Monday Meditation: the Sacred Pool

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.

Defining the Gulf: The Debate: Writers seeking Readers. At what Cost? To Both?

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…

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

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.

“A puff of wind swept away in the storm.”

A puff of wind swept away in the storm”

“The West has unfortunately not yet awakened to the fact that our appeal to idealism and reason and other desirable virtues, delivered with so much enthusiasm, is mere sound and fury. It is a puff of wind swept away in the storm of religious faith, however twisted that faith may appear to us. We are faced, not with a situation that can be overcome by rational or moral arguments, but with an unleashing of emotional forces and ideas engendered by the spirit of the times, and these, as we know from experience, are not much influenced by rational reflection and still less by moral exhortation.” Carl Gustav Jung, The Undiscovered Self (1957)

In this quote from The Undiscovered Self, Jung was writing about Marxism and Communism. Anyone who lived through or grew up during the Cold War as I did will remember the constant tensions that rippled through the whole of society in the West. These are tensions that are renewed and given new and horrible life in each generation. Events in Paris last week have rocked the entire world. I have no answers. Humankind needs to reach a maturity of spirit before we destroy each other utterly.


The Loss of the Joy

The Loss of the Joy

I don’t know precisely when it really began, this loss. They say when you lose something you should go back to the last time you know you had it and work forward until you see when it stopped being there. It worked for the dog lead (it fell in the river) and it worked for my daughter’s purse left behind in a shop in Glastonbury (it was handed in, much to my surprise, money intact). I still had it when I began this blog in 2009, I know that. Looking back, though, I can see it started to disappear not long after that.

Did blogging drive away my joy in writing? No, I don’t think so. I still have a ghost of joy, sitting with me as I write this. After all, I still manage to blog once a week. How many folks can manage that after six years of blogging?

No, I think it started to go around the same time I began to explore the possibility of publishing. At the time, someone else was involved and that involvement is a part of it, because it infected me with a belief I’d never quite entertained, that my value is based on my saleability as a writer. Even during the times when I was sending off work to agents and publishers, and getting rejections based entirely on whether they thought a book would sell enough copies to be worth taking a punt on me, I don’t think it truly sank in that my value as a person was tied so closely to my commercial viability.

Even during the first year or so when Strangers and Pilgrims was first released (solely as a paperback), low sales didn’t affect me that way. It was enough that the book was out there. I didn’t see myself as a failure because it had sold so few copies. I saw myself as perhaps unsuited to the task of marketing, something at the time I thought was someone else’s job. Then when that someone was gone, it became my job and I think that’s when the rot set in.

The events of 2011 that I have avoided writing about but which affected me deeply left me unwilling and possibly unable to trust anyone with my work. Being let down and left in the lurch by someone you did trust entirely means that it could happen again. I had thought myself a good judge of character but I was wrong. I could be wrong again. So everything to do with my writing is entirely my job, from the writing of the stories to the finding of cover art, to the onerous matter of marketing. It’s probably the same for most self-publishers, so I’m not moaning about that. I know of people let down badly by micro-publishers who went under and refuse to release the rights to books back to their authors.

No, at some point from then on, exacerbated by my parathyroid tumour fogging my brain, the sheer delight I used to get from writing, began to disappear. I’ve said before how we each have an individual and limited supply of creative energy. Mine is being drained by the demands from all the other aspects of self-publishing. I’m constantly being reminded that readers no longer see a sales link and click on it (and maybe buy) and that writer-publishers need to find better and more creative ways to court their readers, make friends with them on social media and get people interested in what they write about. It feels ever so slightly like readers have become the natural prey of authors. Recent scandalous stories about authors stalking readers (right to their homes or places of work, and in one case, hitting a reader over the head with a wine bottle because of a bad review!) seem to confirm this move. There is an ick factor about this that nauseates me. At best, it is unseemly and unpleasant. Yet in essence this is what the majority of advice on marketing boils down to: go to where the readers are and solicit their attention. The cleverer you are about it, the less the victim realises they have been seduced. Giveaways, competitions, blog hops, they’re all part of the same process of getting the attention of potential readers. They take energy, and they take time and from what I have read, they yield lower results each year. Some competition winners then sell on the books they win without even looking at them. There is a vast ocean of books out there and a flotilla of rafts bearing authors all pointing their oars at a speck in the ocean indistinguishable from all the other specks, shouting, “BUY MY BOOK!” all at the tops of their voices.

And if you don’t sell, you’re a failure. You’re told to pull up your big girl panties, do your research, do the necessary work of learning new skills. Or give up and stop clogging the ocean with your specky books. Make way for worthier candidates who are keen and eager to do the work and sell the books, with more seductive cover art and lower prices and more booty in the free merchandising line.

I’ve unconsciously taken it all in, like poison, and my dropping sales figures are like a direct connection to my self esteem. I believe in poetry, and last year I released a small collection Accidental Emeralds. I’m preparing a larger collection for release this spring. Yet that first book has sold less than twenty copies world-wide. It seems utter folly and a complete waste of time and energy to put out another book so that it can bomb. I’m doing it because I believe it’s important to have it out there, but even so, it fills me with great sadness.

The rise in e-book prices because of VAT has meant I must make a decision to either leave the prices with the 20% raise that is taken in VAT, or lower them and lose that money from each sale, because people have a price point they stick to when it comes to books, and a rise in 50p or less puts mine over that price point. I don’t know what to do for the best.

It’s been the combination of all these factors that has meant that the joy I used to experience about writing has all but gone. There’s a part of me that just can’t be arsed with it any more. Everything has become overlaid with the demand for commercial success and that changes everything. There is nothing wrong per se in wanting to sell books; but when it has seeped into everything, and has changed your self-worth in the process, that’s a problem.

I used to love the process of writing, of starting a story and seeing where it might go; of spending hours daydreaming and spying on the little maelstrom of a world inside my head, and then writing it all down. Now I find I can’t. I have ideas, and then I realise they’ve all been done before and are stale, chewed over and done to death. I have no less than four novels in varying states of undress on my hard drive. One clocks in at over 50k words, and I’ve been limping along on that one for two years. It’s very good, even though I say so myself, but unless something in me changes, it may never be finished. All the energy and enthusiasm that should be going on that are swallowed up in things like trying to figure out how to produce a cover for another novel, on when is the best time to start the release process for the sequel to The Bet, and staring at a flat-lining Kindle dashboard that seems to tell me no-one wants to read what I’ve already written so why oh why am I churning out yet more?

You might say, perhaps you need a publisher to take care of all that. Well, perhaps a publisher might take care of stuff like covers, but it’s been many years since they have done any marketing for any but the biggest of authors . And I’d still have the pressure of deadlines looming over me to drive away the stories. It’s a bigger issue than that of publishing books and one that pertains to the arts in general and our appreciation and need for them. I won’t go all political one you (perhaps in another post) but the culture itself has been subtly damaged over the years so that commerce rather than creativity is the gold standard of what is of worth to us.

I’m not sure I have any answers. I don’t feel I can take my eye of the ball entirely, withdraw from trying to sell books and concentrate on finding my writing mojo again. It’s a pretty fast-moving world and the current thinking is that those with endurance skills are those who may succeed, if not by merit then by persistence. It’s certainly worked for many who have doggedly churned out four or more books a year, though in some cases I’d see those as of very dubious quality. Being constantly in the public eye is a strategy that works for some, but I’m not willing to chuck out that many books a year, even though I have a significant body of work on my hard drive. If I don’t tackle my own malaise, it’s only a matter of time before I run out of completed work.

It’s a new year and no one knows what it may bring; the changes so far in the book world have been staggering and unimaginable ten years ago. I must trust in my own journey and see where it takes me. It’s taken me some amazing places already; the fact that I’m currently mired in the Slough f Despond ought not to mean I will be buried in it.

If you have seen my joy, do return it to me. I’ll be most grateful. I do really miss it. It gave me a reason to get up in the mornings.