of latter-day bards, I really hope you hop back up the vine and check out his writing. I think it speaks for itself in a unique voice and it takes a lot make me think, as I do, “when that book comes out I’m buying it” whether the author is my friend or not.

So…

1) What am I working on?
When I’m not writing for others, I’m mapping the terrain between my subconscious and conscious realities, my dreaming and waking worlds, and dredging up short stories as I go. These are broadcast semi-regularly as a podcast at Stories from the Borders of Sleep. They are stories for hearing rather than reading, so any book that may come from them in the future will be more of a spin-off than a substantial target met.

Borders of Sleep illustration by Robyn Trainer

Borders of Sleep illustration by Robyn Trainer

This is a long-term project. I intend to continue it until the twelfth of never and would be quite happy to let it be my life’s work. It provides a creative discipline through the need to continually bring out new material and is immensely satisfying as I know it goes straight to an audience that, my stats tell me, downloads on average a hundred stories a day.

Alongside that, and not a million miles removed from it, I’m working on a book that probably sits in the ‘self help’ section. Broadly, it’s about using different parts of the body as a way of connecting inner reflection with outward action. If that sounds too wooky, then it could alternatively be described as a book about anthropology and time management.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I honestly don’t know because, with perhaps one exception, I don’t really read the stuff that might be similar. The exception is that I have derived a lot from the works of George MacDonald. He occupies the high points of mythopoeic romance to which I can only aspire.

To feed myself, I study literary classics, folklore and history, watch TED talks and look for books in brooks and sermons in stones. I should probably be reading Paul Coehlo, Haruki Murakami, Susanna Clarke and Neil Gaiman, but I don’t have time.

3) Why do I write what I do?
It has always been the same motivation for me, that simple line from the screenplay of the film about CS Lewis, Shadowlands:

We read to know we are not alone.

Books have been my greatest comforters and companions in helping me make sense of this way between earth and heaven where we all have the temporary use of a body, a mind and some words. Therefore, put simply, “I write to let others know they are not alone either.”

4) How does my writing process work?
I need to work in long stretches of time so it only really happens when I have a few uninterrupted hours in the dead of night or the wee small hours. Saturday mornings are good, too.

I write standing up because I constantly need to fidget or walk away to calm down or let the kinks work out in my head.

Actually starting something is Mount Everest, everything after that is Cool Runnings (apart from editing, which is K2). Finishing something is a serious hit on my dopamine receptors.

I usually only need one or two ideas, the rest takes shape as I go along. So I might start just knowing I want to write about a couple of trees I saw with intertwined limbs. Then it’s just a case of letting my imagination play out and making sure I take notes and keep up.

That sounds easy but it takes quite a toll on me. I think I write in a trance – it’s a bit like getting drunk. I get elated, then I get hung over. Maybe a better answer to the previous question is just that I’m an addict.

And on to …

This is the bit where I tell you who to hop on to next … I’m still recruiting victims, but here’s my first:

Justin Lau – Writings of a Vagabond at Peace

When Justin first appeared in my life, I felt an immediate connection – although I suspect he has a gift for making most people feel like that. In spite of our very different backgrounds, our few conversations have got straight to the heart of the things that most interest me. We’re both multi-instrumentalists and we both love writing. We both see our creative calling as not fitting the box of one particular medium or art form although writing seems to be the brightest thread. We’re both gnawed by the great question of  ‘where is home?’ as people who have been geographically adrift among cultures from an early age. We’re both intrigued by Japanese culture – although he has more of an inside track on that. He introduces himself very well and explains why he’s a ‘Vagabond at Peace’ in this blog post.

Justin Lau's cheeky face

Justin Lau’s cheeky face

Justin describes himself as an ‘aspiring author’. That’s brave and honest. The title brackets him with millions of others who ‘hope to write a book some day’. The thing is, I think he just might be one of those who actually does. I dream with him that he’ll one day write the great Japanese novel. In the meantime he shows a flair for flash fiction, writes prolifically in search of his voice, studies English Literature at Durham University, has an eye for well-turned prose and an ear for a lyrical song.

Justin has recently restarted blogging (prompted by this post, in fact), and although there’s not a lot there yet, he’s definitely one to watch. You can literally watch him on YouTube and hear him on SoundCloud – but seriously … check him out!

Swifts for the tacit longings of our adult years

As we approach middle age, is it normal for birds to become more fascinating to us? We start feeding them, watching them, doodling them. Do they represent our longing to shed the earthbound web we’ve woven for ourselves and to be as light as air? Maybe it’s just me.

Once again my scratchpad (the notebook I keep strictly for rough work/business notes, lists of action items and phone calls) has been invaded by the doodling dreamer.

try to make a swift with as few strokes of the pen as possible.

try to make a swift with as few strokes of the pen as possible.

Notebook Wars

A good writing implement can bring out the best in us.

I’m mainly a pencil person for taking notes, doodling and writing. For journaling, inking in or neater work, I adore the triplus® fineliner by STAEDTLER. But lately, a couple of fountain pens have been added to the arsenal. A good one, well primed, is a wonderful writer. A bad one can fill a page very quickly with bizarre textures and symbols.

The pages of my scratch book have recorded a strange battle over the last week or so:

 

I like to believe that even the way we scribble when trying to get a blasted pen to work can be pressed into the service of narrative.

 

 

 

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