The Way of the Muse – A Feast of Honey-dew?

On her truly magical Mythic Arts blog The Drawing Board, writer, artist and editor, Terri Windling has offered up a delicious word-feast in which she explores artistic inspiration, the Muse, differing approaches to artistic creation (whether by planning or intuition, or both) – and the edgy, fine line that can hover between madness, and the otherworld of the artist/ writer/ poet as shaman. Her post was inspired by the equally wonderful discussion ‘Around the Table’ between Brian and Wendy Froud, Howard Gayton and Rex Van Ryn over on the John Barleycorn Must Die blog. I highly recommend a visit to the discussion – Part One and Part Two - it’s like attending a magical word-weave of the very web and fabric of creativity and our relationship to the land (why don’t such wonderful discussions ever happen around my kitchen table? If I had a kitchen table… but you know what I mean…)

The poet as shaman made me think of Ted Hughes (but that needs a whole other post to itself, I think!) It also led my thoughts to the incantation and invocation of tipping-edge inspiration in Coleridge’s Kubla Khan - where we glimpse visions brought to us by the precariously balanced seer, enclosed within his magic circle:

‘That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.’

Terri’s post was partly intended as a spark for a Moveable Feast; and additional delicious dishes have since been passed from blog to blog across the world, each serving up their unique and expansive insights and experiences to add to the table.

Feeling daunted and not quite up to the job – but nevertheless unable to ignore the persistent pestering of my muse to serve up something too – here’s my very slow-cooked offering for the after dinner platter:

(The illustrations are the produce of my fifteen year old daughter’s own muse, which is in wonderful, glorious, intuitive flight. They are all part of her work in progress, and are included here by her kind permission. Some are unfinished – all are characters from the current series of fantasy novels she’s creating).

As I’ve spoken about before, my own muse has only just begun to re-awaken after being asleep for a long time; too long. To tell the truth, I find it uncomfortable to talk about the reasons – mainly because it’s a story that doesn’t belong to me alone. I don’t want those reasons to sound like a negation of the whole story’s amazing positives. It’s just life – happening. As it will…

But, to give some sense of context, perhaps I need to do a little filling in. Eleven years ago, my son was born four months too early (at 24 weeks gestation) – right at the very edge of what doctors call “viability.” He was the most fragile and tiniest of human beings (weighing 1 lb. 11 ounces) but his spirit was as huge as the hills. I learnt something truly profound when I watched that spirit overwhelm the limits of the incubator; witnessed my son immediately react, with recognition, to the voices he’d heard in the womb (mine, his dad’s, his sister’s) and reach out to life and love, binding to us with an iron will. Over the months, his determination was stretched, again and again, beyond what seemed possible to endure. Constantly we were told to expect the worst. Every day, every minute…

In the long-term, such things take their toll. In the short-term, with no focus on anything but coping, the whole world shrinks to the size of a plastic box and a ventilator - the universe of the precious scrap of life they support. You fear he will never get out of there. You fear he’ll never feel the sun or see the wide sky, or be touched by the waves of the sea.

Though the glorious day comes when you can lift that baby to the sky, place his feet gently in the sea – watch his gaze as it expands to the wide horizon, and see the wonder in his eyes – all is still not well. Concerns crowd as you realise the childhood milestones are slipping by – and doctors frown and send you to endless consultations. Then the diagnoses pile in – cerebral palsy, epilepsy and a following list of stuff you have to look up, and stuff you don’t want to look up.

Life becomes family and surviving – nothing else matters. Deep-ingrained creativity still did its work, feeding into making sure the children flourished and were nourished by what’s important - but, for a long while, if I thought about personal creative expression at all, it was to realise that it had been shocked into silence, mangled by crisis; sent into hiding by lack of opportunity and energy, and by lost faith in life. As time went on, the Muse woke briefly for intermittent periods – but usually became overwhelmed by the need to just get what had to be done, done. Time came back into my grasp eventually, but mind-space and energy for creating fiction eluded; doubts and slammed-shut doorways of the brain rusted over. Moments when the Muse came back were wonderful, healing. But the fear of opening them up, only to have them slammed shut again, painted a more terrible prospect than not opening them at all, so the safer option seemed preferable.

But it wasn’t the safer option. It was the most self-destructive. For anyone who feels the creative urge, that tug to follow the Muse brings glimpses of an edge of doubts and peril – but I’ve learnt that to not follow leaves you closer to the falling-edge behind you. Only by answering that forward tug, can you get to the edge where you can fly. Sometimes you have to drag yourself there, crawling inch by inch. Sometimes, you can fling open a door, and a following wind lifts you through and hurries you forward, opening the wide sea ahead of you. Sometimes it seems very far away indeed, glimpsed through a keyhole. The Muse changes her mind – gets cross at interruptions. Retreats until ‘the readiness is all.’

But it wasn’t just circumstances that held me back – it was me. When I was a child I would write, write, write – sitting on my bed, notebook on my knees, scribble, scribble. Messy, almost indecipherable words would spill across the page, my aching hand trying to keep up with characters who rushed ahead on their story-paths, beckoning me on as they revealed their tales. I would enter the dreamtime, follow where it took me. But somewhere along the line, I read – and most importantly took far too much to heart – one too many writing guidance books full of market advice and a million and ones things to research and consider. Every time I got into a tangle with my plots, themes, characters – and anyone who writes, will always get into tangles (I know that now) – I would shrink back into those doubts and check lists. What was I doing wrong? What steps did I need to take – 1,2,3? I should have planned more! Wasn’t this or that element floating too wide of the mark of what was required? I began to slip out of engaging with the work itself – and instead, focussed on some kind of outwardly imposed framework that I was trying to hang it on. I got things the wrong way round.

I needed patience, not brow beating. I needed diligence and faith to keep going – and to allow myself to wait for things to unfold out of that deep valley between the two worlds we tread when we create. Stepping away from creativity – and wholly into the world of must-do, daily coping - protects the self only for so long. Getting stuck there withers something. I’ve never discovered what it’s like to step too far into the otherworld – to have dined too much on honeydew and drunk ‘the milk of Paradise,’ to become like Coleridge’s shamanic poet figure. I suspect I never will. I think that requires a level of talent I don’t possess. But I do recognise, to a certain extent, the state Zadie Smith describes in a quote Terri highlights:

‘…a kind of magical thinking takes over….. you stop being part of your household and your family and your partner and children and food shopping and dog feeding and reading the post – I mean there’s nothing in the world except your book…… The middle of a novel is a state of mind. Strange things happen in it. Time changes.’

In my twenties, when I made my first adult-years attempt to write what my heart most wants to create – a children’s fantasy novel, I was back in my happy place; the intuitive dreamtime, learning about writing in the best way possible – by doing it every day. Like everything, it has its flipsides – and during that time, I experienced that protracted feeling of not fully returning to this world, or not always paying proper attention to what was said to me – because the phantoms of my characters and story-visions were floating somewhere in between what might be and what is. I understand the Ancient Mariner’s ‘glittering eye’ – his scary, burning need to tell his story.

When I was commissioned by a big magazine publishing company to write children’s short stories for their syndicate sales abroad, I was right in the middle of becoming a mother for the first time. Of course I know now, this was one of the worst times I could have put so much extra pressure on myself. I must have been mad. I remember taking a call from an editor, my new-born daughter draped across my shoulder, trying to take down plot notes, whilst her tiny body hurled colicky howls down the phone line. I’d had a few other pieces of work accepted before, but this was my first chance to fulfil a dream of regular, paid writing work – and I was desperate to grab it whilst it was on offer. I kept on going, writing story after story – following guidelines and formulas the editors supplied. Sometimes the plot lines were theirs. Sometimes they were my own. Sometimes the Muse could stretch and feel fulfilled. Sometimes, my ideas broke out of the required mould – and had to be shaped and pared down beyond recognition. Sometimes the results were an improvement. Sometimes I felt that market requirement limits were shrinking something of integrity to a one size fits all. Some of the reader expectations the editors told me to play to dismayed me. What a shame, I remember thinking, if that’s really what those kids want, or have been taught to want. I wanted to give my young readers something that leapt in many directions; something expansive.

All this was such a valuable education, though. Those experience-wise editors, and those writing challenges, gifted me a lot of learning. But the practical Real World and the Muse World were beginning to collide in a way that was mutually detrimental. Muse World was no longer a healing dreamtime – but a snatched must-time. I was at home all day, fully focussed on the children, and when my husband returned from work to take over the childcare, I’d reluctantly drag myself off to write, painfully trying to switch my brain to otherworld whilst all my thoughts clung to Real World. Those times ate into our precious chances to all be together; whilst deadlines meant that, when a plot problem was knotted in my mind, I became irritable – tugged in different directions by the demands of the two worlds. In a last-gasp fit of madness, I tried to keep that writing opportunity afloat during all the difficult challenges of my son’s early years – but it led to burn out. In the end, wanting to be fully present for my family – plus changes in the children’s magazine market – flung me well and truly back into “Real” World.

Since then, there have been several attempts to get back to the otherworld – but too many hang ups about markets and requirements lingered on, prodding me mercilessly with doubts about my ideas and whether I was up to the mark.

Now I’ve decided that I don’t care if I never see another piece of my work published. I want to write for me; because it’s what I have to do to be me. I want to give myself the chance to achieve the dream I’ve held since I was a child – to write a long, sustained piece of work; to go back to that children’s fantasy novel – and to actually finish it. To know that I can do it. And because the characters are calling me back, insistent that they tell their story.

Then, I will print it off, stick it in a file – and it will be there for my daughter to read. I will have allowed something out that needs to take shape, and will have reached my most important reader. If it’s rubbish, then it’ll be part of an upward learning curve. If I decide it’s worth a punt to send it off for consideration for publication, then I will take that chance. But I won’t have that hanging over me anymore. I won’t let it. It’s like a sword of Damocles ready to descend and destroy something before it’s had a chance to come into being. I want the work to be the best I can do, because I love it; because I’ve engaged fully with the work, and what I expect of me and of it. I’m a tough task master – but the routes in my own brain are navigable in the way that some imposed routes from outside are not. If I don’t identify with the template, I’m never going to make the pattern fit. I can’t do stultifying second-guessing anymore. I need to submit to a more natural flow.

I can feel my muse smiling. She approves. She prefers the dreamtime. She loves the challenge of crafting-time and hard, creative demands too – but only after she’s laid a trail of magic; conjured the material to work with. Reading Terri’s wise and visionary post – and the inspirational comments and linked feasts that follow (so many words of deep insight and experience) – I realised more than ever that it’s okay to work the way I prefer. Okay to work intuitively. Okay to let the crafting be the follower and facilitator of inspiration, not its dictator, warder or potential executioner. And if I drink too much honeydew, sup too much of the ‘milk of Paradise’ (which, quite frankly, is unlikely – I think that’s the preserve of artists who reach a higher plane beyond my capabilities) maybe I’ll taste the other side of the perils of the Muse, and learn from that too. I’ve had enough of the perils of locking her out – and it involved too many draughts of something stagnant. A bitter brew that was not at all like honeydew.

My son has taught me much about life – its realities, its difficulties; the deep value of its smallest joys. He’s taught me to embrace and relax into what is, instead of fretting too much about what will never be. He’s my hero. Like all lessons worth learning, it didn’t come easy – and is on-going. Sometimes, without darkness, riches will never be revealed. Darkness can shed light on things in unforeseeable and unexpected ways. The Muse is a mistress of flipsides too – she’s taught me acceptance of her gifts, via the fears and difficulties. Waking her up, and benefitting from her healing, is getting easier, the more I recognise that.

Reading Terri’s post, the John Barleycorn blog discussions and the various moveable feasts, has prompted in me inspiration and crucial realisations. I realise I’m not alone, but on a shared path, full of turns that are familiar to many. I’m so thankful for that help. And I hope, in putting this out there, I can give something that will, in turn, resonate for others. Perhaps these lessons learnt may echo a journey someone out there needs to know can be resolved. And maybe too, those lessons might help my daughter, should she ever need them as guideposts on her creative path one day…

In the meantime, I’m weaving many, many wishes that her beautiful, intuitive muse will forever fly…

24 thoughts on “The Way of the Muse – A Feast of Honey-dew?

  1. Melanie, this is a beautiful, beautiful post. Even though the crisis my family has been through over the last few years is a different one than yours, I still related to so much you’ve written here. You say, “If I thought about personal creative expression at all, it was to realise that it had been shocked into silence, mangled by crisis; sent into hiding by lack of opportunity and energy, and by lost faith in life.” Lordy, yes. I’ve been through that too. And am still coming out of the other side of it all, still learning who I am, as a woman and as an artist, post-crisis. Not the same as before, that’s for damn sure. Thank you so much for writing this. And thank you to your daughter, also, for sharing her art. Good luck with that novel!!!!

    • Terri, thank you so much – for this wonderful message, and for the beautiful hub of creativity you weave on your blog, buzzing with a magical exchange of ideas and experiences like these. It’s all helped me so much in making connections and realisations. Daily Coping and forever putting on a Brave Face can hide (even smother) so much, and to take plunges into honest explorations of the tangle of our lives, art and inspiration, and what it all means to us, really opens something up, makes connection – moves us forward. Goodness knows what towards – but, after exchanges like these I know that I feel just that little bit braver and reassured and on a shared path, where I can see ahead enough now to place my next footsteps with that extra boost of confidence that was lacking…

      It’s such a hard journey isn’t it – that post-crisis learning of who you are now – wondering how that ‘new’ self matches in any way with the ‘old’ self, seeking connections to pin things together in a trail that can make some sense. It’s a change of self, and a change of where we thought we were going. I so empathise with that on-going coming out the other side process. The “Where’s onward now?” question is beginning to feel a little less terrifying – or at least one I can handle better now, even with a sense that something is unfolding, not just closing down. Writing this post has been a wonderful step forward in that process. Thank you so much for inspiring me, Terri. I so hope that a whole myriad of good and wonderful things unfold for you on your path…
      Every best wish,
      Melanie

  2. Thank you Melanie for this great piece – indeed, it’s almost a ‘barbaric yawp’, were it not wrapped in the most moving and beautiful portrait of family, loved ones and the real substance of life. You capture these things that are so close to home for many of us in different ways,

    What I always enjoy about your writing is that it is always honest and unaffected, which is inspiring in itself when so much is dressed up the opposite these days!

    And none of us are alone in how creativity meets everyday life, as you observe. I’ve had over a year now in which new demands and responsibilities flooded in and grew weeds over creativity and work and made new paths hard to see, never mind follow.

    But I have realised that it is the doing that is everything – from that comes a physical manifestation, and in the forming of that so many mistakes or dead-ends will arise, but each leads to a new level of vision I couldn’t know of before. I am not talking of big things: just my own creative projects in my little plot of life.

    I really believe creativity can be trapped by too much instruction and planning: I’ve seen people with wonderful things to say drenched by buckets of formula and feedback, and sometimes content is hammered out before it can emerge.

    As you say:

    “I want to write for me; because it’s what I have to do to be me.”

    That’s the big truth in any creative act I think.

    Creativity is like the spirit of nature, isn’t it? Just like you can’t imagine a balmy midsummer in a midnight frost, in a barren spell you can’t imagine producing anything, never mind if it’s OK or not. But that doesn’t mean it has gone, those fallow times are vital. We don’t need to fight them but accept, even enjoy them.

    Few of us can afford to go through the door when the muse beckons: it simply appears, often at useless moments. And there’s a sister or brother to it as well – this comes along for me after a great band or film or theatre or book – when the world looks somehow different outside and possibility is tantalisingly endless. Then the two hover, around revolving doors, but rather than converging and journeying you through, it seems that there’s a lot of rotating and not much journey!

    Lots of thoughts here. And thanks for sharing your daughter’s artwork – I can really see the talent in the forge! (Particularly no.5).

    • What a wonderful message! Filled to the brim with the beautiful expression, acute observation and lyrical insight that are all part of the whistlesinthewind trademark… Reading your comment has been a further inspiration in itself! Thanks so much for that, and for all your kind words. I love all the imagery you use here. The metaphor of the revolving door – yes! That’s it perfectly! I shall think of that image often now. Sometimes, pinning a nebulous feeling like that to an image, or to words, helps to take a grasp of what’s happening and to relax into the process a bit more, even if it seems beyond resolution and capabilities at the time… Maybe then, the gap between a head with soaring aims, and feet stumbling around in the revolving door, might seem less of a falling place and more of a learning place.

      Yes, the doing is everything; so right. When I was first scribbling my children’s novel, I really began to understand the process of building a long piece of work – through trial and error, through hurtling down the pitfalls and finding my way out; through making those “Ah-hah!!” moments of discovery, and also by some kind of magical intuitive process that begins to work only in the doing. It’s amazing the stuff that emerges from the subconscious when we give it the chance to dance! I love those “Where did that come from?” moments! I suppose the problem with solitary learning is that so much of the struggle is unguided, and the pitfalls more numerous when you’re stumbling about by yourself. Those lessons learnt do tend to really stick though! Great to hear that those weeds on your creative path are beginning to clear, and that you’re shaping those satisfying gleams of vision.

      And the fallow times – I agree; I’ve also come to see how part of the process they are. So often, in hindsight, I’ve realised that those times were part of the natural flow – the ebb where you sit in a calm pool and something takes the time it needs to form and take shape, before it can move on downstream. Creativity is, as you say, like the spirit of nature itself; all these ebbs and flows moving through us are all part of that natural pattern of life at work – sometimes full of trickster elements too! Sometimes, as you say, the muse calls at such difficult moments. Sometimes I’m simply just a terrible procrastinator though. I get so annoyed with myself when I avoid what I know I love doing. I suppose it’s because it’s so damn hard to juggle the two worlds – to get started, travel to otherworld and then to have to break off…

      It all makes me even more awe-struck at the genius of someone like Dickens, who produced huge quantities of work – and stuff at the very heights of gleaming, glittering beauty – day after day at high speed, publishing in instalments as he went along – all to high pressure deadlines. He was a driven spirit – working himself into the ground…

      No. 5 of my daughter’s sketches is my favourite! She drew them all quite some time ago now, and she’s not happy with most of them… but she’s a brave soul about her work. She leaps right in and explores – and then leaps a bit further. Her imagination sparks so much, at such a rate, her sketch books fill up with lightning speed! It’s that ‘barbaric yawp’ energy again, I suppose! :) Something so worth reminding ourselves to try to hold onto…

  3. It really helps all round to share a few observations about the process… I’m just glad mine are helpful! Any kind of metaphor seems to help in understanding how we get inspiration and motivation going for any project. And accepting the non-workable times takes the pressure to be ‘doing’ away a little – even when the processes are coming together, there seem to be periods of a few steps of retreat: it’s never a clear ride I think.

    Mentioning Dickens I think of H E Bates too – a writer who I think approached his writing in a very disciplined way. I once read a book of Daphne du Maurier’s letters, ‘Letters from Menabilly’, which was really interesting – from the early 50s to the 80s. She came across as such an ‘ordinary person’ despite the image attributed to her, with ‘life’ often taking precedence over writing. Often she talks of ‘brewing’ – part of the writing process (ideas coming together with motivation I suppose) for which she waited for long stretches of time, but once the process kicked in, then she retired to her shed in the garden for two or three hours each day and wrote. (As an aside, I’m often interested how vivid imaginations are supposed to equate with dynamic, esoteric lifestyles while it isn’t really the case, and it seems to disappoint people that exceptional talents have average lifestyles too – take Kate Bush for example.)

    Off on a tangent, and back to the mundane I’m afraid – I started my blog and made myself post everyday at first just to get some discipline in and to get working with words again – it didn’t matter how clumsy or hit-and-miss, or embarrassing. The thing was to get used to fitting in space – even just 15 minutes or half and hour – to stuff that inspires me.

    Dogs about to eat my supper: I’m off…

    • Hope you managed to salvage your supper! :) I so relate to your blogging motivations – it’s why I started my blog really; to get myself back into the writing habit and find that groove again. I’d slipped way off the writing rails – and though it’s been a struggle to stay on track with this blog (lots of de-railing stuff hit us last year) keeping on going with it has paid so many dividends. I’m beginning to feel the rust dislodging a bit and the cogs turning more freely! (Hooray for those metaphors!)

      I really relate too to Daphne du Maurier’s ‘brewing’ periods. What comes out in my writing brews, often unconsciously, through all those accumulated moments – whilst I’m stirring the pasta sauce; or collecting thoughts through all the things I’m reading and connecting; whilst I’m living the experiences, and meeting the people, that weave in and out of days – and whilst I’m doing the hoovering!

      When I was about 14 – back in the early ’80s – I once stood a few feet away from Kate Bush in our local branch of Boots (she lived nearby). It was a lovely moment (she smiled, said hello and waved when I looked in her direction – goodness knows what expression I must have had on my face when I recognised her, and realised I was choosing shampoo alongside someone whose music I so loved and admired!) When I excitedly told a friend of mine about it, she said “Oh – I see her every week, when she comes into the bakery to buy her bread.” (My friend had a Saturday job there). It’s great to think that ‘Babooshka’ might have been brewing amongst the baguettes!

      Talking of ‘brewing’ – I really should make myself go and do some of that hoovering, I suppose… the house is a tip! Oh well, hopefully a new blog post or two might emerge out of the dust!

  4. What a great story… did you read Graeme Thomson’s Kate Bush biography Under the Ivy? It’s actually very good, particularly the atmosphere of the early years, with intelligence and respect – things not often found in that genre.

    • I haven’t read it – but now I have your recommendation, it’ll definitely go on my list… Thanks for flagging up how good it is, it would have probably slipped away from my radar otherwise!

  5. Didn’t have time to do my comment after finding this yesterday so hope I can remember my thoughts in this heat!. Firstly I love the illustrations especially no 3. They make me think of that book we both (and your daughter) read earlier in the year the name of which I have forgotten!
    I would love you to achieve your novel and maybe now is a good time. Your story is very moving.
    I am also reminded of one of my favourite books about the shamanic spirit in art by Michael Tucker – Dreaming with Open Eyes, the Shamanic Spirit in 20th Century Art. Sorry this is a bit rushed still!

    • Thanks so much for your lovely message, Diana. I passed on to my daughter your kind words about her illustrations and she was thrilled. Her work on her stories and drawings continues apace now that the school holidays are here (she’s been finishing one of the above illustrations today – and new ones are spilling onto the page daily!) She says that ‘White Crow’ wasn’t a direct influence on the drawings, as she read it after they and her stories were first created – but I think what drew her to the book is all related to the stuff she’s generally inspired by. She’s into mythic representations of aspects of nature, all things Elvish (Legolas is a favourite (Orlando Bloom may have something to do with that!) though she tells me the elves in her stories are nothing like Legolas – far more troublesome and not so noble!) Funnily enough, my own inspiration seems to be flowing too at the moment, with loads of ideas for blog posts, plans for my creative writing etc – just at the time of year when I have even less “spare” time than usual! One of the frustrating, contrary ways of the Muse, I suppose!

      Thanks so much for the details of the Michael Tucker book – it looks wonderful; definitely one I want to explore. Another great book to add to my reading list!

  6. Hello Melanie
    It’s a while since I’ve looked here – what a really moving & honestly spoken piece of writing. No wonder you have found it so hard to get back into being creative. And yet in reading this It feels to me that you have taken it all on board & somehow reached a position where yes, you are doing far more than just surviving; you have somehow incorporated your life into your creative outflow so that they are perhaps again in harmony.

    My situation is nowhere near having the same degree of difficulty as yours & yet the mere fact of having 2 healthy children & a teaching job have for a long time made me feel that I had no more time or energy for anything else creative. I used to feel an inner guilt to myself for not drawing or painting much & so I can very much relate to some of the things you are saying here. In fact, it was not long after the point when I decided that finally I had let go of any artistic approach in my life & was therefore no longer even guilty about it, that I suddenly took up painting again. Which is where I agree with when you say “I realised more than ever that it’s okay to work the way I prefer.” and ” I want to write for me; because it’s what I have to do to be me.” That’s so important & I think it’s what makes you feel so much more alive & able to fly without all those restraints (like for example you mention with having to write what people want you to write). I suppose it’s an acceptance of who one is. In the end I have found that being able to allow my creative side actually gives me the energy I need for coping with other more mundane aspects of life. A bit like how taking exercise can make you feel less tired rather than more so.
    Well done to your daughter too with her drawings – she must have a strong sense of self I think – at least that’s how I interpret them.
    Best of luck – & please remember that when you say “I realised more than ever that it’s okay to work the way I prefer.” that could mean never becoming a slave to responding to comments like mine on your blog until a moment you feel like it! There are already enough restrictions & that way hopefully your muse can continue to find its moments.

    • Hello Sonya,
      First of all, thank you so much for your very kind and understanding message. I’ve been away for a while, and it was lovely to come home and find it waiting for me. Your wise and perceptive words are a real support. Too often, guilt about one thing or another can leave us torn between all our responsibilities and ideas of what we ‘should’ or ‘must’ be doing – notions that are often beyond what’s realistic or best for all in the long run.

      It’s fascinating to hear how, when you gave up thoughts of an artistic life, that was the moment you were able to relax into really enjoying your painting again. I seem to be arriving at that point now (falteringly!) with my writing – and it’s so encouraging to hear how you’ve followed that path, and to see where it’s taken you. When I look at your paintings, they are so beautiful, so alive with your unique perspective, that I can see how that process has unleashed such a flourishing of vibrant inspiration. And that’s an inspiration to me too – to know that you went through that process – and with such wonderful results! I so appreciate your wonderful message and the extra encouragement it gives me, Sonya!

      It’s one of life’s paradoxes isn’t it, that letting go can actually lead to grasping hold of things better. We can pick up an awful lot of baggage along the way – and dropping some of it with relief and letting it tumble away, lets that main kernel of creative motivation float to the surface again. I think you’ve got to the heart of the matter when you say it’s ‘an acceptance of who one is.’ So true, I think. Matching outward expression with inner vision so helps gain a sense of well-being – and, I so agree that making things speak true to what you really want to put out there, and allowing your inner vision the right space to expand, gives you energy – whereas cramping it drains energy, and takes away what keeps you most in balance

      Too often my thoughts become scattered by all the pressures and anxiety – and I can’t really gather those loose threads back together again until I sit down to read or do some writing, but it’s a vicious circle as I’m often too tired to do either (and am too often unable to get over that niggling guilt when so much else needs to be done or thought about.) But, like you have experienced, not allowing myself those moments to expand into the space that fits me best leaves me even more drained of energy and the resources to deal with the difficulties. And, when I do let myself dive into reading and writing for a while, I regain a kind of peace and resilience.

      Thanks again Sonya, for taking the time to add your kind and perceptive thoughts here – and thanks too for your lovely words about my daughter’s drawings – I think your artist’s insight is very accurate!

      All the best,
      Melanie

  7. Hi Melanie,

    To read your post and above comments fills me with emotion, not to mention a few tears springing lightly out of my eyes. I was attempting to describe your writing to a friend yesterday over a glass of wine, which helped the words flow out, all I can remember today of my description are some short but hopefully pure words such as… your writing is full of light, it is transparent while also being full of every hue of colour, and for me it is a reminder of how our souls speak when we are quiet enough to listen to them.

    I see life as a play between the earthly and the spiritual… Some of us stand more in one of those worlds than the other, but to straddle both equally, to have one foot firmly, solidly in touch with the earth and reality (even if it is an illusion) of everyday life, not trying to escape it but wholly committed to it and accepting of its challenges, while having the other foot flowing into the realm of the soul, where creativity, love and joy come from is surely the most balanced life that anyone can achieve. You seem to know that dance pretty well! Your writing makes me think of Ganesha, with his elephant-soul-head and his human-form-body. For me, attempting to balance and integrate these two places is a lifelong journey and I get renewed energy and motivation for that journey from your writings.

    I have no doubt you will write your children’s fantasy novel, however long it takes, and I have no doubt there will be many readers who will benefit from it. Please tell your daughter that I love her drawings… Adults often miss out on the beautiful, visual imagery that generally accompanies children’s books… Maybe she will use her gift to write and illustrate adult picture books as well as children picture books one day. (Sometimes I think adults need it more!)

    Amanda

    • Hello Amanda,
      Thank you so much for your wonderful message. As I’ve said to Sonya above, I’ve been away for a while – and it was a truly lovely homecoming to find such supportive and kind comments waiting for me on my return…

      Amanda, I feel so honoured by your generous words about my writing, I don’t know what to say! Thank you so much. It’s amazing (and so heartwarming) to me that my writing has been the subject of a conversation over a glass of wine with your friend! It’s so rewarding, and such an honour, that you feel that way about things I’ve written! I guess that I waffle away, hoping that what I write will strike some chords somewhere – but to read your words and your reaction… well, wow! I’m bowled over and so delighted that any of my words have helped to bring ‘renewed energy and motivation’ to your journey!

      Balance is so important, I think – I never feel right, or true to myself, if I tip too far either way from that centre point where things are kept grounded and yet open to possibilities. The quality of openness to possibility and a beautiful mix and balance of the down to earth and soulful in your writing is part of what drew me to your blog!

      There are so many aspects to life and to human nature and expression that help us to understand a rounded picture beyond what can be reached via fact and tangible measures alone. There is so much to learn and know about this world – but I’m always glad to feel that there’s so much beyond our knowing too. Accepting a glorious combination of all the wonders we know and what is simply food for wonder seems like a good and healthy place to be to me… Recently I found this great quote:

      ‘We need the tonic of wildness… At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.
      – Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

      For me, Keats’s concept of ‘Negative Capability’ – the capability ‘of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts’ bottles this approach in just a few words. (Julian Hoffman recently wrote such a beautiful and apposite post Being in Mysteries on his blog, Notes from Near and Far, which I think you’d love)

      Thank you so much too for your words of support and encouragement about my plans to get on and actually finish my children’s novel after all this time! The inspiration is flowing, though actual writing will have to wait until after the school holidays, as my son needs my full attention all through the day – and my brain these past few days has been ready for nothing but sleep by the time the evening comes. I’ve been back home for several days now, and I’ve only just got the chance to answer yours and Sonya’s comments – though I’ve been itching to do so…

      My daughter’s so thrilled to hear your thoughts on her drawings. You’re so right about adults needing beautiful illustration in our lives. It’s such a shame that we’re set on a path in education that suggests we should ‘outgrow’ picture books and that somehow ‘moving on’ to experiencing narrative through words alone is reaching some higher rung of understanding. The subtlety of good illustration is a language all of its own. That’s why I love the Folio Society editions of favourite books so much – all those wonderful illustrations, woodcuts etc – an extra place for the imagination to dance!

      Thanks so much again for your beautiful words and encouragement, Amanda. I’ll be visiting your blog again as soon as I get the chance. So looking forward to catching up with those orcas!

      All the best,
      Melanie

  8. Hello Melanie
    Just to say that I really appreciate being able to communicate with somebody so thoughtful & sensitive – I’d say “come round for a cup of tea” if we lived a bit closer!

    • That’s such a lovely message, Sonya – thank you… The feeling is mutual… If we lived a bit closer, those cups of tea together would be such a treat! As it is, it’s wonderful to share a virtual cup of tea with you here and on your lovely blog… (I so love your latest paintings by the way… I’ve been trying to find a moment amongst all the summer holiday chaos to leave a comment that does them justice! Must rush for now… but will drop by your blog as soon as I can…

  9. Hi Melanie,
    Sorry, I hadn’t popped back to read comments… Thanks for the Being in Mysteries blog recommendation, I will take a look…
    I’m sure you and your daughter already have these books… But just in case she hasnt seen them… Have a look at The Arrival by Shaun Tan and Varmints by Helen Ward / Marc Craste. Beautifully illustrated books for the adult within the child and the child within the adult of all of us.
    Good luck with the coming Autumn and more time to turn inspired into thoughts into flowing words…
    Amanda

    • Amanda… Wow! I’ve just taken a look online at The Arrival and Varmints – and, well… wow, again…they are stunning! Proper, stop-me-in-my-tracks works of art. So poignant, moving and true. I know that my daughter will love them too. We don’t have copies of either – but we will definitely seek them out now. I know that I’ve seen Varmints before, and can remember intending to get a copy – but somehow, it had slipped out of my head (how, I don’t know… it’s such a perfect book for the both of us!) I’d not seen The Arrival before – and, from just the preview online alone, I’m blown away… So, thanks so much for the reminder and the introduction, Amanda…

      Thank you too for your kind good wishes… I’m so sorry I was too late, now that comments have closed, to add my thoughts to your wonderful post about orcas… I absolutely loved it, and have learnt so much I never knew about those utterly magnificent creatures. I *loved* your ‘speed-dating guide’ to the different orca ecotypes. Brilliant – and so enlightening! A big thank you for that extra insight and knowledge, which sure has made the world expand a little bit more in all its wonder for me today…
      Melanie

  10. Hi Melanie, So here I am back again because this post lingered long in my memory and has become pertinent again… I am choreographing a dance piece with some undergraduate students at UCSD (a university in San Diego county where my husband and I now live) for a performance at the university in March, and we are playing with the muse as our theme… I am going to read them some of your words to feed into our creative process… I am also pondering… I do not know yet if we will use any text in the piece, (live or recorded), but if we do I was wondering if I could use a few snippets of your words from this post (and anything else you may have written about inspiration/muse/creativity)… If this might be possible maybe we could discuss more (we can talk privately via my contact page if needed). I love your writing and know it would resonate deeply with people! Amanda

    • Amanda – you’ve made my day! Thank you so much for these kind words – and for your amazing vote of confidence in my writing! It’s a truly wonderful surprise for me to hear someone respond in this way to something I’ve written – and hugely heart-warming. I’m so honoured that you would like to read your students some of my words to feed into the creative process for your dance piece! This sort of cross-pollination of ideas and thoughts and artistic form is at the heart of what’s so exciting and vital about both sharing and igniting creative expression – for me, it’s what it’s all about – and, if your dance project evolves in ways that you and the students would like to use any of my words in the piece, I’d be more than happy for that to happen! I’ll be in touch via your contact page, so that you’ll have my email address, in case you’d like to discuss anything further/ ask any questions etc… Thanks again!

      Melanie

  11. Fantastic, thank you! The dancers love your words also, we are working with them today and they are experimenting with moving between two edges… The one behind and the one in front that they want to reach to be able to fly… If we include them as spoken/recorded text in the performance, I can send you the clips we hope to use, so you can check to see if you are happy with them, and I will of course put a credit to you in the program and include a link to your site. I do not know if the university usually records performances, but if it does, I will also see if I can send you a copy of it on DVD. Yes, if you send a message via my contact page, I can email you back with the text etc… Amanda x

  12. I’ve just come back to this from your latest post about the dance piece. Wow. Your honesty and openness feels healing to me and I can relate to some of your ‘Real World’ and ‘Muse World’ struggles. It’s helped crystalize something in my mind. It ties in with Amanda’s take on art – that it’s something which is part of all of us, not something only belonging to the lucky few. In the end, I think this is the only sane approach – write for someone we love, and for ourselves. THe other stuff is just a bonus really.

    • Wow! Thanks so much again! I’m so glad you feel a sense of healing in this. A great deal of healing went on throughout the whole process of reaching the point where I am now with this… Loads of tough lessons learnt! I’m so, so delighted that it has helped to crystalize something in your own mind. That’s why I put this out there, really. It’s what I was hoping it might be able to do… I still get stuck all the time with letting all sorts of perceived pressures (inner and outer) start to dictate and sow seeds of doubt – but, as soon as I start saying to myself, to hell with it – I’m writing this because I love it – proper, proper love it – that’s when the inspiration soars and something real starts to emerge. It may not be the best Art (with a capital A) – but it’s my art, and is worth something to me – a big reward (and loads of learning) in the actual doing, if nothing else…

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