Monday, December 6, 2010

The Long Goodbye: Part One

The golden cups
are in his hand,
his hand is on the knife
and the knife is
above my head.

- Taliesin*

Three times I drew the Seven of Cups, card of soul-wrought dreams and tempting fantasies beckoning, and possibilities so numerous they seem to paralyze all ability to choose. Three times I drew the card in daily meditation before I finally agreed to seek for further guidance.

Where It's At

Things have been all tangled up lately. The puzzle box or wrinkled seed that was planted in my heart during my time in Northern Ireland — the small, mysterious thing curled in upon itself that I had all but forgotten about as things returned to normal — has been creaking and clicking as one by one its latches unhook and slip open... or it has been germinating and putting down roots that slip their sly tendrils in to pry open the soil of my soul. It all sounds very dramatic when you put it like that, but the truth is that I have been growing increasingly dissatisfied and frustrated with certain aspects of my work. And when I say work, I mean the soul-work of my writing, that strange little hobby that cannot make me a living but is indispensable to making me alive.

I've started to have serious doubts about blogging as the appropriate medium for my writing. It takes a huge amount of pride-swallowing to write that sentence, considering it was only a few months ago I was raving about how Meadowsweet & Myrrh was like my online "home," and scoffing arrogantly at people who easily abandon their blogs and let them lie fallow and un-updated for months at a time. I take my writing — and thus my blogging — very seriously, perhaps too seriously at times. I am as slow to abandon a project as I am to leave behind a faith path that no longer meets my spiritual needs (and it took my nigh on half a decade of dilly-dallying to do that before I finally dropped the Catholic label and admitted to myself what everyone else already knew).

When I first began blogging here at Meadowsweet four years ago, it was as though a whole new world of potential conversation and community opened up for me. I was a part of a community of Pagan bloggers who all read each other's posts and fueled each other's reflections. Those exchanges challenged me with new perspectives and ideas, and led to the forging of important friendships and contacts. Blogging even tripped me up happily into a romantic relationship that has blossomed into a life-long, amazingly awesome love with my soon-to-be-husband, Jeff.

Yet in recent months, I've felt little more than frustration and resistance when I think about blogging. Even as I have gained readers and gotten involved with thriving group blogging projects (like Pagan+Politics), I've found myself feeling isolated and disenchanted. Many of the writers I used to read have retired their blogs and retreated into their off-line lives, or into the ever-briefer inanity of Facebook and Twitter. Often I feel as though, of the several wonderful bloggers that I do still read, we're no longer conversing with each other, but all talking about the same topics — no longer friends in conversation in a busy pub, we're the barkers in the town square preaching to the passers-by. Commenters are no longer fellow writers and practitioners interested in cultivating a community of spiritual conversation and exchange — now, they're any random internet surfer with a screenname who has an opinion to share, always on the edge of becoming trollish and downright bullying in their feedback before slipping back into anonymity. (And this feeling, especially, is inexplicable because the commenters here at Meadowsweet have almost always been kind, supportive and inquisitive, and I am lucky to have very few trolls.) I watch as, on other blogs, essays and articles that took hours and hours (maybe days) of research and hard work to craft are quickly overwhelmed by the tidal wave of comments jotted off in only a few minutes of reactionary fervor. More and more it seems most people approach even well-written, insightful pieces with the assumption that blogging cannot be taken seriously as a medium (unless you do either humor or news), and anyone who writes a blog is more concerned with listening to herself talk than in cultivating a conversation. I find myself getting angry not only on my own behalf, but on behalf of other writers who seem too often to humble themselves and spend a great deal of time back-pedalling and justifying themselves to readers. Worse still, I find myself getting increasingly and irrationally annoyed with the readers themselves, the very people I'm supposedly trying to reach with my own writing.

Still, I'm not sure exactly how to break myself of this cycle of dissatisfaction. Whenever I think of a topic I want to write about, I find myself quickly becoming exhausted by the prospect (this is the first extensive post I've had the stamina to write in weeks). The obligation to blog seems repressive and obnoxious, and so I find ways to avoid it by posting old pieces of half-finished writing or falling back on the photographs of regular "Keeping the Days" posts. For a couple months now, I've struggled to push through this period of dissatisfaction. In part because I had fairly thoroughly convinced myself that I needed to "build a readership" and prove myself capable of self-marketing if I ever hoped to secure a book contract with a publisher. In part because I felt I needed to save face and prove to myself and others that I had the self-discipline and commitment to write really astounding and insightful pieces on a regular basis. And in part, because I have readers and friends who continue to support my writing and insist that my voice is (or has the potential to be) an important one in the larger Pagan community — and I very much want that to be true, and I don't want to let them down.

Despite all of these perfectly good reasons to keep blogging, though, I've found myself increasingly repelled by it. I spend larger and larger amounts of time out in the woods, or busying myself with menial tasks or online surfing. And all the while, my real heart's calling seems to be dangling over me like a knife, threatening to fall. Finding the appropriate form that my soul's work should take in the world has become a growing preoccupation, even an obsession, and worrying over these questions of purpose and service drains my energy away from my writing even more. It feels almost as though, as David Whyte put it, out of the silence I have made a promise it will kill me to break. I do not know what that promise might be, but the golden cups of song are in his hand, his hand is on the knife, and the knife is above my head.

* Excerpt from the poem "Protection of Honey Isle" (trans. John Matthews)


  1. I have been feeling somewhat disenchanted with my own blog lately, perhaps for some of the same reasons you discussed here, and so I feel heartened to discover that I am not alone. I have long admired your blog, and it was probably part of the reason that led to me beginning my own. But our lives change, and perhaps after a while the reasons why we began our blogs are no longer as important to us. I think that, for myself, I began my blog out of loneliness and a desire to have someone to talk to, although I probably would never have admitted that to myself at the time. In the last few months, however, I've been making new friendships and have not felt the need to write for my blog as regularly.

    I wish you the best of blessings in your future path as you decide what to do next. Your blog has been a great inspiration to me in many ways, and I thank you very much for it.

  2. I hesitate to write a response but will offer my love and support and hope it comes across that way. Though I would miss hearing about your thoughts it sounds like you are definitely sensing a time for changes. As one who has been following and is not a writer nor Druid it must feel very different to no longer feel connected to the community in ways you find energizing and to find the simplistic replies and questions of some of us tiring. That being said, I especially appreciate the David Whyte poem and wonder - was this a True Vow to write the blog or is it another step in the journey to fulfill a True Vow to yourself to write? I find your prose style to be elegant and lyrical and sense that others find your words as inspirational and thought provoking as myself. A lovely professor of Hebrew History once shared with me that at 89 he had no more books he wanted to write he merely wanted to reveal that which had been given to him to the world thus blogging provided a means of sending his work out into the cosmos. However this is a white man of privilege who spent 50 years in academia. He never became wealthy and I doubt very many except his students know his name but he did get published and at 89 is able to rest on the authority of his career. Authority isn't perhaps the goal of your work but certainly yours is voice worth hearing by many people and I hope you discover - or follow through on what you have already discovered - which perhaps involves how the Goddess will continue to reveal your particular voice to more of us?

  3. Ali,

    My first reaction to this news is NO! NO! And NO! M&M is so rich - thoughtful, deeply reflective, with your wonderful authentic voice, and I would be truly sad to see it go.

    My second thought is that I know how you feel and I understand the decision. I've felt the same before and often on many counts. And, of course, I spent 2 years away from the blogosphere for some of the same reasons (as well as a few unrelated ones). And I am guilty of shying away from the larger conversation and being one of those street barkers myself, so I hear you, very much.

    I just hope that if you decide to quit blogging, that you will continue to write (I have a suspicion that you will not be able to help it no matter what), because you are a marvelous writer and we need your voice.

    -Ruby Sara

  4. Ali,

    You must, of course, follow your heart. Let me add my voice to the growing chorus of those who would be sad to see you go away, if even for a while.

    I will also say that much like Ritual and Magick, the Net is a tool. We are the ones, in the end, who choose how it is used and what we will make with it. I understand the exhaustion you speak of and the hesitancy to write due to the thought of dealing with fall out, or potential fall out.

    Yet your writing connects you to so many others who have come to appreciate and admire your mind and voice, even when we do not fully agree. Your writing inspires and nurtures and I know that if I were to meet a budding Druid yours is one of the blogs I would aim them at.


  5. Thank you all for your kind words and support. It's readers like you that do make me want to keep writing. And I'm not going to make a promise not to blog anymore - I've noticed in the past that when I get excited about some non-blogging project that I'm working on, suddenly blogging becomes a great medium for bragging about how fun and awesome it is. ;) So, with any luck, perhaps I'll have some happy posts along those lines soon enough. In any case, it's not over yet. This "Long Goodbye" is, like, a four parter. ;)

  6. Also, Suzanne,

    Please don't feel that just because you don't happen to be a Druid that you don't have a place in the conversation. :) If anything, it's partly having the chance to meet folks like you on the Celtic Spirituality retreat that has me feeling a certain restlessness about the Pagan community itself. When I talk about "practitioners," I mean more the practitioners of Spirit, the kind of mystic-leaning seekers that I feel more connected to, and I definitely count you as one of those. There are times when I feel more kinship and connection to Christians and other non-Pagans of this type than the Pagans who get hung up on academic nitpicking and spiritual one-upmanship. Like every tradition, we have our obnoxious fundamentalists too. So your love and support is very much felt and appreciated!

    As far as True Vows and writing... this is something I'm trying to figure out, with all my might. ;) Blogging is just the latest medium, and I think it might just be that I'm cut out for more traditional forms. Some of us are rock stars with strobe lighting and distortion pedals, and some of us, well, give us a clunky old acoustic guitar and we'll be happy. :)

  7. Some people are making money with their blogs. Not to say that I think you should commercialize, I am just throwing thoughts out there.

    Another option might be to sell your ebooks via your blog. I have heard of bloggers who schedule their blogs, too - - having them go out a certain amount of times.

    You can split your blog up into several sections, or write different ones and schedule them. I schedule my twitter tweets using Hootsuite. I think they may have a pay OR free option for blogs.

    There is also an idea of selling other things, like imprinted merchandise, done on (free) Zazzle, or Cafepress. They are doing that a lot at Squidoo, which is a neat place you may like if you want to write more. They split profits with you.

    I like your blog too. I don't get here as often as I would like, but from now on I will. I love your writing!! Let us know what happens. Perhaps you are wanting to do other creative things with your time.

    Maybe a group of bloggers (by invitation only) would like to split the work with you. Just some ideas... and I hope they were helpful. I will be back to see what happens! To me, change can be exciting too. :-)

  8. Finding the appropriate form that my soul's work should take in the world has become a growing preoccupation, even an obsession, and worrying over these questions of purpose and service drains my energy away from my writing even more.

    Yikes. I think this is exactly what happened to me. And I don't even have the energy to expound on it more and explain myself. Hell, I don't even have the energy to explore it on my own in my own blog.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that I... hear you. I feel you. And I think I understand you.

  9. E Sheppard,

    Thanks for the advice. I'm sure it's well-meaning. :) One thing that really bothers me, however, that I think you've hit on exactly, is this idea that writing alone is not worth anyone's support. Folks who make money with blogs (besides those who manage significant donation drives, for which I applaud them), do so by supporting ads. In other words, while they offer the "meat" of their work for free, they get paid for slipping in advertisements for other products, and earn a (usually small) commission when their readers spend their hard earned money on things that may not even be helpful or healthy necessities. This seems, to me, a very backwards, consumer-driven way to fund a blog. Instead of receiving a small commission for suckering readers into buying shit they don't need or may not even really want, why not skip the middle man and ask readers for their direct support? This approach would save readers money while making far more financial support directly available to the bloggers themselves. Yet most people's attitudes are so conditioned by the consumerist mindset that their view is, "You're giving away your writing for free, and so therefore it must not be worth anything. Why would I donate to support something that isn't worth anything, if I can get it for free?" Though the idea of selling merchandise through a store like CafePress is cute and may be especially helpful for cartoonists, comic strip writers and artists, it also involves a double mark-up in price of which the creator of the artwork only gets a small portion. It's also not appropriate for the medium of writing. Should I be expected to have to transform all of my writing into easily-printable t-shirt designs? This suggests, again, that my writing in itself is not valuable enough to deserve financial support.

    This is the irony that bothers me about writing online. The ideal of providing information for free to people all over the world is wonderful - but the assumption that such information precipitates out of thin air without any effort is simply false. When it comes to crafting a piece of writing meant to capture a certain spiritual aspect or insight into life, this is even more true. I appreciate that you enjoy my writing, but there is a reason why "lip service" has a negative connotation. As a writer friend of mine (who is a published author, and still has to struggle with this issue) recently put it, "Buyers are liars." Many in the Pagan community claim that they want "beyond Pagan 101" books, and yet those workshops are the ones that fill past capacity at every festival, and those books are the ones that sell well year in and year out. Most agents and editors are well aware of the conflicting feedback provided to them by what readers say they want, and what readers are actually willing to spend their money on. Publishers will not support writers if readers do not put their money where their mouths are, so to speak.

    In the end, the truth is that I am already secure in my finances, and I would rather devote my energies to improving my craft and creating truly good, meaningful writing, than waste energy devising self-marketing strategies. This is not all about money. But it also shouldn't be about expecting writers to justify the value of their work and try every marketing strategy out there to convince readers to cough up the financial support that readers themselves continually claim such writers deserve. If a writer creates good, meaningful work, that in itself should be enough to earn the financial support of readers. If you know of writers out there who do wonderful work, even if they "give it away for free online," I urge all of my readers to honestly consider showing their support for that work whenever you can, in whatever way you can. In the meantime, I will be seeking better ways to use my skills and talents.


  10. i'm also have issues with the capitalist model of who has the most when they die wins, it just smacks of greed, and while i can appreciate the hard work that goes into the various blogs that i follow and read and give me wonderful food for though, i am at times ashamed of people, who just fall into line with the above capitalist model because it is easier.. *sigh*.. in regards to books, i wrote on my blogg about books and buying, and the economic model of pagan publishing being different from that of the capitalist one.. it was a thing that i noticed while i was researching modern pagan books for my thesis..

    (a fair warning tho if you want to read i am dislexic thus spelling is creating and commas' are used like spinkles oh and i rambled quite a bit..tehe)

    maybe you need a break, a time to regroup to ponder what its all about, seems to be quite a bit of that going around.. on the one hand it will give me a chance to chatch up with all of you blogg, yay me,,. and on the other this is not about me as such, because if you are not inspired to write.. *nods*

    umm.. yeah.. that was a tad rambley i do enjoy reading what you have to say, such great food for thought, and i suspect that i will go on finding jems here, and if you find the inspiration to blogg again, even if it is only on occasion, i will be quite happy to read.


  11. So sorry to hear that you are considering giving up the blog as I have found it inspirational. However, if you are finding it a chore it is definitely time to give it up! I fully understand where you are coming from...maybe you could have an occasional article on your own website where you would not find it necessary to write every day or even on a regular basis but just as the Awen dictates?

    All the best in your endeavours and I wish you peace and blessings

  12. Ah, sorry, but I'm laughing a bit here, though your post hardly evokes such a reaction. It's just that I started blogging about six years ago, in 2004. Blogging was still relatively new (at least in my corner of the world), and I was part of a site called Blogdrive. Blogs were conversations among the users of the site; it was a close-knit community that was still welcoming to outsiders. And within two years, Blogdrive died, and my blogging spirit with it. Every other blogging site I went to lacked the same community, the same conversation, and seemed like so many people shouting at each other.

    And yet, I continue to blog. I am still searching for a home, but I've long since given up on having that sort of conversation again. I'm sure it could happen, but I don't work for it anymore. I simply blog because, well, I need to write. And yes, I am one of those people who lets her blog lie fallow for months. I admit it without guilt or evasion. Things haven't been the same since Blogdrive. Not even at Dreamwidth, which is closest to feeling like BD did to me.

    I would be sad to see Meadowsweet go. But if it's time, it's time. And perhaps you just need a change. I stopped writing at Canadian Pagan long ago, but now I write at Innocence and Immanence. I'm sure in time I'll write somewhere else. And I'm sure that each blog will be remembered by someone, somewhere (I know there are people who remember CP). That's really all one can hope to do with blogging. Touch a life. Change someone's opinion. Plant the seeds of change in pissing someone off. It's not much, but it's something.

  13. I've quite enjoyed all of the aspects of your posts -- you can delve into the heart of the matter from the logical / analytical aspect, and soon after spin forth lyrical poetry -- and I love your photos! I am quite certain you will find the art that speaks most to your heart, and excel at it. Pray share with us whatever you can.

    I'm with you about making your own choice here. Life moves on, and interests change -- and eventually you find that you don't have an infinite amount of time to fill with your creations. I have a number of interests, any of which could demand most of my time -- music (harp) and amateur mycology being two of them. Besides that, I have been caring for my wife much more after she broke her hip a couple years back. I found then that I hadn't sufficient appreciation for all that she had been doing all along.

    I'm beginning to learn the difficult lesson that balance is key to living your life well. There are things you must do just to live -- and those that you do to make living worthwhile. Too much of one or the other, and you are either trapped in a circle of drudgery, or fiddling while Rome burns.

    Listen to both your heart and your head, and rest assured that we who are so grateful of your sharing your gifts will support you in any way that we can.

    -- Feral Boy

  14. It can't all go out which blogging can become. The Green world restores and transforms. When it's done with you, you will probably have more to say.

  15. DMiley,

    Certainly - make no mistake, I haven't run out of things to say. I've decided that the blog is not an appropriate forum for saying it. For now. Perhaps that will change again in the future. But I have no intention of giving up writing! Gods, no! ;) Just seeking a better medium for that writing.

  16. Waiting to hear where you end up Ali. I've been a deep blogging funk for awhile and can understand the frustration.