Dame Julian and self-isolation – some lessons from the 14th century

Dame Julian and self-isolation – some lessons from the 14th century

Despite having her writings, we actually know surprisingly little about Dame Julian,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_of_Norwich the anchorite whose hermitage in Norwich remains a site for pilgrims to this day. We don’t even know her original name; she took the name of the saint whose church she became anchorite of. The church and the cell were bombed during the war but later rebuilt, stone by stone, and the place retains an atmosphere of calm and contemplation; the visitor centre next to it offers refreshments, access to their library and a lovely little gift selection. If you go, they also allow you to park next to the church if you ask for one of their parking permits that will ward off the eagle-eyed traffic wardens.

The 14th century was an especially turbulent one, taking in the Black Death (which reached Britain in 1348, ripping through populations weakened by 2 generations of malnutrition), wars, pogroms, The Peasants’ Revolt, social upheavals and religious movements galore. Dame Julian(born around 1342) saw the effects of the plague first hand, both the initial wave and the later wave that had a reduced effect. When she was around 30, during an illness that was almost fatal, she had a series of visions that are the basis for her writings, and which led to her becoming an anchorite after her recovery. While we know nothing for certain about her origins, education or life before the visions, given that she was 30 at the time, many have speculated that the likelihood was that she was or had been married, and may have had children. The surmise also goes that the illness she survived may have wiped out husband and children. Whatever the truth of this, the life she led after this cataclysmic illness and the visions was entirely different from what she must have led before it.

An anchorite was a hermit who pledged to stay in a single location, often walled in and supplied with the essentials of life via a small window. When a person became an anchorite, the service for the dead was performed, and they were then sealed in. However, they usually led productive lives, often making clothes for the poor and acting (via the window) as a counsellor to troubled souls. One of Julian’s visitors was the mystic Margery Kempe https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margery_Kempe who wrote of her visit to dame Julian. http://juliancentre.org/news/margery-kempe-who-met-julian-is-remembered-in-the-anglican-church-on-9th-november.html

One of the most famous of Julian’s sayings was “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” Sometimes people use this as a means of shutting up others who are worrying about what’s going on around them. Right now, there’s a lot of reasons to worry. Covid-19 is not the Black Death, but it’s a frighteningly infectious and potentially lethal virus, and there’s a lot of misinformation about it. Julian would have witnessed not just the Black Death but many other epidemics or pandemics that roared through the populace; mechanisms by which any disease spread were little understood then and it’s hard to imagine the terrible fear most people would have experienced. For many it may have felt like a judgement from an angry god. Even today, there are so-called Christians who are preaching that this pandemic is God’s judgement on a sinful human race; some who see this as stage in the end of the world prophecies that are supposedly laid out in the Book of Revelation. To that I say: utter tosh.

When the door closed behind Julian and she was sealed inside her cell, I wonder what she would have felt. Her faith, both in a good, kind, loving God rather than the hideous vengeful god usually depicted by the medieval church, would have kept her at peace, and her faith in the benefactors and supporters who ensured that she would be kept supplied with the necessaries of life meant that the usual worries and cares would be gone. She could focus on what she was there for: to pray, to work, to support others from her window, and also to write about her visions.

In my previous post I wrote about how pressured many of us feel by having so many reminders of what others (like Shakespeare) have accomplished in their time in quarantine. There’s a massive collective angst and anxiety that fills the air and reaches all of us who are sensitive to it, and many who otherwise would not be. It’s extremely hard to be creative when the world around us is filled with such turmoil and uncertainty and fear. It’s even harder when well-meaning people exhort us not to waste such an opportunity for extra time we didn’t know we had.

As well as the collective grief and fear and worry, there’s personal concerns that almost everyone is affected by; worries about money, jobs, family, the future. After losing my father six months ago, I had had a sense of relief that at least I didn’t have to worry about him getting the virus. The worry for my mother was short-lived, and replaced instead with immense shock and sadness when she passed away suddenly a few days ago.

I wonder how much of the collective grief that Dame Julian bore and prayed with in that little cell in Norwich, how many folks she comforted with her words of a loving God who cared for his children as a mother might. I would love to sit an hour in her cell now, and pour out my soul there, but I cannot. It may be many months before I can go anywhere that is deemed non-essential. But I can sit quietly in my home, and hold like hazel nuts the cares and sorrows of others, just as she did.

On the Dominance of Filthy Lucre

On the Dominance of Filthy Lucre

You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrases, “Money makes the world go round,” and “The love of money is the root of all evil”. In recent months, it’s become apparent to me that both these aphorisms are becoming more and more the reality, and not only does it annoy me, it scares me.

I’m not sure when I first noticed that the suggested products on the mighty ‘Zon were being steadily replaced by sponsored ads, but I really noticed it when my new book got its own page. Most authors have a look at what their books are paired with, and since I’d chosen (possibly naively) to list Méchant Loup: Modern Fables for Sensible Grown-ups https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1091667012/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0

under the genre fairy tales, I saw that beneath the listing were literally dozens and dozens of sponsored ads, supposedly for products related to my book. When it first came out, the sponsored ads beneath my book seemed to be retold fairy tales by only a couple of authors; books that had either just been released or were on pre-order. I glanced at them out of curiosity but none appealed to me. Méchant Loup isn’t a collection of retold fairy tales or even reimagined ones (with one exception of the title story), and given it’s intended for “sensible grown ups”, some of the sponsored ads were way off mark. Most of them if truth be told. I’d hoped that I might gain some traction in this category but I’d have been better listing in literary fiction. Or perhaps not.

The trouble is not just as an author. As a reader, I do glance at the suggested books under the listings of books I have enjoyed. But now it seems that the complex mathematical equations needed to predict what someone might like have gone terribly awry, directly as a result of the proliferation of paid ads. I suspect that few authors don’t now use paid advertising; from what I have heard through the jungle drums, it’s with diminishing returns. Some authors do not recoup from sales what they spent on advertising. I’ve yet to do a poll, but my gut feeling is that the general trend is spending more and more on advertising and get less and less back.

Being a writer is becoming ever more a mug’s game. The ones (like me) who are creating the content (what a hideous phrase) are not the ones garnering any real monetary rewards for the work. Worse still, it’s becoming horrifyingly common to discover that author mills are churning out books, often scraped illegally from the works of others, altered enough to pass the checks needed to be published, and published en masse, with paid reviews convincing enough to lure in more buyers.

Can you hear me sighing heavily?

It might have been the collective sighs of all of us demoralised writers that created Storm Ciara.

Everyone who can grab a piece of us is doing so. Every day I read of other writers who are being forced to give up doing what they love because they can no longer afford to do it. Don’t get me started on the continuing phenomenon of pirating books. One friend has done something I admire immensely, and has backed away from commercial publishing, and is producing limited edition, hand-bound books, available from her directly.

https://kathysharp2013.wordpress.com/2019/04/11/adventures-in-bookbinding-the-herbarium/

It satisfies the soul, and evades the risk of having your work scraped, pirated or plagiarised. I lack the skills to do so, but hats off to her.

The new book has been out a month and has now 7 fabulous reviews, but the initial burst of sales is dwindling, and I fear that before too long it will, along with all my other books that I cannot pay to advertise and will not even had I the money (because it’s clear authors are the cash cow of various industries), languish with only occasional readers.

I don’t have any answers. I try to pass on news about the books of others when I can, and appreciate those who have done that for me. We live in a world where filthy lucre is the only thing that seems to matter to the vast majority of the population; it makes me more and more want to retreat from it all, and not participate in this orgy of capitalistic nihilism.

World Weary Woman – her wound and transformation by Cara Barker

World Weary Woman – her wound and transformation by Cara Barker

If you were to ask me (I don’t recommend it if you are looking for a cheerful, uplifting answer) how I am, my most common answer is “I’m tired.” It’s a boring answer, and to some, a tedious one. “Oh we’re all a bit tired,” is sometimes what the response is. I gnash my teeth and stay silent. The tiredness of chronic illness, of M.E and other exhausting and debilitating conditions, is not the same as normal tiredness, yet people never believe it. There’s a sense that those of us with these conditions are somehow glamourising our exhaustion, demanding medals and accolades for taking the bins out.

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The incredible power of myths and fairy-tales

The incredible power of myths and fairy-tales

One of the highlights of last year (which was a truly awful year in most respects) was having the chance to go on a workshop with Caitlín Matthews http://www.hallowquest.org.uk/ Held at Woodbrooke, the Quaker study centre in Birmingham https://www.woodbrooke.org.uk/ , “The Paths to the Grail” remains an island of calm, learning, fellowship and a deep sense of the numinous, and a shining, beautiful couple of days of my life. A true oasis, if you like. I had wanted to go on one of her courses before, but never so much as this one. In the hell of all the horrible, sad events, this gave me respite.  Continue reading

Méchant Loup Modern Fables for Sensible Grown-ups

Méchant Loup

Modern Fables for Sensible Grown-ups

Time for a big announcement.

New book!

Yes, finally. When I was glancing through the files for this one, I saw that the start of the collection as such began around five years ago. It’s been a long five years, to be honest, and 2019 seemed to last for at least ten years.

Méchant Loup (which means big bad wolf) has been a labour of love. It’s also been one of uncertainty and no little fear too. Fear of abject failure, if I am honest. I spent a lot of time lurking online and frankly, the books that sell well right now tend to be cosy murder mysteries, paranormal fantasy, romance of all kinds, police procedural and crime thrillers. Not books of fables and fairy-tales. Nonetheless, here it is; I’ve sensed a need for this kind of reading, though and I hope that it hits the spot for many, many people.

Here’s the blurb:

For those of us who loved story-time, who knew that stories are not just to entertain for a few minutes or a few hours.

For those who know that story is a living thing that can live inside us, grow and change, and change us too.

For the dreamers who dream with their eyes wide open.

This book is for all of you.

The wolf-whistle cut across the cool evening air, shrill and insistent but the girl in red did not respond…”

From Tall Poppy Syndrome and the dark side of therapy, to New Age flim-flam and con artistry, through the battle against depression and burn-out, through the seductive and sinister side of libraries and books, and joining the fight against harassment embodied by the #Metoo movement, these modern fables and fairy tales will take you on a magical journey of discovery, enlightenment and wonder. Thirteen is a magic number. You’re never too old for story time. Are you sitting comfortably?

These stories weren’t written with the intention of creating a themed collection; each tale was written as it emerged, blinking in the light of day. Some I shared on my blog, some have languished quietly on my hard drive, read only by a few good friends. Each tale sprang from somewhere deep inside me and some surprised me by quite how strange they were. Gradually, I understood that they were fables, fairy tales and parables, rather than simple pieces of fiction written solely to entertain. Each carried something else with it, something I found hard to define.

During my exploration of the works of first generation Jungian authors, such as the inestimable Marie-Louise Von Franz, I started to understand that fairy tales and fables carry the weight of our collective unconscious. Far from being stories for children, they contain powerful truths for adults and for our evolving societies. Research based on various aspects including linguistics have shown that some tales may have a core that is many thousands of years old, some potentially dating back to the last Ice Age. These stories change and evolve over centuries, with the peripheral details often varying enormously; if the core remains relevant to the human condition, a fairy tale will endure and continue to speak to us.

I also discovered that while an individual cannot truly create a new myth or fairy tale, they can sometimes channel such a myth. In my heart I feel that with some of the stories in this book, I may have done just that. I have heard something speaking deep inside me and I have listened to its voice as attentively as I could and written it down. There are thirteen of them, a number which is magical for so many reasons.

Fables, fairy tales, myths and parables are often written in simpler language and concepts than we are now familiar with; they carry a kind of child-like purity, a throw-back to listening to stories as a small child, a memory almost lost to time. Some of these stories have elements of that spirit of storytelling; some are more modern in their telling. Some carry the energy of the cautionary tale, meant to warn and admonish. I have entitled the book as modern fables for sensible grown ups because I wanted to ensure that they reached the right audience. They are not written for children, (which is what the word ‘fable’ is usually held to mean), though I think some are eminently suitable to be read to children. I avoided using the word ‘adult’ for obvious reasons and I hope that the use of the word ‘sensible’ speaks for itself.

I’ve included the links for the UK versions below, which, in due course will become one link when they are joined together. Other Amazon stores can be accessed either by searching for the book by name or by changing the dot co dot uk in the URL to dot com or whichever store you usually shop at.

Reviews are far more important than folks think, even on books that have been out for a long time, because it gives the book more visibility by keeping it current. For new books, they’re especially important as (it is believed) the more a book accumulates, the more the mighty unnameable might choose to promote the book. This is not an exact science, alas, so if you can review a book you have liked (or loathed) please do.

UK Kindle version: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B083HGHSRB

UK paperback version: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1091667012

Fragments and Inertia (musings and mutterings)

Fragments and Inertia (musings and mutterings)

In the ten or so years since I began blogging I’ve seen a lot written about SEO (search engine optimisation), detailing how to gain greater prominence among the various search engines. I’ve concluded that for the most part, what gives greater prominence is paying for it, whether by using a paying platform, or by plug-ins that you also pay for, or by choosing a blogging platform closely allied to the companies that run search engines. So for years I tried to use titles that might spark interest or somehow be picked up by the search engines (I’m not naming any…). But these days, finding a title for a blog post mostly involves finding something, anything, by which I might find it again amid the thousand or so articles filed away. Hence the fairly uninspiring title of THIS post.

I wanted to write a post that gives some sense of what I’ve been doing and what I have managed to do and what I have not managed to do. Oh, and why.

Good news is that I am quite close to publishing a new book.

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A Decade of Tightrope Walking – a celebration of ten years of blogging

A Decade of Tightrope Walking – a celebration of ten years of blogging

February the 9th marks a full decade since I began Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking.

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Small things to reduce plastic use and other green tips

Small things to reduce plastic use and other green tips

Small things to reduce plastic use and other green tips

With the New Year came a plethora of articles and television programmes, basically with a new year-new you theme. The tidy fairy aka Marie Kondo has taught people to fold t shirts and declutter their homes. I’m not a fan of the whole decluttering lark, because it tends to actually create anxiety in many, because we are social animals and can feel pressure to conform and seek approval from our peers by following the trend even when we don’t really want or need to. And much of it is aimed at people who are financially secure enough so that getting rid of an item that still has use in it isn’t a problem if they suddenly discover they do need it six months down the line. They can just buy a new one. Nor am I am a fan of the idea that everything you own must spark joy. I’m more a fan of the William Morris adage: “Have nothing in your home you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

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An Epiphany, of sorts

An Epiphany, of sorts

Today marks Epiphany, the festival that for most marks the end of all things Christmas. It commemorates the arrival of the Magi, coming to pay their respects to the infant Jesus, though much of what people think they know about the Magi is a much later medieval addition. The bible does not give names to the visitors, nor does it state that there were three. That aside, it’s a charming addition; it personalises these shadowy visitors and gives them flesh and human attributes, as well as the gifts they brought, which were largely symbolic ones. I am sure that the holy family valued the gold; it probably got them through lean and difficult times. Frankincense was at one time worth the same ounce for ounce as gold and myrrh not far behind. I burn both during the Christmas period and I usually burn some beautiful incense called Three Kings after I take down the Christmas decorations (though the crib scenes remain until Candlemas).

But that’s not the epiphany I am talking about. The word has come to mean a sudden, dramatic and powerful revelation. During a recent episode of extra-nasty depression (that general base line for me is just fairly nasty and the extra-specially nasty was paralysing and unbelievably destructive) I had an insight I have had to sit with to see if it may be true, and that insight is the epiphany I’d like to explain.  Continue reading

O Christmas Tree!

O Christmas Tree!

(a slightly cynical short tale)

What am I bid for this lovely set of vintage, nay, antique, Christmas tree ornaments? Who’ll start the bidding at £10?”

She was never sure why she chose to bid that day; perhaps it was disappointment that the items she had been after had gone beyond her limit. Perhaps it was the chill outside and the few lonely flakes of snow drifting down; maybe the holly and the ivy dotted around the auction house put her in a festive mood. It may even have been the softly twinkling bauble that the auctioneer held up, twirling on a wisp of thread. Whatever it was, she found herself determined to buy something that day, and though she spent more than she intended, once she’d looked at the ornaments, she realised she’d got a bargain. Continue reading