Calling all minds Medieval
I’ve spent the last 10 months researching an 11th-century historical work of fiction: a trilogy about Queen Margaret of Scotland. “Living” in the medieval world has grabbed me and I want to make contact with others who also love that time period. Here’s my request to you: I need to select an image for the cover of the first book, post-haste. I find the image above very appealing. Do you? There’s a white hart featured in book one, which is a reason I like it, even though it was painted way after Margaret died.
If you have other ideas for a cover, please comment. And include an image! At the moment, I’m not so interested in an image of a female, but it you think you have the perfect one, send it along.
Thank you! Let’s do this together!
Poetry was invented by someone who realized what the Impressionist painters knew: the literal sometimes doesn’t convey reality as well as a creatively presented impression of it. Poetry speaks directly to the heart, sometimes with beauty, sometimes with humor and sometimes with pain. But it always races through the brain right into the heart.
With Armistice Day still fresh in our memories, I offer this poem, written by award-winning poet, Christopher Addé, Manager of the General Collections at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA. Chris, who was raised near London, says, “As a boy I lived near a churchyard that had a number of WWI graves and I played on bomb sites leftover from WWII. Even so young you could not help but take it in.”
What resonated with me about this poem is the bond between the two soldiers. Ultimately, what we crave is another human’s touch, to know we’re not alone.
English Country Churchyard
This English country churchyard
In whose quiet I now lie
Is far removed from where I fought
And lost my arm and eye
Twisted by the bullets as they spat
From every gun
I fell into a shell-hole
Where there lay a wounded Hun.
Two men, exhausted, hurt, and weak
With death to contemplate
Looked hard at one another
Yet without a trace of hate
Poor Hun had been a day or three
Laid in the stinking mire –
A bullet lodged within his chest
From taking British fire.
He could not speak, no more could I,
Marooned in No-Mans land
We were each other’s equal
And he reached out for my hand
It was, as if, he’d clung to life
So not to pass alone
Then clasping tight he smiled and died
To leave me on my own.
I, with luck, was rescued
Living on for ten more years
Though my sleep at night was fitful
As I faced my wartime fears
At length my wounds proved fatal
And at thirty life was done
But as I slipped, I saw outstretched
The hand from that old Hun.
My battles now are different –
Fighting briars that have grown
And the creeping lichen legions
That advance upon my stone
I did not have my children
Nor the chance to seek out fame
But this English country churchyard
Lets me keep alive my name.
– Christopher J S Addé
The Dog and I love to walk in the early recesses before morning, when the sky is sea-chasm dark; when it’s neither morning nor day nor evening nor night, it just is – a fleeting moment in time to palate-cleanse the mind.
It would be sacrilege to turn on the porch light, although it would make the stairs easier to see, but it would rudely intrude on the remnants of darkness. By the time we return to the front door, the sun, which now rests behind the hill, will be casting a harbinger of pale blue sky upon our neighborhood, warning it of today’s onslaught of heat. No, we won’t shatter the remains of night’s magic. Instead the Dog and I walk cautiously down the steps and over to the sidewalk. I pat the bark of an old tree, thanking it for standing guard all night, for trees never sleep.
We’re out early to sniff the remnants of a quiet world; out before the gnats can begin circling my face, entranced by its fragrance, I like to believe. They’re tiny helicopters, silently and relentlessly whirring. All the swatting and shaking of my head fail to deter them. The only way to beat them is to walk before they file their flight plans.
Two coyotes pad silently by, lean and scruffy, and I have to remind the Dog that no, she doesn’t want to tangle with them.
A bird, serving as the street’s self-appointed alarm clock, begins to chirp, “It’s morning!” except that it’s not yet, not quite, so most of the other wildlife hits the snooze button for a few more minutes of rest. Sometimes the Dog hears a squirrel cracking its tiny knuckles and stretching its back, complaining “That’s the hardest tree branch I’ve ever slept on.” In less than half an hour, that squirrel will be scolding dogs from a high tree branch and scampering across utility wires, but for now, she’s too groggy to hold the Dog’s interest.
As the purple leaks from the sky, I high-five a low hanging tree branch, then stop to cup a rose in my hands, stoking its vanity by telling it how beautiful it is while stealing a whiff of its perfume to carry with me.
The Dog stops frequently to sniff, inhaling a universe I’m not equipped to know. She deposits last night’s dinner on someone’s lawn, but they’ll never see it because I’ve scooped it up before it digs too deeply into the blades of grass. The Dog baptizes worthy spots all along the way with drops of urine that she must deem holy, given the careful selection process she goes through before squatting.
By the time we turn the corner back onto our street, having completed our mile, the tabby cat is out sauntering, the parrots are rustling their feathers and warming up their voices for the raucous opera they’ll sing today, and the first annoying gnat materializes.
A bowl of granola awaits me. The sun is about to present herself, to claim the day. Thank you, Lord, for the trembling holiness of these moments before dawn.
The author of this poem is Natalie Russell, Assistant Curator of Literary Collections at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA. I was captivated when I heard her read it and asked to share with you. Thank you for your permission, Natalie. It’s a beautiful work.
Why I Write
because the paper listens.
because no matter what oceans of grief, and rage, and anxiety, and sorrow overflow my soul,
the paper is a sponge.
It receives my burden,
tucks it away,
and opens its arms for more.
because I worry
that human ears are too busy,
hearts too full,
souls too consumed,
to have time for my small crises.
But the paper listens.
because the paper listens
and is no worse for the wear.
I write because sometimes the paper speaks,
when the reader is ready and willing to hear.
because the paper always listens.
Why do you read?
Assistant Curator of Literary Collections
(Above image: Late 12-century illustration from the “Lives of St. Cuthbert.”)
Watching a momentum swing is one of the most exciting things we witness in sports. Here’s the classic scenario: Team B is losing, struggling to close a widening scoring gap, until its star sinks an impossible half-court basket; or a utility player off the bench hits a home run; or the aging fútbol player stabs the back of the net with a showy bicycle kick. The fans go crazy; the rush of adrenaline on the court, the field, or the pitch is palpable. Inevitably, the commentator notes that momentum has swung from Team A to Team B, which is now racking up points. As Team B’s play synchronizes, serendipity follows. Shots that were bouncing off the rim earlier are now falling in, or the bottom of the lineup is hitting like Babe Ruth.
It’s like magic! Except that it’s not magic.
How, you may ask, how does team momentum relate to the decidedly solo craft of writing?
First, let’s deconstruct and expand the concept of momentum.
Consider Isaac Newton’s Law of Inertia: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” Let’s rephrase that. “A writer who’s not writing tends to avoid writing and a writer who is writing tends to keep writing unless they get distracted by Facebook.” Am I wrong?
Inertia, or the lack of motion, and expanded in this case to include the craft of writing, arises when foibles like fear, (sometimes called writer’s block), discouragement, sloth (not to disparage an adorable animal), distractibility, an unclear vision, or a lack of passion about a subject numbs the writer.
The joy of writing resides inside momentum. Moment-um, the state of writing wholly in the moment, eliminates most distractions. I’m living proof that multi-tasking kills creativity and brings momentum to a screeching halt.
Discover that fear runs away from unblinking focus.
Discover your authentic self, trusting that who you are today is enough. Write what will replenish your soul. That’s your “zone.” Live there. Then, no “unbalanced force” can change your direction or push you into a coffin of discouragement.
Whenever you’re going about your day and not physically writing, allow your mind to mull over your project’s vision. Day dream about it. You may be surprised as the clarifications rise like cream. Once your purpose is clear and you love your subject, can passion be far behind? And passion fuels momentum’s train. Experience the joy of writing from deep inside your soul.
Last, but not least, if you’re sloth-ful, you may be as adorable as the animal, but you’re not a writer. Go directly to Facebook. Now. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $100.
In truth, we are not alone as writers. We do have a team around us, intangible though much of it may be. If the tangible is what you need, fine. Join a writer’s group, write in the park while children play, or toss ideas around with a literary buddy. Whatever works for you.
But consider this: everything you’ve ever thought about, dreamed of, or experienced is infused in your heart. Your teammates are everyone you’ve ever met.
If you practice your craft consistently, with discipline, you too, will possess the ability to “play” above your everyday level. You will break out of a slump and create that spark, a great writing rebound, and create your own momentum. You can write, flying aloft on the wings of passion. Passion is what carries us to heights of unimaginable divine creativity.
As I wrote the above, I became curious about how long time writers sustain their momentum, so I asked scholar and prolific academic author, Ph.D. and The Very Reverend John Crean, Jr., to share his process. He’s a man as kind-hearted as he is learned. I’m deeply grateful that research at the Huntington Library brought us together. His response follows:
My first book was my undergraduate thesis, a compilation of several hundred German proverbs often accompanied by their equivalents in other languages. Lisa’s line, “Passion is what carries us to heights of unimaginable divine creativity” was absolutely true for me then as I began my career as a German professor. That passion continued to fuel my work throughout many more years of research, teaching and publication. I was absolutely “crazy” about anything to do with language or culture. In terms of what Lisa was saying, I feel that momentum fuels passion. I remember during one sabbatical leave finishing one manuscript and going right on to the next.
Momentum and passion are key elements for any successful writer. My Ph.D. dissertation director told me to be sure to pick a topic I was absolutely in love with. He told me that by the time I was finished, my love for it would have cooled considerably. He said if I picked something I was lukewarm about, at the end of the project I would hate it—that is if I ever finished it before just giving up.
Now having returned to writing after a hiatus of continual service in the Church, I am again passionate about my writing projects and feel the momentum and the passion in my bones.
— John E. Crean, Ph.D. — firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m formulating a blog on “momentum.” Maybe it’ll get written tomorrow. But for today, enjoy this wonderful little video. I could feel myself relax as I watched it.
Let’s see … before settling in to write this blog about distraction, I brushed the dog, checked Facebook, folded some clothes, got a bottle of tea from the fridge, watched the LAPD/CHP performing a low-speed chase of a motor home, (yes, a large, white motor home). Oh, and I cleaned the upstairs toilet.
Unfortunately, my goal today was to write this blog. So why did I complete numerous unrelated, and non-urgent tasks first? Were they really more important than expressing my thoughts – WRITING – which was my original intent, and which best describes my purpose in life?
Worst of all, I’ve known since this morning that resistance was today’s blog topic, and I still fell prey to it.
Resistance is a term used by author Steven Pressfield in his meaningful book, “The War of Art.” Every creative soul should read it. Resistance is deeper than what we normally call procrastination, although they are related. But resistance stems from our inner doubts, our “demons,” our fears and our lack of belief in our talent. It’s easier to avoid writing than to find out that what we’ve written is sub par, so we get distracted. It’s simpler to clean a toilet than to stare at a blank page. It’s simpler to do almost anything than write something that no one finds interesting enough to read and doesn’t hesitate to tell us so.
But what happens when we succumb to resistance? We feel frustrated. Our soul feels constipated. Our heart hurts. We are unfulfilled, because we’ve shut down the very act that gladdens our day, be it writing, painting, building, singing, or whatever kind of creativity has been given to us. To be who we truly are, and to impart what we can best contribute to the world, we must allow our artful expression sufficient priority. The toilet can wait.
“Impress your personality on him: wear the same perfume every day.” That’s what a teen magazine recommended. I was in junior high school and totally obsessing about a boy. I’d try anything. So I wore the same perfume every day for a month. It didn’t work. Apparently, the boy had to know you existed before the allure of a repetitive fragrance could kick in, and I couldn’t get physically close enough for him to smell it. White Shoulders was heavy on the gardenia anyway. He probably saved himself from choking on a cloying perfume.
Things worsened in high school. When it came time for the Junior Prom, I asked a gay Jehovah’s Witness friend from ballet class to take me. We had fun, actually. He was a good dancer and I certainly didn’t worry about an assault on my virginity.
I wonder what other adolescent agonies I might recall if I’d kept a diary. I tried it for a few months, but I got bored recording things such as who I saw and what I ate for dinner. Hmmm. Perhaps I was just ahead of my time … I should have taken Polaroid photos and shared the banal events with people I didn’t know.
So, although I’ve written most of life, it’s been more along the lines of interviews, speeches, newspaper articles and radio editorials. I don’t journal, although I hear it provides fabulous insight into your life. It just doesn’t call to me. But then, I don’t like yoga, and 95% of the population believes it cures everything. Ha. Nothing cures being a chocoholic, but I might tuck a yoga mat under my arm if I could nibble on a box of See’s candy during the Downward-Facing Dog pose.
Now, after many years of “youth-ening” like Merlin, all I want to do is write. I’m ready. I’ve lived enough life to have something to say and not enough life left to say it all.
What drives people to write? I mean regularly write, and even more so, write something they’re willing to “put out there” for others to read? And why won’t people who have important thoughts to share dare to commit them to paper? Aye, matey, there’s the rub: “putting it out there” is like walking the plank naked. The writer who jumps is prone to drowning in a sea o’ criticism, and the ones who try to hang on without jumping get splinters in their butt. I don’t think I can expound any further than on that metaphor, but it’s a major reason why people don’t write.
And that’s a shame, because writing forces us to open up windows in our minds that have been sealed shut for years. When that happens, we let out the stale thoughts, use the ones that, like honey, don’t spoil, and allow fresh ones to enter. Let’s stop here. Take a moment and think about writing something, anything, today. Think of something that been gnawing at you or inspiring you and write a few lines about it, for the sheer enjoyment of seeing it in print.
We’ll come back to this subject … in the meantime, enjoy looking at a chair in our hotel room on a trip to Bartlesville, Oklahoma. I wrote in that chair. Heck, you could make up a whole story about a hotel room chair, if you wanted to.
“Rosebud” was just a sled, after all.
I figured that meeting the other authors today on the panel at our city’s library would be interesting. It was that and much more. It was a joy. Each author was uniquely intense in his/her reasons for writing. Each encouraged not only the audience, but each other, to write! I am renewed and more excited than ever to dive into writing my next story, which is set in the 11th century.
Of course, today I was speaking about “Shattered Peacock.” It made me sad to realize how very relevant the Shah’s ousting from Iran remains, especially in light of last night’s bombings in Syria. Sadly, one of the reasons Shah Pahlavi assumed continuing support from the U.S. and Great Britain was because his rule made Iran the only Western-friendly country in the region and provided a safe buffer between us and Russia/USSR. We could use it now.
That reality acknowledged, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about children’s books, mysteries, books about grammar, losing weight, and even a book written for those in hospice care. We have so much to share with each other via the written word. Let’s keep writing in complete sentences. Let’s go light on those emojis! Let’s consider what we write about and how it can uplift rather than hurt. Let’s educate each other and make each other laugh … or cry. What’s important is that as we touch each other’s hearts.