We spent Thursday tulip spotting in the Dutch countryside. There are many tulip fields between our house and the ocean, so we started on the North Sea.
It looked like this.
It’s been raining and cool forever, so the sunshine was tremendous. Also tremendous was the cafe on the beach where we stopped for a snack after the dog ran herself ragged. We hadn’t sat in a cafe since before last Thanksgiving, so it was a bit of moment.
Then we wended our way home through tulip country.
We passed field after field of color, and I realized that this is the Dutch equivalent of New England leaf peeking when you drive around looking at fall foliage. They may not have flaming swamp maples here for Halloween, but they certainly have fields of tulips as far as the eye can see each spring. And they also have lots of people out appreciating them.
In the end, I had to get out of the car and immerse myself. The air was sweet and thick with drunken bees, and the warmth of the sun seemed to radiate back up from the ground. Up to your knees in endless tulips feels a bit like standing in the ocean-or perhaps, like hanging out with the munchkins in the Wizard of Oz. I guess it depends on how fanciful you are.
Ready Wisdom: Make like a tree. Or How to live entirely in the moment.
There is pretty much a yoga pose for everything, and I seem to have spent most of the last week in tree pose.
In tree, you can root yourself to the earth, which helps on those occasions when you feel as if you might spin clear off the planet.
In tree, you can find that crucial place of balance between pressure points as you lift your branches.
You can reach up to the sky and wave your arms as graceful branches that move with the wind no matter how strong it becomes.
It has been one of those weeks.
When I wasn’t actually in tree pose, I spent time amongst the trees themselves, listening to the wind through their branches, watching their buds unfold, and smelling that sweet spring scent of flowering growth.
Most walks brought me to animals, and that is a fine place to be right now. There is a herd of Highland cattle in our local nature reserve, and they are huge, majestic things to behold.
A half-hour near a herd of cattle is instant relaxation and reminds me of a special knowledge we have forgotten: How to live entirely in the moment.
You don’t see animals worrying about the future and fretting about the past. You see them, instead, simply inhabiting the moment. If everything is fine in an animal’s direct vicinity, then they are fine as well.
I’m not sure I can sign up for the cow hugging I’m reading about in both the US and Dutch presses, but I can sit on my side of the fence in the field, and remember how to inhabit the moment. Then, for just a bit, my concerns subside so I can hold space in the quiet of my center and ground myself with the tree roots.
Once as I sat there, the cows began to sing for no other reason but joy I suppose, and I marveled to hear how it sounded like whale song.
Earth’s two biggest mammals, one on land, and one at sea, sing a common song of joy.
Ready Wisdom that you can apply right now is the theme of Owl Magic, my toolbox of anxiety-busting strategies created for times exactly like these. The instantly applicable guided meditations, stories, poems, yoga poses, and writing prompts in Owl Magic will help you meet today’s challenges from the life-affirming power of your own intuition, because times of change are the times of greatest transformation.
“…make time to do what is most important: create art with positive rippling effects.”
Vashti Stopher Klein is an award-winning filmmaker, folksinger, and songwriter in the Washington D.C. area. She is the author of the multi-media poetry collection The Soprano, the Monster, and the Dragonslayer. Her films have won awards, including CINE Golden Eagle; Gold, Houston International Film/Video Festival; Blue Ribbon, American Film/Video Festival; Best Director, International Monitor Awards; Silver Hugo, Chicago International Film/Video Festival. Inspired to produce artistic products with positive rippling effects throughout the world, she formed Butterfly Effect Productions, Inc. In 2014, she released her first album, The Heart of Things. The following year, her album, Path to the Sun, Moon and Stars was born.
What would you decide to do if fighting a battle to save your life threatened the very essence of your life? Written as a fairytale, with enchanting artistic elements, the Soprano, the Monster, and the Dragonslayer will have readers rooting for the Soprano’s success, worrying over the outcome of her battles, and cheering for her triumph. Her voice is then heard in poetry and music.
Vashti Stopher Klein
A warm welcome to film producer, poet, and singer Vashti Stopher Klein who is joining the blog to talk about her unique book The Soprano, the Monster, and the Dragon Slayer. Klein’s origins from a long line of musicians combine with her experience in the visual arts to shine through her book, which fuses three genres: poetry, music, and visual arts. The result is an inspiring, multi-faceted volume bound together by the theme of love.
Truly do give me
the light in the trees
the sun on the mountain
the river at our feet
the wind in our hair
the joy that surrounds us
of all that we love.
from the poem Love in the Daylight Hours
Poetry and song are close cousins. Have you ever wondered when reading poetry what it might sound like? The Kindle version of Klein’s book has an answer with links to the author singing her poems. Klein sings well with a good range and is able to merge the written with the vocal beautifully. Hearing her soaring voice brings the words to life as the author becomes the Soprano.
The book is illustrated beautifully by Carol Collett, of Carol Collett Desert Studio, whose mixed media quilted images decorate the text with truly unique Americana.
Klein’s goal is to produce art that ripples out into the world with good, and she achieves that beautifully with this collection.
1. I’M INTERESTED IN THE BACKSTORY. YOUR POEMS READ AS A STORY OF HEALING. HOW DID YOUR EXPERIENCE LEAD TO YOU WRITING THE SOPRANO, THE MONSTER, AND THE DRAGON SLAYER?
All of us who’ve lived through this past year have watched our health care professionals on the front lines, like warriors, selflessly take care of people, while risking their own lives to do so. We have seen what compassionate care means, like never before. When you are the recipient of that kind of care from other human beings in your darkest hour, from people you don’t know, it changes your life forever.
The backstory of my book began in the winter of 2012 when I contracted a deadly virus that resulted in a cough that became so severe, I cracked a rib. A subsequent CT scan showed a mediastinal mass in my thymus gland.
My doctor referred me, reluctant and terrified, to a cardiothoracic surgeon who said he wouldn’t know whether it was cancer or not until he performed a surgical resection. Robotics were possible to use but he would convert to a sternotomy if that proved unsuccessful. His words made me feel like I was in a nightmare.
He said if it was cancer, he would remove anything it touched, including my voice box because his job was to save my life. Radiation treatments would follow. If the laryngeal nerves were damaged, another risk, it could affect my voice forever, leaving me hoarse or unable to speak. This mediastinal mass was an anomaly, unknown to me, that I’d had my entire life, so I asked the surgeon why I should risk surgery now. He said it was the only way to find out if it was cancer, and, it may be growing. I asked a million questions, and he answered every one. I was numb.
I weakly whispered something about being a singer; the surgeon said he operated on a tenor recently who only sang Puccini and he had successfully performed this and similar surgeries hundreds of times. These things happen to other people and right then, I was not feeling like I would be one of the lucky ones.
I was terrified I would never sing again. All I could think of was if I can’t sing, or speak, what value will my life have?
I told him I didn’t want the surgery. He said to think about it for a couple of weeks and we would talk again. Drawing up my courage, I heard myself assert, more loudly than before, that I was a singer, and it was “important to my life, to be able to sing.” I had never said that out loud before, as a definition of my life’s value. I asked if I could play a recording of one of my songs for him. I thought that if I played it for him, perhaps he would be more careful. He looked a little surprised but said yes.
I played an operatic piece I was learning, En Aranjuez con Tu Amor by Joaquin Rodrigo and my voice filled the exam room. He listened intently. When the recording stopped, he kindly said, he would do everything he could “to save that beautiful voice.” He answered the multitude of questions I had which earned my trust. A second-opinion doctor concurred with his diagnosis and proposed treatment but was so arrogant and dismissive I didn’t think he heard any of my concerns. I returned to the first surgeon.
From that point forward until the surgery, I reflected on my life and everything I had ever valued. As a filmmaker, I prided myself on being able to control complicated productions that had massive moving parts every day. Now I had no control at all. I began to imagine the world going on without me. In the weeks before surgery, I was learning to let go.
The night before surgery I had a dream. It was simple. My surgeon’s smiling face appeared, and he said, “Everything is going to be just fine.”
The next morning in the hospital’s pre-op room, I was strangely calm. The anesthesiologist briskly entered and asked about dry eyes and latex allergies, after which there was a small prick to my arm. Six hours later I woke up in the recovery room with a tight bandage around my chest. In between sleep and awakening, there was only a sheer black void, the absolute perfection of nothingness. I didn’t want to know if I’d had a sternotomy at that moment. But I had.
In my post-op appointments with my surgeon, I could not have been more fragile, inching my way down long hospital hallways to get to the surgical suite. He said I was recovering beautifully. I knew that I could trust him, and his words meant I was finally on the other side of the precipice where there was no more fear. Just recovery. And life. But I was still hoarse from the breathing tube.
From the first day after surgery, my body felt like the weight of the world had lifted from my chest. My sense of touch, taste and smell were strangely heightened, tenfold. When my fingers touched my skin, it was as though it was the first time I had ever been touched. Meals were so delicious and enjoyable I chewed and chewed to prolong the wonderful tastes. Smells were more acute.
Sometimes late at night as the pain medicine wore off, and my thoughts slowly assembled, I began to experience the profound depth of what had happened to me. I was captivated by Andrea Bocelli singing Vaghissima Sembianza, “a cherished vision,” a song about a painting that was a replica of a long-lost love’s image. Over and over, in a dreamlike trance, I played the song with this precious vision. It brought me such comfort. I didn’t know why.
As the days passed, I couldn’t believe the kindness I received from so many people throughout my ordeal. The nurse who removed my chest tube; the man at the hospital’s front desk who leaped up to take my arm as I unsteadily walked in for a post-op appointment; the anesthesiologist, with a worried look, who checked on me in the ICU. The hospital caregivers and surgeon’s staff were completely selfless. None could know the profound effect they had on my life simply by being supportive.
As my recovery progressed, and anesthesia drugs wore off, conversations gradually drifted back into my consciousness, and late one night, I remembered my surgeon saying the mediastinal mass had begun to attach itself to my lung, and the pericardium of my heart. I then realized the monster within had been spreading and positioning itself to make its final move. It could have attacked me at any age; but for some reason, it had chosen this time of my life. A time when I was too young to be old, and too old to be young.
In the flickering light of my television that night, in the wee hours before dawn, in a medicated haze, I suddenly realized that this brilliant surgeon, whom I had entrusted with my life, had reached the monster just before it wrapped itself around my heart and lungs forever. And I knew in these twilight hours of excruciating profundity, this story would affect me the rest of my life.
As healing began, I started to sing a little each day, starting tentatively at first. After a few weeks, it began to feel like my voice had no limits. The high notes were unforced without the obstruction of the mass near my lungs. I felt a part of everything that was alive because my voice was nearly lost forever.
My life changed. The kindness of these selfless medical professionals rekindled my connection to others and to nature which I was drawn to each day, simply because there were remarkable people who cared about someone who to them was a stranger. I knew I could never go back to my previous life; I had to move forward. It was as if I’d been under a spell. These kind people slayed the monster of my life’s faded expectations. The surgeon stood by me, listened to my fears, and gave me the unvarnished truth. He spoke to me with consideration and respect. It was not only his brilliant surgical skill that healed me; it was his honesty and compassion during my darkest hour and his and others’ innate goodness as human beings that saved my life.
I didn’t want to squander the precious time they gave back to me. My heart was open wide, and it led me back to the music of my life.
As I recovered and began to sing and write poetry again, I felt my life change as I healed. I practiced until I built up enough courage to perform one night at a local open mic. I was so nervous; I had no idea what to expect. I sang Raglan Road and when I finished the audience stood and applauded wildly. I was overwhelmed.
I then began to sing and perform more locally, and the audience reactions moved me. Sometimes they stood and applauded; other times shouted “Wow! Just wow!” Some walked on stage with me and hugged me as their tears fell; others told me that listening to my music had a trance-like effect on them that soothed them and helped them to relax.
During this journey, I came across a paper by Edward Lorenz whose theory famously became known as “the butterfly effect.” One small action, a butterfly flapping its wings in Kansas, can have reverberating effects throughout the world, and cause a tornado in Japan. I began to feel that my singing, like the rippling effects of Lorenz’s butterflies, might be something positive I could contribute. I began to feel that everything affects who you are, and who you are affects everything.
I formed Butterfly Effect Productions Inc. to produce artistic products whose rippling effects could be a source of comfort and beauty. Because I didn’t know what the future held, I wanted to capture my music, so I decided to record my first album, The Heart of Things, released in 2014. The artwork of the woman on the cliff, with arms wide open, and heart energy flowing, was an image of how I felt as I healed.
The next year, in a flurry of inspiration, I composed numerous songs and poetry. They came to me as I walked each day in the park, they appeared in my dreams or as I walked into a room. As the music came, I decided to record a second album that became Path to the Sun, Moon, and Stars, released in 2017.
I was tested regularly to make sure the monster didn’t return. They said it was unlikely. But I felt I had been given a second chance to leave something of whoever I was in the world, and I wasn’t going to waste it. My music, my singing, my poetry, the films I made, the songs and stories I wrote, would be my contribution.
2. THE SOPRANO, THE MONSTER, AND THE DRAGON SLAYER STANDS OUT AS IT INCORPORATES THREE GENRES: POETRY, MUSIC, AND THE VISUAL ARTS. WAS THIS INTENTIONAL, OR DID IT EVOLVE? HOW HAS IT INFLUENCED YOUR EXPRESSION AND ABILITY TO CONNECT TO AN AUDIENCE?
The book evolved from the songs, poetry, and films I’ve been writing since I can remember. I find artistic expression to be such a fluid process that it has a life of its own. For me, the inspiration selects the genre; it’s as if it comes from somewhere else and demands to be expressed. Sometimes it wants to be a poem; sometimes it must be a film; other times, music; sometimes the lyrics come first, other times, it’s the melody. When it happens, it’s as if I must sit down right then and write it down, or sing it and record it, or play it on the piano until it is roughed out. I can’t rest until this is done. I once wrote a poem called “The Late Great Roscoe Mac,” when a friend told me that in medical school they practiced on a cadaver they named Roscoe Mac. That night as I ate my dinner, it was as if Roscoe was next to me saying, “Write this down. Write this down, now!” I had to stop eating and write the poem. Every line was very nearly perfect from beginning to end after one draft.
One of my songs called “Whatever He Wants,” started as a tune in my head. It had a certain levity to it but also had a helpless feeling. I had no idea what it was about, but the melody kept coming back to me. One morning, after a recording session, the previous day, I woke up out of a dead sleep thinking, “Whatever He Wants! Oh, that’s what it’s about!” Then, as I sat up in bed, I wrote the lyrics on my phone. The song changed very little after that.
This process has gone on for years, off and on; but I had lost touch with that part of myself before my surgery. Afterward, I felt I needed to do as much as I could as soon as I could because I was keenly aware that we only have today to share who we are.
In 2019, I decided I wanted to capture some of the work I’d already created in a book. I thought it should have a specific theme, so I chose love poems I had written over the years. With newfound confidence, I now dared to put it out in the world. I reached out to my lifelong friend, Carol Collett, and asked if she would share her lifetime of amazing artwork for the book; some pieces she had created over the years; others she created especially for the song or poem as needed. It was a joy to collaborate with someone dear to me with whom I felt such a kinship. And it was exciting to think our artwork would be shared in one book.
In terms of the visual media used, as a filmmaker, I’m familiar with the power of sound over images. And since music lyrics are simply poems, I decided I would add my music lyrics to the poetry in the book and link them to my published songs to enhance people’s experience. I imagined someone putting on their earphones, taking my little book of poetry to a coffee shop, looking at Carol’s exquisite artwork, and reading my poetry in an e-reader and listening to my music as they remembered what it was like to be in love.
I think people are connecting to my music and poetry because they feel a kinship in terms of their own life experiences. It seems to soothe them. Steel Drums and Ode to Harley have received such heartfelt responses of joy from people who found comfort in the promise of the future in Steel Drums, to tenderness and empathy from those who treasure their “best friends…” in Ode to Harley.
I hope that my songs, poetry, short stories, and films will always have positive effects that are meaningful, that move people, and that help heals their hearts, even for just a moment.
3. WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS?
There is so much I have yet to do. I have pieces of music waiting to be completed; and finished songs waiting to be recorded. I have poetry to collect in another volume; short stories for a book; one is about my mother called, “Sun Mother, Dream God.” Another is a rough draft I’ve written of a book of dreams I want to finish called “The Winnekawe Bear Book of Dreams.” I have a rough cut of a short film to finish producing called “The Trouble with Venetians.” The pandemic stole a year from all of us; for me, I went inward. But now that we are starting to get some semblance of our lives, back, I feel myself opening up, going from survival mode to one of gratitude for my life again. This feeling inspires me to consciously make time to do what is most important: create art with positive rippling effects that will live long after I am gone.
Imagine the poets were right and this is the moment we changed.
Imagine the air stays clean
imagine the grief is gone
imagine the ocean clean
imagine the people together.
Imagine the planet healed
imagine the people healed
imagine the fear is gone.
Imagine the poets were right
and this is the moment we changed.
Have you ever imagined soulless zombie armies, mushroom clouds, alien invasion, and of course, pandemic? We have read about the apocalypse in novels and watched it over and over again on movie screens. We have imagined dystopia and a violent, imminent end to everything we know, and we have probably imagined ourselves amongst the survivors, because who wants to contemplate their own mortality?
These are modern apocalyptic visions. They are rooted in fear, and they always happen to someone else. Except now, perhaps.
The fictional pandemic has suddenly become real, and the political instability is happening to all of us in some way, right now. If we are lucky, we get to sit it out on the couch in our yoga pants. If we are not lucky, we may have been sick, or someone we love may have been sick, or maybe we have to leave the couch because our jobs are essential. We may also be out risking danger to protest for a better world.
It is happening to all of us, and while we are probably all scared and thinking apocalyptic thoughts, we are also experiencing the current moment in very different ways.
It turns out it is not zombies or aliens or nuclear war. It is a virus, a microscopic enemy we cannot even see. It is social upheaval, dredging up all of the dark aspects of this world we need to fix, and it looks like it might have to get worse before it gets better.
Open your owl eyes
Expand your owl vision. Owls always see the truth and are comfortable flying through dark shadows. Summon your owls. Athena is a battle goddess, and the owl at her shoulder protects her in dark places.
This is not the first apocalypse
It has happened many times before, and it is possible to think of apocalypse as more of an ongoing situation than a one-time event. Every time a species goes extinct, they have had their apocalypse. Every time a habitat is destroyed, it is an apocalypse, and the thing most apocalypses have in common is that they are generally man-made.
Are we the apocalypse?
Did the virus jump species to humans because we put so much pressure on the natural environment? Maybe. And is it the nature of the virus to invade a host and drain it until it is exhausted in the same way humans invade the land and drain it until it too is exhausted? Possibly.
While pop culture defines apocalypse as the kind of explosive world-ending event we have seen in the movies, people have, in fact, been predicting the end of the world pretty much forever.
And in some times and places, it did end. But never for long, and often not at all.
Notice the fear behind the apocalyptic vision.
Apocalyptic predictions generally follow times of disruption or uncertainty, often involving war, plague, or the sighting of comets in the sky.
One of the earliest apocalyptic predictions was made in ancient Judea by the Essenes, who thought their battle with Rome was the end battle. For them, it was the end, but it was not the end for everyone.
The world has been predicted to end by antichrist, fire, and flood at different times by different people—yet still, we are here.
Between 1290 and 1335, Joachim of Fiore predicted the end of the world twice. His second prediction was a rescheduling of the first after it failed to materialize, and that was followed by the Black Death, which many considered the real end times.
Cotton Mather predicted the end of the world three times, and Nostradamus was specific in his prediction of July 1999.
We all remember the Y2K predictions and the Mayan Doomsday of 2012.
How many times and ways might the world have ended?
Bad things have happened, bad things are happening now, but the world has not ended yet, and neither have we. Every previous apocalypse has been based on a false fear.
We are living in our own apocalyptic Between Times, which brings us to our next universal law:
The Universal Law of Courage: Own your fear and face it down through direct action.
This is how to make your fear a constructive agent of change in a rapidly changing world.
Read more in Owl Magic: Your GUide Through Challenging Times from Sea crow press.
“ This combination of reassurance that there is still magic to behold, that we still have the power and vision to significantly change our world for the better, combined with practical steps that empower us, is healing. Owl Magic” provides just the right amount of heart to remind us what it feels like to be a human being with hope, and enough history to help us put our lives into perspective.” ~Vashti Stopher Klein, author of The Soprano, the Monster, and the Dragonslayer
This guy turned up on the roof of my old bike shed last week. Technically he is roosting atop a fine collection of wheels mostly unused due to the ongoing COVID lock down.
Recently a screech owl owned the airspace over the house for the better part of a night. It was a wild, welcome sound such as I have not heard since leaving Cape Cod.
While we stay home, the local wildlife is moving into suburban neighborhoods.
We have just moved house ourselves, so we have a new bike shed, and I think I understand how the wildlife feels. Maybe not quite of one place, hanging somewhere in between, exploring new opportunities as they present themselves, making it up as it comes.
I walk a lot in quiet places tracking subtleties.
The change of light, the water level, where the ducks are feeding.
I’m looking for signs of spring.
The first shoots of green.
Growth and renewal, hope and the moment this wild, global card game of 52 pick-up can be resolved and returned to an orderly box.
If you live in New England, have you noticed small dogs sound deceptively like wild turkeys? The dog next door sure had me fooled first thing this morning. I mistook his rumbling bark for turkey chortles, and thought of the old joke: They’re almost ready for Thanksgiving!
Then I remembered I am 3,000 miles away from Cape Cod, and there are no bands of wild turkeys wandering the Dutch landscape.
It was almost Thanksgiving, so it seemed like a good time to wander down to the weekly market in our village outside of Amsterdam for some crucial cooking supplies. You can never be sure what you’ll find in the outdoor market, but I went there assuming an abundance of everything I needed.
I find that if I want to attract the thing I need, I first have to assume there is an abundance of that thing available:
“The best thing we can do is ditch the scarcity mentality. Scarcity is the fear of too little. If you apply this fear to yourself, you set yourself up to experience it because you are sending out the energy that calls scarcity back to you.”
me, in Owl Magic: Your Guide Through Challenging Times
So I entered the market fray full of my own advice and the assumption I’d find lots of cranberries.
I circled the greengrocer’s stall twice, and there was nary a cranberry to be seen.
I took a deep breath.
I’d have to ask, so I consulted Google translate for the Dutch word for cranberry and tried it out on the guy selling vegetables. He couldn’t have been nicer, but he had no idea what I wanted.
Finally, I told him the English word is cranberries, and he understood immediately and said he was sure there had been some earlier, and after much to-ing and fro-ing, he tracked down his colleague-in-charge of cranberries, who revealed a stash half-hidden under a large tarp.
Six bags labeled Ocean Spray had become wet and been deemed unsaleable.
Just to be sure I understood, I confirmed they had been ruined by water. They had.
And that is how I ended up with several pounds of perfect cranberries for a rock bottom price just in time for Thanksgiving far away in the Netherlands.
Ditching the scarcity mentality works.
The cranberries are native to my own home, but my conscience is not completely easy. I should probably return to the market to explain cranberries are made for water. The natural habitat of the cranberry is a bog, which is flooded with water to make them float for harvest.
Especially since once the greengrocer heard I was American he told me how he loves America, and about the time he went to New York.
Flooded cranberry bog by Cape Cod photographer Carole Corcoran
I spent the weekend making cranberry bread and cranberry sauce. My sauce recipe comes from the Peter Hunt Cookbook, a Cape Cod classic found in second-hand bookstores and private bookshelves across the Cape.
You can produce an entire Thanksgiving dinner from this book if you have to. Here is my classic, super easy Peter Hunt recipe for perfect cranberry sauce.
I’ve had a lot of questions recently about how I write. I listen deeply, and then the floodgates open.
The landscape is different but always the same. The tide is high or low, lapping the shore or booming chased by the wind, but always the tide. The sand is a soft carpet, a million tiny pieces worn from parent rocks of distant times, sometimes wet, sometimes dry, but always under your feet.
I’ve heard the sand whistle.
A fish washes up, a keening gull drops a clam, it smashes on the low tide rocks, and a meal is served.
The crows are a Greek chorus, chortling from low trees.
Your feet splash and leave prints on the flats that are gone when you return.
These are the sounds of poetry.
To write a poem, you must listen deeply and inhabit your subject.
Befriend a tree. Sit with it and listen. In time you’ll hear its story, and if you listen well, you might, for a time, become the tree.
It’s a form of shapeshifting.
The magic is in the listening and the becoming. Become your subject, and return to write about it.
I’ve had a lot of questions recently about how I write. I listen deeply, and then the floodgates open.
I’ve been driving through traffic and said to the child in the backseat, quick! find a piece of paper and a pen, write this down! Luckily the car always provides the needed materials.
I’ve jumped out of the bathtub with an entire new poem. Water seems to aid creation, and why not? We come from the sea, and we float in water for our first nine months.
I have fragments scribbled on napkins, envelopes, and pretty much anything to hand. It looks messy, but it isn’t.
Walk the place you love most each day.
Listen. Watch. Inhabit.
I am not on the ocean right now, so I am listening deeply inland, along freshwater woods and fields. At first, it didn’t smell right, no salt, and I didn’t know the birds.
But I’m listening and slowly shifting, and new things are coming.
You can read Mary Petiet’s poems in Moon Tide and Owl Magic.
As an Amazon affiliate Sea Crow Press earns from qualifying purchases. Click below.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
It’s been a long week of political uncertainty with second lockdowns casting their shadow. We are perhaps finding that life does indeed happen while we make other plans.
We are not the first to experience this.
Over the past few days, I have been thinking a lot about an earlier pandemic and time of unrest, and the surprisingly relevant legacy of a fourteenth century anchorite who overcame dark times with faith in love and a kind of yoga she called Body Prayer.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” ~Julian of Norwich
I think we could all use a little bit of Julian of Norwich at the moment because her experience can stand us well today.
In Europe, the end of the fourteenth century was also a harrowing time. One-third of the population died of bubonic plague as the Hundred Years War raged and the church split between rival popes.
Like today, the structures people assumed were permanent began to vanish. And like today, a certain kind of wisdom helped people survive the uncertainty.
Think of it as Owl Wisdom.
Owls have a quiet about them, allowing them to observe and notice. They embody an independence that lets them forge ahead with the vision to see the way. They occupy the moment and work with what they have. They soar above the fray.
Here is the owl wisdom you can apply to your situation, the same wisdom women mystics of earlier times tapped into as their worlds convulsed.
In the late fourteenth century, one mystic found peace in the storm by finding a connection to a loving God through something she called Body Prayer. Her name was Julian of Norwich, and what she called Body Prayer looks a lot like modern yoga.
It is also full of owl wisdom
As an anchorite at the church of St. Julian in Norwich, England, Julian of Norwich would have been at home with the idea of social isolation. An anchorite chooses a solitary life to cultivate internal focus.
Quarantine? No problem
Her real name is lost to the ages, but it is almost certain she lost her husband and children to the plague and nearly died of it herself. While ill, she experienced a series of visions about the nature of love, which redefined her connection to God and faith in goodness through awful times.
She described her experience in the first known book in English written by a woman. It was called Revelations of Divine Love.
She was surprisingly modern. As her contemporaries worshiped a harsh patriarchal god, Julian of Norwich called in a radically feminine deity that added motherhood and love to the equation. Her god was both father and mother, and, as the transcendentalists would centuries later, she saw God in everything as she declared salvation universal.
Here is an expression of our next law straight out of an earlier time of pandemic and social upheaval:
The Universal Law of Love: The force that binds everything together. It is not romantic love. It is the energy behind the Law of Connection. It is unconditional and all accepting. It is the opposite of fear.
Think of it like gravity.
It is the glue that can hold us together, individually and collectively, through tumultuous times.
Every situation presents a choice of action. Imagine what happened when Julian of Norwich’s life was derailed by bubonic plague. In no time at all, she lost her family and all the trappings of active, worldly life in medieval Norwich. She could easily have reverted to fear, the opposite of love, and simply ceased to be.
What sustained her in her Time Between?
Our lives have also changed rapidly. Within one week, most of us found ourselves in a state of lockdown due to the coronavirus. It was a scene repeated all over the planet. Maybe some of us have been sick or lost loved ones. Some of us are sheltering in place comfortably. Some of us are suffering, some of us are dying, and some of us are leaving quarantine and picking up the pieces in a changed world roiling with political instability. For all of us, the futures we planned are uncertain.
What can sustain us in our Time Between?
The Pose & The Meditation: Body Prayer
Stand firmly on your yoga mat. Body Prayer consists of a series of four standing poses. First, initiate your prana breath, breathe deeply, in and out. Then shift your focus.
• Await – the posture of receiving. Hold your hands open at waist level. You are welcoming the presence of God or your highest self.
• Allow – this is the posture of opening. Reach up with your hands open to welcome the coming of God’s presence or the presence of your own highest self.
• Accept – the posture of taking. Cup your hands at your heart and take in whatever comes.
• Attend – this is the posture of willingness to act on what has been given. Extend your hands with palms open.
Await, allow, accept, attend. Repeat the sequence while maintaining the breath.
A new title for a new moment. Combining the creative force of the feminine divine with the wisdom of the owl, this book guides you through the anxiety of the current moment. Owl Magic helps reclaim your intuitive power so you can build a better future from the position of your highest self. ~ SHERIANNA BOYLE, AUTHOR OF EMOTIONAL DETOX FOR ANXIETY
Owl Magic takes you gently by the hand and leads you to deeper self-awareness and self-actualization through stories, myths, meditations, and writing prompts, inviting us to peel back the layers of who we are and how we navigate an imperfect world so we can step into our true power. ~RACHEL JEPSON WOLF, AUTHOR OF THE UNPLUGGED FAMILY ACTIVITY BOOK & HERBAL ADVENTURES
Times of change are the times of greatest transformation.
Meet today’s challenges with the life-affirming power of your own intuition.
Open the Owl Magic toolbox of simple anxiety-busting strategies designed to reveal your hidden power.
Journey at your own pace through guided meditations, stories, poems, yoga poses, and writing prompts.
This unique interactive guide provides many routes to your highest self so you can seize the incredible potential of the present moment.
What seeds are you planting now?
The autumn dark descends earlier each twilight, but that doesn’t have to leave you cold.
Now is the time for deep interior work. The early dark signals the great turning within, the ancestral soul-seeking, the ancient memory tugging at the edge of the psyche as the afternoon fades and the moon peeks over the clouds.
Brew your tea. Cast your spells, sit within your quiet, and choose your focus, for what you focus on will surely grow.
Where I am in the Netherlands the dark comes early indeed. But the Dutch have a tradition of keeping things cozy, so the night is lit with flickering candles and met with warmth inside. It is time to reflect and take stock, and as we face increasingly challenging times ahead, it is time to care for ourselves and each other.
The descent is necessary so the return can happen.
In descending, find your ripest, most potent pomegranate seeds, and bring them back safely to plant them in fertile soil that they may flourish. Our job right now is to find the seeds, our mission to plant them well, and our goal to see them grow.
Mary Petiet writes with a passion for connecting and empowering women to live from their highest selves.
She is the author of Minerva’s Owls and Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems, and a contributor to the anthologies Jesus, Muhammad, and the Goddess, She Rises, vol.2, and Awaken the Feminine!: Dismantling Domination to Restore Balance on Mother Earth. Her work has appeared in Feminism and Religion, Sage Woman, The Wayfarer, and she is a contributor to Mother House of the Goddess.
Join Mary on Facebook or online at www.marypetiet.com and be the first to hear about her new books. She loves to hear from readers at firstname.lastname@example.org and is available for work with book groups and online readings. If you love Owl Magic, please be sure to tell your friends and leave a review on Amazon and Good Reads.
Fall winds are blowing in the Netherlands. It rained and hailed last night, and the dark is falling earlier. The recent equinox of September 22 offered a rare moment of balance in an increasingly unbalanced world, and I for one grabbed it!
Fall is subtle here. It creeps in on foggy cat feet as the trees turn slowly russet and yellow.
At the moment, the huge old oak behind my house is welcoming hundreds of swallows as they migrate south to warmer climes. My cat watches them, but his hopes are thwarted by the warning bell he wears around his neck, the unfortunate consequence of hunting too well.
The cat’s name is Pip and he started life in a parking lot in Hyannis on Cape Cod, from which he was rescued as a very small kitten. Later, I brought him home from the SPCA because I needed a good mouser in my old farmhouse. Later still, Pip made the trip to the Netherlands with us and now he is a popular sight in the neighborhood.
If he could speak, he’d probably tell you the bell on his collar is his biggest problem.
Pip’s prowess as a hunter is legendary. I imagine he has quite a reputation in cat circles, so I wrote a short poem about him in Moon Tide called Four Feathers, after the gift he very proudly left me early one morning several falls ago.
Pip’s bell warns the birds effectively of his approach, so I can guarantee no birds were hurt in the writing of this blog.
When you sit on my porch you’re really sitting with Rock.
A long time ago, a retreating glacier left a huge rock in my front yard.
For all I know,
Rock goes deep into the earth
possibly emerging in China…
~Excerpts are from the poem Rock in Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems
When you sit on my porch you’re really sitting with Rock. In summer, soft green lichen covers its top. In winter it stands above the snowline, and kids like to climb upon it playing king of the mountain.
We live atop a scene of ancient devastation.
A long time ago, Cape Cod was born of retreating ice.
Before the trees, the road, and the house, the rock was here, and after all of today’s uncertainties, the rock will still be here.
Like the sky above and the ocean that surrounds the Cape, Rock sits in mute testament to endurance.
Does Rock remember?
Do we remember?
To sit with rock is to remember the long game, the endless bend and stretch of time. Rock is of the eons and surely full of stories.
We are of this moment, and also full of stories, and we share with Rock this capacity to endure.
Read Rock’s whole story in Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems.
Every so often, Cape Codders think about declaring an independent state. It’s a fine idea. The place is unique enough to warrant statehood, but it hasn’t flown yet.
As Labor Day weekend winds down, I’m wondering from an off-Cape vantage if instead of statehood, the Cape shouldn’t have its own calendar.
Cape Codders know fall does not start locally with the equinox on the astronomical first day of fall, which occurs this year on September 22. Instead, it begins on Labor Day weekend when summer people depart, and locals get the place back again.
It’s a magical moment of sudden quiet at the end of a long, hot, busy summer.
It’s also the moment dogs are allowed back on the beach, and there is nothing finer than beachcombing with a good dog. You can never be sure what you’ll find.
My black pointer lab mix Daisy loved the ocean, and I think her best find ever was a large quahog she dug out of the low tide flats. When she trotted back to me with this treasure, I opened it with a rock, and she savored every bite of the delicate meat inside. She loved seafood.
I have found all kinds of things on the beach over the years, and the best find is always a horseshoe crab because they are so rare now. The worst is litter. Some of it’s useful, such as the new life jacket I found wedged by the tide into a breakwater. Some of it’s tragic, like the dead seal that washed up occasioning a visit from the environmental police, and some of it’s just plain sad, like the garbage.
Most of the time Cape beaches are beautiful and pristine. You find the odd bit of plastic and pick it up, problem solved. But once, a few falls ago after Labor Day, we were out walking the beach on an incoming moon tide driven by a strong northeast wind, and I found more trash than we could carry. It was a stark reminder of two things: the oncoming winter and what is floating around out there that shouldn’t be.
So I wrote a poem about it.
Moon Tide tells Cape Cod stories and is available on Amazon.
The clan gathers for a summer family reunion. It’s a beautiful beach day, and my grandfather’s second wife is treating us to lunch at the Black Pearl, Newport Rhode Island’s classic seaside dining spot.
The Black Pearl puts poetry in the chowder and fries fish to write home about. But our host is rich as Croesus, and also stingy, so everyone is ordering hot dogs and peanut butter sandwiches.
When asked what I want, I say the bouillabaisse. I am six years old.
Bouillabaisse is associated with the southern French town of Marseille but may have even earlier origins in ancient Greece. The classic fish stew was how fishermen fed themselves by utilizing the shellfish and boney fish they couldn’t sell to restaurants by boiling it in garlic and fennel to make a savory stew at the end of a long day’s fishing.
In time, as Marseille became rich with tourists, the simple fisher-fare made its way to resort tables with the addition of saffron and tomatoes.
On the French Rivera, the seaside town of Frejus launches fireworks every night. Imagine Van Gogh’s sunflower phase, and you’re pretty much in Frejus. The colors, the sea, and the tastes! At the end of another sunny summer day, my husband and I found our way to a tiny restaurant in Frejus under a train track famous for serving only bouillabaisse.
We weren’t sure what we getting into, but the trains turned out to be few and far between, and the bouillabaisse to die for. It was served by an ancient lady in separate courses, first the broth, and then the fish. Redolent with saffron and filled with cockles I had never eaten before, it was food for the gods. The ancient lady serves us until we can eat no more.
It is my 28th birthday.
I learned to make bouillabaisse on Cape Cod in an effort to recreate the one we loved so much in Frejus. It turns out Cape Cod has its own recipe made to suit the local fish. This is one of the few recipes I have the patience to follow, and I do it so I don’t muddle the flavor and waste pounds of seafood and many threads of precious saffron.
I was pretty much able to recreate the French bouillabaisse we ate so many years ago in Frejus with the help of the recipe and the addition of fresh New England fish.
Instead of the strange cockles in the French use, Cape Codders add Littleneck clams. We also add shrimp, but only the carefully deveined tails. We have ample summer tomatoes, and garlic and fennel, and sometimes, when I’m feeling a little wild, I’ve been known to add sweet summer corn to my Bouillabaisse, because why not?
This summer, I have found myself stuck in Amsterdam due to COVID-19. Since it’s my birthday again, and I’m turning 28 again, I spent a recent evening cooking with friends.
Right now things in the Netherlands are pretty normal, so it was no problem to haul out my favorite book of Cape Cod fish recipes and get to work.
I cook Bouillabaisse about once a summer, and it’s a big undertaking fit for a celebration. This time, I was hoping to bring the Cape Cod recipe to the Netherlands, and one step further away from France while maintaining the vital essence of the Bouillabaisse.
The Dutch do not have Littleneck clams.
This makes me sad, but I found tiny Venus clams and hoped for the best.
Shrimp come whole in the Netherlands, and since there is a local tradition of boiling and serving shrimp that way, I just chucked them in the pot, with heads and shells intact.
A firm white fish is essential. Do not add oily fish, it will ruin the dish. I was lucky to find cod on sale.
The heavy ripe field tomatoes you want for the sauce are hard to come by in this land of efficient greenhouses, so I grabbed the only can of tomatoes I saw in the store that day. The plot thickened with the sauce when I realized they were cherry tomatoes.
Have you ever seen a can of cherry tomatoes? I can tell you now they’re actually quite good.
Rouille, the classic red sauce that tops a traditional bouillabaisse, is one of the things that keeps the essence of France alive in the recipe. The other is saffron.
Rouille is basically mayonnaise with red peppers, lots of garlic, and a shot of tabasco. If bouillabaisse leaves you with a fine garlic hangover, it’s because of the rouille.
Use your Cuisinart to make the rouille to ensure you hit peak emulsification.
The rouille works with the croutons you make from french bread slices to make the dish taste very, very French.
The trickiest bit is really the timing. After you’ve made your tomato-based sauce in your biggest pot (I use my biggest, orangest Le Creuset) you add the fish according to cooking times. Beware of overcrowding the pot.
I learned the hard way that Venus clams open almost the minute they hit the heat, unlike littlenecks, which are tough as nails and will put up an impressive resistance to opening. Think about your timing as you add each fish and learn as you go.
It is a fluid place for shifting between realms, where poems can be written, paintings painted, and universes created.
Dropped by a retreating glacier on the Atlantic’s wild edge, Cape Cod has always offered a shifting landscape. As the sea takes a bit here and deposits a chunk there, the landscape is ever changing, yet somehow always the same.
Every winter sand from other places washes into Barnstable Harbor spurring off Barnstable’s annual harbor dredge. Some coastal change is predictable, and some is totally random, like the nor’ easter that broke the bulkhead in Barnstable Harbor, or the time Hurricane Bob left a wrack line of destroyed boats across the south side and littered the streets with scallops for the taking.
Cape Codders might not be completely shocked by the inevitable coastal shift brought on by climate change because it is a part of the natural condition of their shoreline and their marshes. They are used to inhabiting the liminal space between land and sea, and they and their stories are inextricably bound to it.
As I writer, I call in that space to create.
The Great Marsh is a wild space bridging the sea to solid land. It is a sacred space from the point of creation because it is unconcerned with the mundane cares of the solid land behind it.
It is a fluid place for shifting between realms, where poems can be written, paintings painted, and universes created.
It is perhaps why artists traditionally flock to the Cape, that and the light cast by short trees and reflecting seas, which looks a lot like the light you can still see in the fields of Holland to understand what inspired the Great Masters’ work.
Do you judge a book by its cover? Bookstores do, and so do potential buyers. Your book cover is your chance to make a great first impression, and since you only get that chance once, you don’t want to waste it.
Make sure your book cover is eye-catching, unique, and fantastic.
I had the cover for my latest book, Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems, in mind before I had even assembled the collection of poems for the interior. It started with a lucky photograph I had taken of our local sailing fleet on a full moon low tide. I didn’t know at once how that would translate into a cover, but I was sure it would.
If you are not a designer yourself, there are designers out there for hire. If I had tried to make my cover, I’m pretty sure crayons would have been involved, so as a self-publisher/small press, the cover design was the only part of production I hired out.
It was worth it.
I found my cover designer through word of mouth. Networking with other writers, online or in person, is a great way to find resources. There is an entire community out there self-publishing, so you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel.
I’m going to make an important disclosure: The designer who made the cover for Moon Tide is Sybil Wilson. She is wonderful to work with and you can contact her over at PopKitty Design if you need a great cover.
The Self-publishing school Self-Publish.com lists the following steps to finding a cover designer:
Research your book’s target audience
Brainstorm cover designs within your genre
Research book cover designer’s styles
Know where to find cover designers
Use a strategy to select the best cover designer in your budget
Begin the selection process
Use a rating process to help you choose the best book cover designer
Hire your book cover designer
If a potential reader can somehow relate to your cover, and it catches their interest, if they find it beautiful, and want to go in there and check it out, you have succeeded, and hopefully, sales will follow.
Book stores are also looking for covers that look professional and entice readers in a display. First impressions count, make yours as beautiful as possible.
‘The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft awry…’
“The best-laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men gang aft agley…”
That’s some nice Robert Burns to start the day: “The best-laid plans of mice and men go oft awry…”
And they do, especially for authors launching books in the middle of pandemics.
Before COVID-19, authors introduced new books with in-person readings and signings. Maybe a party. Definitely a celebration, because it’s no small thing to write a book. In the last few months that has changed completely, for both traditionally and self-published authors.
Suddenly we all need to figure out how to launch books without actually leaving the house.
This is even more challenging for the self-published or small press author because most of us do not have an army of publicists and a big publishing house to support our efforts. The regular challenges of promotion are compounded by not being able to engage with your audience in person.
In Amsterdam, as the most beautiful spring weather on record eased the strain of lock down, I spent a lot of time eating stroopwafles. The classic Dutch waffle/syrup cookie sandwich, best cut with strong coffee, stroopwafles are the perfect size to balance on the top of your coffee cup so they get warm and gooey.
I may have looked idle, but I was trying to figure out how to promote a book about Cape Cod to other people who love Cape Cod. As you probably know, Cape Cod is on the northeast coast of the U.S., and that is a long way from Amsterdam.
I had planned a beautiful, garden book launch on Cape Cod with the local historical society, with a reading, flowers, wine, and a book signing. I had plans for another reading down the road in the lovely Swedenborgian church, and I was grateful for the community support the book had inspired.
But all I could think of was Robert Burns. He pegged it. The best-laid plans do go awry, sometimes in ways we never imagined. Many, many writers have been caught short by the quickly changing circumstances brought on by COVID-19. The entire publishing industry has been caught short.
So we need to be agile.
We need to harness the technology that made self-publishing possible in the first place, and we need to move it all online. Even though we miss the experience of direct contact, this is how we can still connect to readers.
In the end, I grabbed my phone and recorded my book launch at my desk. It took a couple of minutes, and it was far easier than I had imagined as I sat there eating stroopwafles.
I posted it online, and people liked it.
It’s doable people, be brave and think outside of the box, and if you’re launching your book in these times, I’d love to hear how you adapted to the situation.
Is writing supposed to be this hard? Is the muse so fickle?
The blank page. It looms in the half-light of the computer, a sterile surface untouched by text, empty of emotion, quietly waiting. We’ve all faced it. Is writing supposed to be this hard? Is the muse so fickle?
It’s chilly and prone to extreme downpours right now where I am in the Netherlands. The summer started with beautiful sunny beach days, but now we are back in the ice-box.
The rain pours. A trapped hornet whines in the window. I cast around for something to blog about, and find only the blank page.
I’m thinking about inspiration and how to find it.
First, grab a cup of coffee. Then think about what grabs you. Google it.
History and poetry grab me, so I googled the earliest woman poet.
Have you heard of Enheduanna? I can’t believe I’m this many years old, and I’m only just hearing about Enheduanna.
Ancient Sumar, c. 2300 BCE. Enheduanna, the daughter of King Sargon of Akkad, is history’s earliest known poet.
“My king, something has been created that no one has created before,” she wrote. Her religious writing helped her father secure power in the south of his kingdom.
Echoes of her work resonate through history, in the verses of Homer, and the words of the Bible.