Of Courage and Selkies

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For each of us, there is something we dread to face.  Something impossibly horrible.  Sometimes that thing is short, over in a flash, and gone.  Other times it drags on, for weeks, years, and each day when you wake, your first thought is that it is still there.  It is not easy to face our fears for a day, but it is far more difficult to live with them.  Where is the courage to face a life in which every familiar thought bears the face of terror?

Stories make it sound easy, even exciting.  They can give no sense of the burden of time.  The moments bereft of hope which stretch on and on.  The thoughts that come unbidden to stifle every smile.  There is no one-time act of courage which can pull you through.  It keeps returning, and like some ancient monster, seems to grow stronger with each blow you deal it.  Where is the courage to face a life in which every familiar thought bears the face of terror?

Even at the worst of times, one can be distracted.  One can escape, lose oneself, in the thoughts of another.  One can even laugh.  The laughs are tasteless.  Utterly disconnected with who you are.  Stolen from another person’s life.  Where is the courage to face a life in which every familiar thought bears the face of terror?

There is a beauty in acceptance, like a cold, grey, dawn.  When one realizes that there is no where else to run.  One steps out of the dark corner and says to one’s fear: “Yes, you belong to me, and I will live with you because I must.” Then one can see, that there was never any other way.  That is where courage is born.  The courage to resist hiding, day after day, to keep looking your fear in the face.

Courage is artificial.  Something put on, like a costume.  But like the selkie’s skin, once donned, it becomes a part of you.  Put a good face on life, and it may even smile at you.

~Jane

Blue Sky Tag: Jane

Sometimes life gets complicated.  Instead of the one door you had prayed for, God opens three or four at once.  There simply isn’t time to sort out all your thoughts on what you have been learning.  And, if your blog happens to be about lessons you learn through daily life, you tend to get confused about what to write.  What better time to get tagged and answer questions about yourself?  Thanks Bethia Lark! Please, before reading further, go check out this sweet girl’s blog at https://reflectionsonglasssite.wordpress.com/

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So here we go, eleven things I am sure you are all dying  to know about me:

1: What is your favorite fantasy character? This can include common characters such as princesses and kings, as well as characters you made up, or even creatures found in fantasy.

I have not read a lot of fantasy, but Boromir from the Lord of the Rings has always     intrigued me.

2:What is your favorite book?

Till We Have Faces By C. S. Lewis.

3: Dating or Courtship or Other?

All of the above, depending on how you define them.

4: What is your favorite time period to write/read about?

The last hundred years.

5: What is your favorite eye color? (For writing if you’re an author or just in general if you’re not.)

I generally give my characters grayish eyes, or brown.  I don’t know why because my favorite eye color is blue.

6: If your dominant hand were to be taken from you, what are some ways you would cope using your other hand?

With prayer for patience.  Have you ever tried to draw with your non-dominant hand?  It is excruciatingly frustrating!

7: Do you already have your future kid’s names picked out? If so, what are they? (If you don’t want to answer this off the wall question, then pick a question a lot of people ask you and answer that, stating what the question is first, of course.)

They are constantly changing but my current favorites are Alister and Annalise.  I tend toward names that start with vowels.

8: What is/was your favorite subject in school?

Epistemology. (The study of how we know what we know.)

9: Describe light. Try doing it without using the sense of sight.  (I know this isn’t really a question, but I’m running out of material here.)

A waking call without a sound, a single giant turn,

And I could be:

The fluid, winsome, childlike, trill, the greeting of a bird.

A prickle on the back of the neck, a warmth on the face,

And I could be:

The eager, upward, reaching, tree, gleaning the empty air.

A wandering wind born of chill, a  requiem,

And I could be:

The swirling, rippling, dancing, lake, beneath celestial darts.

 

10: How has having siblings, or not having them, as the case may be, shaped your life and character?

In more ways than I can count!  Being the middle and the shyest of five allowed me the hide a lot.  But also, having a wide age range among us has made me very comfortable being friends with people much younger or older than me.

11: What is your most precious possession?

My pens, I hate losing them.

 

Now, according to the rules I should pick eleven bloggers to answer eleven questions from me.  So here are the lucky eleven . . . actually, there are only six, sorry about that, I don’t know that many bloggers.

Lightly Salted Caramel at https://lightlysaltedcaramel.wordpress.com/

Semiprowriter at https://semiprowriter.wordpress.com/

Christian Mihai at https://cristianmihai.net/

Emily K. Joyner at https://emilykjoyner.wordpress.com/

Deidra Alexander at https://deidraalexander.com/

Natalie Breuer at https://natalieslovelyblog.com/

Now for the questions:

  1. Which book do you recommend most often?
  2. Dark, milk, or white, chocolate?
  3. Do you pronounce the name Augustine with the accent on the second or third syllable?
  4. What type of music makes you want to dance?
  5. On a scale of INTJ to ESFP what is you mbti obsession?
  6. Favorite quote?
  7. What do you think would be your ten year old self’s reaction to your present self?
  8. Dog or cat?  This is an imperfect world so you can’t have both.
  9. Favorite word?
  10. If you could learn any one language effortlessly what would it be, and why?
  11. Which fictional character would you most like to be friends with?

~Jane

Introverted Thoughts

IMG_2076Dear Stranger,

Do you know how much you fascinate me?  I watch you from across the room and wonder who you really are.  What you are thinking and why.  It doesn’t matter how you look, what you wear, whether the words I catch at intervals are beautiful or ugly,  how old or young you are, in the end it doesn’t even matter who you really are. I long to know you because you are not me.  I cross the room and introduce myself.  I watch you take in my long skirt, my soft, high, voice, my odd, unidentifiable, accent.  Our dissimilarity makes you uncomfortable, and I see you wonder why I came to talk to you.  Would you believe me if I told you it was because I am in love with you?  Because I am in love with the world?

 

Dear Acquaintance,

Do you know how much I like you?  Perhaps we have never spoken, though we know each other’s names.  Perhaps we have spoken, but found so little in common, that we only spoke of the weather.  Do you know that I am still searching for a way to get to know you better?  Would you believe me if I told you that I am in love with the little I know of you?  Because I am in love with the world?

 

Dear Friend,

Do you know how much you mean to me?  We have had so many conversations, wonderful conversations!  Often, when I sit alone, I think of them and smile.  Yet now, when we meet, I have nothing to say.  When thoughts and questions come to me I treasure them up for you, but they feel incomplete, artificial, fragile.  Does my silence bother you? When we sit without speaking, for long, thought-filled, moments, do you wonder if our friendship is waning?  Would you believe me if I told you that I have fallen in love with who you are?  That simply laughing and talking is no longer enough, I long to work with you to make a better world.  Because I am in love with the world.

 

Dear Family,

Do you know how much I love you?  You have watched me grow.  You know I hide away my plans, even from you, until I am sure I can accomplish them.  You know how many hours I spend alone.  How often at meal times, I am detached, absorbed in my own thoughts.  How I gravitate toward tasks which only one person can do.  How I do not ask questions, if I can help it.  And how, often, when I do speak, it is about something childish or trivial.  Do you ever wonder if I really care about you?  Would you believe me if I told you that all of you are continually in the forefront of my mind?  I am in love with you all, because it is my privilege to work alongside you to make a better world.  And I am in love with the world.

~Jane

Tracing Sunlight

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As a child, it was my firm belief that the sun was the most beautiful thing in the world.  I would regularly wake up early to watch it rise sparkling through the trees.  In the relatively flat land of my childhood home, it seemed impossibly close, just beyond the belt of trees.  Midday was more difficult.  I would gaze into the blue sky above the horizon and tilt my head back.  But I never came close to actually seeing the sun at its height.  I gave up and watched its rays glitter on the surface of the creek or dance among the shadows of the leaves.

It was a wonderful thing to me when I learned that light was an actual physical thing which travels outward from its source.  I remember thinking with awe, when light fell on my hand, that I was touching part of the sun.  To be forced to fear light, seemed a most horrible fate: the fear of beauty itself.  The imagery of light played a huge part in the stories and poetry I wrote at that time.  One poem, which I threw away soon after writing for fear of anyone finding and reading something I held so personally, was a retelling of the Psyche and Eros myth.  It pictured Eros as the sun, beautiful, but too deadly for a mortal to come near in his true form.

Now, my eyes have become easily strained and over sensitive to light.  Occasionally, I have to wear a pair of dark sunglasses for days on end, even when indoors.  On good days, a single glance through a window at midday can give me a headache.  I increasingly live in a half light.  At first, the lack of freedom irked me.  I longed revel in the midday sun, to tilt my head back and see it’s glow through my eyelids, to watch it glitter on the water.  But as I sit in my dim room, a faint glow of the midday sun reflected from the lawn outside sifts through the closed curtains, and the wonder of the sun’s beauty returns to me.  I may now be the Psyche of my poem, closed away from the full sun, but still its indirect rays reach me, bringing beauty with them.  I reach out my hand to the light, and trace, in my mind, the unbroken thread that leads toward its source.

In the Bible, God Himself is pictured as too holy for a human to look upon.  Even the seraphim cover their eyes in His presence.  Yet, though we cannot now stand before Him, like the sun, His rays reach us.  We can when we hold in our hands a tiny new leaf, just emerging from its sheaf,  trace an unbroken thread to the very mind of God.

~Jane Blake

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Of Yellow Leaves and Gossamer

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The days begin and end with subtle longing.  The mornings grow cooler.  The cherry tree by the spring is bare and the sourwood leaves, bright red. The meadow is thick with  goldenrod, glowing in the evening light.  A small bird perches picturesquely on one flower stem and then flits away.  As I walk back toward the house my feet crunch on the first maple leaves.  I breath deeply and feel a tingling in the air.  It is fall.

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Fall, the season for plaids, knits, and boots.  When hot tea, hot chocolate, hot apple cider become first desirable, and then indispensable.  When we eat a large orange squash, called pumpkin, in as many forms as possible.   When we buy wool socks.  A season especially adapted to the purpose of cuddling cats.

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I  came close to writing that I have always loved fall, but that is not quite true, I dreaded it last year.

The winter before last had been really hard for me, it was my first winter in a new home heated primarily with a wood-burning stove, and most of our wood was green.  On top of that it was an unusually cold winter.  So when the leaves began to turn, I started complaining.  The sound of crunching leaves seemed foreboding.  I felt nothing alluring in the brisk mornings.  Not even hot apple cider could reconcile me to the idea that the cold was coming.

Looking back on that time, I find my attitude strange.  Why did I allow worry to blind me to so much loveliness?  There are things well worth dreading, things worse than cold, but should we ever allow our fears to eclipse the good things we still enjoy?  There is ingratitude in such a choice.  Life is often harsh and painful, but there is also a subtle beauty here, as fleeting as a thread of gossamer, or fall itself.  I think the appreciation of these small, gifts; a smile, a breath of wind . . . mark the line between wise concern and worry.  Worry is an obsession, it consumes us and everything around us, wise concern acknowledges both the good and bad and responds to both.

~Jane

Writer Rambling: What do Sunglasses have in common with Faerie?

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There is an imaginary world which people have been playing with for centuries, its name is Faerie.  Faerie, by all accounts, is not full of miniature winged creatures.  It is a fluid, alongside world, that people occasionally stumble into.  A terrifying, yet beautiful, place where certain actions we count as trivial become momentous.  Edmund Spenser and Shakespeare wrote about it in the sixteenth century, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien in the twentieth and what each has written is different.  There is no authoritative tale of Faerie.

In my mind, what Faerie is, is not as important as, what it does to us.  I like to think of it as my sunglasses.  Because of a sensitivity to light, I occasionally have to wear sunglasses for days on end and I have noticed something interesting about my particular pair.  They tend to make it look as though there is a thin film of dirt on everything, all the colors are grayish, with one exception.  If the sun is shining on something pink, red or orange, or that warm colored thing itself is glowing, the color is intensified.  Sometimes, I forget that this is happening.  A few weeks ago while sitting around the bonfire with my family I commented an how beautifully red the fire was.  When my family looked confused I realized that my glasses were tricking me again.  My first reaction was disappointment, what I had thought was beautiful was a fake.  But then, my siblings wanted to see the fire through my glasses too, and, while watching their reactions, I realized that even though it was not real, it was still beautiful.  I do not want to only see a muddy world with rich, glowing, warm colors, but I am glad I know what it looks like.  I will never look at a fire quite in the same way again.

Similarly, tales about Faerie often distort the world.  Normally, there is no reason why Anodos should sing to his beloved instead of embracing her, but in Faerie to embrace her is not simply a mistake, but a fatal sin which ends up destroying his life.  That sounds rather odd and unrealistic, does it not?  It is a tale crafted to distort reality, so that certain aspects of the world can glow with a greater intensity.

Realism is often stressed in writing.  You cannot make such and such a character do a certain thing, because it would be unrealistic.  But sometimes an unrealistic view of the world can be a good thing.  It can allow us to see the real world in a new way.

~Jane Blake

 

Artist Ramblings: Perfection

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I read a quote attributed to Leonardo da Vinci yesterday which said: “A work of art is never finished, it is only abandoned.” This is painfully true.  It is rarely with satisfaction that I put a work behind glass, most often it is with a sort of desperation.  I know it is not perfect but I do not know what else to do.  It is even more rare for me to look at a work a year after finishing it and enjoy the experience.  But at some point I have to say, this is good enough, and move on.

One never loves a work of art with the same intensity after one has laid it aside.  For, while working on a piece, one can see in one’s  mind how it ought to look and have confidence that it can be perfect.  But when it is finished it rarely matches that vision.  Only two of my finished drawings have I ever wanted to keep for my own pleasure.  Both of them were requested by people who saw them and I did not know how to politely refuse.

Life is artistry.   We can catch a vision of perfection, but we cannot reach it.  And even when we come close, we cannot keep what we have made.  No matter how much we manage to improve the world or ourselves, there is always more to do, and things that were lost that must be done again. Then, when our work is ended, not finished, we loose everything in death.

But God is the keeper of perfection and we are His works in progress.  Of all artists He alone can see the vision, bring it into being, and preserve it forever.  He creates perfection from our imperfection. He is never dissatisfied with His work.  He will never loose it after it is perfected.  He will never abandon us.

~Jane Blake

 

When Things go Wrong

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When things go wrong, and what we had planned and hoped is in ruins, we look back into the past and wish ourselves there.

When things go wrong we blame ourselves, or others.  We fantasize a world in which we were stronger, wiser.  We worry.  We lose sleep.

When things go wrong we long for the return of normality and almost doubt that it can ever come again.

When things go wrong we mourn a loss

A loss of what?  Normality?  There is really no such state, and even if there were, we do not mind change so long as it is for the better.  No, it is not the past but the future that we mourn.  The future we lost when things went wrong.

When things go wrong it seems as though we have descended into a dark well.

Things?  It is usually just one thing, but we carelessly call it “things.”

When something goes wrong all the pleasures which used to captivate us become dull.

When something goes wrong we cannot forget the future that is gone.

Gone?  That future never existed, except in our imaginations.  We mourn the loss of what was never ours.  

When something goes wrong it is as though the sun no longer shone and all the flowers had wilted, for we do not heed them.

When something goes wrong nothing else can compensate.

Wrong?  It is not necessarily bad that our purposes are frustrated, but it is very wrong to let the future that will never be drown the present that is.

When things do not go the way we planned, we sulk.

~Jane Blake

Leaving Spring

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These Indian Pipes popped up on our hillside a week ago, hundreds of them. I almost did not make it up there with the camera in time to catch them, they disappear so quickly!  I have always had difficulty letting go of beautiful things that don’t last.  Like sunrises which fade in a few short minutes or the notes of a wood thrush’s song.  Perhaps that is one reason why I am an artist and writer, I am searching for ways to catch these things.  Today I am having a hard time letting go of spring.  Not that I dislike summer, I simply like spring better, and it always seems so short!  Here is a poem I wrote about spring several years ago.

The Critic

 

Beneath the sash there strayed an elfin wind

Which lit upon this volume’s trembling leaves.

It ruffled them with careless, scornful touch

And reading half a verse turned to the next.

Then lighting on a scrawl entitled Spring

It read the lines with withering disdain.

“Of Spring!” It cried, “How dare she write of Spring!”

“What does she know of Spring who lives in walls?

She never felt the swiftly swelling bud,

Nor has she tangled with the newborn mists.

She never kissed the icy, rippling stream,

Sprung from the snows of January’s storm.

She never rested in the tops of trees

Strewn with a lace of new unfurled leaves.

Nor ever combed from waving grasses hair

The harbored jewels dropped by the morning dew.

How can she write of Spring?” And gathering

Itself to go, in haughty pomp, it turned;

Yet stopped, for to the page was held, secure,

In flowing bonds of ink and simile.

Thus was my Spring: The little swelling buds,

A little mist, a little cold,

Some leaves and grass, and . . . wind.

~Jane

What Do We See?

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Last winter, when I was half-way finished with a charcoal drawing, my grandmother came for a visit.  She watched as I knelt on the floor (I never have gotten used to using an easel) diligently turning my fingers a lovely black, and asked me what it was I was drawing.  I showed her the photograph I was working from.

“That is beautiful,” She said.  “I would like to have it when you are done.”

At the time, I personally thought it was ugly, but I was glad she liked it.

Last week my grandmother came for another visit and my drawing was behind glass, ready to go home with her, but when I showed it to her she said:

“that isn’t the one you were working on last time I was here.  Where is the lady you were working on?”

My grandmother has very good sight, she can read normal sized print without glasses, but when I showed her a picture of a toad she saw a picture of a lady with long dark hair.

* * *

Several years ago my Dad asked me to do a drawing on a thank you card, he let me choose the subject.  When I was finished, he looked at it for a moment.

“Is it a fox?”  He asked.

“No.”  I said, in surprise.  “It is a pair of silos, with trees around them.”

* * *

My first pastel painting was of an old tower with a little vine covered house in front of it.  When I proudly showed it to my sister she said:

“I like that you put the smoke from the  chimney in the picture.”

I looked at it, puzzled.

“Oh!”  I said.  “That isn’t smoke that is a crack in the side of the tower.”

But as I looked at it I realized that it really did look more like smoke than a crack, I just had not been able to see it that way, because I knew it was supposed to be a crack.

* * *

Our eyes play tricks on us.  Not that it is our eye’s fault, we see the wrong thing because we expect the wrong thing.  It is really our minds which are tricking us.  My grandmother did not expect me to be drawing anything so ugly as a toad, my Dad had no idea that I was very fond of silos, and I could not imagine how my drawing of a crack which lined up exactly with a chimney, would strike someone who had not seen the original.

An important part of learning to draw is learning to ignore what we think we already know.  If we think that a face is a circle with two dots for eyes and a thin curve for a mouth then we will be unable to see that the face before us is actually rather square than circular.  But this tendency to blind ourselves is not confined to drawing.  How many times has someone misheard your name, simply because they were expecting something different?  It happens to me all the time, and sometimes, I do it too.

Knowledge can obscure our understanding as well as illuminate it.  And if this happens when trying to grasp tangible things, like drawings, how much more should we expect it to cloud our understanding when thinking about abstract, intangible things?

What do we not see?

~Jane