I have been plotting the next story (or stories as the case may be here) since June last year when I decided I wanted to invite a small number of friends, former collaborators, readers and creatives into an intimate group which I ended up calling The Belief Trust. I wrote to them all and asked them if they could provide an energetic net of support for me while I worked out how to be a writer again. It was an enlightening process — handwriting the 13 handmade bi-fold postcards — which helped me to better understand what I was actually asking for.
This year when I wrote my update, I included a blank handmade postcard; these postcards were the backbone of my FireStarter Project. I asked each member of The Trust to send the postcard back with a set of prompts: a song, a year and a socio-political-cultural event. These would be the catalyst of a new set of short stories.
A week later, the Australian cards began to land in my post box: my next stories were arriving!
I was so excited reading what I had been sent. And then nothing else happened. The prompts flatlined.
I am being a little bit of a drama queen. They didn’t so much as flat line but were given a number and asked to stand in the very, very long line with other stories waiting their turn at the counter.
As it turns out, it has not been such a bad thing. The slow maturation of these postcard prompts is allowing something far juicier to emerge.
In 2014, I wrote a short story for the Strange Little Girls anthology. It didn’t make the cut and when I shopped it around, one of the rejections I got said I had to make the story shorter, or longer; at the current length of 4500 it didn’t work. I knew I could not make it shorter and I was at a complete loss at how to make it longer. Sometimes you have to be patient across years and wait for a homemade Velveteen Rabbit postcard to arrive with the year 1961 and Wanda Jackson’s Funnel of Love nominated on the back, to know what to do with a story.
And I loved that the first song I was gifted was Funnel Love as it is on a playlist I made for The Starling Requiem (the cover from the Only Lovers Left Alive). Little moments of synchronicity like that light me up.
When I get to my next story is debatable because while The FireStarter project is my next story in spirit, I first have to complete the current revisions of my birthpunk novella ahead of passing it to Rus for editing mid-month and its publication in December. Then there is the completion and editing of The JAR Story novel, ready for March 2020 publication. Plus Rus and I are both seriously drawn back a story we started in 2017 called The Glass Marionette.
There are no tumble weeds rolling through my creative life. There haven’t been for a quite while. My creative life is the most fertile, expansive and actionable it has (perhaps) ever been. I look forward (rather than backward) knowing that everyone has their time and my time is now and there is never a time that is not now. The Next Story is really this: living my best creative life every day with the JAR Writers’ Collective at my back, making it all possible.
The JAR is back after two months of intense activity behind the scenes. As the photo below shows – it has been stacks on!
Adam and Jodi’s debut epistolary novel Postmarked Piper’s Reach launched on the 21st July (through Vine Leaves Press). Rus and Jodi were busy completing the edits on Fossil Five, the collective’s debut novel, and generally getting the manuscript book-shaped ahead of its September 23rd release (or 21st of July if you are in the Baltimore area and keen to be part of the in-person launch in Ellicott County).
Fossil Five is accompanied by A Reader’s Companion, which includes behind the scenes interviews, questions and journal space for processing what surfaces after the novel. We are also ecstatic to share the news of Pattie Lin’s single, Pulse, inspired by the novel. It is due for release on the 7th of the month, the same day we email out the prologue and opening chapter.
Blogging returns this Friday, with our usual weekly schedule staying the same, though from here on in Small Rebellious Acts of Creativity will be a monthly prompt and we will be partnering with someone outside the collective to bring you the fruits of our explorations.
We hope this finds you well and as excited as we each are for the final months of 2019.
Home Grown by Jodi Cleghorn, Alchemy by Oracle (The Daily Breath)
* Fossil Five is currently only available in Australia via hand delivery. It is an epic tome of 630g/420 pages and currently costs over $10 to post out. Once it reaches our favourite online bookstores, with free postage, we will let you know the relevant links. We will be organising signed book plates for those in far flung places.
In husbandry, when farmers raise sheep for commercial wool production, any sheep less than pure white is cut from the flock so as not to taint the clip. Just one strand of non-pure white wool can decimate the price of a bale, jeopardise an entire shipment and a farm’s projected income.
If I look at my natal astrological chart, without being fatalistic or deterministic about it, I was always going to be happiest living on the perimeter of my family, society and anything that vaguely hinted at conformism. To look at me you’d have no idea that I am a homebirth mamma, that non-monogamy is my preferred relationship dynamic, that I am aphantasic and psychic. Yet these are all profound and life-changing aspects of who I am. They shape the way I see (or in the case of aphantasia – don’t see!) and engage with the world, what brings me joy, expansion, opportunity and authenticity. They also have a major of impact on what I write and how I write.
Yet I was slow in coming into my Black Sheep Self.
Christmas Day (1995) delighted with glow-when-you-press-his-belly Barney,
If I had the opportunity to send one simple message to Younger Me it would be to simply revel in being single; to hoover up every opportunity not beingattached to someone afforded. Because what happened was, Perpetually Single me was Perpetually Miserable™ because I was absolutely positive I was missing out on something, that I was less than because of it and I was sick of being the brunt of jokes – my family referred to the men whose spheres I shifted in and out of as ‘flavour of the month’ (I guess it could have been worse; one of my friends had a mother who told her point blank she was nothing without a husband!). That’s probably when the cracks with conformity really started to shift through me, as in my early 20’s, friends met the loves of their lives, got engaged, married (and divorced three years later). I couldn’t keep a man if I bolted him to the ground (and let’s be honest, when you live on a house on stilts, that’s not even really an option). Later I stayed in an abusive relationship to prove I ‘could do a relationship’.
I’ve never married, and I quite likely never will. There is something about the institution of marriage that just doesn’t appeal to me (nor my partner) and a friend who is an astrologer took one look at my chart years ago and said: wisest decision ever! That’s not to say I’m anti-commitment or anti-responsibility. My life-partner and I will celebrate 17 years together this August. We have a 15-year-old son. A 30-year mortgage. I just don’t need to publicly declare my love once and get a certificate to prove I turned up and said the right words. I try to live it every day, instead — for better or worse!
‘Oh, you’re so brave. I could never do something like that.’
Nearing midnight and not far from welcoming our son into the world. (June 2004)
The biggest leap into the ‘fuck-you’ of the path less travelled was choosing a homebirth in 2003, to welcome our son in 2004. This was the first time I confronted the emotional cost of doing something outside of the expected. I was blasted with fear – standard assumptions that childbirth is inherently dangerous; childbirth outside of a hospital was tantamount to infanticide and a woman who took this route was ill-informed and not fit to be a mother. Family, friends and strangers all projected their own trauma stories onto me. I had no idea at the time, just how deeply this was important for me.
It turns out my own birth story from 1973 is littered with human impatience, medical negligence, two nights of heavy sedation drugs, and obstetric ego resulting in a caesarean section when major abdominal surgery accounted for less than 2% of all births. My Mum almost died of septicaemia post-surgery and carried horrific deep scars from what was meant to be a joyous and empowering experience. In stepping outside mainstream perspective and what ‘everyone else did’, I found a new strength and conviction, an inherent trust in myself, my body, and my ability to make life-affirming decisions. The unexpected expansion from this was I became part of a rich and vibrant transgenerational community, and through that I became an editor of the state homebirth magazine. It was the skills and experience gained here, collecting and publishing birth stories and women’s wisdom that ultimately lead me to taking the risk of starting my own publishing house. It was also a continued commitment to birth activism that inspired me to first write #birthpunk.
PUBLISHER BE THY NAME
My first foray into the Literary Mixed Tapes imprint, in its beautiful final iteration. Cover illustration Andrew McKiernan (June 2012)
“I couldn’t do what you do.”
When I started to meet other small press owners at conventions and we shared stories, they were all aghast at how I went about putting together anthologies, and just generally running the business. I was not interested in reading slush. And not surprisingly – open submission and slush piles were not even congruent with the way I wanted to do business or grow creative projects.
The conceptual anthologies I envisaged required a small group of people who believed in the idea and lots of trust in growing, developing and weaving the stories in terms of Chinese Whisperings, and later working as a group toward a quality publication via Literary Mixed Tapes. And as the years and the anthologies unfolded, I was very clear that I wanted to invest my time in helping writers forge brilliant stories, in supporting writers to be the best writers they could be and fostering projects that had a deep base of community. As Tom Dullemond said to me years ago: what you do is collective submission, not competitive submission. To me, slush pile reading was wasted time.
I’M NOT A VISUAL WRITER
‘If you close your eyes, and I say dog, what do you see?’
Walking the beach of my soul, unstoppering psychic channels and making peace with aphantasia (May 2016)
I had been saying for years that I wasn’t a visual writer without really grokking what it meant. It was a random text message in 2016, from one of my oldest friend’s Kim, that brought the word Aphantasia into both our worlds. Aphantasia means ‘blind in the mind’s eye’ which in essence means when I close my eyes I can’t visually imagine anything. I also can’t conjure the taste of garlic, or the smell of roses. I can’t imagine the soft plush of velvet. Even the voices in my head have a somewhat monotone (I’ve heard it referred to as ‘milk voice’) cadence to them. When my psychic channel opens, it is the enunciation of the message, rather than a distinctive voice, that tells me who I’m connected to.
I will be honest. When I realised that most other people (it is estimated that around 2% of the population have aphantasia) could actually visualise memories like movies, or had an imagination that visually fleshed out dreams or fantasies, I felt utterly ripped off. People ask how I read a book. I guess it is like a lot the whole aphantasia experience – I engage via concept – and I can probably hear rather vividly the dialogue (I prefer books with a fast pace, lots of dialogue and minimal description). It is what it is, and until someone pointed out that my experience was somehow ‘wrong’ or ‘distorted’ or fundamentally ‘less than’ I had never thought to consider it that way. My experience was just my experience.
My suspicion is that my short- and medium-term memories are a little on the fucked side because my memories are stored more like a ship’s log; like rows of code. I might be able to tell you that earlier, when we had lunch, you were wearing a blue dress, but I can’t for the life of me bring that up and see it when I close my eyes. I will be able to tell you what we spoke about, ate, who else was around, but it is all coming from that list, which pretty quickly disappears and is lost.
This means several things for my writing. It possibly accounts for my fascination with concept (I joke that I ‘see’ in concept; Kim says she sees in a spatial way, using gestures and her hands as a way of kinesthetically navigating out what she can’t see; another writer I know ‘sees’ via emotion.) It has meant the heart of my writing is dialogue – I hear the story, transcribe it, and then over successive chapters flesh out the visual aspects. When I see something incredible in the real world I always stop and try to work out how I would convert what I see into words, often leaving fragments of observations in my phone’s notes app. It is something I have had to work hard to master, and it is something I do truly celebrate when I nail it. Diversions into poetry and screen writing have strengthened the visual part of my writing, by offering new ways to engage in visual/imagery-heavy mediums. As has working with people who have provocatively inspiring use of visual elements in their writing.
There is still a weird little tic when I refer to myself as psychic. By flip, I almost never refer to myself as poly.
‘What is that?’
My spiritual awakening came in two parts beginning in August 2015 with an energetic healing a friend shared with me after she’d come back from a spiritual retreat. She brought through a message for me that said to ‘trust your heart’. Ten days later the doors of my life were flung open when a man arrived serendipitously via a mutual friend’s birthday party. In fact, I almost missed him – it was only the fact I was very slow at drinking my final beer that I was still around when the booth seat emptied out and I slid in and sat next to him. This was the start of a very rough eight-odd months, where everything I thought I knew or felt was turned on itself head: what I thought about intimate relationships and societal expectations of them; my relationship with honesty and speaking my truth came up time and time again; what it meant to love and be loved, to surrender and have faith.
Healthy, happy and utterly in love with life and the two men in it (May 2017)
In September 2015 I asked my long-term partner if we could open our relationship, if we could ‘practice polyamory’ (consensual multiple committed loving relationships of which there are as many different iterations and configurations of as the imagination has breadth to create!). It had been on my radar for several years, but I was afraid to venture any where outside an intellectual exploration of it. To do so risked everything. At the same time, I knew there were parts of our relationship that were unable to be healed by couple counselling. I had entered into our relationship with deep wounding and considerable trauma, which in turn damaged certain parts of our relationship. Asking someone you love to commit to celibacy for the term of the natural life of your relationship is no better than forcing your partner into a sexual relationship. Telling someone you love that you love them but are no longer attracted to them – it is honestly the hardest thing I have ever done (in the real or fictional worlds I reside in).
And so my view of the world – of how people interact with each other, engage in deep connective relationships, open to love and communicate fiercely – has transformed wildly in the past few years. And now I don’t see myself or my experience represented anywhere in everyday media. In novels. In movies. There was the incredible Wonderlust last year on Netflix with Toni Collete, focusing entirely on a couple’s journal into the ecstasy and pitfalls of opening a long-term relationship, and there have been passing positive mentions of polamory on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, but it is something that’s just not part of mainstream consciousness, much less open to conversation (though there are more and more articles appearing about non-monomagy, like this article in the New York Times magazine). People are afraid of it though. It is one of those things that people take genuine personal offence at. People worry it is viral; and I think there is definitely something in that as we are raised to believe there is only one path to relationship – to share your life with one person (even if it’s less ‘until death do us part’ now than it has even been). And so my writing is changing to be authentic to my experience, to be representative of the life I live (chuckling here a little at ‘write what you know’) and to bring something in the shadows, out into the light, in a healthy and positive way.
I always joke that people are okay (side-show curious at their most ambivalent or throwing air crosses at you at worst) with anyone being psychic, but please don’t talk about being poly! Being psychic is far more acceptable than being intimately in love and committed with more than one person is. Being honest about being poly (especially when our son was younger) risked him being ostracised from his friends by their parents, and on the subject of parents, not all our parents know about our non-conventional relationship because of what it is likely to bring up for them and then projected onto us. Everything around poly feels like a calculated risk, so when someone in a group I am part of was open and honest and said they were, it gave me an opportunity to do the same. I have always been brashly honest about my parenting experiences and how much of the path of mothering I have hated, and I hope that being honest about the warts and all experimentations on this path will give others the opportunity and courage to talk openly about their relationships and what they really want (and could actually possibly have!). To ask: are there other ways in which we can love authentically? And to extend the very narrow definition society clings to as love.
‘I don’t read futures or tell fortunes.’
In the same way poly opened out my world, the second part of my spiritual awakening in April 2016 showed me a world I had almost been curious of – but felt removed from. I bought my first set of tarot cards to celebrate my first Mother’s Day and immediately loved them dearly, but they always felt a little distant for someone reason. I felt I needed to have memorised the entire book to be proficient at using them ‘properly. I had been drawn to goddess work, had a life-long love of astrology, been fascinated by aliens, time travel and history. In April 2016 a door opened and I felt and heard clearly something for the first time which was quite obviously not of my world or the fictional worlds I was used to tuning into.
Cards as soul calling. Cards as doorways to transformation. (And yes, these were just randomly drawn to flesh out the photos for the article!)
And it turns out all the listening, all that transcribing, all those easily evocated conversations in stories, of writing from a heart of dialogue, had developed a strong clairaudient channel in me. And, as I investigated further, there was also a proclivity for claircognizance (which is beautifully expanding and blossoming the more I open to it). What really changed for me, though, was not stepping up into the role of a tarot reader and teacher, or even into the space as oracle. The game changer was beginning a life-long commitment to heal myself, to deepen my understanding of energy and its influence on the world and to be an emissary for Love and Light. To welcome in the truly deep soul work and to be in service to others who want to do the same. Time will tell to the degree it flows on into my writing, but from what I’ve seen (it has been a major evolution in my poetry) I imagine it will have a deep impact but perhaps not be so obvious on the surface. I have seen how it’s shown up in what I have been writing with Rus and Adam – who to their absolute credit – they have always followed when I have beaten down a crazy path narratively. It turns out when you are personally prepared to take risks – and then actually take them – it is both encouragement and an invitation (permission if we want to be really blunt!) to do the same.
THE PATHS I MIGHT NOT HAVE TAKEN
My creative space is filled with fragments of wisdom (April 2019)
Without the experience of homebirth I would not have had the real-world experience, nor the passion to create #birthpunk. Without the powerful grassroots experience of community, I may not have seen the delight and joy in collaboration and collective endeavours. And from a purely practical level, without the opportunity to produce Down to Birth magazine, I’d have missed out on the publishing and layout experience as well as the confidence to have the audacity to seed what ultimately became eMergent Publishing and it’s three imprints. Without that early cynicism of love and relationship, I may have written less complicated and tangled narratives or not been drawn at all to the darker side of humanity, where I found so many other incredible authors to create and learn alongside. Without aphantasia I would undoubtedly have written very differently and that bridge between worlds would not have been formed. The additions of a spiritual perspective on life and an expanded intimate world provide the same future opportunities, as those earlier decisions to walk less conventional tracks. Without these two awakenings, I may not have been able to turn up to be one third of what we are creating here in The JAR. The further I go through shadow work, in seeking joy and authentic expression, I see the artificial divides in life closing and how closer everything becomes to being One. I feel in throwing our lot in here, at The JAR, several of those divides are disappearing.
RETURN OF THE BLACK SHEEP
People generally think of sheep as stupid creatures. Herd animals without the capacity to think or care for themselves. This is perhaps the case with domesticated animals. In the wild they have an incredible capacity for survival. They are known for being sharp, hardy and very adaptable.
Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s Three of Wands in the Shadowscapes Tarot (2010)
Any of us who have been on the ‘wrong side’ of convention will know there is a certain type of survival-will needed to navigate to, through and beyond the electric fence of conforming, to find somewhere to roam with freedom and ease. Perhaps those of us with the black sheep gene know we can ultimately trust ourselves to provide the exact circumstances to not just survive but thrive.
Standing on the cusp of it now, it is so deliciously exciting and terrifying, which means I am exactly where I am meant to be in this moment. Like the three of wands in the Shadowscapes deck – I step into the void knowing faith will put solid ground beneath my feet, and the land bridge created from this faith will extend a little further into the unknown for those who follow.
1978 – resplendent in my hand-knitted jumper and already fascinated with writing
The word discipline is a loaded one for me. I realised earlier this week, while out walking the dog in the bush, that discipline is synonymous with punishment for me. Between discipline and punishment is coercion and fear. Not surprising, as an extremely sensitive and shy child, I was very very good and avoided getting into trouble. The model child. I didn’t like conflict. I hated yelling. I was undone by the perpetual state of terror of ‘wait til your father gets home’ on occasions where I found myself on the wrong side of right, thanks to a younger sister adept in lying and manipulating adults. And being hit demolished me – especially because my parents never hit in anger, so corporeal punishment came with a waiting period which was often more devastating than the actual physical act.
Not surprisingly any writing advice that talks about ‘discipline ’ immediately and permanently isolates me from any wisdom that it may contain, because the small girl in me hears discipline and makes a conscious choice not to invite in coercion, fear, shame or physical pain. Can’t say I blame her.
Discipline is a demand to follow; it is a training in obedience from an external source that demands capitulation and a forgoing of sovereignty. Discipline is an overt act of control, and for someone hell bent on choosing her own path, you know where I’m going to tell discipline to stick itself.
But if we look at the origins of the word discipline, to the Latin root discere, the heart of the word is ‘learn’. We discipline as a branch of knowledge in higher learning and in the case of disciple someone who follows (one could argue, from the heart) with the intent to learn from a mentor, leader or teacher.
So what of learning or following from your heart when it comes to the personal experience of parking your arse to put words down, if you’re someone who wants to flip discipline the bird?
For me, commitment is where the passion meets purpose meets practice meets productive output. Not discipline. Commitment asks me to make a conscious choice and stick to it. Yes, it sounds like discipline, but the locus is internal. The pay off is joy of achievement. The joy of collaboration. Or simply the joy of exploration.
I have always said that writing is my first and greatest love affair. I adore it. I am dedicated to it. I love it deeply. I am indebted to it. I’m committed to it. But like human love affairs, we fall in and out of favour. It requires work. Attention. Time. Energy. Prioritisation. And I am okay with that. I remember. I forget. There are better days, there are worse days. The sun rises and the sun sets. But like souls dancing a karmic pas de deux, we eventually find our way back to each other to begin again regardless of the hard time we fall on.
THE DAILY BREATH
In January, I made the unprecedented decision to commit to a yearly project that would see me produce a piece of cut-up poetry every day. In the past, I have kept away from anything with a ‘daily’ attached to it. ‘Daily’ screams of discipline and its handmaiden ‘routine’. I have recognised myself as a cyclic creative who produces best in wild bursts of original output, with (often long) fallow periods following. The idea of doing something every day has, until this year, felt like a slow death.
Then the idea for The Daily Breath landed and invited me in to learn new about my capacity for commitment, love, creativity, joy and putting myself first. The Daily Breath is a poem-a-day-for-a-year project that I put in motion, first and foremost for myself as a small precious dawn enclave. Each morning I get up, make a cup of tea and then set about building a poem for the day (it often includes making the postcard the poem goes on). The Daily Breath is kind of like a stretch goal from last year, where I collaboratively completed The Red Thread of Fate across 141 days, followed by another of 63 days of Beauty of Oracle.
The Mechanics of Commitment
I’ve learned quite a bit over the last 80 days about the mechanics of commitment:
Only commit to what brings joy, inspiration and terrified-excitement to push beyond the comfort zone and release any assumptions about what it looks like or what is asks of you.
Once committed, share with just enough people to create a support network and cheer squad to listen and hold space when things get rough.
Ask others to commit alongside you by inviting the people who love your work as much as you do to enter into a fair exchange to engage with your work.
Actually be committed. Do whatever it takes to make you turn up. Prioritise it. Make time and space. Follow through to the end by simply taking one step at a time.
Be committed from a place of ease. Make it easy. Be organised. Don’t take it too seriously. Have fun. Surrender. And then surrender again.
Celebrate the high points and learn from the rough patches. Ensure it is a growth experience from start to finish by being open the whole way to how it can act as a catalyst for transformation.
I have already experienced the crushing devastation of thinking I hate something I loved only a few weeks earlier, and the ecstatic rush of discovering I did still love it a few weeks later. I have cut up Angela Carter, Thoreau and Italo Calvino. I have hand-cut and made over 60 postcards. I’m about to complete the third chapter (month) and ready to crack the spine on a new book and shuffle a new set of postcards.
I may have made a commitment to a poem-a-day-for-a-year, but no two poems are the same and every day is a brand new adventure waiting for me because of this. The sun rises, and the sun sets and for the next 280 odd days, it’s very much the love and devotion aspect of ‘until death do us part’.
Poem One – In the Beginning
Analogue | Illustration: Scruffy the Tugboat | Source Text: Adam, One Morning, Italo Calvino Poem Two – Memories of Walden
Analogue | Photo: Rus VanWestervelt | Source Text: Walden, Thoreau Poem Three – Nights With Remedios
Digital | Artwork: Remedios Varo | Source Text: Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter Poem Four – Doorways (1)
Analogue | Photo: Doors Calendar | Source Text: The World and Other Places, Jeanette Winterson