Tag Archives: story

Listen to the silence

We are trying not to be silent, but you insist on drowning out our voices by telling stories about us. You do not listen, because you think you know who we are and what we did and how we live.

We scream, and you pat us on the head, one by one, saying ‘Never mind, dear’ and ‘don’t make such a fuss about it, you’re being very silly.’

We aren’t real to you, and you have a hard time thinking of us as people. As people who are outside your head and your experience, and who do not feel things in the way you think we should feel.

We are not your story. 

What choice did you give us? We did not ask for any of this, and we tried to explain. We tried to make you understand. We fought the hunger until it became impossible to control it, and all the time we wondered why we were fighting so hard for your sake when you would not listen.

If you had listened, we might never have eaten you.

And it seems unfair to us that we now feel guilty about your exposed bones.

(While we’ve been doing some art/tiny flash fiction things on Facebook, this is the first more involved piece I’ve done with Dr Abbey in ages. His image, my words.)

Story Compass – a review

Story Compass offers the reader an interesting and original set of tools for self discovery. You could use it as a workbook, or as the basis of a set of retreats, read it flat out and take what suits you, or dip into it.

I think there are several kinds of people who would particularly benefit from this book. It’s very much aimed at the reader who wants to explore themselves in a contemplative way, and who needs tools and maps for this. It assumes that you’ve not done a deep dive into your ancestry, or the water you swim in, and that you have yet to figure out how your culture, background and life experiences have informed you.

It’s designed for people who are not squaring up to massive trauma legacies. If that’s you, then this probably isn’t the ideal book and you’ll need to find something more trauma informed.

I think this book also has ideas to offer to new bards. If you’re starting out on a creative path and figuring yourself out in relation to the work you want to do, there’s a lot here that’s usable. The relationship between self and creation, history and inspiration, how we draw on experience and work with the material of our own lives is all highly relevant.

Taking control of your own story, and being the teller of your own life can be an incredibly powerful and empowering process. The stories we tell define us, and if that is something you have no idea how to engage with, this is a book, and a process, to consider.

The writing style is easy going and enthusiastic. If you like the idea of taking your inner child on an adventure, then you’re going to love this. There’s a playful, open hearted tone to the whole thing – which isn’t for everyone. If you suspect you might find that patronising rather than engaging, you might well not get along with this book.

The work outlined in Story Compass can be approached in a number of ways. You could be fairly pragmatic about it and go for imaginative journaling and creative thinking. You could use it as a guide for visualisations and journey work and really go for that – depending on your needs and preferences. One of the things I liked is how unprescriptive the author is when it comes to these kinds of inner journeys. You’re given the gist of where to go and what to do, but how that plays out is very much down to you. It made me realise how normal it is to see this kind of practice described in a lot more detail, where you are told what spirits or ancestors are going to say to you. I found it refreshing to see such open ended explorations.

I came to this title as a book reviewer interested in working with story. It’s not come to me at a time when I could personally make much use of the contents – although twenty years ago it would have been a divine gift to encounter something like this. It means that a lot of what’s here is not material I’ve felt moved to test – I’ve already done this sort of work, in my own ways so there’s not much for me to delve into and unravel. However, I think the whole approach is useful and fertile, and likely to be worth exploring for anyone who is setting out on a journey of self discovery.

More on the publisher’s website – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/story-compass-journey-discovery

When stories are the battleground

How do you know what’s true? Who do you trust for information? It’s become ever more problematic since the start of the covid crisis, but the war of stories and information is far older than that. Most conspiracy theories are bunk, and a very few turn out to be super-important. How do you decide which stories to share and believe in?

For anyone on the bard path, the power of stories is likely already a consideration. For anyone interested in politics, and world politics, the question of how stories have become weapons is an ongoing issue. It’s not easy, when faced with a story, to decide what to do with it.

I want the stories that help me understand other perspectives. I want the stories that open out possibilities and make more room to include more people. I reject the stories that encourage us to hate each other and mistrust each other. I reject any story that is about how a group of people deserve to suffer for being who they are when they are doing no harm at all.

Any story has the potential to become true. If we adopt a story and live by it, and invest in it we may well make it real. Sometimes asking if something is factually accurate isn’t the key thing. It may be much more useful to ask what a story will do, what it will enable, who it supports and who it crushes. I’m here for the stories that uplift people and crush injustice. 

For some years now, stories have been part of an ideas war being fought across the world. Don’t share the stories you don’t want to see come true – not even to argue with them. If you need to talk about stories you consider problematic, work around them, don’t give them direct attention and don’t send people to the places airing the problem stories. If we don’t invest energy in them, stories wither and die, to be replaced by stories that were better able to engage people. We get a say in how that plays out.

Eat this for us – fiction

The Knight of April.

He lost his Queen and said

You eat this for our kingdom.

Eat the sins, that we may be free of them.

Eat up our shame. Take it deep into your body. Become our shame. Free us from the burden of it, that we may accuse you of making us do what we do.

Eat up the grief for us. We do not want to feel the grief that is rightfully ours. Spare us from regret. Bloat your stomach with it until it hurts so that we never need to think of the past with sorrow.

Eat up the awkward bits of our history. This you must do for your country. How can we be proud, otherwise? Eat up the things we do not wish to hear spoken of. Eat the stories we prefer to forget. We will be great! Stuff those truths into your mouth until you choke on them. We do not care if they cut your throat as you swallow. We do not mind at all if holding the truth in silence wounds your body. Eat the truth so that we can deny it.

Never ask why she is gone.

Never ask who she was.

We do not want to remember her truly. Eat up the past for us, eat up the regret so that in death she can be our perfect Queen forever. Eat our sins, so that it was not our fault.

(First text and image by Dr Abbey, second piece of text is mine. There hasn’t been much time for this over the last few months and I’ve missed it. Good to be back!)

The Feral Haus Spaus – a story

It isn’t real folklore. It isn’t even real language, but the feral haus spaus isn’t one to fret over conventions. You find them in the garden, wild birds are eating grain from their outstretched hand. At once, you are struck by their loveliness. So sweet a face, such bright eyes, a glow of health in their skin and a lively, playful quality in their demeanor.

Of course the haus spaus is in part what you wanted them to be. Husband or wife, or partner, according to your desires. They know that about you, and it is part of their innate magic. 

“It will rain soon,” says the haus spaus. Their voice is warm and soothing. “Best get the laundry in now.” You will be grateful to them in a few minutes, when the safe delivery of your laundry under your roof coincides with the first patter of rain. You do not remember hanging laundry out to dry, but perhaps that does not matter.

Mostly, they are in the garden. They plant flowers, and the weeds grow in profusion. Not only do they feed the wild birds, but also the badgers, who go on to dig up your lawn, but you don’t mind. It’s hard to resist the feral haus spaus.

They bring you dirty vegetables, fresh from the ground and nothing else has ever tasted so good. There is bounty in their open hands. Wild bees take up residence in your attic. Sometimes an owl stands on your roof to hoot. You find ivy growing on the inside of your home and you are not quite sure how this happened, but the feral haus spaus likes the ivy, so you leave it alone and soon there’s a robin living in it and it sings to you, early in the morning.

You forget to go to work. You forget even that you had a job. Trees grow in your garden. Your front door sprouts leaves. The postman no longer delivers anything. You forget about the postman. There’s not much reason to leave the house now, you have so much bounty from the garden. Where would you go, anyway? Why would you go?

The feral haus spaus patches your clothing with spider webs and dried grass stems. You are never too cold. Sometimes there are moths in your hair. You laugh a great deal, but you do not know why sometimes. The haus spaus smiles at you, and life is good.

By the time your home turns into a tree, your blood relations will not remember that you existed. Sometimes children come to play in the garden. Their clothes seem strange to you, their talk is full of words you do not know. The feral haus spaus smiles at you and tells you that everything is fine.

(Prompted by a meme about how the existence of the domestic housewife implies the existence of a feral one.)

Beauty or death – fiction

Beauty or dead.

Doll or human.

Her face is marble smooth. No traces of those imperfections that speak of life and humanity. She could well be a doll. She might be loaded with botox and carved to lifelessness by the cosmetic surgeon’s blade. Equally, that waxy perfection might speak of death and careful preservation.

Life, after all, is messy. Her dress is vibrant, but anyone can put clothes on a doll. Fashion is not proof of life. Look closer and you will see five hundred feathers, each carefully attached to give colour to her costume. It does not seem likely that this bounty came from living birds. You wonder how much of a market there is, killing beauty to profit from the plumage.

You think about the softness of skin that wrinkles with time and use. The way pores open and close in a living face, and changing patterns of blood flow give away mood and emotion. Her pallid features will not flush with desire or embarrassment. She will not sweat in a hot room, or become flushed and undignified from too much alcohol. You will not find a stray hair growing from her chin, or a childhood scar on her forehead.

Still you cannot tell, is she a doll, or is she alive? You try to read her eyes, which are too large and too bright. But even so, you think there is something in her gaze that speaks of longing.

Does she envy your marked flesh? Can those perfect, glassy eyes see the marks that time has left on you? Does she know that your humanity is written in those countless tiny signs? And you, in your living skin with every story time has etched upon you, are more beautiful by far than she could ever be.

(Art and prompt by Dr Abbey.)

A changeling story

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).

The Reed Cutter – a story

We cut the reeds at the end of summer, when everything seems dead and dry. At first we did it because we needed the reeds as material – there are few trees here and who in their right mind would cut down a tree just to build something? So we cut reeds and bundled them up and we build shelters with those. They’re good at keeping out the cold and what little rain comes.

Where we cut, we opened up the green growth near to the ground. You can’t even see that by late summer when the reeds are dead. It brought on the new growth and we started finding flowers and small plants we’d never seen before.

The birds came. I don’t know where they had been or how they could tell, but they came from somewhere on the lake I suppose, and found our clearings in the reeds and began to graze.

The next year of course the reeds grew back just like always, but we saw more insects.  More birds came. The reed beds became places full of life. Now there are ground nesting birds who come here in the spring to raise their young before the reeds get too tall.

We started to realise that the reed beds needed us. As though this whole landscape had been waiting for people to come back and remember the old ways of doing things, and cut the reeds. I don’t know how long people lived here, harvesting the reeds to build with, but the plants and the animals must have adapted to this a long time ago, and now they need us to cut the reeds and open up the green ground so they can thrive.

I love the smell of the dry reeds when we cut them, and how they seem to whisper their stories. They are full of voices. I know, when I am reed cutting that I’m part of something bigger than  myself. Something old, and powerful and full of magic.

(Art by Dr Abbey, text by me, we’re back to work on the project we’ve been developing.)

Stories for us

I know this is a subject I’ve posted about before, but it is on my mind a lot at the moment. Stories are maps we hold to help us navigate. When you don’t have stories about the kind of person you are, then feelings of otherness and isolation are inevitable. For many of us, the only available stories are tragic.

There aren’t many good stories out there for polyamorous people. Most three (or more) sided relationship stories are rivalries, and do not end well for at least one person. Love triangles are usually stories about having to choose. Or one of the three people turning out not to be so good after all.

There are more good stories for queer people than there used to be. It is no longer the case that the only way you can have LGBT representation is if your queer characters die tragically. But still, there’s a lot of work to do here. We need more stories in which queer folk do stuff that isn’t about coming out or having a hard time for being queer.

The same issues exist for People of Colour – that good stories that go well and aren’t primarily about politics, struggle and race issues are not as numerous as they should be. Not even close. We need to stop restricting the kinds of stories Black and Ethnic Minority people are allowed to tell.

Then there are the characters who are outside of mainstream culture because they are clever, talented, gifted, brilliant, capable beyond what most people do. And outside of the super-hero genre, this doesn’t go well. The souls who are too good for this world who end up dead, or still alone while comparatively mediocre characters get to have a meaningful experience or a coming of age narrative. This makes me sad. I want to rescue all the manic pixie dream girls and give them stories that are about how they live out their awesomeness and are properly appreciated. I want the world to look at the people who are too good for this world and up its game so they do not have to be sacrificed.

I’d also like a new love story. I am tired of the earth-shattering life changing love affair that can only make sense if it lasts for a very short time frame. What we keep telling each other is that grand passions are not for the long haul. You can only have Romeo and Juliet levels of intensity if you only get a few days together and then you both die. It’s not true.

Obviously one of the answers is that I have to write these stories, and amplify other authors who are writing these stories. If you’re doing this kind of work and would like a signal boost from me, please let me know.

External authority and why I’m not a fan

One of the accusations levelled against Pagans and atheists alike is that we can’t have a moral compass because we don’t have a sacred text to refer back to.

In practice, the person without a sacred text can only use their reason and personal sense of fairness to make moral judgements. It means you know that you are responsible for what you do and say, what you think and how you come to conclusions. As far as I can see, this is the most honest and most responsible position to hold.

Of course a person can have a sacred book, use it for inspiration and take the same process of coming to reasoned positions. So long as the book isn’t considered the literal word of God and to be followed in all ways, a person can use it to help them navigate while still remaining consciously in charge of their own choices.

However, when a sacred book becomes a substitute for thinking, it becomes dangerous. Anything in a book is at risk of going out of date. What makes sense in one time and place may be far less sensible or fair in another. Dogmatic insistence on the primacy of an out of date book clearly isn’t going to work well.

I note that the people who seem most fanatical about sticking with the text are often the ones calling for the least kind outcomes. The sort of people who would make a child rape victim carry a baby to term, and oblige them to marry their attacker. The sort of people for whom being ‘immodest’ in dress (however they choose to measure that) is a greater spiritual offence than physically attacking someone. What I think happens here is that people outsource their morality so they don’t have to question the real implications of their apparently spiritual beliefs.

This kind of dogma is really convenient for anyone with a nasty agenda.

I don’t think the problem here is books – a decent human being can read a book and make informed decisions about what to work with and what to reject. We do this all the time with the stories of our Pagan ancestors. I’ve never seen a modern Pagan suggest that tricking someone into a bag and then beating them until they let you have things your way is a sensible way of getting things done, for example. If you know that a story is just a story, you can work with it in whatever way makes sense. It’s when you decide that the story has authority, and then, having given it authority, negate your own responsibility to be a decent person, that we get into trouble.

It’s not the presence or absence of a sacred book, or books, that gives people a moral compass. The morality does not lie in the book. It never has.