Almost at the end of week 5 of the first lockdown (how long ago that seems!), life seemed to be a roller-coaster of emotions, shock and emotional fatigue, yet punctuated by extraordinary moments of connection, even of transcendence. Each morning our stranded-with-us house guest would sit on the slate wall outside, feeling the Spring sun and journalling. …
We are entering the season of Advent, a time of longing and anticipation; a time of looking back to what haunts us; a time to redefine and face the present moment. Advent, then, is a season for writers prepared to witness to what has gone before, mark out the territory of new possibilities and call us to centre in what we face now.
To live from a sense of abundance rather than lack, is to be rich.
The discernment to know what is unnecessary in life, what is merely superfluous, what is more than enough, is crucial to claiming the time and space to create. As Wendell Berry puts it:
Wisdom, it seems to me, is always poised upon the knowledge of minimums; it might be thought to be the art of minimums.
At a book launch earlier this year one of the audience members asked me about having a sense of confidence in achieving an sales for the books I write. It’s wonderful when the work I’ve done connects with others. …
You can be anyone, but you can’t be everything. You can make choices, but you can’t do it all.
‘Everything’ is one of the most insidious myths of our time. Doing it all and having it all dangled before us at every turn. Adverts are rife on every social media platform, on TV and as spam emails. Branding potentially covers everything from underwear to the food we eat. In Western societies it’s estimated we see from 4,000 to 10,000 adverts or brand labels each day, particularly if we spend time online, watching TV or buy any pre-packaged food.
And if this doesn’t make us want to drown our life in stuff or eat our way through a mountain of junk food, there are always social media influencers whose apparently perfect lives tell us that who we are is pitiful in comparison. In this arena, comparison really is odious. …
In The-World Ending Fire, essayist and poet, Wendell Berry raises a rallying cry against compromising with myths that are destroying the earth.
We are destroying our … land. This is a terrible thing to know, but it is not a reason for despair unless we decide to continue the destruction. … We have got to learn better to respect ourselves and our dwelling places. … There should be no compromise with the destruction of the land or of anything else that we cannot replace.
We are kith with all life.
Our connections are to all — everywhere and always what defines life is relationship. Mindfulness may slow us down, make us more aware, but it is our bodifulness that often goes unsung and under-nurtured. To relate, fully and with attention, demands all our senses.
To see beyond the self, to see the journeys others are making, without judgement, requires what Iris Murdoch, in The Sovereignty of Good, calls ‘unselfing’.
The self, the place where we live, is a place of illusion. Goodness is connected with the attempt to see the unself… to pierce the veil of selfish consciousness and join the world as it really is.
Being an artist or writer is emotionally, spiritually and intellectually demanding. If we are working with a sense of vision and integrity it is all the more so. But what when we are working not only without automatic fame and approval, but in difficult and extraordinary times?
The difficulty might be personal — chronic illness or bereavement or trying to care for a family and make ends meet. It might be political threat or living in a context where our race or gender is unwelcome. It might be the overwhelming sense of how far ecological degradation has gone and the struggle to witness to alternatives. …
Creative life is a privilege. Recently, I read a manifesto for the creative life that disgusted me. It oozed advantage and entitlement.
Life is simple? Not for those whose homes have burnt in bush fires due to ecological degradation. Not for single parents working two or three minimum wage jobs. Not for refugees. Not even for those who have secure homes and a decent income but who are also full-time carers or struggling with chronic illness. For many people, simply figuring out the logistics of day-to-day life is a massive creative project in itself.
Those of us who create full time or have lives that don’t suck the marrow out of us, enjoy immense privilege. And we therefore carry a responsibility to create with integrity. …
Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom — poets, visionaries — realists of a larger reality. . . .
wrote Ursula Le Guin.
Those times are surely here. Coronavirus, ecological disasters, economic turmoil. We have the hard times and know there are more to come. We need writers who refuse to accept that ‘there is no alternative’, writers who can frame hope because they know that the new stories we must tell are about thriving together — trees, plants, oceans, deserts, races, communities, families, selves …; writers who have abandoned the dualistic categories that set the rational against the physical; who do not imagine that we can divide the world into ‘nature’ and ‘not nature’. …