To Purge or Not to Purge

By Cheryl Owen-Wilson

To purge, or not to purge, that is the question.  Whether ‘tis nobler to allow our minds to wallow in misery,  hoarding our past misfortunes, and sorrows.  Or to purge, to purge all from our being, so creativity may blossom and flourish in its wake.

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To Purge—The act of ridding one’s self of unwanted feelings, memories and conditions. In doing so, one hopes to experience a sense of cathartic release.

It’s a New Year, and along with the New Year many make resolutions for change. In order to do so, they look back at the past 365 days and resolve to make the new ones better. Some examples of mine would be—writing that novel, losing those pounds, taking that trip, and on, and on. However, I’ve discovered the old year will follow me into the new one unless I—purge. For me it was never a question, to purge or not to purge. What was my question for years was—how? I stumbled upon my answer over 10 years ago, when I wrote my first, end of year, Christmas Letter. Yes, I’m one of those people. But once again, through the power of the written word, a great mental purge was discovered.

I utilize the craft of fiction, poetry, and memoir in my annual Christmas Letter, and since I write about my husband, our seven children, five grandchildren, and myself you can only imagine the length of said letter. Our children have taken to calling it, Our Mother’s Annual, Award Winning, Best in Fiction, Family News Paper. I call it my, End of Year Purge, because, we’re a very large family, with many personalities, and lives, and my aging brain can’t possibly remember it all, no matter how hard I try.

So while the children’s title is all in jest, as I can attest that every word I write in the letter is the absolute truth, how do I accomplish this without giving away family secrets? I’ve found a collision of fiction, mystery, and memoir accomplishes my goal quite nicely.  It is all in the arrangement of words you see—such as saying—Betty (names have been changed to protect the innocent) spent a year exploring the many avenues available to a young woman in her 20’s. This would be my way of saying, without actually saying it—Betty, spent the year either jumping from job to job, or boyfriend, to boyfriend—you choose, as I’ve used similar phrases for both scenarios. There have also been a multitude of boyfriends, girlfriends and even the occasional husband, who’ve been featured in the letter and shown in photos only to be completely absent the next year, or replaced by another name and face entirely. This is where mystery comes in—are they buried in the back yard or been abducted by aliens? No one ever asks, and we never say. However, even with my creative narrative, the magic of the letter is that year after year it captures a chronological story of our family’s lives. Through the letter, I am able to celebrate the sweet memories and accomplishments of each and every family member, while also purging the nasty bits that occur with humor and cleaver word choices.

The second half of the Christmas letter is a poem. The poem is my way of embracing the positive world events of the past year, while purging the negative, and also remembering those whom we’ve lost. This year’s poem is shared below.

So dear readers I say purge.  Write it all down, and burn it if you must, but purge none-the-less. My purging not only frees my mind of clutter, it also creates a recorded history of both family and world events for my grandchildren to look back upon and read, many moons from now. I would love to hear what rituals you use to purge in order to clear the clutter, and begin anew.

Let Hearts Grow and Bells Ring Out                              

Let bells ring out while snowflakes fly, and let tinsel and glitter fall from the sky.

Let mystical enchantment surround us, one and all, while peace, love and happiness, hold us tightly in its thrall.

Once again our home has been transformed into a storybook, fantasy world, where even tiny, Grinch-like trees can bring magic, when unfurled.

For the Holiday Season, is upon us once again dear friend.  So let us take a moment over a hot chocolate, or perhaps a hot toddy laced with gin.

As we look back at the event filled year of Two-Thousand and Seventeen, where future historians, I am certain, will proclaim, “How could they’ve not seen?”

There’s a reality star twittering rants from within the hallowed halls of our highest house.  Facts have become “fake news”, while with nuclear weapons, he plays cat, and mouse.

But within the red and blue swath of these our United States, there is still much to be applauded; fueled by our many debates.

We marched by the millions, pink hats in hand, and from that momentous occasion, the #metoo movement began.

Thus, all now know, we do have a choice, as we stand speaking loudly in one, strong, united voice.

Then on to a lighter note, for the perfect stocking stuffer, we have a winner, but do we really, truly need, that double, fidget spinner?

I much prefer the momentary craze dedicated to the Unicorn’s vibrant rainbow hue. As it has given us, color-laden Frappuccino’s, bagels, and of course, Unicorn dip poo!

While here in Eugene, for those of us “Ducks” who bleed yellow and green, this years “civil war game” was an orange and black defeated, scene.

And Mother Nature chose this year to give us quite a display.  We watched in throngs—as day became night—what more can I say?

Other than, let us not forget the YouTube sensation, followed faithfully online, when April the Giraffe, gave birth live before millions, for the very first time.

Alas, many new beings entered this realm throughout the past year, but there were also those who left us. So, let’s give them a final, good cheer.

For Mr. Tom Petty, I know he now has wings, and has Learned to Fly, and is Free Fallin’ though a starlit night sky.

And Mr. Monty Hall is making heavenly deals, while listening to Fat’s Domino serenade him with Blueberry Hills.

Then Gentle on My Mind is a Rhinestone Cowboy riding through the clouds, heralded by the applause of adoring, heavenly crowds.

Finally, I throw my hat to the sky in memory of Ms. Mary Tyler Moore, and to Jerry Lewis, I hope funds for MDA continue to ever pour.

I now gaze out my kitchen window at our newly planted, crooked Dr. Seuss Tree, and it reminds me that by allowing your heart to grow, you can begin to see.

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So like the infamous Grinch of old, let all our hearts begin to grow, and grow, then perhaps through this great expansion of human compassion, seeds will sow, and begin mending not only fences, but also the divided borders across this earth. For isn’t that the true reason for this season, of renewal, and rebirth?

Love, conquers all they say, so let’s, let bells ring out, and let’s let love, have its way!

A Scary Hallows Eve to All

By Cheryl Owen-Wilson

October is my favorite time of the year—a time of vibrant reds and oranges from falling leaves, and also a time when we celebrate Halloween and The Day of the Dead.   I love all the accoutrements, from dressing up and becoming something or someone entirely different, to candles dripping with blood, to cauldrons boiling—I look forward to it all. For most of my friends their holiday is Christmas. They have storage units filled with shiny, sparkling baubles. My storage unit contains costumes, a coffin (see last years blog), cobwebs, spiders and of course skeletal remains. Most have a Santa and sleigh to adorn their roof. I however, have another vision and they’re not of sugarplums dancing in my head. I have a vision of skeletons crawling up and over my roof. I think perhaps after Halloween I’ll leave them and in December they can sport Santa hats. As a writer of Southern Gothic tales my Halloween props serve to inspire me. The other tool I use to get my muse going is to write poetry about my subject. So in honor of this month of howling wolves and all things long departed, I’ve redone a classic poem to suit my taste. I hope you enjoy, and if you happen to have a spare cadaver or two please send them my way. My collection is growing day by day. Please take a moment to tell me what inspires your writing.

 

A Scary Hallows Eve to All

Twas the night before Hallows Eve when all through the house,               the Spirits were a’stirring,                                                                               why there was even a dead mouse.

The cauldrons were hung by the chimney with care,                                   bubbling and brewing a potion most rare.

The children were rising from their casket beds,                                         while visions of voodoo dolls danced in their heads.

And mamma in her shroud and I with my top-hat,                                     had just started rising from our long undead nap.

When out in the graveyard there arose such a clatter,                               I sprang from my crypt to see what was the matter.

Away to the mausoleum I flew like a flash,                                                   tore open a tomb and threw out some trash.

The hunter’s moon was just rising and cast a bright glow.                         Which gave a lustre of crimson to objects below.

When what to my bleary undead eyes should appear?                               But a gleaming black hearse,                                                                           pulled by eight phantom deer.

With a sinister old driver so evil and bad,                                                       I knew in a moment it must be Count Vlad.

More rapid than banshees his courses they came,                                       And he screeched, and he shrieked,                                                             and he called them by name.

Now Basher! Now Lancer! Now Cancer and Vixen!                                       On Vomit! On Pudrid! On Squander and Nixon!

To the top of the graveyard, to the top of the pall,                                       now slash away, bash away, thrash away all!

As dry brittle bones rattle, shake, scream and cry,                                       when they meet with an obstacle,                                                                  upon the most high,

So up to the tomb-top the ghoulish crew flew,                                               with a hearse full of corpses,                                                                         and Count Vlad of course, too.

And then in the darkness I heard on the roof,                                               the scraping and clawing of each phantom’s hoof.

As I drew in my carcass and was turning around,                                         down through the catacombs                                                                           he came with a bound.

He was dressed in a cape from his head to his foot.                                     His white shirt was all splattered                                                                     with the blood he’d just took.

A bundle of bones he had flung on his back                                                   And he looked like a grave-robber                                                                   just opening his pack.

His eyes—how they gleamed! His gaze was quite scary!                               His skin was like marble, his fangs made me wary.

And when he opened his mouth in a smile, don’t you know?                       Those fangs actually gave off a stunning, white glow.

Drips of scarlet still clung to the points of his teeth,                                     and I drew in stale breathe as a blade he unsheathed.

He had the chiseled face of a Botticelli.                                                           But his demeanor was straight from the pages,                                                of M. Shelley

Was he here on a mission, a demented black elf?                                         I pondered and worried in spite of myself.

His eyes sought a tomb just above my skull’s head                                       And soon I knew I had nothing whatsoever to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,                                     and filled the tombs coffers then turned with a jerk.

And laying a bony finger aside of his nose,                                                     And giving a nod up through the graveyard he rose.

He sprang to his hearse, to his demons gave a shrill whistle,                       And away they all roared like a death seeking missile.

But I heard him cry out ere he drove from my sight,                                   Scary Hallows Eve to All and to All a Good-Fright!

Day of Dead Moon
“Day of Dead Moon”
An Original Painting by Cheryl Owen-Wilson (MeCo)

Necessary Evil

By Christina Lay

Part of my morning, pre-writing routine is to read a poem. By doing this I hope to nudge my brain toward a more graceful, flowing state of being. That’s the idea, anyway.

More often than not, it leads me to spend precious writing time on Google Translate, as I try to outwit the interpreter and discover what the poet really meant. My favorite collections are by foreign poets that include the original version of the poem printed alongside the English translation. I entertain a little conceit that I’m teaching myself French, Spanish and, god help me, Czech, in this way.

Currently I’m working my way once again through Flowers of Evil, by Charles Baudelaire. As I was listing the French words and phrases that I wanted to look up and explore further, it struck me that Baudelaire should be the poet laureate for ShadowSpinners.

Here’s part of the list, which doesn’t really require a trip to Google translate to get the gist: Sinistre, mysterieux, malefique, macabre, etrange, ce poison noir, un malheureux ensorcele, flambeau des graces sataniques!

What sort of French I’m a learning here, anyway?

Baudelaire was possessed by the same fascination with the dark side of human nature as we are here at ShadowSpinners. He found a way to make horror beautiful, suffering sublime, death alluring. This snippet from L’Irremeidable (The Irremediable) seems to capture the essence of our shared malaise:

Un Ange, imprudent voyageur

Qu’a tente l’amour du difforme

An angel, rash wanderer, who craves

To look upon deformity

 

(Irremediable means “impossible to cure” by the way. Had to look up that as well.)

What? Doesn't everyone keep rose brambles around  for photo opps?

What? Doesn’t everyone keep rose brambles around for photo opps?

And because looking stuff up is easier than writing this blog, I had to find out which six poems in this collection were banned one month after the book was published. (Baudelaire was tried for obscenity in 1857). As usual, the reading public found sexual images much more horrifying than horror.

Last week our guest blogger Stephen Vessels spoke most eloquently on why we writers (and painters, poets, filmmakers, etc) are so compelled to create what is termed “horror”. As I mused on my thirty year fascination with Baudelaire and revisited the banished poems— Lethe, Les Bijoux, Lesbos, Femmes Damnes, Les Vamperes Metamorphoses, and To Her Who Is Too Gay— I found myself asking, how is it a poem can threaten the very fiber of society? How can a few paragraphs frighten the powers that be enough to get the poet locked up in jail? (Baudelaire got six months).

I looked up the definition of obscenity, which of course has changed many times over the past 150 years. This is the supreme court “test” I like best—“Whether the tendency of the matter charged is to deprave or corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences.”

Because it’s a simple thing to not read, see or listen to works of horror, what is it that worries us about other people being exposed to these things? (Us referring to society and our shared culture). Do we really think horror inspires more horror, horrible acts? Or is it simply that these are thoughts that should never be admitted to, that might threaten to expose our own inner turmoil?

Victor Hugo said Baudeliare created un noveau frisson, a new shudder, or thrill, in literature.

The new shudder or thrill: when a poet speaks that which should not be spoken, expressing what should not be felt, or thought, or brought to light. That which should never be admitted to. Shameful secrets. Evil tendencies. Baudelaire went too far.  He committed the ultimate literary sin of writing about sex and death.

Obviously there’s nothing I can say on the topic that hasn’t been said, but because it is National Poetry Month, and because Baudeliare still speaks to my hidden dark side over the gulf of a century and a half, I felt I must take note of his bravery. While mulling over what it was I wanted to say, I stumbled across this quote from poet Patricia Smith, (thanks again to S. Vessels) which pretty much sums it up.

“I teach a class called “Writing on the Other Side of the Wall.” The concept is that we constantly write “toward” a wall — sometimes we even get close enough to touch it — but it’s formidable, and it draws us near while pushing us away. The raw, terrifying, necessary writing is on the other side of that wall.”

Baudelaire spent his poetic life on the other side of the wall, writing what was necessary.

I’m  tempted to include all sorts of excerpts glorifying evil here, but I’ll leave us with this, as inspiration for all the creators approaching the wall today.

 

From The Sun

I practice my fantastic fencing alone

Dueling in every corner with the hazards of rhyme

Stumbling over words like paving stones

Colliding with verse from old dreams sometimes.