Archive for January, 2010

The Taoism of Snow

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
and, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

–Wallace Stevens, 1921

When I was in high school, my debate teacher Mr. Yutzy read poems to us every week.  One day he read Wallace Steven’s “The Snow Man,” which has been my favorite poem ever since.  At that time, I had a vague notion that Taoism was an eastern philosophy that involved Buddha somehow.  Certainly I didn’t make the connection then that appreciating the quiet cold of the pristine woods in winter was Taoist, that this poem is a Taoist poem.  I just knew I loved it, how the words so perfectly captured one of a thousand moments from my lonely childhood in the snowy woods of northeastern Minnesota.

It snowed almost a foot here for the second time this winter, something that hasn’t happened before in the twenty years I’ve lived in North Carolina.  The practical adult in me curses the snow when my car gets stuck, when the electricity goes out, when nature halts my puny human plans.  However, the practical adult me is but one of dozens of cloaks I don in my interactions with the outside world.  It’s not the real me.  The real me is wordless, the me who loves this poem, the me who loves the snow, the me who dwells outside of time and with the eternal.  The me who hijacked my fingers and posted the following on Facebook:  “After a tough week, the last thing I wanted was snow to get stuck in. But I took a night-time trudge tonight, and it lifted my spirits so much that I had to post. The transcendent hush of beauty–even with clouds covering the moon and stars, the snow made its own light, and I could see where I was going. I felt 9 years old again, listening to the crystalized hum of thousands of tiny icy flakes falling at once.”

Looking at the snow, I believe that Buddha must have stood in some woods in winter for awhile, the hush of falling snow all around.  It’s enough to make anyone a Taoist.

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Escape Artist

Frequent advice to new writers is to keep a journal and write in it religiously, every day if possible.  I’ve never taken this advice.  The only time I’ve come close is with the dream journal I’ve kept the past six months.  Otherwise I have diaries scattered around the house with perhaps the first few pages filled in, then no more.   My poor abandoned livejournal account looks somewhat the same, a peppering of random entries that soon petered out. 

In contrast to this poor attention to chronicling real events and my reactions to them, I find that I write and write and write about the imaginary people who populate my mind, surrounding myself with stacks of manuscript that may never be read by anyone other than me and few devoted friends.  What does this say about me, that I love reading and writing and talking about other peoples’ lives but that I avoid my own?  Am I a psychological voyeur?  Am I an escape artist from my own life?

Given that I lack but a few pages to complete the second draft of Tapestry Lion, the sprawling sequel to Witch Awakening (which already pushes the boundaries of acceptable word count for first novels, even fantasy), I’ve been wondering of late.  

Five years ago, on this very day, my mother passed away after a tough battle with lymphoma.  She collapsed in my father’s arms in the bathroom about six yards from where I sit typing this.   Certainly, if I’d been writing a true account of my life the last five years instead of Tapestry Lion and Witch Awakening, my readers would likely find it no less fantastical than my imaginary lands of Cormalen and Sarneth.  The real events of my life since my mother’s passing seem at turns lurid, tragic, wonderful, then lurid again.  Justice gained at an incredible cost, fizzled romance and loves lost, traveling to Norway twice to see my wonderful family there, a few false friends and professional mayhem, tragedy and grief, some great opportunities for my writing, a copperhead in my dryer, a live possum in my kitchen (I dwell in the country, what can I say?), many true friends to laugh with and tide me through the unbearable (what would I be, what would I do, without my friends?  I can only hope to be half the friend, one quarter the friend, my friends have been to me.  For those of you reading this, please know I am eternally grateful for you.)

As I start to edit the second draft of Tapestry Lion, I wonder what inspired certain characters and certain scenes.  The realization has dawned on me that far from avoiding writing about my life, I have subconsciously used this vehicle of fantasy to write all about my life.  Witch Awakening and Tapestry Lion are my journals, my diaries of a life told in symbols.  Far from the escape I planned, I find myself confronting my life in a fun house mirror, my reflection all wavy and distorted, some parts overemphasized, some parts deflated, but still my reflection. 

There are some people in this world who think that fantasy, horror, and sci-fi are not serious writing, that someone who writes the modern equivalent of fairy tales can’t possibly be serious about his or her work.  I wish these naysayers luck confronting themselves at the witching hour, long after the lights have gone out and they’re alone with themselves in the dark, just their rational thoughts to accompany them . . .

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