The girl gives herself to you. It must be so dangerous.
Are you afraid?
What danger does she pose?
Unless you are afraid to surrender yourself. Afraid to find out who you might be when you are with her. Will she change everything? Is there a dam inside you poised to burst and will her fingers unmake you entirely? Will the flood of your passionate self explode into the world, into your own awareness?
Does the danger lie in discovering your true self? What would it mean to be fully seen, to be known, to be loved? Does that feel unsafe right now? Too vulnerable, too exposed?
If she breaks you open, there can be no going back. You cannot unknow yourself. It may never be possible to be small and safe and tame again. Are you ready for that?
Perhaps the person you are afraid of, is yourself. Your secret, unspeakable self, never allowed to show up in the world, always too much, too intense, too dangerous. And you cannot quite believe anyone could see this hidden version of you and welcome that with open arms.
Surely, it is dangerous to dare to imagine that you could be welcomed.
Safer to stay secret, stay hidden, alone and unchanged. If choosing not to live seems like safety. If keeping your soul in a cage seems like the least hazardous choice.
Perhaps it is more dangerous to do nothing, to ignore this call to body and soul.
Of course you are afraid.
You are in danger.
But do you understand the nature of the threat?
(Image and text prompt by Dr Abbey, extended text by me.)
In previous years I’ve tried my hand at Inktober – an October art event where you aim to do an image a day. There are however issues with the person behind this event, and it’s made me not want to engage. This year I’m doing Witchtober instead and I’ve taken my prompts from Jacqui Lovesey and Saffron Russell –
I’m adding black cats, because they’re cute. I’m not great at drawing, I’m a better colourist, but its fun to play and to do things for the joy of it rather than with a work hat on all the time.
Don’t be so vain, they said. Your pretty face is skin deep, it means nothing. The accident of good bones, good skin, inherited from your ancestors and just luck. Just because other people praise other girls for the accident of their face, don’t you expect anything.
It’s what you have on the inside that really counts.
Try harder, they said. Be faster. Why don’t you know this already? And don’t say it’s because no one taught you or showed you. You must be 100% all the time, and better than all the others at everything. You must be perfect, but you must also be modest. Don’t seek attention, don’t make a fuss, don’t you dare think for a moment that what you do makes you special or important.
But what does she have on the inside?
Rage. All the rage that has no way into the world. All the frustration of endless striving only to find that she has never reached the goal, never proved good enough fast enough. She is not perfectly perfect and superior to all others, she is only a small girl, full of anger that she is not allowed to show because that would be making a fuss and being a nuisance.
It’s what you have on the inside that really counts.
She is surprised when it emerges, but also relieved. Tearing through what was only ever skin deep. Not so pretty now. Tearing through the people who tried to control her. Not so biddable now. And when she stops tearing at herself with these many hands made of rage, she realises that she is bigger than she knew, and more dangerous than she feared, and she is done with their shit. And no one, no one is going to tell her again who she is supposed to be.
I have taken the earth colours into my skin. The signs and symbols of seeds are on me and inside me. I am the grain, I am the bright flowers feeding the bees. I am the seed who waits in the soil.
I am the seed collector. I take a part of what I find, never all. Vital to leave the makings of new life where I find it. The living plants do not need me to guard them, only to treat them with honour. I am the guardian of the plants who do not yet live, the ones who will flourish in times to come. I carry the seeds to new places, I plant hope.
There was a life before this life. I try not to think about it. I prefer not to remember who I was, or what I saw. There is a hideous monotony to war, to death, to destruction. It may shock and horrify you day by day, but it is only ever reduction, you only have less. There is just fear and grief, and more grief and trying to stay alive. In my mind it is a blur, a haze of pain. I do not want to remember.
I don’t want to hear war stories. I don’t want us to compete over who saw the worst thing, who hurt the most yet somehow lived. We are all marked, inside and out. I have tattoos to cover my scars, so that you will see the art on me first and not the damage. I have put my new story of seeds and life onto my skin to blot out what went before. When I look at my body, I see my chosen symbols, and not the damage done to me.
I am the person I chose to be when I had almost nothing left. My body tells that story well enough. I am not what happened to me, I am everything I decided on for myself.
Once there were magicians who made women out of flowers. They wanted women who were pure and innocent, and they understood neither womanhood, nor flowers. For in truth, flowers are promiscuous, happily opening their petals to one and all, welcoming insects, bats, birds, even the wind, depending on their nature. The magicians may have been clever, but they lacked for wisdom.
Why even did they crave purity? Well, the truth of it is that inexperience makes a person slower to detect the failings of others. The less you know, the more easily you may be persuaded that what you are experiencing is normal. Purity is no shield at all. But how can a woman made of flowers be innocent? Made of colour and joy and the exuberant sexual nature of the flowers themselves, the flower women were joyful, sexual, colouringful beings and not the meek creatures the magicians had hoped for.
Then there came a time when the land grew barren. With so many people and so few plants to feed them, the magicians wondered if perhaps they might make flowers out of women. They had learned the art that finds the seeds for all things inside all things, and so it was not difficult for them to make flowers in this way. They did not ask whether anyone wanted to be turned into flowers. However, it was a time of great sorrow and people who are in despair are not always careful of their own interests.
But still their plans did not meet with great success. They had looked upon women and flowers alike merely as objects for use. It is impossible to truly understand the world if all you can think of is how you might make use of its various parts. For all that they had great magic at their command, they did not put an end to suffering. Because of them, you will still sometimes find women who are really flowers, and flowers that remember being women, and many other strange confusions that their meddling has caused.
(art by Dr Abbey, story may or may not turn out to relate to other projects – I’m not currently sure!)
You dream that you are walking through the city. The buildings are overrun with plants. Old bits of architecture peer through the vibrant new growth and you know this is not what you remember seeing.
In the dream you remember those other, haunting images of cities that were barren grey wastelands. Inside the buildings was where the plants had gone ferociously wild. Leaves and flowers pressed to windows. And amongst them, sometimes, the decaying forms of the dead. You remember that the plants flourishing inside the skyscrapers were the reason people did not survive inside. The story went that the plants themselves breathed out carbon monoxide at night. You are not sure if that is possible. Maybe something else happened.
In the dream, you walk away from the city, and even as you leave you can hear that it is alive with birds now. You walk out into the desert. Once, there were fields and farms here, but those were dying when you were a child. Everything is dying. The ground beneath you is hard and what little rain falls runs off it in brief, devastating floods.
Now you are dreaming about trees, and where your feet touch the exhausted soil, new growth springs up. You look back and see that your footprints are alive. It is your job now to make footprints, to dance life back into the desert. You spin, and spread your steps, knowing that what you plant on the ground with the soles of your feet will change everything when the rains come.
You remember that you are not who you thought you were. You forget who you used to be, because it no longer matters. Old grief falls away from you, because it must, because it is down to you to make life out of desolation and you are not prepared to fail in this.
(art by Dr Abbey, concepts from our joint project.)
Wherefore was my lockdown sanity project in 2020. With prompts and supports from a number of good friends, I set out to write a barmy soap opera. Wherefore is set around the valleys of Stroud, and in it the area is populated with wizards and shapeshifters, as well as the performance artists and bemused poets it would be reasonable to expect.
There’s a mix of whimsy and seriousness. There’s a great deal of animism in the mix. Mostly my aim with this work is to amuse and comfort people. I am still somewhat surprised to find I can write about a novel’s worth of material in about six months as well as doing other things. I was incredibly prolific in my twenties, but I’ve slowed down a lot since then.
I’ve been doing this as youtube episodes – they average at about 7 minutes a shot, on the basis that many of us had no concentration to speak of last year. At the end of each series, the text gets polished up and released as a pdf – these are free, on the grounds that the videos are also free.
In the beginning, when the world was new, and dry and lifeless, the first God lay dreaming. All of what might be lay inside of the first God, who was nothing and everything. Life came to The Hand of God, and as the first God slept, she drew from him the seeds for all things.
They were all mixed together, these seeds. They were dreams of the world as it might one day be. One seed might become elephants while the one next to it would be acacia trees. From the tiniest microorganisms to the giants of the ocean, there were seeds, and The Hand of God took those seeds out into the world and tossed them far and wide.
Some seeds fell where they could germinate and live at once. Others lay dormant for a long time, waiting for the right conditions. No doubt some of them lie dormant still.
All the while the first God lay dreaming, replenishing his seed stock. He did not wake, or stir or act, having no desire to be in the world or to interfere in the lives of the seeds that had come forth from him.
The Hand Of God became her own self, and in time she took other names and titles. She is the sower of seeds and the gatherer of dreams. She is there at the planting and at the harvest, and to some she is Mother Grain. She is the woman with the open hand, all bounty and life flows from her.
The Sower of Seeds was the first of the Gods to walk upon the land. Amongst her seeds were the beginnings of all other Gods, and each emerged when their time came and they were needed in the world.
(A possible creation myth for the project Dr Abbey and I are developing. I had an initial idea about a seed sowing deity, but we talked about myths and what resulted was an image inspired by ancient Egypt, and this story. I’m also rather entertained by the implications this would have for a second coming!)
The changelings of folklore are not long lived. They are only bundles of leaves and twigs, rocks and mud lumped together and enchanted to resemble a child. Their job is to distract the family for a day or two after the baby has been stolen. The changeling is supposed to die, the family is supposed to mourn the death in all innocence.
There are those of us who never fit, never belong. The changeling story is a comforting fiction. The real baby, the one they wanted and could have loved, was kidnapped by fairies. You are what was left instead. You are a fairy child, and you belong somewhere else. The ache in your heart is a longing for that more magical place and one day, they will come for you, one day you will go back. There is a way for your heart to be whole and for your life to make sense. It’s not authentic folklore, but it is the kind of story that can keep a person alive.
Then there are the people like me. The ones who should not have lived and yet somehow did. Gazing anxiously at every reflection, certain that other people must surely be able to see the mud and twigs under the surface. This human-seeming skin has stretched too far and is so thin, one day the sticks will poke through it. Perhaps it will be a relief when it finally breaks open and everyone else can see that I was never a real person.
We were never supposed to live this long. We aren’t actual people. Nor are we fabulous magical fairy children waiting to go home. We are mud and sticks, conjured to pass as a baby, and somehow we are not dead yet. This isn’t folklore either. There are no traditional stories about changelings who do not die. But, we know what we are.
Forgive me if I am terrible. I was not made to be anything good. There is only rot and death on the inside, only broken things. I was not supposed to exist like this. I cannot help it.
(Art by Dr Abbey. This one is a standalone and does not relate to any specific project).