“There’s gold in them there hills…oh, no, now wait a minute…!”

There’s gold in them there hills…oh, no, now wait a minute…!”

A couple of years ago now we worked our way through a dvd box set of the hit series Deadwood. Set in the town of Deadwood (a real place) and following the fortunes of various people (many of whom have the names if not the actual characters of real, historical and sometimes famous people), during the Gold Rush period.

At the time, it rang a lot of bells about the way the self-publishing world was going and since then, I’ve thought about it a lot.

I first began publishing my own books in 2011 (though Strangers and Pilgrims was first published by someone else for me, it was a false start about eighteen months before I finally took it back and began again). It was a time somewhat akin to the early years of the Gold Rush. A new, exciting and potentially extremely lucrative adventure awaited those who were willing to just get their work out there, battling the new tech and avenues the way the prospectors battled weather and mountains and so on.

But gold is buried deep, is hard to find and seams run out unexpectedly and anyone who made plans based on a first lucrative lucky strike were fools if they thought the gold would just keep on coming. I’ve seen it said that the entire amount of gold in the world would fill an Olympic sized swimming pool and no more than that. Gold is finite but hope is eternal. The cannier inhabitants of Deadwood became the suppliers instead of prospectors. They opened saloon bars, shops and brothels; they sold food and drink, shovels and pans, flesh and promises and treasure maps to the folks who flocked there believing they’d make their fortune.

You really can’t blame them. They’d been lured there themselves by the dangling carrot of unlimited wealth if you just dug long enough in the right places, and when they’d got enough to start a business of some sort, the wise ones quit prospecting. As long as people continued to flock or even trickle there, hope in their hearts and enough dollars to buy equipment and whisky, the legends would keep being retold. It only took the occasional lucky strike to keep hope fresh and new legends to be forged.

It’s the same with self publishing and probably publishing generally. We all hear tales of people whose work suddenly went viral and they sold millions; we all probably secretly still believe it could be us, if we just stay out there. But few of us are making any money any more. There’s a whole other debate about whether writing for money is a fool’s game anyway, and another about whether ethically and faith-motivated folks are allowed to ever admit that some of their motivation for writing is in the hopes of making a living or even a decent paying hobby or second job. I’m not going there today.

The people who have a chance of making a living are those who now run businesses selling to the writers. Whether it’s editing services, formatting, cover design or one of a plethora of services deemed needful for authors, aspiring or otherwise, there’s a LOT of canny people out there, offering it. Organisations like Book Bub offer dreams of success through their advertising services (which cost, and dearly and they’re choosy who they will take on for a campaign) bringing your book in front of an audience that matches the demographic your book is aimed at.

For me, I’ve realised that I’m a gold panner. I’m someone who goes out weekends and evenings, with makeshift equipment and warmly-padded waders, and stands bent over a fast-flowing mountain stream, sifting gravel and occasionally finding grains of gold. Once in a while, a nugget comes my way. Sometimes, the dynamite someone has used higher up the mountain has loosened more rocks that bear gold, and I find that the tiny specks come to me more often. But it’s the process of being out there, looking at the fish and the sparkling water and the occasional gleams of precious metal, and knowing that while I could have boxed smarter and found another way to garner my gold, at least I am still doing what I set out to do, and still have a tiny bit of hope in my heart.

A Wall of Ice – Solstice at the Cave

Solstice at the Cave 2014

A Wall of Ice

The light in my cave is poor; the further back from the entrance I’ve been forced to retreat, the darker it has become. Shadows dance on the rock walls, from the slow-burning fire and from the tiny clay chirag that burns night and day with a golden glow and a smell of rancid fat. The entrance gives a faint blue luminescence. Every time it has snowed, I have shovelled it all back, piling it up until the accumulation of snow has become compacted, a wall of ice that reared and then closed over the cave mouth. It would have sealed me in but for a slot no wider than my body that I have somehow maintained, sometimes at great cost, using an axe to hack out the ice that builds up.

I lie in a smoky stupor, wrapped in skins and wool blankets. I rise when hunger, thirst or other needs compel me, but otherwise I curl into my nest of a bed, like a bear. I do not sleep precisely, but I dip into dreams and waking dreams, and though I keep track of the days that pass, I am never sure I am keeping count properly. I make a notch on a stick each morning, but some days it seems that the sun never rises properly. I keep the entrance open, but I don’t often go out. The last time I did, I saw that the forest below was mostly buried by snow, dark green firs poking out but everything else covered by metres of snow. The air was so still I could see my breath turn to ice in front of me.

The cave is well provided for, with fire wood stacked around the walls and supplies of food hidden at the back of the cave. Each new blizzard forced me further and further back into the depths, but now, the wall of ice insulates me from the worst of the cold. I melt water chipped from the wall with my wood-axe, and heat that on my fire. I measure out every stick I burn, every mouthful I eat. I do not know if it will last till the thaw, or yet, till the spring.

The blue light filtering in is moonlight, spilling eerie shifting silver beams into the darkness of the cave. I drag myself to the front of the cave, to see the moon’s phase and gauge how deep into winter we have come. Easing my body into the narrow slot, I feel my clothes catch on the ice. When I reach the end, I see that new snow has filled the gap almost to the top and I must now dig it out again before it freezes too hard. The work makes me sweat and pant; I have done little but this for exercise for what feels like many months. When I break through, and begin to shovel the loose snow back out of the gap, I feel the harsh wind rip into me, flinging back some of each shovel-full. The night has cleared, and I can see a half moon, a slender curving blade, hanging up in a very black sky. I flatten the loose snow, stamping it down, before I retreat inside again, to pull all my covers over me. My mouth is dry but I am too tired to seek a drink.

The dim blue glow of the moon is soon blotted out and I hear the whine and howl of the wind as a new storm breaks over my mountain, and I turn away, watching the dance of the fire and the chirag. I should bank the fire, make sure it will burn for many hours but instead I drift into sleep. When I wake, it is with a jerk of fear. The sound of the storm is gone, and the air inside my cave is very still and my fire is but embers.

When I run to the entrance, to the wall of ice, I can see that the gap has been filled by more snow. I touch it, and find it has frozen solid. It would take me many hours to hack my way out now, and I do not want to go out. Not into that wild, bitter, frozen wasteland of winter.

I sit down by my fire, feeding it with kindling to coax it back to life, and I place a cauldron of ice on it. I pick up my tally stick and count the days. It would seem that we have reached mid-winter, but I cannot go out to greet the sun. The next few days, the sun will stand still, until the climb towards spring begins. As the cauldron steams and the ice melts, I shiver. I must take it on trust that the thaw will come in time and I will be freed from my prison of ice.

Equinox at the Cave

Equinox at the Cave

There are cobwebs everywhere when I move through from the long dark tunnel and into the subdued light of the cave.

At first I think this is simply because it’s been so long since I’ve been here but as I look around, I realise that the place is different from when I was last here. The light streaming into the cave has a mellow, golden tone to it, and the air smells not of sap and spring flowers but of wood-smoke and that spicy, musky odour of fallen leaves. When I get to the entrance, I see there are things waiting for me; this is always the way: I arrive and I find that something has been prepared for me.

In the brisk wind, I see Reindeer waiting at the fire-pit, the breeze ruffling dense fur. I bow my greeting before burying my face in that soft warm fur. It has been too long and I am ashamed of my absence. I had felt unworthy to come here, laden and burdened with anger and a desire to hurt those who had hurt me, so my visits stopped. I did not wish to pollute this sacred space with my pain, though surely I should have known it would heal me to be here. I am a fool.

I feel a touch and I look up; the great soft muzzle has nudged me to alertness and with one unmistakable gesture I am directed to investigate the things left at the entrance. I get to my feet but as I move, I sense Reindeer getting up and moving away. The pile of objects left for me are puzzling and delightful. The first is a heap of pebbles, white quartzite polished to a sheen, each so large I cannot close my fingers around it. They are heaped upon a folded blanket of crimson and other colours. There is a design woven into it but I cannot interpret the figure in the middle. The wool is dense and soft and will be very warm. The final item is a long plush feather, barred in beige and white; by the feel I think it may be from an owl.

I am alone. My guardian spirit is close by and I know I am safe as the sun dips below the horizon, far off beyond the endless forest that stretches out below my ledge. I set to and light the fire, feeding it with the pine cones that litter the pure white sand around me. One by one, as the sky turns darker, the stars emerge, pinpoints of brilliant white light in a velvet canopy. The night is cool, and is becoming colder, so I fetch the blanket and wrap myself in it and I sit close to the fire.

My head nods and I have to stop myself falling into a dream state. Perhaps I have for as I gaze into the fire, I see eyes gazing back at me from the other side of the fire-pit. At first I think my guardian has returned but then I see that there are not two eyes but eight that watch me, without blinking. In the dancing shadows I see that my new companion is a being that baffles all comprehension.

As the light flickers, she too flickers, changing from one form to another. At one moment she is a an elderly woman, her face stern and wise and webbed by lines of experience that make her visage more beautiful than a smooth young face could be. At another moment I see a vast Spider, lovely but alien and strange. Perhaps I should be afraid but I am not; instead I am simply overwhelmed with the honour of this visitor.

Greetings, Grandmother,” I say, bowing, even though I sit cross-legged and swathed in my blanket.

She bows back and we sit, facing each other through the fire, companionable but silent. I do not know what to say and I wait for her to speak. As my Elder, she must have come with a message, but for a long while she sits, her hands moving but her voice stilled. Gradually I see that she is weaving, or perhaps knitting, and her clever fingers are creating something out of yarn.

The night draws on and I am glad of the fire. My legs grow stiff, and reluctantly I get to my feet to stretch them.

Bring the stones.”

Her voice is melodic and sweet, but it makes me jump because I had begun to think she would not speak at all.

Bringing a few at a time, I carry all the pebbles to the fire side and when I offer to bring them to her, she shakes her head. She had settled on form and much of me is relieved that she has chosen to remain as Grandmother, leaving her Spider form. I settle down again and look at her, quizzically.

Build me a tower with the stones,” she asks.

The stones are too rounded, surely, but I obey and time and time again, I manage to balance one pebble on another, and sometimes even a third, yet always, the fourth one’s placing causes the tower to tumble. She laughs, as a mother might at a child’s folly.

I drop the stones and lower my head, feeling my cheeks redden and I struggle to force the anger down again.

I can’t,” I say. “I can’t.”

I can,” she says, and when I glare at her, my eyes filled with skepticism and anger, she laughs again.

Show me,” I ask, ruder than I ought to be to this Being.

She comes to my side of the fire and I see that she has been weaving a long, thin net. She picks each stone very carefully slides it into the net until it is full and all the stones are contained within it. She holds the end of the net, and the stones jostle for a moment before settling.

But that’s cheating,” I say, outraged. “It’s not standing by itself, even.”

She laughs and very slowly removes her grip on the net. To my astonishment, the structure remains upright and intact. For about ten seconds, it stands before toppling to one side. Some of the stones spill out.

I am chastened. I do not ask her why she asked me to build an impossible tower, but instead I gather the stones and the net back together and I hold two of the pebbles, one in each hand. They are of the same weight and size and the cool surface of each is a pleasure to touch.

Not everything must last forever,” she says. “I bound those stones together for a short time. Now those stones are free to be something else.”

I do not understand but I do not really need to; this is something to ponder in the long nights to come. The stars have shifted since I first began my vigil and I sense that we have come to that still point, where for a short time, day and night are of equal length before inexorably, night becomes longer and the days brief and cold. I take the two stones, and I manage to balance one upon the other, and I leave them by the side of the fire-pit. The Being on the other side stands up, her body filled with grace and strength that bely her ancient nature.

You may bind things together and they may stay bound for a time,” she says. “But having once been bound, they will always remember the binding. It is the remembering that is important. That is my gift.”

She raises a hand and in my mind, I also see her raise palps and she slips away down the trail that begins at the edge of the sand. I sit back down and wait for the dawn. I slip into sleep, and I wake to find Reindeer next to me, my head resting on warm flanks. All around the cave, all over the bushes at the edge of the ledge, are a million webs shining with jewels of dew. The blanket slides off my shoulders as I rise to my feet to stretch, and as I pick it up off the sand to fold it, I see clearly for the first time the design woven into the wool.

A stylised spider sits at the centre of a web whose threads make the words: Grandmother Spider Wove The World.

As I walk back into the cave, I find the feather. I had forgotten this gift and as I lift it to the morning light, I see that the end of the feather is shaped; the hard keratin end has been fashioned into a nib.

I have no ink,” I say aloud, but Reindeer is asleep and there is no one to answer me.

http://mxtodis123-maidenmotherandcrone.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/grandmother-spider.html

https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/sunrise-on-the-solstice-the-view-from-the-cave/

I have fallen in love

I have fallen in love… with goldfish

Earlier this year we decided that it was high time our pond was populated with something a bit brighter and shinier than frogs, toads and newts so we went to a garden centre and bought a batch of goldfish. At a pound each, these little tiddlers weren’t expensive or exotic but in terms of making me smile, they turn out to be priceless.

So when they started turning up dead, or dying, chomped on by dragonfly nymphs, I was pretty upset. There’s masses of things in the pond for the nymphs to hunt, and that’s the natural order of things. Of the thousands of tadpoles, toad-poles and newt-poles (yes, I am making up these names) very few will make it to adulthood and join in the joyous orgiastic frenzy of mating that made our pond this spring an interesting spectacle to rival the Serengetti (but on a very small scale). That’s just how it is: nature, red in tooth and claw. But I felt very protective of my pretty little fish, who have no defence (I don’t think they even have teeth, as such) and every time one bobbed up, dead, I was angry. We cleared away some of the overgrowth so that they had more clear water to enjoy without being ambushed by beings that closely resemble the Aliens from, well, Alien (jaws that shoot out a distance out of the creatures head).

No more dead fishies. But with clear water came greater visibility and more chance to observe the fish. And watching them has become a very powerful thing. They do things. They have a social order and a hierarchy among the shoal. They each have personalities and quirks. And I realised that I love them, very dearly, and they will never know this, for what way can I, a human, speak to them, small fish of the carp family?

So I feed them. I stand and watch them. I speculate about their lives, their feelings. They do odd things that I cannot fathom. One of their activities is to lie in the shallows, inert and still. First time I saw one do this, I thought it was dead and scooped it up in my hand. The fish woke up, and thrashed around and I released it back into the water. On a sunny day, you might find almost all of them lined up in the shallows, sleepy and unresponsive.

I began to tickle them. I don’t want them in the shallows, as crows come to the pond to drink, so I want to make them stay in deeper water. I have speculated long on why they do this, and I have no idea. Perhaps they are meditating, the way we might meditate on a mountain top. I can’t ask them and they can’t tell me. Sometimes I see them at the surface, blowing bubbles. For all I know they might be praying, or trying to communicate with me.

So I will continue to try to care for them, even though they can never thank me, or speak with me, or even really meet, as minds. Every time I see their gleam, flashing past as they swim, often in formation, they gladden my heart, and deep inside me, I hope that in their own fishy way, they know I love them. 

Pond Painting

The Magician’s Nemesis

The Magician’s Nemesis ~

I have a very special knack of getting things wrong sometimes. Really, really wrong. I sometimes unconsciously pick up on the underlying currents of relationships and somehow come out with the precise remark that was either in the mind of the other person, or the very thing they would rather never hear. I do it a lot, and sometimes it’s a little spooky and sometimes it seems to be enough to topple a whole house of cards. I’m working at becoming a bit more conscious and censoring it long enough to consider what I am saying. But when I get tired, ill or stressed, it seems to happen even more and things can go wrong.

I also have a knack of being in completely the wrong place at the wrong moment. At school, I was a great fielder at baseball and rounders because I kept getting hit by stray balls. Over the Easter weekend I was at Phantasialand near to the city of Cologne for work. The group I was with all loved roller-coasters and rides, so it was quite a lonely day for me. Added to which it was so cold and snow kept drifting down, and I was suffering with an ongoing migraine attack that meant I was hazy and unfocussed, and the cold had got to my kidneys(which are somewhat scarred after infections), making them ache like crazy. I loathe roller coasters; they make me ill and I simply cannot see the point of them, so there was no way I was even going to go on any. I’ve tried enough in my time to know I’m never, ever going to enjoy them and I’m not going to do something that will make me ill just to prove something.

But one thing I did really want to go and see was the magician. I love magic. Even knowing it’s all fake makes no difference. I love watching even when I know how it’s done. There’s something so incredibly clever about it all. Christian Farla’s Sieben show was superbly Gothic, with elements of steam-punk and delicious costumes. I was a little late, and was the last person into the theatre, scurrying to the back where I thought I’d seen a spare seat. But when I got there it wasn’t spare at all, so I sat on a box at the back that I thought was probably something to do with storage. Almost as soon as I sat, the show started.

Mesmerised, I watched. But about halfway through I was startled to find a man in black coming down a ladder next to me and informing me (in German) that I wasn’t sitting in a good place, and needed to move, now. I shifted off my box and sat on the floor, feeling horribly embarrassed. Ten minutes later, the escapologist act that involved a giant, steam-punkish scorpion and a circular saw showed me why I had been sitting in entirely the wrong place. The box was where Mr Farla descended from the gods once he had escaped from the fatal scorpion. Had I not been moved, he’d have landed on me. I felt a complete idiot. Perhaps I am.

Or perhaps I am simply The Fool. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fool_(Tarot_card)#Symbolism That person who does and says the things that exist behind the serene surface of what we think is reality, that dark underbelly that most are oblivious of. That person who taps into what’s really going on and like the small child in The Emperor’s new clothes, actually blurts it out to the horror of all who would prefer to keep a lid on it all. That person who instinctively knows that things are not as they seem and somehow manages to blow the whole illusion sky high, showing all the naked flaws and ugliness beneath the masks.

Perhaps.

What goes around, comes around ~ compost, Karma and kindness

Greenman by candlelight

What goes around, comes around ~ compost, Karma and kindness

One of the hardest things about moving house is leaving behind a garden you have nurtured and cherished. I used to be a gardener. I am still one inside, but after our last move, from one garden that was far too big (an acre, if you’re curious) to one that was far too small, I lost heart. I found I just couldn’t do it any more. The garden was tiny and the soil exhausted and slightly toxic from overuse in the past of both weed-killer and chemical fertilizers. Turn a spade and nothing wriggled. We tended it but for me it was without enthusiasm.

But diligently we filled our two remaining composters, with teabags, veg peelings and the like. Our garden in Kegworth, we’d had a row of six Daleks and when we left, I gave 4 of them away to a freecycler who also filled some sacks with the beautiful well-rotted compost those Daleks had contained. This year, the composter in use was a glorious mass of wriggly soil workers: hundreds upon hundreds of worms.

So of course, the move became more than speculation, became a reality and it dawned on me that for the umpteenth time, I’d be leaving behind perfect compost. We dug that batch into the veg patch. If nothing else we’d restored that small patch of earth to something like a fertile, healthy soil.

Moving house is up there in the top ten stresses. I’d fretted myself almost into a breakdown by the time moving day came, paralysed by sheer anxiety into a state resembling a rabbit in the headlights. No amount of reassurance made a difference. I’ve been ambivalent about this move for lots of reasons; I suspect some of it is based on deep distrust of the bureaucracy the church can be infamous for, and also because it meant that a certain level of independence would be lost. But sometimes you just have to go where the Wind blows you, and in the end, I let go and just allowed myself to be borne away on that Wind.

I’ve just about emerged from walls of boxes now. Apart from my study most of the boxes are unpacked and the house feels like home. It doesn’t quite smell like home yet but I am working on that. The acid test is when my mum arrives next week and walks in the front door and takes a big sniff. I’ll let you know what she says.

In the first few days, I worked solidly at unpacking but one evening my other half told me something that was a pleasant surprise. There’s an area behind the garage that’s what you might call a ‘service area’ with a compost bin and such like behind a trellis fence. It turns out that there’s a compost heap too. It’s about twelve feet long and about five deep, and 3 feet high. There must be a good metric tonne of well rotted compost here. I suspect that this is about the same as all the compost I’ve left behind in the last twenty years.

There are also a dozen or so apple trees. In the last gardens I have planted dozens of trees (literally) and I don’t think when it comes to apples, I’ve ever stayed long enough to ever taste a single one. We once grew asparagus from seed; by the time we left that garden, it was getting close to being ready to crop. We never got to eat any.

Many years ago, when we had our first garden, a friend asked me why I was bothering to plant things when we knew we’d only be there for three years. At the time I answered somewhat acerbically that what was the point in doing anything when we’re only on this planet for perhaps eighty or so years. The thing is, planting trees that one will never live to see in their prime is a selfless act. One is planting for a future generation, never for oneself. If no one did it, imagine the world in fifty years time.

So seeing both copious compost and abundant apples in my new garden was a reminder that sometimes things do catch up with us. The good we do, and the bad. When you sow kindness, it’s because it’s the right thing to do, and not because you hope that kindness will be repaid one day. It won’t be. Kindness is a gift, once given, and given with no thought of return, which benefits the receiver first. But the giver benefits too, from simply doing a kind thing. Yet at times I wonder if there is some rough balance that means you tend to get back what you have freely given. I don’t believe in the so-called Law of Attraction at all, yet I do believe in grace. You don’t have to deserve it, yet perhaps when we have chosen to do good and be kind, grace finds it easier to find us. Maybe you just notice it more.

I tend to (wrongly) associate the word Karma with the negative, of punishment rather than a redressing of balance, but the principle still seems to be there. The evil we do does come back to roost, in the end. Our problems come when we wish to see the evil of others catch them up when and where we can see if and feel that justice has been done. I’m guilty of this at times, of wanting those who have chosen to hurt me to get their come-uppance and for me to know about it. That’s something I have to let go of. It’s not up to me.

There’s lots of work to do, to make my new home more home-like and to nurture and cherish the new garden, and find a job and so on. But now I am here, I’ve generally slept better (that’s another post!) and feel better. I’ve begun to understand where some of the extreme anxiety had been coming from (again, another post). But the Wind has blown me here, and here I have landed. Time to see what else the Wind may bring.

Finding the Rosetta Stone ~ communicating and miscommunicating

 Finding the Rosetta Stone ~ communicating and miscommunicating

 

I’ve been silent here for a few weeks. Part of this is because both work and personal life have been stressful and fatiguing, but part of it is because I felt as though I’d somehow not measured up. I felt as though I’d not managed to convey what was in my mind in such a way that meant it was understood easily. Words are sometimes imperfect messengers; one can use too many or too few and often use the wrong ones, or the right ones in the wrong way.

I felt frustrated by my own inexpertise.

So, I shut up.

About time too, perhaps some might think. Who do I think I am, to be sharing my thoughts with all and sundry?

But it did set me thinking about what could make communicating easier and clearer. About what might scotch the misunderstandings that lead to fights between loved ones and even between nations. And what changes I might need to make to make my own attempts at dialogue with the world better.

I wrestled with metaphors as a hunter might wrestle with bears or crocodiles and inevitably came off the worst.

So I stayed silent.

London was quiet this weekend, and it meant for the first time I could get close to this statue I’d never managed to photograph before without someone else being in the photo:

 

I stared for some minutes and remembered a poem I’d always loved:

Ozymandias

 

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ozymandias

As Shelley wrote this poem, no one could read hieroglyphs, and no one knew the names of the Pharoahs so guesses were made to give names to the statues etc. At the same time, diligent work was being done to decipher this strange writing. By 1822, enough progress had been made to begin to read ancient Egyptian and find the true names of the lost kings of the old kingdoms. The key to understanding was this inscription: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosetta_Stone which was written in three languages. The same words, using different letters in different languages. It revolutionised the study of ancient Egypt. It was the missing piece of the puzzle.

So what is the missing piece in my problem? What would make communicating difficult, nebulous, mystical concepts easier? What would make sharing the contents of my psyche and soul clearer?

I think I may know the answer.