On how words “Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place.”

Words strain, Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place, Will not stay still.” TS Eliot, Burnt Norton (The Four Quartets)


Language is a slippery thing; it will not stay still. Words that meant something a decade ago now seem to mean something else. Remember when ‘cool’ meant chilled but not ice cold? Remember when ‘wicked’ meant evil? Recently, everyone’s favourite Sherlock, actor Benedict Cumberbatch, managed to tarnish his reputation by accidentally using the wrong words. The world exploded with outrage. I’m not even going to try and explain what he said because while I am a bit older than him, we belong to those now over a certain age, and it becomes harder to keep abreast of all the changes in what is and is not acceptable in areas such as race, gender and other sensitive issues. I was gently corrected for using the wrong terminology when referring to people who are deaf or heard of hearing. It’s become a minefield and I’ve become acutely aware that using the wrong term through ignorance could bring down the skies upon my head. There comes a point when it becomes almost impossible to keep up and remember all the correct terms when you’ve seen them change several times and seen what was once acceptable and even polite become something that will get you vilified.

Not only does language change, but we debase it. Let me take a word I use here quite often: DEPRESSION. Frequently now I hear the word used to refer to a state that is a fair old way from actual clinical depression. Too often, someone will say, “I’m depressed,” to meet the response, “What about?” Someone who has been affected by this hideous condition is unlikely not to know that there is no “about” when it comes to depression. But people are using it when they mean they’re fed up, down in the dumps and out of sorts. By using it for these normal, passing human states, the word has become degraded and, sadly, it affects how the illness is viewed. It diminishes it. I’ve heard terms like OCD and bi-polar used in the same way (I’ve even heard someone use bi-polar to describe changeable weather). It saddens me.

Another term I have heard that seems to hold totally different meanings to different people is WRITER’S BLOCK. For some, writer’s block is a mild thing, a pause or a hesitation that merely needs a bit of a push to get past it. Indeed, Philip Pullman (author of The Northern Lights trilogy, among others) dismisses it as a disease of amateurs, saying how there’s no such thing as Plumber’s Block, and it’s a case of if you write for a living, you get your words down. Yet, for others (myself included) writer’s block is a dreadful existential crisis that can’t be cured by a few days off, or a hot bath, or using writing prompts. The term is used for both; the closest comparison is perhaps to the way people use the term “’flu.” Real ‘flu kills. The Spanish ‘flu after the first world war killed far more than the war did. Yet people call a bad cold, the ‘flu, perhaps because it elicits more sympathy and time off work.

Real ‘flu wipes out thousands of healthy people. Real clinical depression kills. Real writer’s block destroys writers. Perhaps it’s time to pay attention to the way language has changed and perhaps coin new and better phrases that describe devastating things in ways that cannot be co-opted to lesser uses.


Six years of blogging – come celebrate with me!

On the 9th of February 2009, I started this blog. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, but it felt like the right thing. Six years and over 850 posts later, and I’m still not very sure what I’m doing, but it does still feel like the right thing!

I’ve seen a LOT of changes. Blogging friends who have burned bright, and then burned out, deleted their blog, started new ones, vanished utterly from the blog-o-sphere. The vital impact of blogging has waned, possibly under the sheer weight of social media outlets, yet still I continue because I have things I need to say.

My blog predated my publishing journey, and while that’s been a big part of my blogging, Zen and the Art of Tightropewalking has been more than just another writer’s blog. It’s not here to showcase my work but to share the essence of who I am. I’ve decided 2015 is a Jung year, and reading Man and His Symbols, I came across this quote from Wassily Kandinsky: “Everything that is dead, quivers. Not only the things of poetry, stars, moon, wood, flowers, but even a white trouser button glittering out of a puddle in the street….Everything has a secret soul, which is silent more often than it speaks.” I blog so that the secret souls can be heard, the voices of the stones, the trees, the beasts and the birds, and my dialogue with them is what feeds my writing.

To celebrate this anniversary, I’m offering my first published novel, Strangers and Pilgrims at a ridiculously low price (the same as for the short story collections) , worldwide, for about 48 hours, as a thank you to my readers. I’m very wary of the way many authors under-price their work so this is why it’s a very short period of discount, and the price will go back up within a few days. I hope you enjoy it; it’s my way of saying, Thank you for being with me for a time on this journey.

Vivienne Tuffnell


A rather splendid experience: I am interviewed!

Originally posted on The Bingergread Cottage:

I’m joined in the Bingergread Cottage today by a dear friend with whom I share a lot. Welcome, Vivienne and make yourself at home. Don’t give Lily the cake, it’s chocolate and she doesn’t like it anyway. Help yourself to tea or coffee and let’s have a chat.

Mmmmmm coffeeeee and cake….

We’ve both had a rather “meandering” spiritual path, haven’t we? Tell us about yours.Viv 1

I’ve been drawn to the mystical my entire life. I remember creating a shrine in my bedside cupboard when I was about eight or so. I chose to become a Christian when I was twelve but while I still would define myself as a follower of the Christ, I suspect that I’m not Christian enough for many Christians and not pagan enough for many pagans. I’ve been labelled a witch a few times (with the addition of white or green or even Christian) because…

View original 630 more words

Candlemas at the Cave, Imbolc in the Ice

It is the scent that reaches me in my bear-like slumbers, drifting day after day in a form of hibernation that sees me rarely raise my head from the nest of covers. It does not force its way into my subdued consciousness, but instead it seems to creep quietly, humbly, into my cave and stands by my bed, waiting for me to notice it.

I rise from the dreamless state that has held me for months, eyes flickering open, and I take a sharp, deep breath like a drowned woman returning to life. The air holds a scent I’d forgotten existed. It’s the smell of thawing earth and dripping ice.

The wall of ice at the mouth of my cave still blocks out much of the light, so the cave is deep in shadows, but through the blue-white mass I see a brighter colour, tinged with gold and I realise it might be the sun. Pushing back my covers, I sit up and take another harsh,deep breath, drawing in the clear cold air I can feel infiltrating the sour, stale air of my den.

I get to my feet, joints stiff and sore and movement difficult, and I stumble to the ice wall. Before I reach it, I can feel the change. Air is moving, through the cut-out in the ice that had become blocked around the winter solstice, and though it is still the frozen air of winter, it is no longer the same. There is moisture in it that holds the scents of the thaw. When I move into the tunnel through the ice wall, I see that droplets of water are rolling slowly down, as if the tunnel is weeping with relief. The tunnel is still partially blocked, but a window has opened, that drips steadily as it melts, and through this rough portal, the air flows. I stand as close as I can to the opening in the ice and beyond it, I can hear the sounds of flowing, bubbling water and the first bird song.

Sacred Pool meditation

You are on a woodland path beneath a canopy of trees in full but fresh leaf. The path is soft and sandy but every two feet or so, there is a large flat stone that lies set into the soil like a stepping stone in a river. Like a river, the path winds in a leisurely fashion and takes you forward without rushing. There is birdsong all around and the breeze is pleasantly warm yet refreshing. Above the canopy, the sky is a deep, restful blue, with a few pure white clouds that move like slow ships across the ocean of sky.

The trees ahead form a tighter tunnel that then opens into a green archway and beyond it there is a clearing. At the centre of the clearing is a wide pool of water, the margins of which are marked by more of the large flat stones. Unlike the ones within the wood, these are speckled with lichen and mosses and ferns grow between them. At the far side of the pool the water spills over into a fast-moving stream, suggesting that the pool is fed by a spring.

Walk closer to the water and find somewhere to sit. The ground near the pool is soft and comfortable, plump with moss and deep, thick grass. Once you are seated, try and look into the water. Let your eyes sink into the cool green depths, and see that amid the water-weeds, little fishes dart hither and thither. Some are bright silver and others are golden. Their movements are like flickering flames at the bed of the pool. What else can you see down here?

Bubbles rise from time to time, strings of minute silvery beads that burst as they reach the surface. Now and again, a larger fish rises, breaches the surface with a soft ‘pop’ and dives back down. Dragonflies hover, jewel-like, above the water. A few water lilies bloom, and on the margins other wild plants flower. There is a scent of mint from the water-mint that seems to grow everywhere.

The air is filled with the small sounds of nature, from bees to birds and behind it all, the song of the stream as it rushes over its pebbled bed. Though there are no man-made symbols, you know without a doubt that this is a sacred, beautiful place and you are blessed by being here. Sit awhile to let the blessing sink in, gazing on the reflection of the sky and the trees in the mirror-like water.

When you are filled with the peace of this place, dip your hands into the water and bathe your face with it. Cool, but not cold, it wipes away any weariness of soul and refreshes you for your return to the world beyond the sacred pool.

Originally posted on INVOLUTION: Science and God: Reality Redefined:

Following the Author’s Guild Debate between Joe Konrath and Matthew Yglesias  against Scott Turow and Franklin Foer on how much of a friend Amazon was to writers this post would seem timely:

A Writer Redefines the Gulf. (Biographically)

Interview with somewhat dispirited author, Vivienne Tuffnell ( Author of The Bet, Square Peg, Accidental Emeralds, Strangers and Pilgrims, Away with the Fairies and The Wild Hunt and other short stories;)

This interview was stimulated by Vivienne Tuffnell’s recent posts. The Loss of the Joy  expressed her recent (and perhaps current) despair and traced its origins to the act of publishing. Following the publishing betrayal by someone she believed would help, and through the necessity of shouldering all the marketing speak, as well as its underlying (and mostly unquestioned) precepts she seems to have reached a psychological ‘Road Closed Pending Repairs’ sign.

Gems Disappearing. The Black and White of Liberty…

View original 2,681 more words

Inch by inch ~ on how healing and harm are both incremental

I went to Quaker Meeting recently. I don’t go as often as I might, because the nearest Meeting is about 8 miles away and even if I were willing to drive, Sundays are days when my husband needs the car for work. It was as we were getting ready to go that I noticed it: two minutes after brushing and taming into a plait, my hair looked like I’d been in a high wind. Lots of fluffy new growth, curling its way out of my mane.

My parathyroid tumour, the unlamented Dexter, had affected every aspect of physical and mental health and one aspect I’d paid little attention to was the hair loss. I have enough hair for three normal people; it’s always been dense, coarse, somewhat curly and unruly. I had noticed some thinning near the hairline and along my parting, but given the condition was causing me enough pain to need opiate patches, I wasn’t worrying about my hair. Now, almost ten months after surgery, I can see regrowth in the form of a good number of new hairs, all around four or five inches long. Human hair grows at a rate of roughly half an inch a month. On a day to day basis, you don’t notice hair growth. The difference only shows after months or years.

I’ve struggled to regain my health, even though in theory, my healing began once the tumour was removed. I’d lost a lot of muscle and muscle takes a long while to rebuild. I’ve been feeling frustrated by the slowness of the rebuilding process; I’ve put in a lot of work and time and I still look and feel like a blob. But I know that my core muscles are there, now, and that in itself will help reduce strain on my joints. I had a fall on New Year’s day, spraining an ankle badly; but I realised that it hadn’t been as bad as it might have been as I’d strengthened that joint with the exercises. (I have a wobble board I use while waiting for the kettle to boil; it works on core muscles as well as ankle, knees and hips AND proprioception.)

When it comes to harm, in many cases it’s seldom the bolt from the blue kind, like an accident. In my own case, a combination of my Joint Hypermobility (including the poor proprioception), and my own unique foot shape, meant that my gait was ungainly and over time, it was causing strain on my whole musculo-skeletal system. Not only that, it meant that after being on my feet all day, I would be crying from the pain from my feet. Several joints were often swollen and painful. The last year, I have had custom-made orthotics in my shoes and now, walking without them feels odd and unpleasant. In addition, the damaged joints that had been showing signs of osteoarthritis are no longer swollen and they don’t hurt (often). It took years for the damage to be done, and after a year of support, the results are marvellous. I wish it had been dealt with much sooner.

Mental health problems often take many years, or a life time, to reach the level where they impact so harshly on life that you cease to be able to function adequately. Years of abuse wear down even the toughest of souls. Unhealed emotional pain remains toxic in the system. Every bi-polar episode has lasting effects, both as a result of the experience and as a result of actions taken during the episode. Any medication (including self medicating,) has lasting effects too. So expecting to heal instantly is unrealistic when the damage was done over a long period of time.

Little by little, we change and grow and heal. That’s why I see it as a healing journey, not a destination.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,523 other followers

%d bloggers like this: