A marriage is like…

Last week my husband and I celebrated 36 years of marriage. I could write that these years were sweet wedded bliss but I’d be lying. We’ve struggled through some tough times. Despite our differences, we’re still here, still together and moving forward. You could say I’m a stubborn cuss or say I’m a persistent person. Either way, the same words fit for my spouse.

Because I love metaphors, I Googled “metaphor for marriage.” A metaphor, as you probably know, is a figure of speech that refers, for rhetorical effect, to one thing by mentioning another thing. The search engine results for marriage included metaphors like these…trees…swords forged in fire…a horse and carriage…a duet…a road…seeds…gardens…and a host of other associations. I read every idea and marvelled at the way the contributors elaborated on their meaning. Not one fit my experience.

The truth is a marriage is created by two unique individuals, and if nothing else, we are that. My husband and I have such distinct personalities it’s a miracle we’ve gone on this long. After completing my research, I concluded that I had to find my own parallels.

I sat for a long time waiting for a metaphor to come into my mind. During my reflection time, I remembered a family holiday that included white water rafting on the Kananaskis River in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. A group of multi-aged tourists showed up for the trip, donned raggedy wetsuits, helmets and lifejackets, and then armed with paddles and enthusiasm, we waited impatiently to set off. We felt brave and up to the risk; possibly a little apprehensive. After an instructivel lecture on rafting techniques and a safety demonstration, we piled into the raft. After our guide showed us basic paddling skills, we maneuvered our craft through an easy section of fast moving water. When our crew put their backs into the oars, we became a team. We felt brave gliding smoothly around rocks large enough to create eddies. We even survived a few nose-dives that sprayed up and soaked us to the skin.

Towards the end of the adventure, we tied up on the shoreline and scrambled along the edge where we were instructed to throw ourselves into the water. Some of us were doubtful. The rafting coaches pressed us. Plummeting into a frigid mountain river took my breath away. The river took hold of each one of us and carried us 50 feet downstream where our guides waited, laughing, to pluck us from the stream.

I’ll never forget the exhilaration and shock of leaping into that water. This was the link to my metaphor!

Like a new river rafter, you first experience marriage as if you are leaping into a cold mountain river that looks beautiful from afar but turns out to be risky for the innocent participant. Initially the novelty of romance and delight takes your breath away. You feel like you can handle anything. After awhile, the excitement wears thin, and you struggle to keep your enthusiasm going. Eventually you realize there is work to it so you put more effort into it. Emotional turmoil tumbles around you, pushes you off-balance and threatens to wash you onto the shore or send you scrambling over the rocks. Slippery stepping stones in your life upset your footing. Your well-anchored opinions are washed away like gravel, swept along in rapids, and tossed over thundering waterfalls. At the sharpest curve, you learn to respect the river. Sometimes you are submerged like waterlogged debris in the current; sometimes you float like a fallen autumn leaf. Eventually, you surrender: to the flow, to life, to the love that brought you to each other in the first place. After the rapids, you realize the current is slowing.

Where you once saw your husband as a heavy rock holding you down, you begin to appreciate him as an anchor. You realize the two of you handle the current in different ways; you learn to stand and let the wild water flow around you. He understands your need to float in still pools. You both learn to listen to the silence and stillness of the forest unconscious. His sharp edges smooth out, and his dark sediments slowly settle into fertile growth. The drama of the wild water fades. On the flood plain you learn to go with the flow.

Metaphor is a big picture tool that provides clarity. It shows me the similarities between a wild river ride and a marriage. It helps me step back and see the complete, overarching story of two souls who have learned to travel with the flow of life. From this vantage point, I can consider the future, and instead of focusing on the small details of past turbulence, make decisions that take the whole of the river’s course into account, from spring source to the wide sea.

So tell me in the comments…what is a metaphor for your relationship with your partner?

Lonely Lila

Lonely Lila

Lonely Lila comes to me in darkness
when the interface grid is offline
when my soul radiance dims
i hear her whistling in the dark
then i’m not afraid
to share the gift of words
to light up the world
with forgiveness
and acceptance.

it shocks me to know
the live wire of my heart
when amplified and grounded
is powered by a great Wind
the natural source of all love

then Lila leaves her lonely lair
she illuminates the way, makes my heart shine
my eyes twinkle and my words hum.

(c) Kathie Sutherland 2015/02/03

Fairy Tale Wisdom

“Even as children, our Inner Heroes set out to challenge the world. In the last two thousand years, nothing has helped this exploratory need as much as the fairy tale.

“I know what you may be thinking. “Fairy tales? Is he kidding? Why, those things are positively frightening. Children see enough violence on television — they don’t need kids pushing witches into ovens and evil spells and poisoned apples.

“Stop for a minute and remind yourself how long the fairy tale has been with us — in every nation and in every civilization. Surely there must be something significant here, an insight so important as to transcend time and mountains and cultures to arrive in the twenty-first century still intact. 

“What distinguishes the fairy tale is that it speaks to the heart and soul. The fairy tale confirms what we our.selves have been thinking all along — that it is a cold, cruel world out there and it’s waiting to eat us alive. Now, if that were all the fairy tale said, it would have died out long ago. But it goes one step further. It addresses itself to our sense of courage and adventure. The fairy tale advises us: Take your courage in hand and go out to meet the world head on. According to Bruno Bettelheim, the fairy tale offers this promise: If you have courage and if you persist, you can overcome any obstacle, conquer any foe.

By recognizing daily fears, appealing to courage and confidence, and by offering hope, the fairy tale presents us all with a means by which we can understand the world and ourselves. And those who would deodorize the tales impose a fearsome lie upon us. J.R.R. Tolkien cautioned, “It does not pay to leave a dragon out of your calculations if you live near him.” Judging from the daily averages, our land is filled with dragons.”

 * An edited quote from Jim Trelease‘s Read-Aloud Handbook

Although I am long past childhood, I too believe in the fairy tale as a learning tool for acting with courage and confidence. This is part of my soul journey.

We all share a common road, which is the never-ending journey into ourselves. My Storyteller is getting old, and she’s hobbling along this path mapping my life in poems and short stories. She creates metaphoric, mythic landscapes to show where I am, where I have been and where I might go.

Fairy tales are one way to remember the Sacred Being we have forgotten, buried as She is under all the stories we use to protect ourselves from dragons. We can search for Her in our memories and find meaning by listening to the emotional tone of past events, using our senses, finding words for previously unexpressed experiences, embracing symbols from the vast store of the unconscious using metaphors, imagination, wordplay, flashes of insight, while appreciating the sheer joy of wordsmithing. For me, the fairy tale is a healing concoction from The Alchemist, a magic elixir that can transform the lead of my fear into the gold of understanding.

 

My Storyteller’s Tale

 

The Storyteller squats by the well in the gathering place of the townspeople. No one pays much attention to a dusty old Gypsy woman so she sits quietly and observes the people and their lives. Her embroidered skirt is muddied at the hem and her boots are worn down at the heel. She wears large gold earrings, a strangely marked talisman around her neck, and her thick grey hair is held back with a red silk scarf adorned with coins.

On this particular day, a market day, people bustle around her. Children with dirty ears and ragged clothes chase each other until she bids them come and sit with her. They call out to the beggar by the gate and he comes too, his craggy face lined and his toothless mouth grinning. The stripling lad from the inn and the young barmaid arrive not long after, holding hands and nuzzling each other. Mothers with babes in their arms purchase trinkets at the market stalls and then settle in to nurse their infants in the shade of the elms. They have come to hear the Gypsy woman who tells tales of wonder and magic.

With her begging bowl beside her, the Storyteller weaves tales about the trees in the wood, the smell of the dusty road, the wizards who travel there, and the dragons who live in the caves beyond. The old woman travels far and wide, visiting countries at war and those in peaceful times, during droughts and floods, through seasons of plenty and years of starvation. She sees babies born and old men die. She suffers and yet, she considers herself as happy and innocent as the dirty children beside her.

A young woman asks her to tell a story – a true story of a Princess and her betrothed, a Prince who will one day be king. After a time of thoughtful silence, the Storyteller begins her tale.

“Once upon a time, a silken-haired Princess sat in the palace garden admiring the roses. She felt safe there on her little bench in the sunshine. She pines for her Prince, who has been far away fighting on a distant battlefield.

Suddenly, a horde of marauding soldiers seeking revenge for the murder of their King, break through the gate and carry her off. Naturally, she quakes with fear. She has never been outside the palace walls. As they tie her behind the wagon and ride away, pulling her along, she thinks, “I will never survive all alone in the wild country.”

The Storyteller pauses dramatically, looking at each face in the audience.

“On arrival at the soldier’s camp, the beautiful Princess considers her predicament. No one will protect her or guard her honour. She concludes that her Prince is not coming to rescue her, even though she had always thought that was what Princes were to do. She says to herself, “If I am to move forward, I must rise above my fears, persevere and be strong.”

Her situation is dire. She is hungry, thirsty and tired. Even though she appears beaten, she feigns weakness to fool the soldiers. One takes pity on her. He unties her hands so she can drink from his cup, and she slips free and takes his sabre. She twists this way and that, leaps nimbly away, and runs to the paddock where the horses are tied. She untethers a white stallion, throws her leg over its back and gathers the reins.

The soldiers rally.

“One shouts, “You can’t escape now. You must stop and surrender.”

“A second guard yells, “Wench, give up your feeble efforts! We will take you anyway!

The Storyteller pauses. In an aside to her listeners, says, “Will she escape or will she stand firm? Will she run for her life or will she take up a sword and fight?”

Her listeners lean forward. The Storyteller speaks faster and louder, gesturing as she acts the Princess’ part.

“Our Princess is ready to ride away but she reins in the horse, jumps down and stands fast, facing her enemies. She meets them in a Hero’s stance, her head held high.  She slashes and slices. Suffers cuts and wounds. She fights with confidence; she fights a good fight! And when they are all lying in the grass moaning or dead, she remounts the stallion and rides away toward the castle.

The listeners echo her words, “…the good fight.”

The Storyteller steps forward, holding the young ones spellbound,

“Everyone in the kingdom knows this Princess as a sweet and gentlewoman, and not one to fight and make war. How has this happened, that a peace loving girl has been transformed and now wins a victory by the sword?”

“She is a Heroine!” the audience gasps.

“Perhaps…” the Storyteller pauses again.

“She has a special power, my friends. Yes! Our Princess chooses to act on her own behalf, to take back her power through her actions.”

“What??” A young listener in the audience says, “She chooses?”

“Do we not all choose which battles to fight?” asks the Storyteller. “The Princess chooses to own her power and courage. She works with life rather than resisting. Her hand is loose on the sword not clenched. She understands that she alone is responsible for her freedom.”

No sooner is this statement out of the Storyteller’s mouth than the one who requested the Princess story, jeers, “That is not the story I want! The Princess must be saved by her Prince.” There are others who shake their fists and throw spoiled tomatoes and rotten cabbage at her. Splat! Splat! The audience howls but the Storyteller does not retreat.

The crowd yells, “You are mad! Everyone must abide by the law and submit, including the Princess. What story are you weaving? No one has this freedom. Begone!”

But behind them, at the back of the crowd, the young barmaid cheers and her fellow too. A mother under the elms is smiling though she says nothing. The children play at sword fighting at the village wall.

The Storyteller understands that of which she speaks. She, herself, is free to move about, to decide which stories she will tell, and to tell them in her own way. She begins her tale again, her voice rising above the din.

“I weave this tale so you may see that you are like the Wise Princess who may someday be Queen. Hers is the story of us all. You too can choose courage to own your life and its path.”

It is evening now and the sun is going down. The villagers have heard and seen enough. They drift away to tend to their homes and families, the barmaid returns to the tavern, the babies are asleep in their mothers arms, and the children are tired of their games.

The Storyteller sees that her bowl is empty but her heart is full. She has a bit of bread and cheese in her bag and that is enough for her.

The next morning the Storyteller, having shared her wisdom, gathers her meager belongings and sets out on the road to the next village.

 

The moral of the story? We all have the freedom, right and responsibility to choose our way.

 

 

Playing with Perspective

My first memory is of a tiny speckled bird shell. I remember wind blowing and dark earth. I cannot say where it was except that when I was three, we lived near Penhold, Alberta. I wrote a short story based on this momentary glimpse of innocence and wonder, and it brought back feelings about my parents, siblings, and summer picnics. Somewhere inside me, that curious child still lives.

I loved the outdoors back then. I was fascinated by caterpillars and feathers, dandelion seeds and ants. I loved to touch, smell, taste and observe the world around me. I noticed that round rocks roll and leaves fall down not up. In those days, at the playground, I tested my ability to climb, jump, swing and twirl. I developed physical strength, coordination and balance, as well as social skills, creative game playing, problem solving, confidence building, and a connection to people and place. At the time, I didn’t realize I was learning. It was all play to me.

What is your first memory?  Is it a small snippet without context? Writing about this memory in the present tense may bring up feelings about the experience. Feelings do not know the date and are just as powerful to your Child as they were when the feelings first arose.The gift of this approach to stories from childhood is described by Alice Miller in her book The Drama of the Gifted Child…”the experience of one’s own truth make it possible to return to one’s own world of feeling at an adult level – without paradise but with the ability to mourn. And this ability does give us back our vitality… awareness of old feelings is not deadly but liberating.”

Your story is unique because it is your perspective on events, a viewpoint that may be far from the factual truth but very accurate in terms of emotional and intellectual insight. Memory is unreliable because it comes to you as a reaction to a present event and manifests as a fleeting glimpse of a scene from childhood, an emotion such as fear or fun, an impression of a person, even a reaction to a smell. I recall tears welling up in my eyes once when I smelled pipe smoke. I turned toward the smell expecting to see my father smoking his corncob pipe even though he had passed away 30 years before. This is the power of memory.

Now, as I near “senior status” I’ve been visiting a new playground – the one in my imagination – where I can grow by playing with perspective. I’ve learned a great deal about my inner world by writing from my senses, feelings and especially, from my imagination. I can creatively capture a moment in a poem, a sentence, a story or vignette. I do not want to miss the miracles that occur every moment of every day, the way a Child perceives the world, free to explore and experience with the joyfulness of an open heart and mind.

I experienced this today when I stepped outside into cold winter air. The sun was shining in a clear blue sky. Chickadees hopped about in the spruce tree beside the deck. Snow glittered. As I write this now several hours later, I remember the feeling of cool air on my skin and the aliveness of the moment. I set aside my complaints about icy highways and wind chill factors and instead, choose to see the world with new eyes. This is the gift of your Inner Child.

 

A Way to Me

I don’t create poetry, I create myself, for me my poems are a way to me.

~Edith Södergran

 

I love this quote. It speaks volumes about why I write poetry. A way into myself. A pathway. Like Hansel and Gretel in the fairy tale following a trail of breadcrumb words as the path through the forest unconscious.

A fellow poet once told me that getting words down on paper for creative purposes is like taking dictation, and that one can simply write what one hears. In order to listen intensely, one must be silent. Close your eyes for a moment and you will realize sounds are clearer, easier to follow for a longer time. I am a very visual person so closing my eyes sharpens my other senses. The wind whispers in the spruce tree. Traffic on the highway is distant, and fades into the background. Snow melts and water gurgles down the drainpipe.

It is a real gift to focus solely on sound. Poems present themselves through the hearing sense as a short burst of insight or an interruption in energy and this highlights the correlation with an abstract, like a thought, a feeling, or an intuitive urge.

I tend to write in short phrases, part sentences, short spurts and couplets. In fact, I prefer that in prose too. Call them what you will, writing comes to me that way. Another reason to love poetry. To take dictation, one must listen to the voices within –  voices of the ego, voices of reason, but especially words of the heart and the voice of Soul.

A writing instructor once commented that one must give a nod to writing conventions in poetry. I rebelled at the thought. In poetry, twisting the language, disregarding proper capitalization, or messing with punctuation is all part of the fun. In the flow of a river, there is an eloquent movement forward, and so it is with poetry regardless of the wandering nature of the words.

Following is a poem from Shadow Girls in the Spotlight one of my poetry books. I’ve inserted it here to illustrate this “way to me” concept. In the book, it is accompanied by a Reflection, a Soul Message and a Question for Reflection, just the way it appears here..

 

orphan annie

snowflakes cling to her eyebrows
leaf skeletons to her ragged shoes

the inner orphan annie
cries outside the frosty window

she wanders in the winter twilight
peeks in at lighted kitchens

abandoned waif with tattered heart
she has no hearth fire of her own

she bickers with her disowned selves
trying on faces in the glass

unsettled ragamuffin, survivor of unmet needs
she digs for scraps of self-acceptance
in the rubble heap of loneliness

she’s begging for a bellyful
of warmth and kindness
and loving home for all.

Annie’s Role: The Lost One

Reflection: When I was a child outside at night, I felt curious about other people’s lives when I looked into their lighted windows. Like a voyeur peeking into their lives, I was fascinated by the comfort and warmth they seemed to have. In the years after I left home, these lighted windows reminded of the childhood home from which I was separated.

I used to feel lost, as if others had security, love, and safety and I did not. After writing this poem, I began to see Annie as my Inner Orphan, a Shadow Self who needed a safe place inside me. She wanted a home for all the personality parts I had left out in the cold.

Heart Wisdom: You have a loving home in your heart for all your lost parts. All are welcome in your home.

Your Turn:  Is your heart home safe? If not, what can you do to make it so?

Poetry is indeed “a way to me” and an exploration into my Shadow, and the masks that my Ego created to protect my Heart.

 

This blog is a reprint of an article published on my website on March 25, 2015 and has been edited from the earlier version.

The Word Lover’s Tale

 

Once upon a time an aging Word Lover presented a workshop at a Seniors’ Conference. She had never attempted a Personalize Your Greeting Cards talk but she thought seniors would enjoy creating messages for handwritten cards. So she gathered together a wealth of card writing advice, reviewed and edited, reduced and tightened pages of material.

After a Welcome address from dignitaries, the Keynote Speaker encouraged the assembled audience to smile and laugh, and skillfully related amusing stories from her life. The Word Lover chuckled at the presenter’s clever jokes, word plays and tales of embarrassing moments to poke fun at herself.

At the breakout session following the fun, eight elderly ladies gathered around a conference table looking toward the Word Lover expectantly. She had set out two blank notecards at each place, all with stunning nature photographs on the front and plenty of room inside for writing from the heart. She also provided a one-page list of Personal Values, and a second list with names and descriptions of positive emotions. She had carefully prepared a handout with wording for use in greeting cards for all occasions, including: Thank You and Gratitude cards; Birthday, Anniversary and Wedding celebrations; expressions of Sympathy; and Encouragement to brighten someone’s day.

The Word Lover began with an introduction explaining the purpose of the workshop, and asked the participants to bring to mind a person to whom they could send a card. No one responded. Too early for contributions the Word Lover thought, feeling unsettled and unsure how move to forward.

She said to herself, “I should have been prepared for this.” And she looked around the table at their blank faces and smiled to encourage them. The quiet in the room seemed very loud.

“Onward,” she said to herself, “don’t panic. Next, she shared her “communication recipe.” When I…(see, touch, hear, taste, smell), I feel (happy, proud, sad) because…(values important to the writer).”

The Word Lover noticed a nod or two, and became aware of rustling papers and shifting in chairs. “I haven’t engaged with them.” She admonished herself. “I’ve given them too much information. Haven’t given them a chance to speak. Too much talk. Arrgh!”

Just then, she remembered the greeting cards and decided to use them as a prompt. “What images touch you in the cards you have been given?”

It was as if someone had yelled, “Bingo!”

She began to listen to the chatting between the participants. “I don’t like tumultuous waves because I can’t swim. I would rather see calm reflections in the water. This image is too dark. Oh, what’s that in the background? Pussy willows? I love the pink in the flowers. Oh, look a buffalo!

The Word Lover’s mood perked up. Great! They’re participating. She then asked, “What do the images mean to you?” And chattering began. Tales from the farm. A holiday to the west coast. A story about the mountains on horseback. She acknowledged descriptive events: tamed wild creatures and their return to nature; losing a friend when she moved; maintaining independence; illness; grieving.

The Word Lover brought the conversation back to the cards. “What would you say to some who is ill if you compared their experience to the scene on the cards? To a friend who is misunderstood? To a grieving family member for encouragement? How are they like mountains, rivers, calm lakes?”

Then she mentioned memory gifts from the body: the smell new babies; the softness of fur, the taste of raspberries. The urgency of story engenders more and more conversation until it becomes difficult to interrupt. She has noticed this tendency of hers to hesitate, to allow the participants to talk even when time is running short.

The end of the session catches the Word Lover by surprise. Time has disappeared. The ladies gather up their papers and cards, and trickle out of the room. One woman has already completed an encouragement message inside a card with a photo of a winding road on the front. When she insists the Word Lover read the tiny cramped script, the Word Lover pats her arm and tells her the sentiment is beautiful. This woman understands the symbolism of the road as a life journey. The image stimulates sentiment and provides the word connection to another.

The last lady leaving the room pauses at the door for a moment and says, “I really enjoyed this session. It gives me something to think about.” The Word Lover smiles with her lips and in her heart.