Monthly Archives: September 2008

Astrological help for writers….

Indulge me. Have a guess. Which planet, do you think, might be specially linked to the writer’s craft? Yes, very good. It is indeed Mercury.

Mercury represents the principle of communication in all its facets. Pitching and selling ideas, reworking, appraising, editing; all the activities of the scribe’s trade are encompassed by the Mercury function.

Gorgeous Mercury!

Mercury – isn’t he gorgeous?!

In the spring, summer and autumn/winter of each year, the planet Mercury does something strange. It appears to slow down in its orbital pace, stop, then start to move backwards. This is known as retrograde motion. It is of course an illusion. Otherwise, we’d have fallen off the solar system aeons ago.

However, the effects down here on Earth when Mercury is in its  2-3 week retrograde phases are anything but illusory. For years, I studied this phenomenon in my own life, the lives of family, friends, and astrology students. In sum, communications of all types become strangely awkward and hard to manage during those times.

I learned to look forward to having some rest during Mercury Retrograde, since my referral rate dropped. Normally clients always turned up for appointments, MR periods being the exception. Cancellation rates increased. Once, a client called to cancel because her house had just caught fire (yes, she called the Fire Brigade first!).Two clients often turned up at the same time. Cheques invariably got lost in the post, or clients forgot to bring cash. One summer I moved office during MR, becoming involved in a dispute of byzantine complexity with the telephone company which took almost a nervous breakdown to sort out.

As MR periods approached, I used to entertain my students by looking at their individual horoscopes, which enabled me to be more specific regarding possible MR effects. I told one student, a lawyer, that a female helper in his workplace was likely to have communication problems which would impact on him. His feedback?  His secretary sprained her wrist, and was unable to type during the entire MR period.

Mercurial people, eg writers, are those most affected  by Mercury’s retrograde phase.

What can we writers do to maximise advantage and minimise disruption when Mercury is retrograde? MR is a positive time for going back over all matters to do with communication, and cleaning up.

Some examples: if you’ve been putting off a purge of your filing system, do it now. If your accountant has asked you nine times for your last year’s papers, use this 2-3 weeks to update them. Dig out and finish some of those half-worked articles. Use MR times for reminder letters to editors. If you’ve been writing furiously and the brain/wrist is seizing up, have a break. Catch up with some reading. As we know, fallow time is creative.

The don’ts? If it is not feasible as a working writer to avoid or delay taking new initiatives or completing existing processes, eg sending out new proposals and submissions or signing contracts, leases, etc, try to accept complications or thwartings philosophically. Also – be prepared for delays, eg when travelling, especially long distance.  Don’t sit under the mailbox waiting for cheques. And please, don’t arrange for a phone installation!

“Come on then !” I can hear you shouting as you search for my phone number or email. “Tell us WHEN !”

Just send me a £50 cheque and a self addressed envelope….

….oh, all right. Since this is a writer’s website, I’ll tell you.

The Mercury Retrograde periods for 2009 are: 11 January to 01 February + 07 May to 31 May + 07 September to 29 September.

(update: The Mercury Retrograde periods for 2009/2010 are: i) Retro 26/12/09, Direct 15/01/ 2010. ii) Retro 17/04/10, Direct 11/05/ 10. iii) Retro 20/08/10, Direct 12/09/ 10.iv) Retro 10/12/10, Direct 30/12/ 10.)

Let me know how you get on ! Susan Elena my web person, a highly Mercurial person, has a very rude name for Mercury Retrograde. She is on her way back from Istanbul at present. I will be amazed if it goes smoothly……

(slightly edited : first published in the Women Writers’ Network Newsletter August 2004)

********************

600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

Book Review : “The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos” Brian Swimme

The Whirlpool Galaxy

The Whirlpool Galaxy

Brian Swimme “The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos” (Orbis Books April 2003) pp115

For as long as I can remember, the questions cosmologist Brian Swimme raises in the Preface to this wonderfully lucid, accessible and poetically written book have fascinated me:

“Where did it all come from? Where is the center of reality? Where is the heart or source of the universe? Where is that place where everything sprang forth into existence?”

In “The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos” he sets about confronting these questions, with due modesty, and without “any naive expectation that we will now answer with certitude questions which eluded our ancestors.” He does so in a positive and optimistic spirit, stating that “the opportunity of our time is to integrate science’s understanding of the universe with more ancient intuitions concerning the meaning and destiny of the human.”

Swimme makes it clear that cosmology isn’t simply about scientific teaching about the facts and theories of the universe. It is “a wisdom tradition, drawing upon not just science but religion and art and philosophy” .

The book centres on the major cosmological discovery of our time: that the Universe came into existence 13.7 billion years ago and (in Swimme’s own words from his website)” ….is so biased toward complexification that life and intelligence are now seen to be a nearly inevitable construction of evolutionary dynamics.”

His approach in explicating this shattering discovery is one of evocation rather than merely conveying the facts, although he does the latter extremely well in language which elucidates rather than obfuscates. It is hard for people like me, who lack a grounding in science, to get to grips with the kind of world in which we live from the perspectives of  modern physics and cosmology, when so much of what is now known is so counter-intuitive to how our five senses perceive both the earth and the starry heavens.

Each chapter I read, from The Sun at the Center, through Looking Down at the Milky Way, via The Large-Scale Structure of Space and Time, to A Multiplicity of Centers, helped me to understand  more clearly than I ever had before not only the nature and structure of “the vast ocean of the cosmos”, but also evoked a deep sense of the numinosity of belonging to that cosmos.

Everyone interested in humanity and the new story, which is being revealed to us by modern cosmology, should read this book.

400 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Evoking the Twelfth House

A tiny frog, barely half an inch long, flopped, dead, on the tip of a teaspoon as I gently lowered it toward the plug hole of the kitchen sink. Soon, I’d turn on the tap and its fragile little body, already liquefying, would be washed down the drain.

Tiny frog on lotus bud

Tiny frog on lotus bud

Yesterday, it had been leaping around, full of life, inside the  plastic refrigerator box in which I had created a little aquarium with water, moss and stones. The tadpoles which I had brought home a few weeks previously had all survived. Satisfaction and pleasure at having achieved this, however, was tempered with the growing knowledge that these delightful new pets would soon have to be returned to their original habitat.

But this little fellow would never go home.

This small incident, which occurred well over thirty years ago, offered such a poignant illustration of the transient fragility of life that it has never left my memory.

There are times when something apparently tiny and fleeting can illustrate much larger truths.

The constant dance between order and chaos, form and formlessness, being and non-being, seems to occur in all epochs and at all levels. Humans have created a range of paradigms and metaphors, from ancient myths through the world’s great religions to modern cosmology, within which to explore this dialectic.

Cosmologist Brian Swimme in his inspirational invocation of ‘The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos’ speaks of “each instant protons and anti protons…… flashing out of, and …… absorbed back into, all-nourishing abyss……” The abyss is his term for “a power that gives birth and that absorbs existence at a thing’s annihilation.”

Astrology has its own name for this inchoate territory where everything, tiny or vast, which has ever had form dissolves back into the primal waters of the Source. It is called the Twelfth House.

In my horoscope the Sun, Moon,Venus, Saturn, Pluto, and Mercury the planet of communication and writing are all to be found in the Twelfth House. I have been preoccupied with the mystery of whence we arise and where we return since I opened my eyes to the world. Thus it doesn’t require much of a leap of imagination to work out why this website is called ‘Writing from the Twelfth House’……

400 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Learning to do ‘slow’….

 

“Loch Duich, Scottish Highlands, UK, summer  2001. What a beautiful morning! Here I am, strolling along a lochside path, savouring sweet fresh Highland air, gazing across the loch to majestic mountains beyond. The subtle smell of gorse is wonderful – like mild coconut. This morning, the scent is drifting on the breeze. Stopping to smell some gorse flowers, admiring their vivid yellow, my attention is caught by an enormous bee, browsing purposefully. For a long time I stand watching it at work. Suddenly, I am overcome with sheer happiness and gratitude at being in this beautiful spot, with nothing to do but watch a giant bee….

This small, perfect moment burned its memory into my consciousness. Back in our busy city life, full of responsibilities and deadlines, it began to appear every so often, like a little bright flag, alerting me to something.

Seven years later, with the wisdom of hindsight, I know full well what that something was: a stark warning that I was stifling what my mind, body and soul desperately needed – space, peace, silence, seclusion – and slowness, to enable me to be receptive to life rather than using my active will to hammer it into what I thought was an appropriate shape. All these precious things came in abundance with my collapse through sheer exhaustion at the end of 2001, a few months after the incident with the bee.The crash was triggered by a long family crisis that year, which totally depleted my energy at the outset of menopause.

However, there are many advantages to a prolonged and severe crisis. The Chinese word for crisis contains two characters. One conveys threat, the other, opportunity. Many opportunities have presented themselves, the most important  being that I have finally learned to do slow!

When you are forced off the treadmill of contemporary living into a quiet, restful life, becoming more like an occasional visitor from another planet than a participant in 21st century society, certain things become very evident. The most obvious one is that the pace of our life is far too fast.

Everything we learn from history, contemporary living and individual experience points to the importance of striving for balance.  At present the signs are everywhere that we are living in an increasingly unbalanced and destructive world, driven by a pathological need for constant rapid change, and perpetual action.

My long crisis taught me that doing “nothing”, doing very little in a slow and leisurely fashion, and  responding to life rather than acting upon it, are all very fruitful modes. After seven whole years of apparently doing very little apart from lying around drinking tea, reading books, keeping journals, and  fine tuning the undervalued art of procrastination, I feel like a warm and happy pile of rich compost. I don’t feel in the least that all those years of my life have been wasted. Quite the opposite. This, let me tell you, is a  profound, pleasant and wholly unexpected surprise.

I used to try and cram as much as possible into every waking hour, considering time doing “nothing” as time wasted. Does this sound familiar? Had someone told me then that my powerful will would be rendered useless by exhaustion, and that I would have to respond to what my body could do, ie almost nothing, for a  long time, I would have been horrified and very, very scared. And at various points I was horrified and very, very scared.

The poet TS Eliot observed that the end of all our life’s exploring returns us to the starting point, where at last we know the place for the first time. From this perspective,  life is a multi levelled process of moving through repeating cycles of  discovery to deeper and deeper levels  of understanding of what we already know.

I now truly see that there are two fundamental modes to being alive. One is being active, the other is receptivity. Day is for activity. Night is for rest and recharging in stillness, quiet and darkness. Without the slow dying and resting of autumn and winter, the earth could not give us the fecund vitality of spring and fruitfulness of summer. Doing needs to be balanced by being. In order to be truly creative as citizens, parents, workers, partners, and individuals we have to be still, to listen, to receive. To enter these modes, there is an essential key. We must slow down.

One of the most profound lessons I have learned over the course of my life is that often the greatest gifts come in the most unappealing packaging! Within our current culture we are taught that ageing and the gradual diminishing of energy which goes with it is a bad thing. But ageing is inevitable. Its accompanying loss of energy can be used wisely, if we read it as a sign that the time has come to slow down, learn to move more easily from active to receptive mode, and to adopt the tenor of the latter more and more as time goes on.

I am not advocating sinking into a vegetable-like stupor as the ageing process advances! But the cycle of life at every level depends on the key stages of conception, germination, birth, maturing, decline, death and renewal.We should try to be co-operative with this process, rather than narcissistically trying to hang on to youth. Carl Jung wisely observed that the second half of life should be spent preparing for the end of it. One of the great ways of beginning to prepare to let go of this life in order to move on to the next great adventure beyond it, is to grant oneself time to contemplate, time to rest, time to read, time to look out of the window and watch the clouds go by.

I have discovered, to my great surprise and joy, that doing “nothing” and doing slow opens up – very slowly, so be patient ! –  all sorts of creative, fertile space in your life. Try it ! Cultures and individuals stuck in fast, doing  mode for long enough, quite simply, burn themselves out.

Some of you harassed busy folk reading this may find yourselves getting annoyed, muttering “It’s all very well for her!” But I have learned the very hard way that if you deny mind, body and spirit what it needs for long enough, especially as mid life advances and your body begins to lose some of its vitality, the price for that denial will duly be exacted, usually through ill-health.

So – learn from me and that bee at Loch Duich in the summer of 2001. Start doing some slow. You won’t regret it !”

(this is an updated, slightly edited version of an article published in Connections Magazine, Scotland, UK, in  February 2006 as part of an ongoing column called “Just let me get old, ok?”)

 

1100 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

To the website! Chapter 2

“……Much of 2007 was taken up in reflecting on a challenging topic: should I become more computer literate – a writer with a website – or sink slowly to the bottom of an ageing and increasingly befuddled slime of computer-refusing baby-boomers? Befuddled slime did not appeal……”

To the website! Chapter One

(c/f July 08 archive) described the process of acquiring a new AppleMac laptop and getting on the Net via mobile broadband – both accomplished during April 2008.

Now read on!

Still can’t quite believe this….it is September 2008 and I am now a writer with a website!.To inspire and encourage other writers in the same direction, the first thing to say is this: the process of moving from dinosaur to cyber-babe has been great fun, very creative, and not that difficult. For this, much credit goes to my web person, Susan Elena. Her winning combination of geekiness (does this word exist? It does now….), efficiency and reliability, clear teaching and patient good humour set a context where I could relax and have a laugh – mostly at myself, with plenty of input from Susan! – as well as learn a whole range of new skills.

I was also fortunate in benefiting from the very considerable computer expertise of my friend Willie Miller, who runs a successful urban design practice here in Glasgow, Scotland, UK and uses both Macs and PCs. An initial discussion with him, after I had drafted and showed him the Home Page and categories within which I wished to locate articles, proved very useful in focusing the research I did prior to beginning to work with Susan.

There being innumerable Net articles on Writers Websites, it felt very lucky right at the outset to come upon just what was needed to get going. Check out “http://www.sky-bolt.com , the site of Sky Bolt Enterprises which specialises in ‘….effective business websites….’ and a very practical article by Ginny Stibolt called “You Don’t Have to be a Technical Wizard or Rich to Have an Effective Writer’s Website”. It fitted my starting level of comprehension, ie at the bottom of the cyber-literacy food chain. Read it for yourself. Before you start, you need to know why you want a website and what you want it to do. You should then be able to compose a clear, brief and if possible entertaining mission statement for visitors to your Home Page. As Ginny Stibolt observes: “….you have less than 10 seconds to capture their attention. You must state or imply your message instantly.”

I checked out quite a few writers’ sites, and decided that the one whose form I liked best was Bryan Appleyards. I am a fan of his writing so this may have caused some bias! But the clear, unfussy, simple way it is laid out appealed to me – easy to navigate and easy to read.

Following my meeting with Willie and subsequent research, I drafted a preliminary list of ten key website requirements to give Susan a clear idea of what our aims were. Here are four which you might find useful as starting points for thinking about setting up your own site:

1. Purchase a domain name and arrange hosting. Set this up with your name on it, not your web person’s – thereby retaining your independent status.

2. Set up the website as a blog with archives and some fixed pages: eg for Biography, CV (if you decide to put this up, bear in mind the risk of identity theft), Clips, and several writing themes. Thus when you want to put up new articles, the additions can initially be posted on the weblog, then transferred to archives under appropriate headings.

3. Create simplicity of use, so that you can transfer words and images from desktop into website without intermediary help or having to learn eg HTML. This is where a blog format really works.

4. In sum – create structured, categorized, designed web space into which you can then cut and paste your own material at your own pace. Aim to make your web person redundant rather than establishing an (expensive!) ongoing dependency.

Willie suggested WordPress, who provide a wide range of FREE templates, as a good option for a flexible blog package. This was also Susan’s recommendation. I have found my WordPress template very easy to use, with lots of clever and ingenious features – eg Blogstats. This supplies details of visits to your site in addictive and easy to read graphs for day, week and month, enabling you to monitor your fame rippling across the Web!

(Considering my avowed intention right back at the beginning to lurk quietly in an unpromoted corner of cyberspace whilst putting everything together, I am truly amazed at how many visitors the site has had already. Thank you and keep visiting! )

With Susan’s help, I also arranged to be hosted by WordPress. This is very easy to accomplish, at a very modest cost.

We met for nine 1.5 hour sessions from 8th May until 21st July 2008. Essentially, Susan showed me what to do, and I went ahead and did it. Within a couple of sessions, I was happily pasting already prepared articles into the fixed pages we set up on the site, each page presenting one of my writing themes as well as Biog, Clips, Favourite Quotes and Cartoons.

I learned very quickly how to add interest to the text with colour – deciding to stay mainly with black and green for an uncluttered, professional look. Some images were uploaded next. Although it is a writers’ site, I didn’t want it to look too ‘wordy’. Following this came learning how to insert links into articles, then the Blogroll facility which enabled me to post a few key links – relating to each of my writing themes – on the bottom right of the Home Page.

At the start of our process, Susan said “ What do you want to call your site?” I hadn’t a clue. Playing around with a few phrases relating to my writing themes proved unproductive – so I just used my own name. Then, early in August, the title came through. “Writing from the Twelfth House”. This feels right, for reasons which are revealed in Evoking the Twelfth House.

Willie Miller, a speedy kind of person, couldn’t believe that I intended to take the whole summer setting up the website. However, in an article called “Learning to do slow”, you will see why. It has felt very good to do so – taking time gives the creative process opportunities to let ideas ripen and take shape. A website is, of course, a work in progress like any other creative venture. But I am reasonably happy with it as it stands. It will develop as my web and computer skills progress – do return from time to time to see how we are both getting along!

*****************

……To the website! Chapter Three…… will appear in a few weeks, to give you some ideas and tips on the very important ongoing task of publicising your site. Watch this space……

***************

1200 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page