Janus, the two faced god ~ looking backwards and forwards at the same time

Janus, the two faced god ~ looking backwards and forwards at the same time

Anyone who knows me even a little knows how interested I’ve always been in Roman culture; indeed, that love of all things Roman led to me doing a joint honours degree, one half English, one half Latin.

Janus is of course the Roman god who gives his name to our first month of the year, January, and while I don’t want to dwell too much on the past it’d be a good thing to have a quick look at what 2012 brought me. I’m also not one for resolutions but in the spirit of Janus, I would like to take a peep ahead too.

In many ways, the year was a maelstrom of changes and of seeming chaos. March-time my mental health broke finally and for some weeks I was incapacitated and unable to face leaving the house alone. The trigger for this was a trampled bunch of daffodils but the reasons, the causes so much deeper. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the darkness those poor flowers revealed. What I told my GP a day or two after the meltdown meant he made me an emergency appointment with the mental health support team. I’m not going in to much detail but I feel disappointed in the process. In theory moving house ought not to have made any difference, but in fact, relocating meant that I lost my place on a waiting list for some help, and had I chosen to go to my new GP to restart the process I would have been obliged to go back to the very beginning and restart the whole thing from scratch. I’ve chosen not to do so (yet) simply because at present none of the options I may be offered would actually be of any benefit to me.

I was resistant to the idea of returning to a parish, hostile even, yet there were clear signs along the way that it was the right thing. We moved here in September, and I’m still finding my feet. I’ve left my teaching job behind, as it’s too far to travel back when work comes in for the money offered. A new job has yet to materialise, though I’ve been looking. I even had a careers interview which was very helpful in identifying my key skills, and suggesting looking for work in mentoring. I can only hope that something comes along.

Writing-wise, this has been a year of surprises. I’ve put out two new books this year. The Wild Hunt came out in February on Kindle, and The Bet came out in late September. My two previous books, Strangers and Pilgrims and Away With The Fairies had been ticking over, selling both on Kindle and in paperback, but from May onwards, sales saw a steady then meteoric rise, and from May both started to appear on several of the best-sellers lists for Kindle. Strangers has been consistently in the top 100 for personal transformation and often also the top 100 for self-help/ spirituality. The highest it rose to was 8. Away With The Fairies nudged its head onto the top 100 for women’s literary fiction a few times since its release but from May it landed there and has stayed there ever since, getting as high as 14 a few times. The Wild Hunt has in the last 3 months begun to climb steadily, getting into the top 100 for fairy tales and myths, consistently, then slipping off again. The weekend I launched The Bet, it shot into the top 100 for psychological fiction, but it didn’t stay there. I believe it will start to rise soon, judging from the pattern of the other books. I don’t write this to boast but rather to encourage other writers who may read this blog that if a book seems to be dead in the water, things can and do change. Word of mouth from readers seems to be vital, and also patience. Money is tight for everyone, and any sensible reader will download a sample, take time to read it before deciding to buy. Sometimes the gap between sample and buying is many months. I know it is for me. I have been told by some who downloaded the sample of The Bet that by the time they’d finished that, they hit the buy button. Modesty aside, it really is that good. I’m intending to do a paperback copy of that and The Wild Hunt quite soon, but as I want to try Createspace instead of Lulu, it may take a little while.

Next year, I am hoping to start a few more projects. I said last year I wanted to put out a book of poetry and one of the most useful essays here, and some short story collections. Poetry is not a big seller but enough people have asked and I’d like to have paperbacks too. My biggest worry for this is getting the Table of Contents for the Kindle version right. I go blank even trying to figure out the process. Likewise for a book of essays. But I’d like to try. I’ve got a squad of themed shorts lined up for another short story collection.

But real writing, the way I’ve been unable to do, to tackle a long project of a new novel, that’s been on hold for over 18 months is something I really want to do. I had a plot arrive in my head a few weeks back and I’ve been making notes and letting it brew every since. I have 3 other works at various stages of completeness too, that need digging out and kick-starting. I think subconsciously I have been hesitating, for those 18 months (or even 2 years, now I think about it) because I knew at a deep level our life would be changing dramatically within a certain space of time. The friendship I lost last year was a factor too as I can see now it was inhibiting me, as was both my location, my job and various other things. I feel more like myself in this house; I have a lovely room at the back of the house and a view I find pleasant. I also have more time and mental space.

So next year, I will spend more time on writing than I have for many years, unless a full-time job comes along. I still have my travel job, but that is sporadic and I have long spells without work. I’ve beaten myself up continually for my inability to use my down time for writing, but I’m going to try and quell that tendency. Writing takes a great deal more time away from the page; there’s a good deal of thinking, pondering and dreaming involved, not to mention the less easy to describe process of fermentation that alchemically transforms dross into gold, without the conscious mind being able to follow the deep and very hidden journeys the pain of experience can take. I’ve long wondered how I could work through and heal through the ordeals and betrayals of the last few years, and it’s a slow process. Yet I think the time is approaching when I will be able to do this through writing, to cauterise wounds that still hurt and break open.

Wishes for next year? Many. The Bet on not just the Kindle best-sellers lists but once it’s up in paperback, to see it sell well there too. This is a book that I love deeply. It’s got two sequels, written already but just needing the same process of getting a cover etc. But the themes of the novel are deep, powerful ones; you can’t read it without being moved and also, inspired. The reviews in so far have confirmed my own feelings about the book; I’ve been touched and delighted by all the book reviews that have come this year. I’d like to see the others continue to grow and reach a wider audience, especially the USA. I sell few books there but I do not know why. I guess I’m a very English writer. I’d also like to get back into my stride of exploration of my imagination and actually feel creative again. There is so much bubbling away inside me; to learn how to channel it effectively again is a real challenge. I think a lot of my creativity got siphoned off by the teaching job. Now I need to focus on words, both poetry and stories again, not on finding ways of teaching English that is fun and effective.

Health-wise, there’s other things. I’ve realised that neither medication nor the ubiquitous CBT would be at all helpful for me, and potentially both are harmful. I’d like to find a soul-friend locally who has the experience and training to help me work through things, a kind of free-range psychotherapy that cuts both ways, so that neither participant is client. It’s something I talked about in abstract with the friend who I lost, but never found a context to explore it further. I have no idea how to go about this but it seems like an important idea I can’t let go of. My involvement in the Dandelions and Bad Hair Days project, a book about mental health, has taught me that there are many, many ways of living with mental distress and each person needs to find their own.

Anyway, I have rambled a great deal. Time to stop and just say:

May 2013 be for you a wonderful year that brings more joy than sorrow.

New Year Meditation-Madonna Lily

 

New Year Meditation- Madonna Lily

This meditation is intended to help review the year that has just passed and prepare for the new one about to start. If you are a regular meditator, go through your usual routine of preparation. The fragrance for this meditation is that of the lily so if you are lucky enough to have a bunch of lilies to hand, place them somewhere close so you can inhale their lovely scent. This is not essential to the meditation but may help if you feel the need.

Find somewhere quiet and comfortable and sit down. Make sure your back is straight and your legs are uncrossed.

Close your eyes and breathe in slowly. Hold the breath for a moment and then let it out again slowly. Do this a few times until you feel calm and centred.

You are standing in an ancient building. The stone flags beneath your feet are worn to a sheen by generations of feet that have walked upon them and the walls are thick. The few windows are small and set quite high in the walls and as your eyes get used to the dimness, you see that you are in a tiny church or chapel. It looks to be at least a thousand years old and you are the only person present. Here and there, clusters of candles burn, giving a glow of golden light. The scent of lilies is heavy in the air and arrangements of the flowers are stationed around the church. Facing east, you see that the altar has a simple pottery vase containing a few stems of lilies, illuminated by the group of beeswax candles nearby.

As you walk towards the altar, you see a casket standing on trestles in front of the altar and you realise with a sense of shock that you are here for a funeral. The casket is open and as you draw near and steel yourself to look, you see that it is empty. This is the funeral for the year that has just passed, your year and you are here to review its life in its entirety. Next to the casket is a bag, and you reach inside. It is packed with snapshot photographs, each one representing a moment, a day, a memory from the year that has passed. Some you smile at, some you feel tears welling up. One by one, gaze at each photo and allow yourself to remember, but without judgement. When you feel ready, drop the photo into the casket.

When each photo reaches the floor of the casket, a transformation takes place. Each memory changes into a precious stone, a jewel. The bright joyful memories become stones like sparkling diamonds or light blue sapphires or golden amber; the darker, more painful memories become jewels like polished onyx, blood red rubies or perhaps sapphires so deep blue they seem almost black. Observe each memory as it is transformed; some may surprise you what they become.

Once the bag of photos is empty, look closely at the jewels that now cover the floor of the casket. Give the casket a little shake and see how the stones shift around and make patterns. They seem to form groups of related memories, and it seems also that the darker stones give the lighter ones a deeper shine and the lighter ones make the dark ones sparkle. You can still identify which memory is which; if you wish, you may pick a few up and examine them more closely now they are transformed.

The time has come to say goodbye and you must shut the lid of the casket. As you do so, you see now that it is not a coffin as you had thought, but rather a treasure chest made of polished cedar, with a domed lid carved with beautiful patterns. Take the chest now and carry it towards the altar. You will see that the altar bears symbols that are special to you, and you feel happy to place your treasure chest of memories beneath it. It will be safe here and you can revisit and ponder the meaning of your treasures any time you choose but now it is time to go.

Walk back down the nave. The worn stones under your feet feel comforting but you have a sense of emptiness as one so often does after a funeral. The old year is gone and the new one is yet to begin; you are suspended between times now, just for this short time. It’s a little uncomfortable because now you are starting to worry about what the new year will bring.

Close to the door there stands a great stone basin, a font of immense antiquity. The carvings around the bowl of it are worn but you can see patterns similar to those on the lid of your treasure chest. On the rim, flanked by groups of candles is another vase of lilies. You can smell their sweet fresh fragrance and as you watch, some of the powdery red pollen spills onto the surface of the water that fills the font. The powder spreads out and you watch fascinated as the play of candlelight and reflections make pictures come alive in the water and you realise that you are seeing scenes from what the new year may bring. Watch, but without judgement or attachment; these are things that may happen. Nothing is certain yet. Just as the previous year had good and bad in it, so too will the next one.

The great battered door, armoured with blackened iron swings open a little and the breeze scatters the pollen and the pictures cease. You walk towards the door and glance back. At the altar, the lilies still glow golden in the light from the candle flames and your treasure chest nestles beneath in the dancing shadows. The water on the font ripples with the wind that enters and shakes the flames like leaves on a tree and you know it is time to leave this place.

Outside, you can feel the changes that have taken place and the first rays of light of a new dawn turn the sky a heavenly pink, and you know that this new day heralds a new year full of joys and sorrows, and you step forth, determined to understand the treasure in both.

Normal service

….may be resumed before too long.

I’ve had a friend staying since New Year’s Eve and so, since the guest room is also my study, I have had very limited access to my pc. I’ve checked emails, using my husband’s laptop but I have done very little else. I was having withdrawal symptoms last night, so I am very glad to have my pc back, slower than a glacier with a bum hip though it might be. It’s mine and that’s what counts.

My camera decided to die on New Year’s day too, the screen failing to work. I’m a bit annoyed as it was a Christmas present last year and given the hassle the company gave my dad over problems he had with his, I suspect that even were the guarantee still valid, I’d have such trouble getting anywhere it’s best not to bother.

So my quest is to find a new camera before I go to Austria next month. I’ve been also trying to find a continuing German course so I can carry on with that too; it’s already fading after all my hard work before Christmas. So I must get out the mp3 player again and play the tracks while I walk, muttering like a bilingual baglady…

I’ve got a busy sort of week but I hope to be able to get back to something like normal before too long. 

And finally, very belatedly, a Happy New Year to all my readers!