Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Read At Own Risk

I’ve been reading the Divergent series this past week. I’m a binge reader. I dive in and don’t want to stop until it’s over. You wouldn’t get off a roller coaster in the middle of a loop, sit down to lunch, and come back later, would you? About halfway through, I thought, is this book written by an evangelical Christian? And at the end, I saw that Roth’s first acknowledgement is to God. So be it. I thought Divergent was okay, kind of stupid, not as compelling as Hunger Games, but more of a love story than I’d expected, and I kind of liked that aspect. I guess I’m getting more romantic as I get older.

Because my two daughters are also reading this series now, we happened to have all three of them out at the same time, from two different libraries. So I went straight into Insurgent, and right away I was caught up. Tobias loves Tris even when she tells him what he doesn’t want to hear, makes mistakes, and breaks promises. He admires and nurtures her strength. When they work together, they’re a great team.

Whenever I find myself in the middle of a love story, I get in over my head. I can’t stop thinking about it. I feel all the feelings as if it’s my own story unfolding, my own love at stake. I worry for the safety of the lovers, and suffer their separations.

Maybe what makes the greatness of a love story is the way it inspires the reader to love. I found myself musing on how much I love my husband, and everyone, and being alive. I’m grateful that we don’t have to risk our lives protecting one another, that every day we have the opportunity to see and touch each other and live our love as we choose. This is what a great love story does: it awakens love in the reader, to manifest into your own life.

By the end of Insurgent, I was thinking, great love story, but the stupid parts of the plot might be about to be replaced by something even stupider. But still, their love was strong enough to survive. It was the kind of love that lasts a lifetime, not just through the devastation of war but also through the changes that take place in people as they go through their lives.

Now, if you intend to read Allegiant but haven’t, stop here. I’ll give you some cat pictures before the spoiler, just in case your eye accidentally strays down.

Okay. Here’s where it gets heavy. I read Allegiant in under three days. Finished it yesterday while the kids were in swimming lessons. And I was really angry at the end. I didn’t even cry, I was just angry. Why on earth did it have to end that way? There’s no reason at all. It could have been different. Who has an NDE and goes on and dies anyway? Why is that end better, or necessary, or more beautiful than staying alive? They had begun to build a foundation for a great love; they’d come so far, but it was just beginning. Is love through adulthood so unattractive it’s better to eliminate the possibility? It’s tempting to suggest some authors enjoy the sadistic power of crushing their readers’ hearts. But I don’t really think that’s the case here. And I’m trying hard not to make snarky comments about certain religions and the fetishization of sacrifice.  But really. Really.

I was out of sorts all day. I was depressed. Everything seemed pointless. I wondered if I should adjust my meds again. I tried to distract myself, get back into the real world with some facebook, but it was more full than usual with anguish over more people being shot. Just how far away are we from the violent, hopeless dystopias we read about in popular fiction? After a while I realized I was grieving. The love of Tris and Tobias had somehow become attached to something in me, and if their love couldn’t live, something in me was threatened. How did I let this happen? I guess it’s one of the risks of living and loving, and keeping your heart open, even to imaginary characters in a book.

And this, too, is what a great love story can do to you.

Read at own risk.

Kevin and Rachel

Saturn Square Neptune

Everything at odds with everything else.
The refrigerator heats up the kitchen.
The air conditioner gives the kids nosebleeds
and the washer backs up the kitchen sink
and leaks water somewhere under the floor.
The clothesline runs through a gauntlet
of chiggers. Bug juice and sweat and
I shower and change into clean clothes.
Mud oozing up between the tiles.
And health insurance. Whole days lost
to the phone and the clock and the
checkbook. The premiums are
so high I can’t afford the deductible.
Maybe some yoga will detangle things
so I can write. I focus on my breath until
it’s too late to write. Do you see what I mean?
Sometimes everything hinges on
everything else, but sometimes everything
is a dog fight to the death
of everything else. And this blue-white light
through my core: is it lighting me
from within? Or splitting me apart?

Mars Retrograde Haiku and Discussion

mars

Photo by Hubble Space Telescope, 1997

He lost his key. He
borrowed mine, and lost it too.
This is all his fault.

Retrograde is the period in a planet’s orbit when it appears, from Earth’s perspective, to move backwards through the sky from night to night. Recall from high school science that this backwards movement was an important clue for Johannes Kepler to the fact that Earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around. He wasn’t the first to posit a heliocentric solar system, but he was (so far) the last who had to.

Modern astrologers are well aware that nothing in orbit actually moves backwards; but during the periods when a planet appears to, its influence is said to be delayed, truncated, inverted, or otherwise screwed up.

The red planet is symbolized by its eponym Mars, Roman god of war. He’s involved in violence, conflict, and decisive action, as well as passion and the most animal sexual drives. When Mars is retrograde, don’t be surprised if it’s next to impossible to get anything done, to get motivated, or to take initiative. You may also notice minor irritations that would usually pass become major conflicts for no apparent reason.

I became aware of Mars retrograde as a factor in my life years ago, when I noticed that by some strange coincidence, everything in my life that I was unhappy about was caused by one of my male bosses (I had a lot of jobs in those days), or by my male partner. I had female bosses and friends, but they were all innocent of making me unhappy. When I see unlikely patterns in my thinking, it’s a good time to reflect and ask if perhaps the patterns I see aren’t generated more from within than without. I made a conscious decision to let go of my anger toward men, and, within a couple months, my irritation with all the men in my life passed. Those men I was angry with didn’t actually hold as much power over me as I had imagined.

Recently my dear husband lost both our keys to the car I drive. By a convoluted series of events I found myself alone with the vehicle in a town 20 miles away, and no way to start the car. (Don’t ask, it’s too ridiculous.) Blaming him for this problem did nothing to solve it. Realistically, I participated in the creation of that situation too. I repeatedly reminded myself of these two facts, and everything worked out fine, without even much delay. It wasn’t until yesterday that I found out that Mars went retrograde on April 17, and won’t turn around until June 29.

So I’ll need to watch myself until then, and keep a rein on any man-bashing I find myself falling into. It really doesn’t make me happy; it’s a distraction from what truly matters. It doesn’t even provide sufficient material for a good poem, beyond a haiku.

Chiron Return

Let’s get this out in the open: I rush to publish earlier than is probably advisable. Last week I published a poem that I edited twice in the next two days, then revised it so substantially that it should probably get another post altogether.

If I come across as half-assed, and valuing my work beyond its worth, I’m okay with that. That’s what blogging’s all about, right? Take it or leave it.

But it appears some people actually do like my poetry. For you, enjoy.

 

Chiron Return

Did Chiron get fed up with the body
he’d been issued, that stubbornly refused
to heal? Did the master healer hope,
month after month, to find an efficacious
blend of herbs to stanch the bleeding,
or did he know this injury
would be the downfall of a demigod?
Did he struggle to comprehend
the incongruity of a wounded immortal?

Was he annoyed to hear humans claim
as identity afflictions that ought to have
healed decades ago? “I hate to cough because
sixty years ago I had pertussis.”

Did he see the forty-nine-year-old woman
with the heavy bleeding, the torpid thyroid,
incontinent bladder, presbyopia, insomnia,
and toothache—close his eyes, feel the throbbing
of his own nagging wound, and think,
this is what it’s like to be mortal?

Palermo house

To My Demented Friends

Sunrise Over Pond

a few seconds later

To the man who filled his basement to the ceiling
with boxes of meaningless things, because
“There’s money down there,” and
to the woman who said there had
formerly been a hill behind the house,
“. . . but it’s gone now . . .”—
I too live with unfathomable sense of loss,
a pool too deep to swim to the black depths.
Struggling to get to the bottom of things
(“Bring the darkness to light,” she said,
“not the other way around”) and desperate
to rise to the air. I’m not afraid
of the darkness down there, but I am afraid
of drowning.

Flight of Unknown Birds

For Lent I gave up writing, and being a writer, and talking and writing about writing. A friend asked why, and I told her I couldn’t tell her until Easter. Truth was, I wasn’t entirely sure myself. But it turns out I’m not that good at keeping a Lenten vow, so here’s my answer.

The Flight of Unknown Birds

Coming over the ridge in the winter-golden hills
light angling toward the endless horizon
as it only does in late winter in Kansas.
How is it I have come to love this place
so deep in my viscera, rooted in me
in a place before words. Bald eagle lifting
into flight. Blood splattered on the road.

I should hit the brakes, grab my camera,
shoot, but I’ve done that before at this very spot,
more than once. No photo ever satisfies.
Only this moment itself can express
this moment. All beauty is unspeakable;
truth, inexpressible. In the back seat
my daughter bends her head to a book,
oblivious.

I have tried to quit writing for the spite of it.
Even walking away from certain failure,
I know I’ll come back. The light in winter,
the flight of unknown birds: all existence
is poetry. There can be no being apart from it.
I’ll write long after I’m dead, until my bones
disintegrate into the earth.

Winter Prairie 3

Enantiodromes

I love enantiodromes. These are words which are their own opposites, also known as “auto-antonyms.” (Not that I have to tell you, you already knew that.) Enantiodromes often arise over time, as word meanings change with long use. Jung spoke of enantiodromia, a psychological phenomenon in which a tendency becomes so extreme that its unconscious opposite must eventually erupt. Shadow work, anyone?

One enantiodrome is oversight: it can mean carefully watching to make sure no mistakes are made; or it can be a mistake that one has carelessly failed to notice.

Another is bill. If I hand you a bill, have I just given you money, or a request to give me money?

I’ve long observed that advertising often says the opposite of the truth about a product. It was only recently that I realized that this makes advertising a fertile spawning ground for new enantiodromes. A thing of value used to be one of the highest quality, and precious; but, anymore, if you see the word value on a package at the grocery store, you know it’s probably the cheapest brand.

Original is another marketing enantiodrome. Something original is new, like an idea no one ever thought of before; it probably stands out, or above, the others. But if you see original on a food package, you know it’s the oldest flavor, and, let’s face it, the least interesting. It’s just the regular stuff, nothing special about it.

Maybe enantiodromes are a collective expression of our unconscious, emerging from the shadows to point out to us what we really want, who we really are, where we’ve come from, where we’re going. Watch for them, and ask them what message they bring.

What enantiodromes are you seeing in your world?

Toulouse and Wildfire

The venerable Toulouse with just-weaned Wildfire

Luscious, Moody Prose: On A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula LeGuin

I read A Wizard of Earthsea as a kid. I was a big fantasy geek, and it was in the school library. I didn’t remember much, though. I liked it enough to read it twice, and to go on to love other LeGuin books; but the language was a bit challenging for me in grade school, so I mostly remembered a dark moodiness pervading the book, and a lot of sailing between islands.

Last week I happened to find myself wandering the stacks of the Emporia Public Library, and this book appeared in front of my face, so I checked it out and reread it, and it’s now my new old favorite.

I still love the luscious, moody prose. It would be a great book to read aloud, or listen to as an audiobook.

“In winter it was different. He was sent with seven other boys across Roke Island to the farthest northmost cape, where stands the Isolate Tower. There by himself lived the Master Namer, who was called by a name that had no meaning in any language, Kurremkarmerruk. No farm or dwelling lay within miles of the Tower. Grim it stood above the northern cliffs, grey were the clouds over the seas of winter, endless the lists and ranks and rounds of names that the Namer’s eight pupils must learn. Amongst them in the Tower’s high room Kurremkarmerruk sat on a high seat, writing down lists of names that must be learned before the ink faded at midnight leaving the parchment blank again. It was cold and half-dark and always silent there except for the scratching of the Master’s pen and the sighing, maybe, of a student who must learn before midnight the name of every cape, point, bay, sound, inlet, channel, harbor, shallows, reef and rock of the shores of Lossow, a little islet of the Pelnish Sea. If the student complained the Master might say nothing, but lengthen the list; or he might say, “He who would be Seamaster must know the true name of every drop of water in the sea.”

But what struck me more was the shadow. Unlike, oh, just about every fantasy book ever, Earthsea doesn’t have a real villain. There are plenty of bad people, but the real evil is merely a shadow. It hunts hero Ged, until he turns to hunt it. No one knows exactly what it is, but it is believed that this entity’s will is to take over Ged and do evil through him. And what is its name? Maybe it has no name at all. If you’ve done any Shadow work, you’ll guess the answer to the question.

I’ll try not to spoil the book for you. I’ll just say that I think I was a little disappointed in the ending as a child, or maybe dismayed; but as an adult, it is perfect. Because evil doesn’t really come from some Other person, and one might wonder if LeGuin was the first fantasy writer in history to notice this.

A Wizard of Earthsea is a relatively slim two hundred pages, but it’s rich, dense, and never falls into fantasy cliches. Nearly fifty years after its first publication, it’s far less dated than the books of Tolkien or Lloyd Alexander. (The latter being the author of another series I loved, The Prydain Chronicles. They’re still good, but . . . dated, particularly in the characterization of male vs. female characters.)

It’s a wonderful experience to reread a book I loved as a child, and find it even better than I remembered it.

fat lady on airplane

I took a picture of the cover of the book, but, for complicated reasons, the computer can’t find the photo. When I enter the name, it can only find this shot of me, taken by Kevin Ireland, on an airplane above the Central American Pacific Ocean. No, I can’t fix the exposure. Think of it as art.

Witchcraft, Chemistry, and Waking Up, Excerpt

Moon At Dawn 2

NaNoWriMo is almost over, and I’m not going to make my goal of writing a 50,000 word draft of a novel. But I do have a draft, and I’m very excited about it, though it needs way more work yet. Let’s see what we have here . . .

Stella is a witch who manages her family’s farm alone, while her mother and sister are under a sleeping spell. Stella is beginning to discover that her sister, Astra, is able to meddle in Stella’s life, even while sleeping. And se we begin:

By moonlight, Stella performed a ritual to attract spiders to the garden, as they were her best defense against pestiferous insects. She walked the perimeter of the space, invoking their spirit. She sang a song welcoming spiders to come and enjoy the abundance of insects that would surely come to her garden. She promised to avoid disturbing them and their webs as much as possible.

She also left honey, in a tulip bloom, at each corner of the garden and along the borders, to propitiate the fairies. They didn’t like spiders, because they were vulnerable to their webs. As she placed each tulip, she explained that she meant no harm to fairies, but that spiders assisted her to maintain the balance of nature. She warned them that the tulips marked the boundaries of the garden, within which there would be a higher density of webs.

Does the human who talks to plants love the human who is blind to fairies?

 What? Of course not. He helps me to grow the plants we eat. Nearly all humans were blind to fairies, but Trevor was unusual in that regard, here at the farm.

 The human who talks to plants grows food but not love, and the human who flies at night grows love, but not food! Amusing! Their laughter tinkled like tiny bells.

 Who is the human who flies at night?

 An image appeared in her mind, of a cascade of curls, shining gold in the moonlight. Fairies dancing among the shimmering waves, free of danger of entanglement in the hair. They could fly through it, as if it weren’t real, but some kind of non-physical form.

The face of the human who flew at night bore the same cheekbones and jawline as Stella.

The human who flies at night does not know what she is doing. She has no right to manipulate the human who talks to plants. The human who flies at night will not be successful in making other people love each other. Fairies may wish to lure the human to fly elsewhere, rather than disturb the sleep of other humans, who mind their own business.

They didn’t say goodbye. Stella immediately regretted her outburst of anger. Fairies were terrifically empathic, and probably felt it as if she were angry with them. She, an enormous human, lobbing her emotions carelessly at some tiny innocent fairies. It was worse than slapping a child.

That was what Astra did. She made Stella lose her center, and lose control. She didn’t have the power to coerce Stella to love Trevor, though. Stella would not give it to her. Astra would not make Stella fall in love.

Somewhere in Stella was a niggling little voice, so quiet she could pretend she didn’t hear it whisper, because it’s already happening anyway.

Writing the Metadream

I don't know who gets photo credit. Most likely my daughter Rowan Ireland. Or her sister Kiran.

I don’t know who gets photo credit. Most likely my daughter Rowan Ireland. Or her sister Kiran.

I should be writing my novel right now, because it’s almost halfway through NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, and I’m way behind on my word count. But it’s not yet unthinkable that I’ll catch up, and sometimes—rarely— it’s just as helpful to talk about the book as to write it.

The idea originated in a dream. I dreamt about a woman who was a witch, and a farmer. She operated her family farm alone, because her mother and sister had mysteriously disappeared twenty years previous. Her secret was that they were buried in an egg-like pod under a field, because the farmer herself had, in a fit of adolescent pique, cast a sleeping spell on them. The problem was that she had forgotten the words to wake them up, and had been berating herself mercilessly ever since.

I found the forgetting part particularly amusing. It seemed like the kind of thing I would do. When I had the dream, I immediately thought it would make a good story. I’d written a short story from another dream once, and was pleased with the result. I did think a bit about the meaning of the dream, but assumed it was related to my relationship with my sister, which was a bit strained at the time. As for the mother in the dream, maybe I was also trying to put to sleep whatever remaining issues I might have with my late mother. I figured it signified some kind of avoidance of dealing with issues, but didn’t bother to do anything with that. Naturally.

Thinking about writing it as a novel, I decided that a romantic interest would be helpful, and he could help the main character, now dubbed Stella, to figure out what happened. Then I decided to lay partial blame for the forgetting upon the sister.

Then I didn’t do much with it at all until November 1, the first day of NaNoWriMo. Not far into the story, it occurred to me to give the sleeping sister a bit of volition, so I let her wander astrally. She can even visit other people’s dreams, and give them (questionable) advice. She became more of an actor in the story, not simply a passive victim.

As I write, I like to interpret a story as a dream. I’ve blogged elsewhere about that method of dream interpretation in which everyone and everything in the dream is the dreamer. If there’s a war, it’s an inner conflict. Love is a union of forces, such as one’s inner masculine and feminine.

So what to make of this story, inspired by a dream, in which dreams are part of the mechanism that drives the action? Whoa, this is meta. Let’s see. The woman alone is strong and capable, but ultimately needs to activate her masculine principle in order to move forward. She’s put to sleep certain parts of her feminine nature—it happened in adolescence, in a time of inner conflict— but it turns out she needs their assistance in order to access her masculine power as well. So maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with my actual sister at all.

Or maybe it’s all just a story. One that I’m really enjoying writing, and I hope you will enjoy reading it, when I start posting excerpts soon.

What are you dreaming and writing about?

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