Monthly newsletter, March 2023
February was a month of disruption and dislocation, as we began to prepare for moving house in the middle of this coming month. Moving house always makes me anxious. I’m not talking about stressing over whether the various transactions will go through, or about the actual logistics of moving: my husband will always do more than enough of that for both of us. I’m talking about the strange, deep-rooted kind of anxiety – decidedly existential – which comes from beginning to systematically deconstruct the safe place that you have just spent years constructing. There’s been too much of that in my life over the past fifteen years, and a couple of decidedly wrenching moves that I never planned on making. I feel as if, since I left my first croft in the north-west Highlands of Scotland back in 2012, I’ve never been able to stay remotely long enough in the ‘okay, it’s done and I’m safe now’ phase of homemaking. And as a consequence, I’ve spent way too much time in the constructing and (especially) the deconstructing phase.
I wrote this about it on my Instagram profile a couple of weeks ago:
There's some new web in the weaving, but what lies beyond is still a little bit blurry. That's the way it should be, of course; there's no good story I can remember in which the protagonist set out on her journey having the slightest, remotest clue about where it would end. But you have to set out anyway, otherwise the story dies before it's had a chance to get started.
Moving always makes me anxious, no matter how much it might be wanted, or needed. There's a big conflict about leaving a safe place – a place you've spent years making into your perfect sanctuary – for the unknown. My childhood homes didn't ever really feel safe, and so it's not especially surprising that agreeing to tear myself away from this benign old house, which held me so gently all through lockdowns and lymphoma, made me anxious, at first.
But as well as the little child who's always wanted to cling to safety, I have this inner adventurer who always manages to say 'Ah, f**k it, let's go'. Or maybe the Irishwoman in me, who says 'Ah, sure, we'll work it out'.
For the past couple of weeks, as we’ve waited for something approximating certainty in the sale of our house, I’ve spent more time worrying about feeling safe than I have dreaming about the new nesting adventure to come. But then the day finally came, and on Wednesday contracts were exchanged for the sale of our house – and along with the renewed belief in certainty and safety came that old adventurous sparkle again, and dreams of colour and fabric and texture, and the rightness of creating a new holding space for this final act of my life. (I hope it’ll be a good long final act, but at 61 it’s hard to deny that I’m in the final act, for sure.)
So I’ve learned something about myself: about what makes me feel safe, and what threatens to derail me. About the kinds of uncertainty I can gladly embrace, and the kinds of uncertainty that I just can’t. Home might be a country, or a place, or a culture, or a family – but it is also, in the simplest and most practical terms, a roof over your head, a place that you can always return to after being away, a place you can be warm, and fed, and loved. And no matter how many such homes I might have been lucky enough to have over the years, it seems that the fear of something – anything – going wrong so that I might be deprived of it, still lingers for me in that basket of childhood terrors we each carry around with us through our lives.
Knowing and understanding that makes it easier to get through, of course. Along with the practice of stillness which, on a good day, can come very close to serenity, and which I cultivated out of necessity during my long walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death in 2021. And, perhaps most curiously of all, a feeling of trust in, and gratitude for, whatever will come next in my life. I’m hoping, of course, as we all do, for a smoother ride this time around as we uproot from one place and plant fragile seeds of belonging in another. But I’m also at a stage in my life in which I feel rooted, if not yet in a new place, then in the knowledge and joyfulness of my calling, and the strong sense of vocation and passion for a good few exciting new writing projects ahead.
On the difficult days, trapped in that liminal zone between one home and another, I imagined the little bits of myself that still linger in all the places I’ve lived and loved. And I wondered whether I have enough of me left to leave a piece in this place, and still move on with a whole heart and soul. But on the good days, I’m glad that in each of the places I’ve loved and left, I’ve planted trees and roses. I’ve left memories in the land, and can even find it possible to imagine that, even in the course of the unimaginably long life of an old mother yew tree or a gnarly old rowan, one day there might rise to the surface the image of an ageing, hairless woman in the throes of some strange disease who leaned up against her for comfort and wisdom, and shared her fears and longings.
And now, to the beautiful dale of Mallerstang, by the side of this beautiful river.
(Image © Tom Curtis)
On that note, as always, I wish you all a season full of richness and restfulness, wherever in the world you might be.
My friend and co-conspirator, Angharad Wynne, is offering a very fine new course on the art of storytelling, and I’ll be a guest tutor for one of the six sessions. Please see the info below if this interests you; places are limited so if you’re interested, do please sign up as soon as possible.
CYFARWYDD – An Enchantment of Stories
Angharad Wynne with guest tutor, Dr Sharon Blackie
This is a journey into a profound relationship with stories. This may be a step on your path to becoming a storyteller, or simply a way to come into a deeper connection with the timeless wisdom of myths and folktales. The outcome doesn’t matter. It’s the spell cast by the relationship with a story that is paramount here: being allured by it, dancing with it, allowing it to work its magic and allowing it to story you.
Cyfarwydd, (pronounced: cuv-ahrr-oeth) the title of this course, is the Welsh (Brythonic~old British) word for storyteller. The root of the word means to give guidance. Furthermore, the word is one and the same as the old Welsh (Brythonic) word for magic. Storytelling then, may have been considered a kind of enchantment; narrative spells that transport the listener to a place where the deep truths of the tale can work magic on listening ears, on an open heart, on the receptive soul.
On this course, the aim is to support you to lift a story from the page, maybe to tell it, maybe to work with it and allow it to work on you. There are many reasons why you might want to tell stories. The process is alchemical. The audience could be family, friends, a community of women, the dog, cat or gerbil, or the land itself as part of deep work re-storying and honouring the landscape. And perhaps you don’t want to tell at all. Perhaps you just want to embody the story, have it live with you, work it's enchantment upon you.
These sessions will be held online in a safe, nurturing space, so that you can maybe find your voice, kindle your creativity, grow your skills, inspire projects or simply follow your whims into story depths. We will leave judgement at the door, gather over hot brews and herbal drinks, look deep into the story cauldron and taste the inspiration within. There will be laughter. There may be tears. Friendships will kindle and stories will be shared and the heart-hearth will be forever warmer for it. The stories of women will be served and shared and heard in all the worlds.
Six sessions over three months. 2 hours per session, Thursdays 6.00pm -8.00pm GMT
SESSION DATES AND THEMES
Session 1. Thursday 16th March, 6-8pm GMT
Finding the story bones
Session 2. Thursday 30th March, 6-8pm GMT
Fleshing the bones
Session 3. Thursday 13 April, 6-8 GMT
Singing a story into relationship
Session 4. Thursday 27 April, 6-8 GMT with guest tutor, Dr Sharon Blackie.
The Magic of Meaning
Session 5. Thursday 11 May, 6-8 GMT
Weaving ourselves with story
Session 6. Thursday 25 May, 6-9 GMT
In service to story
The tutoring elements of the sessions will be recorded and available to course participants.
Well, there hasn’t been much room for reading over this past month. I’ve mostly been listening to audiobooks in the midst of packing. I can’t do fiction in audiobooks; it never works for me – I can’t seem to properly conjure up the images – unless I can see the magic of the words on the page. My favourite audiobook ‘reads’ are memoirs and literary biographies. Recently, I’ve especially enjoyed Rooted, by Sarah Langford, an intimate and moving – and ultimately hopeful – account of modern farming and our relationship with the land. And I’m still in the middle of listening to Jonathan Bates’ fascinating biography, Ted Hughes: an Unauthorised Life. I can’t remember how long I’ve loved Hughes’ poetry – since I was very small, for sure – but I never get tired of it, or of him.
This month’s poem
W. S. Merwin
All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
look at the old house in the dawn rain
all the flowers are forms of water
the sun reminds them through a white cloud
touches the patchwork spread on the hill
the washed colors of the afterlife
that lived there long before you were born
see how they wake without question
even though the whole world is burning
from The Shadow of Sirius (Copper Canyon Press, 2009)
The Art of Enchantment with Dr Sharon Blackie is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, please consider becoming a paid subscriber.
"from what we cannot hold, stars are made."
thank you for your Words.
“I’m talking about the strange, deep-rooted kind of anxiety – decidedly existential – which comes from beginning to systematically deconstruct the safe place that you have just spent years constructing.”
I relate. I left Manhattan in 2021 suddenly and unexpectedly when my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Talk about disruption!