Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Magic of Creativity

My friend Sarah Class

Twilight yesterday found me on the phone with Sarah Class, my brilliant friend who also happens to be one of the most talented composers, musicians and singer-songwriters I know. (A lot of superlatives, but you have only to visit her space on the web to see what I mean. Click here to listen to "Aurora, Cantamos", the chorus of "Northern Shore" or any of her other works - I invite you to be blown away.)

Sarah is British, and I've spent a lot of time with her across the pond sitting by rushing rivers, in stone circles, and under enchanted apple trees as she picks out melodies on her guitar. Last night we got to speaking about creativity, as we often do. One of the things I love best is sitting in the company of musicians and watching them play. Sarah doesn't know it, but when she's seeking the muse, I watch her tilt her pretty blond head slightly, as though she is listening. 
Sarah in Costa Rica
It is as though the artist is a vessel, able to hear and then translate using their particular skills, something that is coming through them. A song. A story. A painting. And to me this process truly helps me believe that there is indeed something beyond our imagining that exists "on the other side." 

It got us talking about the fact that creating is really a form of channeling. I'm sure there are writers out there who believe that their work is purely their own, and while that may be the case for them, but I can't help but find that a little egotistical. I have not yet created anything that I didn't feel was given to me by something beyond myself. 

Does that make sense? 
When writing Faery Tale I felt as though there was someone standing over my shoulder. Sometimes at night, the presence grew so strong that on my second pot of coffee at three in the morning paranoia took over and I had to ask them quite crossly how did they expect me to get anything done with all this hovering?

Where do ideas come from? 
Where do haunting melodies come from? 

Some might argue they come from our brains, but for me, brain is for the revision process, not the process of raw creation. The best art comes when we're able to quiet the brain and see through the heart. We see, we hear, we listen. It's that bright spark that has an emotional pull behind it that reminds us of the soul behind it. 

Even as I struggle to birth this historical novel, I remind myself that I am only, after all, struggling to listen. If I could not work with the muse, with my "partners in spirit," I would have no desire to write at all. Because to create in this way is truly to live a magical existence. There is something, or perhaps someone(s) that lays the path before me - a book that catches my eye, a story in the news. A feather. A phone call. I follow the clues. I shut the door. I sit, and I listen. And I wait. 

Sarah is one of those people who reminds me that I've touched that magic before and I can access it again, and for that I am eternally grateful. I wanted to share our conversation because I believe, if you are trying to create something, this idea helps take some of the pressure off. Yes, you must work to hone your physical skills, your tools. You cannot sit and expect to play a concerto if you have never touched the keys. But the largest part of it is opening that pathway wherein the magic rushes in. And to be grateful for it. And to share that with the world, that is the greatest honor - so that something is translated from spirit. And others can feel it too. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sharing the Light

I was traveling on a small commuter plane from Charleston to Ithaca. I was reading a transcription of my Grandmother Johanson’s memories – life growing up in rural Michigan as a Finnish immigrant family during the First World War.  She was a beautiful writer with a candid sense of humor. She writes about snaring snowshoe hares to eat and skiing to school; about catching messes of perch on early morning fishing trips using nothing more than harvested sticks, line, cork and worms. The life she writes about was hard, but possessed a sort of timeless innocence that whole food hipsters and back-to-nature aficionados like me are searching for, and as I read her notes about a life lived and the people she encountered, I couldn’t help but think, People were kinder then.

That was the moment when it happened. I noticed a very elderly man in the aisle, leaning unnaturally across the passenger seated across from me. He was bent over at the waist and I couldn’t hear over the roar of the plane engines but something seemed to be very wrong. He took another step and collapsed onto the seat of a black woman I’d noticed before, because she just seemed to emanate good vibes.  She’s the one who notices something is wrong, and I see her concern when she asks him, alarmed, “Are you okay?” He couldn’t respond. Immediately she signaled the flight attendant, who had already noticed something was not right. Calls went up into the cabin. “Are there any medical professionals on board?”

Two women and an older man had already leapt from their seats and were standing in the aisle. “I’m a nurse.” The black woman said. “I’m a doctor,” the older man volunteered. I sat there, helpless. And after a moment, with nothing else useful to do, began to pray for him. The sort of non-denominational prayer that answers every religion and every human condition. The atmosphere on the plane was charged; everyone was focused on this elderly man, and it was almost as though I could hear the silent voices, each speaking prayers of their own. The flight attendant stepped aside and the professionals got to work. They took his vitals, steadied him, their soothing tones sounding like a soft hum over the vibration of the plane. They helped him slowly back to his seat. A few tense moments passed. The nurse came back to her seat and told us that all was okay – standing too quickly and moving around at high altitudes can cause marked dizziness, especially with elderly people who may have other health conditions. He was resting after his collapse, and already seemed to be recovering.

I was struck by the kindness I saw. It was such a small moment, and such a scary one. People acted so quickly when it looked like things were dire, and I remembered how many times in my life I had actually seen this. People, when tested, stepping into the bigger parts of themselves, reaching out to help another. There are a lot of scary things happening out there now. Shootings and mugging and robbery and drug smuggling and war and human trafficking and name it, it’s there. But reflecting on my Grandmother’s life made me reflect on mine. As I sat there, the memories of all the random kindness witnessed fluttered before me. A businessman in New York stopping to help a bewildered tourist studying a map. The old Russian woman who paid a young mother’s bus fare. The time a taxi driver dropped off my forgotten wallet, not a penny misplaced inside. All the doors I’ve seen men in Charleston hold open for anyone – man, woman, child, black, white. So many infinitesimal moments that they are uncountable, unrecordable. And I remembered what I have always known. When there is darkness, there is always light. In every age and every place on the planet there are kind people and unkind people in varying degrees. The injustices, the un-niceties clamor louder in our memories. The kindnesses speak more quietly. They don’t mind if no one hears, because true kindness is not something that demands a witness. It is something that exists independent of noticing, from a place that is eternal, from a place that sparks within us, if and when we allow it.

This is a jumbled memento. But what I saw was beautiful, and I wanted to share it. It was a welcome reminder that though there is darkness, I do believe humanity is inherently good. It reaffirmed my commitment to embody a light, even in the smallest ways, even when I am not always perfect at it, or not always in the mood. Because today I chose to be a witness. And I felt the warmth of the light. It inspired me to write about it, to thank and recognize all of you out there who take opportunities to be kind. And in the hopes that sharing what I witnessed would pass a beam of light to you. That you might go out into the world, today, tomorrow, or the next, and share some kindness of your own.

“From this experience, a faith arises to carry back to a human world of small lusts and deceitful pettiness. A faith, na├»ve and child like perhaps, born as it is from the infinite simplicity of nature. It is a feeling that no matter what the ideas or conduct of others, there is a unique rightness and beauty to life which can be shared in openness, in wind and sunlight, with a fellow human being who believes in the same basic principles.” - Sylvia Plath

Sunday, May 04, 2014

The Enchanting Monthly Newsletter

For a long time I've been wanting to create a more intimate way to connect with those of you who have become such loyal friends and readers. That's why I'm so excited to have finally breathed a truly unique newsletter into being. Each month I'll be sharing an inspirational quote, news, sneak peeks of my current writing or things I've secreted away, as well as photos from the road, tips on living an enchanted life, favorite recipes and a monthly oracle forecast. It's the beat on all things enchanting, from someone who believes that living an "enchanted" existence is truly what life is about. 

Also. I want to thank all of you who gave me such great responses on the weekly forecasts I've been doing on this blog. I hope you'll be able to get just as much out of the new monthly format. Moving to a monthly rather than a weekly reading gives me the time I need to focus on my writing, publishing conferences, teaching workshops, freelance editing and all the other stuff I have to get up to during the week.

This newsletter will be a place where enchantment lives. 

If you'd like to sign up, click here. 

As always,

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How to Weather a Storm

Cherry blossoms in winter
copyright: Signe Pike
Today was the first real test for the small ceramic heater – it took ages for my little shed to heat despite the insulation, and there I sat in my wool socks and sweater and slippers, the grey mohair blanket given to me by a friend wrapped overtop of everything as the heater roared full blast, my computer open on my lap, waiting for the storm to come, and feeling more content than ever to simply write.
            Here in the south, our media highways have been cluttered with news of the impending ice storm. Potential loss of electricity and stores sold out of firewood, and I realized that despite any danger, for me there is always something exciting about a storm. I like the preparations, the battening down of hatches, the heaviness you can feel in the air and the utter quiet that falls over our yards and snakes out into the streets, chasing people inside because nature, no matter how much dominion some people think we possess, is still the supreme ruler here on earth, and I never cease to be awed by her power. Good. Make us scuttle, make us scurry. Remind us of the fact that this is not a democracy. Of course I never want to see anyone come to harm. But I think storms can be good; they remind us of our humility. Our humanity. They remind us, when we survive them, of our good fortune—which I think far too often evaporates as quickly as the storm fell upon us, with the appearance of the first sunny sky.
            Storms come into our life because things are beyond our control, and there is a peace in that, if you can find it.
            This past week I mourned the loss of my uncle, a man who was by far my most exacting critic and somehow also my biggest fan. I spent the better part of a week in Maryland helping sort his affairs, because when people go, there is so much doing that needs to get done, and in the quiet moments you lean against something and breathe, and feel your heart crack all over again. Sometimes I feel defeated by it – my aunt, my father’s only sibling, has now lost her husband, and she is terminal too. My heart breaks for her, but not just for her, for everyone who has lost someone, because I have learned too many times in my relatively young life what it feels like to lose someone you love, and knowing that this sort of heartbreak is both unavoidable and in its own way, pandemic, feels like too much to bear.
            But as I sat waiting for the first pounding of sleet to streak down my windows, I realized that these too are storms. There is nothing to control or battle. All you can do is weather it.
            A good friend once told me it is an honor to be present with someone at the end of their days.
            I have come to see that though this is hard, it is true. We can pray for safe passage, we can pray for protection, we can pray for the coming light. But perhaps if we do only these things, we are missing the point.
            Can we learn to honor the storm?
            We can prepare, but can we find a way to embrace it, because of what it brings to us? It is a reminder that life is fleeting and uncertain. And there is beauty in that. Storms remind us that there are powers on this earth we will never conquer, nor should we. This is not the natural order of things.
            We are stewards, not rulers.
            And it is the same on earth as it is within our bodies.
            This week, when I came back to myself, I found I was sitting before my computer, waiting for the storm to come, but I was not afraid. The manuscript that had felt daunting instead tasted delicate, it smelled like home. There was a new comfort in both the words and the feeling of sitting, of channeling and asking the scenes to come, and I thought, if this is what I spend my hours doing, my life has been good.
            I know as the planet groans and shifts we will face many storms ahead, both real and metaphorical. What we must remember, I think, is to do our best in the times in between. Live well, love hard, and offer others pieces of your heart in a thousand ways. That way when storms do come, we can bide them more easily.

            Pay homage to the power of wind, water and atmosphere, be grateful for what we have. And in the heart of winter, a good book, glass of wine, a hot mug of ginger root with lemon, or a game of Scrabble by the fire never hurts too.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

At Home in Winter: For My Father, on His Birthday

It doesn't get much easier, but doing things to remember them is the important thing.
Below is a video I was up into the wee hours making, and it did help ease the heart.
I hope you'll watch it, because this is not just his life, this is all of our lives. We are born and we live and we pass, and every moment is beautiful.

At Home in Winter:
A Poem for my Father

At home, snowy-patched fields are stitched
with spines of leafless trees,
the memory of summer
asleep in their mounds.
Here where the fist of some long-weathered god
thrust his hand through the crusted earth,
where fingers played in pressed thumbs 
or clawed their way South 
leaving frost covered pools,
half-frozen green lakes.

Soon, when you rise,
the world will be covered in snow.
There are places in the woods
where the thin deer
under low brambles of a thorn tree,
where white-tipped foxes burrow
in red-berried thickets,
where the water trickles
icy channels between rock and stream,
and the fissures of shale that splintered up inside you
can sense these things,
but they have no name.

Here the houses haven’t closed in.
There is room enough to walk and breathe,
and to listen to the way the pines creak
on the backbone of the hill,
because there is no port on an inland sea.

Here the lady of the water drew her slender fingers down,
carving places where you can still cast your wishes,
where you can cast your wishes away and forget them,
the way a sorrow is lost in the papery fold of a wrinkle,
the way that the hills lie naked in winter,

in the places where the sun does not reach.

Copyright: Signe Pike


Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Words We Leave Behind

I've been traveling all summer - researching the novel, giving talks for work, visiting family, exploring, seeking enchantment, and finding always new places always to knit myself into that begin to feel like a part of home. But there is simply no substitute for the place where I grew up - these fields and farms and gently humped hills of upstate New York, where the leaves are beginning to turn, the golden rod bends on long stalks in the wind, the bend of the road I have come to know so well. 
My view from the computer, Cooperstown, NY

It was a blink of a trip to Ithaca on the way to a wedding in Cooperstown, but home never ceases to bring me close again to my father. It's as though his power is stronger here, in these hills he loved so well, and he whispers close to let me know, I am here, always, in ways that are both small and glorious. 
Backroads of the Finger Lakes, wine country

In my sister's old bedroom, this book caught my eye on the shelf among nearly one hundred others - T.S. Eliot's Collected Poems, and I pulled it from the shelf only to flip through and find my father's precise markings in pencil, where he'd pondered over the meaning of the words, such a very smart man, would that I had one hundredth of his literary know-how. His fingers on the page, the smudge of time and the lead of a number 7, the words he left behind, the words that Eliot left behind, and just seeing it all, there on a page that I could touch, run my fingers over, touching so many imprints in time. 

Later, I fancied my father reminded me where the fresh water spring was, on the winding 79 east - it's on the side of the road in Lisle and if you blink, you'll miss it, but it has white pvc pipes that spout the cleanest, coldest water, and I filled my water bottle from the car just like we always did. 

He was there in Cooperstown last night, when I walked out of the restaurant, and felt that nudge that let me know I'd forgotten my leather coat hanging on the wall. Smiling, I mentioned it to my husband, "I felt like Dad reminded me," and we stepped onto the sidewalk only to see a giant turkey feather decorating the front window of a nearby car - agreement. 

Tomorrow will find me heading back south to the land of the salt marsh and pines, to the lowcountry that has claimed a part of me, too, but I realize as I write on the back porch of this hotel, over looking the farm country that my eyes have come to know so well, that I have words, too, I want to leave behind. Finding that book was just a little gift, a reminder. We are all here, we all leave our fingerprints for others to discover. And it's the discovery of it, truly, that is the greatest gift of all. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Seamus Heaney

I am heavy-hearted this morning, hearing about the loss of one of the world's greatest poets. I hope you are drinking from a bright cup, Mr. Seamus Heaney. A snippet from a beautiful poem of his about being in the world and the fragility, the impermanence of it all. 

Blackberry Picking, by Seamus Heaney

"Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
[...] Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not."