Has 2020 taken your sense of magic? Are old stories no longer serving? Channel the season’s magic to change your stories for a better outcome.
Restore Your Magic
When you were small, was the world enchanted? Were you a part of its flow? That’s because everything the adult world declares inanimate is alive to the child. Remember holiday magic? The holiday spirit definitely falls under this category. Children understand the magic of living, and this is something you can reclaim, remember, and retell through story and myth. Try to remember the magical rapture of being alive.
The images of myth are reflections of spiritual and depth potentialities of every one of us. Through contemplating those we evoke powers in our own lives to operate through ourselves.
Rediscover Your Myth
As adults, we become disconnected from our mythic stories because the structures of the adult world value material profit. We forget our inner journeys as we grow up and conform to those structures. When a society forgets its stories and mythologies, or they fail to work, people forget how to live and enter free fall. A lack of story and myth leads to an attraction to extremes in religion, politics, and civic life. This has been the experience of the pandemic year. However, there is magic and story and myth afoot throughout all of December. Let December’s magic lead you into your own personal myth. What are your stories?
See life like a poem, you are participating in a poem, and the root of the poetry is myth.
Retell Your Stories
Do you tell yourself the same stories over and over and end up with the same results? Is it possible the entire world is doing the same thing as the news becomes more and more extreme? We cannot fix the planet right now, but we can look around ourselves and make as much right as possible. One powerful way of doing this involves considering our stories and changing them for a better outcome: Once, I thought I would never find a parking spot for my car. I drove around and around the parking lot, telling myself I would never find a spot. Then I remembered something I had read recently about imagining what you need to manifest it. So I changed my story. I crossed my fingers and visualized myself finding the perfect parking spot. I did another circle back around the parking lot, and not one, but four spots had opened up!
Restore, Rediscover, Retell
Find your way through this pandemic holiday by retelling the familiar old stories and listening to the magic and myth. Keep the parts the work for you. Then, retell your own stories in ways that also work for you. Your highest self is in your stories, so tell them carefully.
“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.
If you have not befriended a tree, go out and find one to sit with.
Old Cedar knows why growing into the wind is certainly no solution. It tried to once, and proof of the attempt lingers in the twisted gray trunk below a shock of green on branches curved by the forceful old north wind.
~from Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems
The last time I visited my favorite tree on Cape Cod was in January, about six weeks before COVID put a temporary stop to travel home.
Old Cedar lives on a quiet stretch of shore between the marsh and the ocean near a tidal creek and not far from a friend’s boathouse. I like to sit at the base of the tree and survey my kingdom.
If you have not befriended a tree, go out and find one to sit with. The world is full of wise old trees.
The green leaves at the top of Old Cedar are gone now, and as the ocean claims it from below, there is not much left, really. It is becoming the skeleton of a tree, the very memory of a tree.
I found two feathers stuck fast into the Old Cedar’s tangled branches the last time I visited, so I suspect I am not the only one. Maybe trees have some memory of their ancient sacred role in pagan belief, and maybe that adds to what they can teach us now.
As the world changes around me, I think about Old Cedar, and how it chose to grow with the wind instead of against it, how its roots have held it tight for so long, and how in the near future it must inevitably be swept out to sea to make room for whatever new thing comes next.
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.
‘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.
The written word is powerful if people can access it.
When everything stopped suddenly due to COVID-19, and those who could stayed home to flatten the curve, a bunch of couch-bound, new writers in residence began a conversation on social media about the current state and future of publishing. We were wondering how best to get our work in front of actual readers.
Otherwise, why were we writing?
First, a disclaimer: I do not claim to be an expert on the publishing industry.
But I am a writer, and I do have work to share because what use is it to anyone stashed on some hard drive far from the light of day?
In the course of this writerly, couch-bound discussion, an agent piped up advising writers to do it yourself, to just go for it, especially if it’s time-sensitive. Because traditional publishing takes years to produce a book, after you’ve already spent years trying to get noticed, and by then, you’ve missed your window of opportunity.
I was happy to go with that.
Think about how the printing press completely revolutionized Europe by putting books into the hands of the people, effectively moving knowledge from the confines of the monasteries and the universities to the commonweal.
Books, which had previously taken years to create from vellum, pen, and ink, making them expensive and rare, suddenly became cheap and affordable with the mass production made possible by the printing press. Next thing you know, vernacular language overtakes Latin, the fledgling middle-class is off and running, the Reformation is underway, the nation-states are rising, and Capitalism, for better or perhaps worse, is becoming a thing.
What would the American Revolution have been without Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, fresh from his printing press?
The written word is powerful and revolutionary if people can access it.
Next, consider the internet, which is the equally revolutionary successor to the printing press, allowing writers to share their work with readers far and wide, maybe without even leaving the couch.
I went back and forth for a long time about the validity of self-publishing and the apparent need for the Official Publisher Stamp of Approval, and I concluded that because the technology to publish has fallen into the hands of writers and they are using it, the stigma of self-publishing has begun to fade. At the same time, traditional publishing simply does not have enough room for all the good writers out there, so self-publishing provides the obvious alternative route.
This article will be duly shared through my blog on my website, i.e., self-published.
You could argue publishing houses are the gatekeepers preventing loads of rubbish books littering up the place but, plenty of rubbish is also selling through traditional publishers right alongside the good stuff.
Self-publishing isn’t much different, some of the books are good, and some of the books are bad.
What is different about self-publishing and the small press is how they level the field, allowing voices that might never have been audible a chance to share their work. And before you get too excited, promotion is harder than writing, but that’s a story for another blog.
Moon Tide is my second book, but it’s my first self-published book. Sea Crow Press evolved because Moon Tide seemed to need a home, and it was just worth creating.
I am following the news from the safety of my couch, and I am watching with the rest of you as the systems we took for granted fail. Self-publishers and small presses have always worked outside of these systems, and joining their ranks is a liberating experience, especially now in the current climate.
If not now, when?
I would not be at all surprised to see a wide selection of exciting and new self-published books coming out of the COVID-19 lock down. Mine will be among them, and so far, creating my own poetry book has been an incredible experience.
I am excited to share this book with you, potential readers, and I am pretty sure this is why most of us are writing.
It starts with the vision of a book and evolves into learning how to create a new business for a new time. Sea Crow press is fledgling but already has several new titles in the pipeline to follow Moon Tide. One is a guided journal for these difficult times, another comes from Nelipot Cottage in the cozy English countryside bringing readers a collection of essays about barefoot horses and holistic riding practices.
To create books, I had to outsource cover art while embracing a steep learning curve that continues to rise, and I had lots of help from other generous writers who have traveled this path before me.
If you are thinking about going for it yourself, check out Vellum software for interior formatting. Make sure your cover art is good because that is your first impression, and you only have one chance to make your first impression. Get up to speed with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), paid on delivery (POD), why you need ISBN numbers and where to get them, and give the process the time it needs.
Read and re-read, and maybe find an editor.
Keep writing people, and be very, very brave.
An independent imprint curating creative non-fiction and poetry.
Sea Crow Press is named for a flock of five talkative crows you can find on the beach anywhere between Scudder Lane and Bone Hill Road in Barnstable Village on Cape Cod.
According to Norse legend, one-eyed Odin sent two crows out into the world so they could return and tell him its stories. If you sit and listen to the sea crows in Barnstable as they fly and roost and chatter, it’s an easy legend to believe.
Sea Crow Press is dedicated to telling stories that matter. Moon Tide, a collection of Cape Cod poems, is its first offering.
If you can’t get to Cape Cod, Moon Tide brings the Cape to you!
Horseshoe crabs, ghosts, tree men, black dogs, and daffodils. These characters come alive in Moon Tide, a collection of poems charting the course of a Cape Cod year.
..history isn’t going to spare our feelings: It’s going to sweep us along, willingly or not, and as it does, the job of the artist is to bear witness.
We’ve spent years watching the end of the world on our movie screens: asteroids, aliens, nuclear explosions, and yes, global pandemic. It’s hard not to conjure Stephen King’s book, The Stand, as we live through these historic times most of us didn’t sign up for. But history isn’t going to spare our feelings: It’s going to sweep us along, willingly or not, and as it does, the job of the artist is to bear witness.
What were you doing seven weeks ago? I would have said things were normal then, but they weren’t.
What are you doing now? Are you social distancing to keep others safe? If you’re a creative, a writer, poet, photographer, songwriter, or painter, whatever your medium, you can use it now to record the events of the pandemic.
Many people are suffering terribly right now, and understandably not everyone has space in this situation to create, but if you can, documenting facts now can help us remember what normal means when we create a better future.
In this strange moment of pause between the pre and post-pandemic worlds, notions of normal are changing rapidly, even as we hear a lot about getting back normal as soon as possible.
But what does getting back to normal mean?
A return to the pre-pandemic normal is a return to the very conditions that created the pandemic. Predatory capitalism and constant assault on the environment were never normal. An unsustainable civilization out of balance with nature created a time of suffering for many, profit for a very few, and the conditions that created the pandemic.
Very few people will benefit from a return to the old normal, nor will the natural world. We’d probably just set ourselves up for another pandemic as we perpetuate the systemic problems that got us here, to begin with.
We can’t go back to the old normal if we want to survive in the long term.
Today, the pause between that old normal and the new normal we need to build is notable for the chaos and lack of preparation evident now in the US and the UK.
This is what artists need to record so we can remember what not to repeat:
In the strangest way, we have been given a beautiful gift in this pause.
In this pause, we can imagine a different post-pandemic world, and artists need to record that, too:
Nature healing itself. While COVID 19 patients struggle to breathe, the planet is taking a deep breath. The air fresh and clean, the pollution clearing. It is quieter than it has been in living memory. We have been given the time to reflect, the time to see what a slower, homebound, quiet life is like. Time to question the rat race paradigm we have been exhausted by and destroyed nature persuing. Time to question the structures that fail the most vulnerable over and over again.
The pause will end.
We will need to come out of our houses eventually. We will return to the streets, and the cafes, we will hug our loved ones and we will appreciate them all the more. And when we do, we need to remember and reconsider the nature of normalcy.
We will need to remember the artistic record.
Because if we do, we can make the post-pandemic time our best time yet.
We can get rid of the things that aren’t serving us — the inequality, dysfunctional government, the lack of sustainable societies — and we can replace them with the opposite.
Equitable, fair, and sustainable lives for people and the planet.
This time of pause is a bridge to the post-pandemic world. We are on the bridge now. Artistic documentation can help us remember the reality of the pre-pandemic world, and the dysfunction of the pandemic so we can build something new and better.
If you’re an artist, write it, sing it, photograph it, paint it, record it, and share it.
In Europe, the Black Death led to the Renaissance. With any luck and a lot of hope, we are consciously planting the seeds now for the next rebirth.