Tag Archives: stories

Hands of the Moon

I’ve made bread for years, but in winter especially, my bread has not come out well – it doesn’t rise properly and comes out squidgy when cooked. It wasn’t room temperature, others making bread in the same conditions get good results. For years I assumed I was doing something wrong – I was told there must be things wrong with my technique – but not what!

Then in a random conversation about comics a few weeks ago, Tom mentioned a Japanese comic about baking (anything can be heroic, in comics) and a young man possessed of ‘the Hands of the Sun’ – hands at the perfect temperature for making bread. It got me thinking.

I have cold hands, especially in winter. I inherited poor circulation from my paternal grandmother. But also like her, I’m a good pastry maker. Bread needs warmth to stimulate the yeast. Pastry is best made cold. The temperature of a person’s hands are going to make a lot of odds on this one.

I have the Hands of the Moon. And so I make good pastry but struggle in winter with bread. Two mysteries solved, and with no need for blame, no issue with my technique, just a simple reality of my body that makes me good at one thing, not so good at another.

I love the term ‘Hands of the Sun’ – poetic, delightful. There is no doubt a perfect body temperature for bread making, and it’s going to be warm, because yeast thrives on warmth. And the colder your hands, the better your pastry. My circulation-troubled Nan was an awesome pastry maker. I’m not sure if ‘Hands of the Moon’ exists as a concept in Japan, but it seemed the obvious pairing.

The stories we tell about ourselves, the language we use and the we way we make sense of our own lives, abilities, challenges and experiences shape the journey for us. I used to consider myself a lousy breadmaker. Now, I have Hands of the Moon, and a totally different story about who I am and what I do (in the kitchen at least). There are plenty of things we have no control over (like my skin temperature) but I can shape the stories I tell to myself about who I am, and that is something available to all of us. Sometimes it takes some help to point us in the direction of a better story, but once we start looking, it can be possible to let go of the beliefs that make us feel small and unhappy, and find instead stories that celebrate who we are and what we are able to do. Stories that help us live our lives.

Violence in Stories

One of the egroups I’m on (Worlds of Fantasy) got into a debate yesterday about violence in entertainment and in society. Whether or not violence in entertainment has increased was poked around as a notion. We were able to agree that on the whole, humans in western civilizations are not as violent as they used to be.

The vast majority of stories are driven, to some degree, by sex, death, or a combination thereof. These are subjects around which it is possible to weave vast, complex, meaningful tales. Just look at Shakespeare. Humans respond to sex and death and all the things those two activities create, in all kinds of ways. In seeking, and avoiding them, justifying them, punishing and rewarding people for them… all the many facets of the human condition can be played out.

It may be fair to say that modern entertainment focuses more on the details of the sexual and lethal activities than older stories did. That in itself doesn’t have to be a problem. Good stories can be told around detailed depictions. Go back to ancient writing and what you find is very light on description, heavy on telling, light on showing. Classic myths don’t spend pages establishing characters or pondering motivation. Preferences and styles change. But there’s no shortage of sex and violence. I read Ovid’s Metamorphosis last year, and the single most frequently occurring plot element was rape.

The more I think about it, the more I feel that modern story telling is doing some very similar things to that classic Greek story telling. It’s become very focused on the sex and violence. There are films now whose sole purpose seems to be to shock, frighten and disgust audiences. There are Ovid stories that caught me very much the same way – it’s just about revelling in the ick. Our modern world is far tamer and safer than the ones the Greeks inhabited though. So why are doing this? I don’t know.

The context for sex and violence in the story is important I think. Sex and violence happening in the context of good story telling is very different from entertainment that is mostly depictions, with very little narrative reasoning. It’s the reasonlessness that bothers me most. When the ‘story’ is all about surface and immediate thrills and offers nothing deeper, then the violence and sex come through in very different ways. They aren’t just driving forces, they become the entirety, and that reduces everything down. Sex and death might underpin human experience, but they are not the sum and total of what we are.

Stories, like everything else, have their cycles and seasons. Currently people seem partial to immediacy, and intensity. Fast paced, in your face action, plenty of bare skin and a high death toll quite often makes for a successful film or book. Slower, more elaborate and involved story telling that isn’t a ‘page turner’ or ‘edge of the seat’ is out of fashion. The collective hunger is for thrills, not for thinking. There are, however, plenty of people who want to experience their stories in different ways.

The ways in which we tell each other stories (be those spoken, in books, films or computer games) informs our sense of what is normal. Most of us are not going to go out and emulate what we read or see. However, the entertainment we imbibe does affect how we perceive the world, how we understand our own lives, and what expectations we have. That makes me wonder where we are going with this, and what we might unwittingly be doing to ourselves.

Grief

It’s not just bereavement that brings grief. Any kind of loss or trauma will very likely take a person into the process of grief. Having been through some stuff myself, and watched others going through things, grief is not an experience that makes any kind of sense, but it is a process. So, I offer these words in the hopes that they are helpful to others who find themselves facing hard times.

The first challenge grief creates is that it doesn’t always kick in immediately after the event. If there’s a great deal of stress around the loss or trauma, we may not be able to grieve over what has happened – feeling like you are the person who must hold a family together after a loss, or being so deep in crisis there is no time to deal with emotions, would be two obvious causes of this. Grief is pushed aside. When this happens, the need to go through the process doesn’t actually go away. At some point, it comes back. That could take days, or years, and it’s not entirely predictable. Delaying the grieving process often makes it a lot harder to go through, and because delayed grief makes even less sense to onlookers, it can reduce the available support for the sufferer. In the meantime, the person who needs to grieve can find themselves numb, or otherwise emotionally troubled – depression may occur, feelings of helplessness and other expressions of suppressed distress.

Working through grief is a painful process. It’s very tempting to want to resist that pain, but doing so makes it worse. Recognising that it is a process and that it needs going through, make it easier to handle. There is a far side, and things do change. In the meantime it is necessary to mourn what has been lost, to weep and howl where necessary, and to adjust to whatever change trauma or distress has created. 

It’s not unusual for it to take a while for loss to sink in. The loss of a home, a job, a friend… or anything that connects you in some way, can trigger a grief process. It’s usually once the mayhem created by the loss is over that the grief process begins. Grieving is something that needs quiet, and often privacy and the sense of available time. It’s not something that can happen while a crisis is in full swing. So sometimes it’s when everything seems to be ok and stable again that the pain truly kicks in – which can be disorientating. But it is fairly normal, and not a thing to fear.

Once the grieving process begins, it comes in waves. In the first days after bereavement, I’ve spent more time crying than not. Then it eases, the raw pain becoming intermittent, until by slow degrees something a bit more like ‘normal’ returns. Sometimes the grief returns, triggered perhaps by Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, days that carry resonance, objects that bring back memories. And again, there is nothing to do but accept this process and allow yourself the space to go through it. In the longer term, working with the process of grief is far less painful.

One of the few things that reliably seems to help, is to tell stories. If you’ve lost a person, talk about them – you don’t need a wake to do that, although gathering together to share memories is a good thing. Find someone who will listen, and speak of what happened – it works for trauma too. If all else fails and there is no one to hear you, write it down, that too brings relief. It is in the making of stories that we get some sense of control over our lives, and in the sharing of them we reinforce bonds of community. In times of grief and pain, stories bring healing and help people move forward. It may seem like burdening others, but sharing grief is a good thing, it deepens relationships, and it means when that other person’s time comes to face something, they will know what to do – they will know to talk, and that others can understand what is happening to them.

Writing …

except it’s afternoon !!!

Just arrived here as spent morning sorting out the Ogham post – it goes up here  tomorrow.  It was good fun getting the info together, if rather like herding kittens . there is just soooooo much that each tree relates to I feel I could write a damn encyclopaedia (sheesh! spelling … need coffffeeee!). I am putting the whole into a book – out next year at this rate.

I love trees. The lore they give you if you choose to journey with them is fantastic, and doing so is like an hour with your best friend, exchanging Q&A. Every time I go to write about them I found something new arrives and wants to be mentioned.

Writing’s like that … you set off with an idea and then the story wakes up and writes itself, you just have to stop it wandering off into indigestible and incomprehensible ramblings … again like herding kittens LOL. I’m having the same round-up scenes with the latest novel too. Having begun with a 14 yr old heroine, I’ve now got a 40 yr old hero, with fiddle, itinerant musician, with red hawk and now (since last Saturday) two ferrets as well … Yikes! And he’s going to fall in love with the heroine – who may grow to 16, sigh! – although nothing happens, which is probably very sad for them both but we’ll see.

Arrrrgghhh !!! back to the grind of writing … but I absolutely love it. except there’s a mountain and a half of work to do in the garden too. And I can’t wait for Paul to bring Fabrice’s french bread back from Fodders … Yummmmmmmmmmm !!!

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