Stars on earth

Look down, not up

We can gaze at the night sky and marvel at the constellations. But sometimes brilliant stars can be found in the daytime too. All photos taken in my garden.

 

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Clematis armandii Apple Blossom

 

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Narcissus Thalia

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Helleborus seedling

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Magnolia stellata

There is something about the combination of spring green and white that lifts my spirits. It is hope and possibility and a fresh start. It is the promise fulfilled, Demeter rejoicing at Persephone’s return, the reward for enduring winter. Now, past the balancing point of the equinox, gardens are truly awake.

I look out at young growth everywhere and know that despite everything, the seasons turn. Birds will sing, flowers will bloom, fruit will come in time.

It’s time to turn my face to the sun, so the shadows fall behind me.

Believe in yourself? It’s not enough

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Catkin via pixabay

Everything starts with self belief.

That thing you want to do, that life you want to live, has to exist first in your mind’s eye. Going from dream to reality, that’s the hard part. But you need to believe that you can do it, that you deserve to have it. Without that, you will fall at the first or second bump in the road and never get up.

So you’ve given yourself permission to dream. You know it will take time and effort, and therefore you prepare well. The goal is set, the route mapped, and you’re off on an adventure.

But.

Suppose you never even dream? Your situation is such that you have no concept of a life beyond where you are, limited and stuck, blind to possibility. How could you escape and have the chance to reach your potential?

If you are lucky, help will appear. In the Hero’s Journey, he is the Wise Elder. He is Gandalf, Dumbledore, Morpheus, guiding the hero and imparting vital information. She is Glenda the Good Witch, the Fairy Godmother, the Oracle. There are (naturally) many more male than female examples in fiction, but that is a discussion for another time.

The Wise Elder sees in you more than you see in yourself.

Imagine some seeds lying on stony ground, uncomfortable but familiar. They are just seeds; unaware that they carry the blueprint of a mighty oak, a graceful willow, or a fertile cherry tree. The Wise Elder picks them up, ignoring their protests, and deposits them carefully in the dirt. There, they struggle, enduring rain and snow and wind and scorching sun.

And one day, they blossom.

Hobbit book

Once upon a time, there was an old book. Battered and stained, it was destined to be thrown out of the school library. Instead, an English teacher rescued it, and gave it to a girl who had very little.

I owe some of my love of stories to this precious volume, which is almost as old as I am. It showed me a different world and opened my mind. Heartfelt thanks go to that un-named teacher who looked at me and saw possibility.

There may be no “I” in team. But every “I” needs a team behind and beside them, helping, encouraging, informing, and sharing the journey.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Everything is material

Using bad stuff to make good stuff

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stevepb via pixabay

 

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

Ernest Hemingway

Into every life some rain must fall. Whether  actual or metaphorical rain, it’s soon joined by tears from someone. Maybe that someone is you. It’s a fact that bad things happen to all of us. Then we must choose how to respond.

The energy of anger and grief

These powerful emotions can wreak havoc when suppressed. Instead, try directing them outwards. When I’m angry, I clean my house. I release the anger, and I get a tidy living space; two birds with one stone. I might dig in the garden if the weather permits. You might prefer to walk, or run, or do some boxing. All are good, allowing the body to let go of the tension, and maybe producing something positive too.

For a writer, all emotions are fuel.

To make our characters three dimensional, to give them life on the page and in the reader’s mind, means giving them real emotions. The characters need motivations and reactions that feel believable. As writers, we decide what to include, what to imply, and what to leave out. And we need empathy, that is the ability to feel what another person is feeling. It is the shared experience that defines empathy.

empathy      I understand your feeling, because I have felt the same
sympathy    This feeling is unpleasant, and I am sorry you have to experience it

Put simply, empathy is personal; you walk a mile in someone’s shoes. While sympathy is impersonal; you acknowledge the stone in the shoe without putting it on.

Write what you know?

We are often told to write what we know. If we took this literally, there would be very little literature beyond first person narrative. Stories need characters, and characters need fleshing out. When I think of a character who is not like me, I must inhabit their skin.

I need to draw on my own experiences, in order to know what my male humanoid in a distant galaxy might do in the middle of a pulse laser battle. I have not been in that situation, but I know what anxiety, fear, pain, and courage feel like.

For myself, I rarely bother with detailed check sheets for my characters, except when it comes to personality traits. I am much less interested in a character’s favourite colour, than in how they react to each situation. When I understand how each character thinks and feels, dialogue and action come naturally. And characters gain a life of their own, doing and saying surprising things. I just have to follow them, typing as fast as I can.

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.
Robert Frost

Resources for character personality traits

One of the most popular schemes for assigning personality traits is the Alignment system, developed from the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. There are nine alignments, drawn from combinations of good-neutral-evil and lawful-neutral-chaotic. They deal with ethical and moral standpoints such as ‘rules are rules’ as opposed to ‘rules are meant to be broken sometimes’ as opposed to ‘what rules?’

More information is available here and here .

Like all classification systems, it is not perfect, but it’s very helpful in making your characters both internally consistent and more diverse overall. Each cast member needs to be authentic, but different from the others.

If you want to make a relatable villain, she must have some trait or behaviour your readers can share or empathise with. Otherwise all villains are chaotic evil, and that is not enough to sustain interest. (A possible exception might be Heath Ledger’s Joker, but one is enough.)

Another fabulous resource is the writers’ thesaurus series by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. The Emotion Thesaurus details emotions along with their possible causes and effects on a person. This allows a writer to create finely detailed and observed characters.

Suffering can become art

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Skitterphoto via pixabay

We don’t have to suffer for art; we will suffer whatever happens, because that’s life. As creators, we can use our suffering to build something that will show the world a truth, as we see it.

Write what you feel.
That’s the alchemy whereby pain becomes beauty. That’s art.

 

This ordinary world we live in

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sasint via pixabay

 

The world is wonderful, crazy, ugly, cruel, beautiful, hostile, trusting, tiny, enormous. The world is a million different things, all of them contradictory, just like the people in it. And it can be hard to pick out the good, filter the bad, and stay positive.

It’s even harder to make a difference. What does that mean, really? Perhaps to pass through this life, have some fun, and leave it in better shape in some way. Yet most of us cannot write a classic, paint a masterpiece, build a monument, or earn a star on the Walk of Fame. All we have is everyday acts in mundane lives. But here’s the thing.

We can’t change the whole world, but we can change people. We can’t change people, but we can change their minds. We can’t change their minds, but we can change their experience.

When we change their experience, they change their own minds, their own behaviour, and their own worlds.

 This happened to me

Early one Tuesday morning, I parked in a distant corner of a windswept station car park. I rarely used the train, but I had a conference to attend, and driving wasn’t practical. I also knew that parking was expensive, so a few days before I’d changed some notes for a handful of one pound coins. I waited my turn to feed the meter behind a smartly dressed woman, my bag of coins jingling like treasure in my pocket.

The woman dug through her purse, then wailed, “Oh no.” She searched her handbag, muttering to herself. “I don’t have time,” she said.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“No, no, I have to catch the 7.47 and I’m out of change, there’s no time.” She glanced over to the ticket office, and I made the calculations with her.

Three minutes’ walk there in heels, wait in the queue, buy something, get some change, three minutes’ walk back. Assuming she had her ticket already. It was already 7.30 and the timing was tight.

I checked the price list, weighed the money in my hand. “How much do you need?”

“I’m £3 short, but—”

“Here.” I passed her three coins, and her mouth dropped open. “Take it, I brought extra.”

“I’ve got a £10 note, I’ll give it back to you,” she said. She sniffed, and blinked rapidly. “Thank you so much. Which train are you getting?”

“Same as you, but don’t worry about it.”

We bought our tickets and she skipped back to her car. Some minutes later, as I waited on the platform, she brought me the money with a smile.

“You saved my life,” she said.

Maybe it was synchronicity. I had extra coins and she needed them. Neither of us knew that our chance meeting would change our lives, if only briefly. Was she going to an interview, a vital meeting, a date? I’d never know, but I knew I felt better, and so did she. My boring conference day was lit by the soft glow of knowing I’d made a tiny, but important difference.

This also happened to me

Traffic crawled slowly in the rain-lashed evening dark. I tried to calm my breathing, but couldn’t stop my leg bouncing. We had booked this concert not knowing the venue, rushed to drive up after work, and now we were going to be late. The queue inched forward, and when we finally got into the multi storey it was full. Up and up we went, eventually parking in the furthest corner of the roof level.

I grabbed my coat and purse, and queued again in the cold. It was more expensive than I thought, and I’d brought all the change from the car. I could have wept. At least no-one would see my tears, on cheeks already wet from waiting without an umbrella. I exhaled, and someone tapped me on the shoulder.

“Are you short? Take what you need.” He held out his hand, full of coins. Right then they were more precious to me than treasure.

I looked at him and smiled. “Thank you, I just ran out of change.”

“No bother, pet.”

I fed the meter, ran back to the car with the ticket, and we made it to our seats just in time. I blessed my unknown saviour for his generosity, and my tension fell away, ready to enjoy the evening.

Did he feel virtuous? I hope so, because he turned my whole day around.

Maybe it was synchronicity. Our good deeds send positive vibrations into the universe, and just sometimes it echoes back in our own time of need. We already live in a world that is supportive, helpful, encouraging, and loving. When we see it that way, we can all change our corner of the world, one generous act at a time.

 

First published in The Creative Cafe on Medium, 9th March

 

 

Hope is a small thing, dressed in green

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Hans via pixabay

Last time, I talked about how new beginnings can come from what seems like disaster. In the space cleared by the end of one idea, another may find the space and light it needs to germinate and grow. Sometimes, an idea (or a thing, which is just an idea made concrete) has a limited life span. It flourishes for a while and then disappears when its job is done. Its beauty lies in its temporary nature. Isn’t that the glory of flowers?

Gardeners know the turn of the seasons, and that few deaths are final. We bury our plants in the compost heap, and they nourish new life. Sometimes they are born again, in unseen seeds that burst into triumphant life.

But what about grief?

Mourning what is past is both necessary and healthy, as long as it doesn’t replace the act of moving forward again. When winter grips the garden, and it is but an array of brown empty earth, dead stems, or snow-huddled mounds, it’s easy to think that this is a permanent state. But it is just a phase; it’s not permanent.

Spring is coming

Whether you know it or not, life lies below the surface, waiting for the right moment to emerge. Those first green shoots are tender yet they are the toughest, willing to push out of cold soil into chilly air or even snow. They are the most precious, because they are eagerly awaited signs that the spring is coming, and with them comes the promise of better days. But to get there, a winter must be endured.

The only way out is through.

The only way to avoid grief is to never love.
The only way to avoid endings is to never say hello.

The only way out of life is to push through its many winters.
The only way through winter is to push out again, to risk exposure, to seek the sun.

one sky

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AdinaVoicu via pixabay

one sky.

brilliant colours blend and slowly the sun descends
in blazing orange hues. we did not choose to be here and
we have no choice. your voice quietened by tube and pipe
a muffled scream. I wonder if you dream of summer, dressed in stripes,
of dancing on the beach. you will not reach the sea-lashed strand.

one sky.

a tiny hitch of breath, the merest twitch of a hand
machine made. humanity fades to a discordant chorus.
if there is nothing pure above, no sure god in whom to trust
then we must accept our fate of sun-bleached bone and dust.
prayers cannot help when no-one cares to listen to us.

one sky.

cloud tears falling rain. I try in vain to hold up the sun.
no deal that I can make will reveal a spell to stop what’s begun.
I hold a hand turned cold, and clearly I’m outrun.
this day closes not with perfumed roses. instead a clockwork beep
tells all is not well. here at day’s end for the last time, you sleep.

one sky.

and when the sun slips from my sight, I hope the stars lend you their light.

for M

After the storm, new beginnings

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niederrheiner via pixabay

A huge storm blew through here yesterday. On my way back to work, I was stopped by an enormous oak tree that came down, taking part of an old stone wall with it and blocking the road entirely. Along with many others, I had to turn my car around and find another way.

Today, I see the tree surgeons have done their work. Vast trunks and branches lie sliced up on the side of the road, never again to see in the spring with green shoots. The weather now is cool, but bright and calm. If not for that pile of lumber, you’d never know the drama that unfolded here.

I think life is like this.

You spend years, decades even, building something strong and vital. It gives you comfort, protection, meaning. Then you watch as the storm grips that impressive canopy, rocks it and, finding it unyielding, overcomes the roots and the stem and all its strength. It shrieks, and cracks, and topples ungracefully.

You shout and rage and cry.

Someone, who hasn’t seen the storm, says it’s better this way. It was probably rotten at the roots. At least no-one was killed. You want to scream at them. They don’t understand.

You weep, for a while.

Then, you roll up your sleeves and clear away the fallen limbs. And something shifts. Once dark places are now light. In the ground, hidden life stirs. Daffodils push up through the soil, long forgotten seeds take root. There is space now, space to fill with new, exciting things.

And look, here is something you can use. Destruction begets creation; a table, a chair, a sculpture. Small branches make kindling for a fire. Fantastic fungi appear in autumn, and snow dusts the last crumbling branches with a veil of white.

Our creations, like our lives, are not meant to last forever.

Relationships, careers, structures are built, destroyed, mourned, and built anew. There is no escaping change. It is often resisted, and all the more painful for it. And it sweeps away the old, the rigid, the unexamined elements that are not as solid as they look. Once we dismantle our misconceptions and assumptions about what is permanent, the way ahead becomes clearer.

In the calm after the storm comes a chance to regroup, rethink, rebuild better and stronger.

At least, for now.