Krowing While You Work

Not My Desk; Marzipan is More Tidy

“Krowing” makes a change from whistling — and while whistling while you work is often a good thing, krowing may well be better, both for you and for the work.

(Krow, krowed, krowing — “krow” is “work” playfully spelled backward. Very early on in school, we learn that many teachers think you aren’t really trying to do the work unless you sit hunched over your paper, tightly clutching your pencil, with your feet all twisted painfully around the chair legs. Ungrounded. It’s best if you frown too. The thing you mustn’t do is look relaxed. None of this actually helps you think better, and it takes a lot of energy while the discomfort is distracting. The fae believe all of this is seriously weird and wonder how we ever get anything done.)

It’s fascinating the way we seem to keep learning the same lessons over and over — until we finally get it really truly deep down. Whoever is in charge of all this seems to be endlessly patient — much more patient with me than I am with myself.

Eileen Herzberg phoned me to say she was planning to run a meditation course and to discuss a few ideas she had about it. “First, I’ll do what you do,” she said blithely, “and start them off with an inner journey to meet their inner meditation teacher.”

I gently pointed out that I had never met my inner meditation teacher, but that it was a really brilliant idea, and I wished I had thought of it. After a brief muddle while we sorted out whose idea it really was (Eileen’s, of course), we went on to discuss how best to set the scene for the inner journey she planned. While we were doing that I took an inward brief peek at my own inner meditation teacher.

The image that flashed up was of a tiny, upright, ancient oriental lady with a face as brown and wrinkled as a walnut shell and bright, bright black eyes. I knew as soon as I saw her that I’d better come back later and listen to what she had to say, and so I did as soon as I got off the phone.

Old Mama Li, she said to me,
Look, kid, you’ve got
to get your act together.
What you’re doing is OK, but
there is so very much
more to be done. For starters, let’s
Keep It Simple, Sweetheart. Choose
one task each day, and do it
as a meditation. It’s all
very well, even necessary, to Sit
in meditation, to rest into the silence when
healing is happening, and it’s
not that hard to do
when you are building
a dam in the burn, or painting, or walking
in the hills — doing something
quiet and fun — but
there is much more to it than
that. Meditation has to happen
all the time. Don’t try
to do this all at once, don’t try
to go too fast. For a while,
take just one task a day. In time, this
will give you the place to stand
so you can move the earth —
if you are silly enough
to want to.

She suggested that I start with getting out my quarterly newsletter on my courses and things the next day. That, she said, would give me plenty to practice on. She obviously knows how very much I dislike doing those mailings — thousands of pages to collate, thousands of newsletters to fold and staple, thousands of newsletters to put in envelopes and seal, thousands of mailing labels to put on, thousands of stamps to stick down, thousands of return address labels to put on. Arrrgh! Boring!

The next day, I tried to focus on my breath while I worked on the mailing, but I kept getting muddled about what I was doing. Then I tried to work in time with my breath, but it was so slow — and I found my breath going faster and faster — or my hands racing while I didn’t breathe at all.

My usual way of trying to get through a distasteful task is to rush madly at it, so I kept finding myself sitting on the edge of the chair, panting.

I felt so frustrated! I’d thought this would be so easy, but I couldn’t seem to do it at all. I even caught myself thinking that I ought to be able to do it; that this should not be a problem for me. I was messing up on something I ought to be able to do easily. When I caught myself ‘oughting’ and ‘shoulding’ all over myself, I stopped. I ‘ought’ not to be doing that either!

I just sat there with a page in each hand, almost in tears of frustration. For a while I simply focused on my breathing with some vague idea of getting a running start at stability that way. Finally I asked for help. Why does it so often take so long to remember to ask?

The answer came at once — focus on the energy of the task. It has its own natural rhythm and focus. Find it.

A rhythm established itself as soon as I stopped trying to do something: collate while grounding myself and the newsletter with the earth, center while stapling and folding, put it in the envelope while connecting with the Source, seal it while filling it with healing energy. This was easy.

Gradually the understanding grew in my mind — each newsletter should have its own connection with the earth and the Source, its own healing energy, and this could be available to anyone who touched it, if they wanted and were open to it. Because each one had its own connections, it would constantly be brimming over with healing energy, more than enough for everyone who might need and want it along the way. Some of the envelopes might be reused and carry the energy even further. And what will happen if the paper is recycled? Hmmm. Like ripples from a stone thrown in a pond, out to the edges of the universe and back. What fun!

Then the mailing labels — each one went on with a friendly energy ‘hello’ to the addressee. The stamps each had a smile attached, and the return address labels each went on with a wash of ‘love you’ from me.

I couldn’t believe it when I suddenly ran out of mailing labels. I scurried around the house to see if I could find any more names and addresses on scattered scraps of paper so I could do some more — it was such fun! When I realized what I was doing, I had to laugh at myself. I went off to the post office with bags full of energized newsletters, smilingly stamped.

When I got to the post office, there were hordes of people waiting, and the clerks were all working frantically. By the time I reached the counter, the clerk in front of me had an obvious headache, a scowl on his face, and a fierce impatience with the world. Besides the newsletters, I had several fiddly things to do — letters to the States and other places, each to be weighed and postage calculated individually. You could see him getting more and more impatient as I handed him one thing after another. Finally, putting all of the bags containing the thousands of newsletters on the counter, I said, “And this is the last.” He touched them — and stopped.

For a moment he just stood there. Then he turned and slowly put them in the big mail sacks a few envelopes at a time. He could have dumped them in a bag at a time much more quickly, but he seemed to be savoring each handful. He came back to me with a cheerful smile spread across his face. “There,” he said, “that’s a job well done, isn’t it?”

I was quite taken aback — it was actually working! Up until then I suppose I had just thought it was a game for me to play by myself. Now I realized that it was something that really could spread out, like the glittering ripples on a pond.

So, what did I do the next day? I forgot. Didn’t remember at all to find a task to do mindfully. And the day after that as well. Then I chose things I really didn’t want to do at all for my special task and then just didn’t do them. There is obviously a big resistance here to enjoying the boring, tedious, mundane things of life. What would one have to complain about? Procrastination wouldn’t be any fun if one were procrastinating on having fun. And I can’t scold myself because that is getting trapped in my oughts and shoulds again, so I really can’t just indulge in feelings of guilt or remorse instead of actually doing something.

The only thing left is either to do a task with the clarity and mindfulness thing or not to do it at all and just leave it undone or do it resentfully — but it feels so silly and perverse not to do it.

I hate to feel perversely silly.

It may provide a bit of harmless amusement for the Otherworld folk, but I’d rather not do it that way. ‘Undignified’ I have no problem with, but “perverse” and ‘silly’ combined are just too much. The thing that had become a regular practice was to have a good laugh at myself when I review my day, just before I go to sleep.

Okay. I wrote the above in early 1994. I added this in the middle of the next year: I’m just recovering from a prolonged bout of pneumonia and am taking this opportunity to reformat and update my disorganized web pages, which have gradually become all helter-skelter. I can do this on my laptop while I technically stay in bed, as instructed. And now, I’m thinking about how I can apply these principles to healing myself. What can I do while confined here — besides my regular meditation and self-healing?

I have recovered to the point where I can go down and up the stairs once a day, and I’ve learned to pause on each step and take two healing breaths. And to take five minutes worth of healing breaths on the landing halfway. This way I don’t collapse before the top. (At first, I unconsciously held my breath as I tried to hurry up the stairs before I collapsed. Needless to say, that didn’t work well. But I can’t climb the stairs very often, so this doesn’t seem much of a task to apply this technique to. It seems that there isn’t much I can be doing with it…

But wait! I’m working on these pages. How can I incorporate meditation/self healing into this? Well, breath seems very important just now. Pneumonia messes that up. So perhaps I could incorporate breathing consciously and in a healing way into this somehow. I’m going to try something for a few minutes…

Ah, yes. I just need to stop at the end of every paragraph and breathe in healing energy for a few breaths. Three slow ones feels about right. It changes the whole energy of what I’m doing. Instead of getting a feeling of self-induced pressure building up, I feel tranquility. I smile while I work. That alone tells me it is right. So. I shall stop here and do another page.

Now here we are in 2018! Have I learned this thoroughly? Do I automatically do it on new things as well? Noooo. Do I need to start again? Yes, I do. These days I’m working on writing my first fantasy novel — it seems that it should (there’s that word again!) be easy to apply the paragraph above to that.

Also, I have to use a walker these days, and I do already get it that I have to monitor myself closely and not push myself too hard at that. The rhythm needs to be to walk, stop and sit and breathe, and walk again. And sit and breathe again. But much of the time I push myself to a hazardous edge before I stop. If I were to insert a little more mindfulness in the walking, I might not be so exhausted so soon.

There are also gentle exercises, I’m supposed to do — perhaps I could find some way to keep myself from rushing things there too.

O! I think I see the key here. It’s the rushing at things that is the problem, not the things themselves. I wonder where that comes from? Perhaps if I could find a way to be aware of that before I fall into a self-created hole — perhaps I could really finally get this? What do you think?

Copyright © 1994, 1995, & 2018 by Jessica Macbeth. All rights reserved. This originally appeared in Crann Beathadh, 1994.

Storytelling, Music, & Natural Magic

I’ve been listening to the songs and stories of an extraordinary composer/singer/guitarist, Mark Knopfler. His songs are often stories of ordinary people — doing their work, loving, suffering, singing — maybe remembered and maybe not, but usually caught in the grip of something bigger than they are. I kept going back to listen. There is something uniquely satisfying and heart-touching about his music, his songs, especially the more recent ones. He has made the art of songwriting into the art of telling powerful stories. As a writer, I feel a need to understand why his songs are so powerful.

The key skill set I noticed:

Mastery: The music, both rhythm and melody distinctly fits the words. I can’t guess which comes first, but suspect Knopfler goes back and forth between them as he composes. Neither one is just tacked on to the other. In written storytelling, you may have good illustrations to enrich and inform the imagination of the readers; in songs the music enriches and informs the emotion of the listeners. Imagination and emotion are tightly inter-related. In either case the music or picture must be superb — and therein lies the requirement for mastery, for years and years of developing a skill to the highest point of art.

Acute observation: Seeing clearly, telling it like it is, including details that show character and feeling and make it both vivid and memorable.

Empathy: Truly understanding the people and their feelings from the inside, not just the outside. This is a kind of nonjudgmental acceptance, which leads to —

Compassion: “Sympathy” means “I hear and feel sorry for you.” “Empathy” means “I feel your feelings with you.” “Compassion” means “I hear, feel, and love you. I make no judgement about your goodness or badness — just knowing who you really are and loving you.” I remember something I learned from participating in healing — everyone at their very core wishes to give and receive love — it is what we are. We all have roots in the same ground and that ground is something we call love.

You don’t have to believe me about this — just learn to meditate and do healing, and sooner or later you will discover this truth for yourself. And sometimes when we make that connection, miracles happen.

We wrap other things around that core, thinking it needs to be protected while really it is the strong, eternal center of us. But we create all those other things — fear, anger, barriers, judgments, denial, and more — to protect something that never needed protection. That loving part of ourselves and others is what we experience as compassion when we consciously become aware of that connection. The songs, the stories become healing.

Inclusion: starting with the thread of one person, one feeling, and weaving that into something larger so it speaks for and to many. Ultimately the song may bring in the earth, the sky, the sea, the stars. The part fits into the whole quite neatly, inextricably.

The last two things on the list above are what makes Knopfler’s music truly exceptional. He didn’t start out that way. Yes, he had empathy, he has extraordinary musical talent, and he loves music enough to do the incredible years of practice with the devotion that leads to mastery. Talent is something you are born with, but mastery like this and compassion only comes through years of devotion. If you listen to what he’s saying, both in interviews and in the music, you can hear that his music is a means for communion (not just communication, but communion) with others — and with deeper parts of himself. And that touches other hearts as well. People respond, even when they may not know what they are responding to.

I understand now why so many of the comments on his YouTube recordings simply say, “I love you.” Of course, many of the comments focus on the music. Yes, he is a master guitarist and they say so, but he isn’t the only master guitarist around even though you’d think he was from his fans. Although I’ve heard him discribed as having a “golden voice” yet his voice seems quite ordinary to me — his delivery is low key and almost conversational, but the energy his voice carries is far from ordinary.

I suspect his fans are hearing/feeling that special something more — the genuine love and compassion he seems to have for people, especially for the outliers of our society who live on an edge. A few of the many examples: the lost ones (Telegraph Road and Sonny Liston), the unique ones (Jerimiah Dickson), transcendent human love (Our Shangri La and If This Is Goodbye) and the geniuses (like himself) who are so focussed on one thing, one form of self-expression that it consumes their lives (Monteleone and The Sky and Piper to the End).

(Disclosure: Writing this is surprisingly difficult. It comes out a phrase at a time, not all at once in a rush the way things do when I really understand them. So. Clearly I don’t fully get it. Sometimes a thought dissolves under my fingers as I try to type it. I find myself saving this every few words so the thoughts won’t escape.)

All right, with all of this I still haven’t said what I set out to say about writing stories — what the big take-away for myself as a writer is. Marzipan’s Adventures — she is just a young faery cat in another world, which is linked to both Earth and to Faery. But for the story to be whole, it has to show how she fits into her own beloved world. It needs to show the vastness and grandeur and possibilities of that tiny world and the connectedness of the web of relationships in it. In a way, her story represents that world with its universe fitting neatly into the multiverse. And it has to show it, mostly in the details and the little moments, not tell it.

Marzipan’s actions need to show those interactions with her neighbors, both humna and creutairean, and with Didean, the world herself. (Humna are part Earth human, part Faery. Creutairean are part Earth animal, part Faery being. In fact, humna are creutairean too, and the humna are the only ones who don’t know this and who think they are different, This little blindness comes from the Earth human part of them, which tends to see differences rather than common ground.) (Sorry, I got side-tracked there but I’ll leave it in just in case you needed to know.)

The story itself, the plot as it were, has to carry all of these details and insights almost invisibly. If an author is preachy-teachy, he or she evokes resistance — and boredom. But if, as explained in Magical Writing the storyteller just slides things in with no fuss, the reader is more likely to just take it in as they gallop along with the plot, which is the obstensible reason for the story. But the plot is just a vehicle for the real story.

So, to some extent good storytelling seems to me to be about seeing reality compassionately and sharing that vision so we all better understand how we are connected to and can support each other.

I wonder if Knopfler knows what he is doing? He wouldn’t have to… it might just be the way he naturally has grown into the world. He spent some time being a social worker and that would have enriched both his view and his understanding of people. Or he might have just figured it out for himself — he’s an intelligent man. Listening to him in the documenteries talking about his craft, he knows. He sees how in songwriting, composing in bits and pieces, fragments and fictions, he often is telling the story of the person, of the society, of the history (and perhaps the future) of the world. For all I know, he may be telling the story of the multiverse.

ALL storytellers in all of the multiverse may be doing the same.

I just had a thought-concept; I wonder if I can say it clearly? What if we who tell stories in the multiverse — and perhaps we all do — no, wait! What if living is the real story? What if we are showing the Multiverse who She is and what She shall become with every moment of our lives?

After all, we are all one piece with the trees and stones and creatures.

Magical Writing

As you probably know, I’m writing a storybook (or several) about magic and faery and cats and things like that. But the thing about a sometime-healer writing about magic is that one already knows that magic is real. So the question arises:

How do you write about magic that is natural and real and potent when fictional magic is usually so much more flashy and… um… misleading?

Having Marzipan’s story pushing at the back of my eyes I knew I’d have to try — and, as is quite common with magic, once a person sets an intention or asks a question, the magic itself immediately starts trying to teach us. It uses magical means, of course. An untrained observer might call them co-incidence or synchronicity or even (and this is less likely to be said) a chronosynclastic infundibulum. Whatever. Let’s ramble through some ideas here.

Magical Realism

The Writers’ Workshoppe decided (at just the right time) to offer a class in writing “magical realism”. One important thing I learned in the class was that you could offer some outrageous magic if it was firmly embedded in a lot of detailed reality. You just have to slide the magic and “fantasy” in between the realism with enough down-to-earth detail that it goes almost unnoticed — and the next bit of fantasy can be even more magical and it too will just slide right into the mind without jarring it too much. Do you know why that is?

This is because humans (and sometimes others) participate in magic all the time, and we’re accustomed to just letting it slide by without notice. In fact, we pretend to ourselves that it either didn’t happen or it happened some other “logical” way. So we don’t notice how it sneaks up on us in reality or in a story — embedded in detail and factual information. (This part and the following is my own experience — not the class.)

Think about it: you remember that you want to phone a friend that you haven’t talked to in quite a while. A few minutes later, the friend phones you. Coincidence. Yeah, sure. It can’t be telepathy because telepathy isn’t real. So this is the fantasy we mostly live in — the belief that magic is not real. We’re habituated to that fantasy so we find all sorts of excuses to convince ourselves that telepathy doesn’t happen. We invent words to cover it up — words like coincidence, lucky break, fortuity, synchronicity, and other words of that ilk. It can’t be magic, not our own innate magic. It’s just the way the cookie accidentally crumbles. No?

So in your magical story you begin the shift with small details, like perhaps a yellow flower slowly turning red as a character watches, and you don’t make a big drama with exclamation points and amazed expressions about it. You just move smoothly right on by. A little later you slip another detail in. It’s not important enough to stop and think too much about it. The reader just accepts it… and moves on. This is preparing the ground of the unconscious, imagining mind — the dreamer, the mystic, the magician within — to accept the seeds gently dropped and accept them again later on when they sprout and blossom more vividly.

Magic isn’t something you turn on and off. Your awareness of it may be awake or asleep, but dreaming or storytelling or being the story, the magic is what holds it together. But they (I’m writing about faery magic, remember, and natural magic as well) had a lot more to teach me than just how to sneak up on magic.

Logic

Things need to make sense — even in magic. Logic is important. Take the “humna” (half faery and half human) in Marzipan’s stories. Faery, as we know (!) exists and vibrates at a different and higher frequency than we do, just like ultra-violet light shines at a frequency that we don’t normally see — our eyes are not built for it. We also know that there is a thing called “entrainment” that happens naturally. If you take two fine crystal glasses and set them beside each other and then gently strike one so it begins ringing, soon the other one is ringing as well. The second glass is entrained with the first because the first is actively vibrating the air, which carries the vibration to the other glass and sets it to ringing the same note. (This also happens in the chakra system, but we’ll talk about the results of that another time, if I remember to do it.)

So faery vibrates at a faster (higher) frequency than we humans do. If we spend time with them in the natural world, our vibration entrains a little to become higher as well — and it gradually changes our DNA so that we become more faery ourselves. This is just natural magic. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Logical. Plausible. It especially makes sense if you consider the Japanese notion of “forest bathing” that recognizes that we feel much more relaxed and healthy if we spend peaceful time in a forest. Trees. Dryads. Think about it. (Here’s another thing to write about later — the modern thing in some ethically and scientifically advanced cities is to build apartments with lush gardens on the roof and in large balconies outside the windows— what would that do to the people who live in them?) There is much to consider on this topic, including scientific studies that show that hyperactive children who spend some time in parks or natural place become calmer and cope with life better. It’s all about being in a different frequency/vibration that is smoothly peaceful and not a jangling cacophony. This all has logic if you accept the basic premises and the comparisons. In fact, it’s so logical that I’ve more than half convinced myself that this is how humans become a little (or a lot) faery.

The Writer’s Medicine Bag

Another useful concept about writing that I came across recently was about medicine bags and the power objects in them. (I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten where I read this.) (Ten months later I found it — it was Ursula K. Le Guin that wrote about it in The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction which is something every writer needs to read, even if they reject it.) She talks about how every medicine bag contains power objects, and together the objects contain more potency than each one alone. The objects blend together and reinforce each other — or conflict and weaken one another.

As a writer, consider this: how is your story or thesis or novel a medicine bag imbued with the power to transform, to have a magical effect on the reader? How is each character a power object within that collective whole? If you think of them as a tribe, who serves which function in the society? How do they work together to get where they want to go? Is there any power object in the bag that conflicts with the overall goal? Can the power objects (people, places, things, ideas) find a resolution to any conflicts they have? And how do the power objects themselves change as a result of causing transformation around them — or, looked at in another way, how do their own transformations create metamorphoses in others like glasses vibrating together?

These questions need to be answered — at least in our own minds if not in the story. The author actually needs to understand what’s going on even if the characters are mystified.

Image. I, mage.

Transformation is vital. The other day a few people and I had a short discussion about what makes Sir Terry Pratchett’s books so awesome — and I don’t use that word lightly. To me, it’s all about transformation. The characters in the stories (mostly) grow.

This made me think a lot about what a “better person” is and why it’s important to be one — and a TON of stuff about writing and a writer’s responsibility to the rest of the world, especially when things are such a mess as they are now. Part of Sir Terry Pratchett’s brilliance is that he showed us a path without ever “teaching” or “preaching” but by a sort of osmosis. I suspect he hoped we’d be smart enough to figure it out for ourselves, which is really the only way to truly learn something.

The Writer As Magician

Are you aware that in writing or storytelling, you are practicing magic? Magic is basically about changing things without physically lifting or moving or carving them. What you are doing when telling a story is changing the world with ideas and mental images. An idea is like a virus — contagious. A virus drifts from one person to another, changing them, often without the recipients’ awareness or conscious consent. A virus may also cause a mutation — and that mutation may be different in each host, depending on the condition they are already in. I suspect that the idea-viruses may sometimes also travel by telepathy via vibrations on a plane we don’t yet understand, but I can’t prove that and don’t need to — we can just be hypothetical here.

So you, as a writer/storyteller put ideas out into the world where others may catch and even change them from your original intention. What is the Path that you or I, as writers, are showing? Does it lead to a better world or worse? What is our intention here? Do we know? Are we, as ordinary magical people working on that intention ourselves in our own lives?

What is the effect we intend to have on the world?