Words as The Unsaid

‘Words As’ is our regular guest posting. We invite creatives of all ilks to respond to the prompt ‘words as’. This month we welcome Marion Taffe to the page to share her thoughts.

Welcome Marion.


Close your eyes
Make a wish
Don’t touch the bottom
Don’t wish out loud

(Or it won’t come true)

We are taught from a young age that there is mysterious power in the unsaid. But, those teachers also say, be careful what you wish for.

For the architect, lines on a page become a wall, a window, a roof. For the writer, rows of lines and circles on a page become words, stories, intentions. They can transfix us for hours and some stay for a lifetime. “What can that be but magic?” author Ilka Tampke (Skin, Songwoman) said at the recent Historical Novel Society Conference in Sydney.

Few would argue that when a character takes hold and runs across the page via your fingertips: it is a kind of magic.

Yet, the architect’s magic is not in the building of walls but the creation of spaces. Likewise, I’m discovering, a writer’s magic is as much in the unwritten as the written. Call it subtext. Call it ‘between the lines”. Call it space.

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s June describes her life with Luke:

We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.

Indeed so much can be said in the unsaid: so much written with the unwritten.

It’s an invitation to the reader to unpack their own life, with all its colour and darkness.

So how do we do this?

If I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

But first, I was reminded recently of the power of unsaid words in a short dark chapter of my childhood.

So let me tell you a story…


I had wished to be a mermaid. I had wished to fit in. I had wished to be put in the front row of our ballet troupe with the pretty petite girls, instead of the back row where I always seemed to find myself (and where I felt most comfortable).

None of these wishes had come true, despite me absolutely never touching the bottom of the cake.

But, one day, I made a different wish.

The words did not pass my lips but they were my words. They formed in my soul and felt weighty at the back of my mouth, each like a smooth river stone, unmoving beneath rushing, raging waters.

I was eight, maybe nine. What did I know of shaping and wielding darkness?

I had been dropped off late for my ballet recital. All the other girls were tu-tued, bunned, made-up, and waiting to shine. A parent left her daughter to help me get ready in the dressing room. She was not pleased.

Tuts and sighs came thick as she plastered my face with foundation, pushing hard as she swiped the stick of greasy eye colour over my lids. I tried not to cry.

“Where are your lashes?” she snapped at me.

My mother had raged when she’d read the letter from the ballet school informing that all girls must have false eyelashes for the performance.

“You’re a little girl and you have a perfectly good set of eyelashes,” she’d said.

I knew not to argue with Mum.

“Well?” the woman said.

“I forgot them,” I lied.

She took her frustration out on the mascara wand, stabbing it in and out of its bottle then jutting it at my eyes as she held my head with her other hand.

That was when I cursed her.

I hope something really bad happens to you.

Simple. To the point.

When tears tumbled down my rouged cheeks, taking muddy deposits of fresh mascara with them, she dabbed my face with tissues.

I ran-walked along the narrow corridors to the join the troupe in the green room.

We went on. We danced, my vision rimmed by black diamonds of tears and mascara clumps sparkling in stage lights.

People clapped. The parents were happy. The teachers were happy.

I felt a small part of the reason everyone was happy and that made me feel happy.


Once home, my mother tutted and sighed as she scrubbed ‘that muck’ off my face.

Life danced back to normal.

The curse I had shaped from my darkness meant nothing, I told myself.

No one knew of it. Well, except Jesus, I figured. I vowed to be good, say a lot of Hail Marys, be nice to my siblings and behave in church every Sunday forever.

I can’t remember how much time had passed – weeks, maybe months. Then one day, we got the news at ballet that the woman’s young son had died from an asthma attack.

The river stones returned, heavy in my stomach.

When Dad asked if I’d like to go to the boy’s funeral, I knew I could not. So, I spoke of the unspoken.

Dad’s response?

“That is why, Marion, you must never, ever wish ill of anyone.”

He was supposed to laugh a little, give me a hug and say, “this is not your fault.”

The stones remained.

I was too young to know that 500 years earlier, girls not much older than I would have been burned at the stake for admitting such a thing. And I was too indoctrinated into a world of saints and demons and sins and brimstone to want to acknowledge any evil power I may or may not have summoned.


Now, as an adult, I am pretty sure (there is always a tug of doubt), that I did not cause the boy’s death.

Thinking of that mother, more than 35 years on, I imagine the spaces between the walls of her soul. The vastness of her agony, the emptiness her little boy left behind – his unspoken words, his unwritten stories. When I think of her, I feel the river stones again.

Perhaps that is my curse.

Would the memory have stayed, had I not spoken of it to my father?

Incidentally, this dark memory only returned recently when listening to the spellbinding writer Kate Forsyth (The Wild Girl, Bitter Greens). At the HNSA conference, she recounted a story of a curse she’d made as a child. The space in Kate’s story, drew forth my own memory, which I have  told you here.

Perhaps you shall now bring your own experiences?

So many things unsaid inside the stories within spaces within stories. I hope we never touch the bottom.

Image: Skitterphoto via Pexels

Marion Taffe was once a journalist, occasionally a dancer, always a dreamer. She loves stories, especially those with history, quirky metaphors and fish swimming upriver.

Not Without. . .Rus

I’ve played that game numerous times, where I’m asked what I’d want with me if I were stranded on a deserted island. At times, my responses have been somewhat flippant, like a drop shipment of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, or even a full-service, fully-functioning coffee shop with enough roasted beans to last me a good 20 years.

The people asking me to play these little games don’t usually like my responses. They want me to say something like a favorite book (which one!) or a sentimental charm to remind me of someone enjoying life a little better than I would be at that certain moment.

That’s okay. I think that if I were ever really stranded on an island, my lack of survival skills would make moot any large shipments or stashes of goodies quite quickly.

And let’s face it. Unless you are Tom Hanks or Gilligan, chances are pretty good that you should think more about what’s in the back seat of your car when you run out of gas on the most unlikely (and least traveled) stretch of road between towns.

So we’ll put the pretending aside and talk in more realistic tones about my essentials, my non-withouts, that sustain me in this thing called life.

My Daybook. I first discovered the sacred and secret powers of the daybook when I was in sixth grade. My Language Arts teacher, Jack Delaney, taught us everything we needed (and wanted) to know about the writing process and this magical little stage called drafting. He gave us license to write like crap on those first drafts. “Just get it down on paper,” he would say, and we did. And it was crap. But it was a starting point for our stories, our essays (called “themes”), and our 11-year-old views of lives lived dangerously.

They were exciting drafts, filled with uninhibited thoughts about love, magic, girls, boys, sports, snakes, sex, superstars, religion, divorce, and even death. My early drafting caught fire, and I started my first daybook journaling in an old wide-ruled Mead composition book about love and relationships, trying to understand the intricacies of being human, and how we all might just do a little better if we go through it together.

Today, 43 years later, not much has really changed. My daybooks are still sacred and secret, and I’m still exploring the realms of relationships and the tensions between death and life as we balance our walk a little more delicately in an increasingly reckless world. My daybook is the very extension of my brain, my heart, my timeless soul that carries the memories and DNA of myriad generations – too many that I have yet to know through the words I spill on the page.

My Music. Among and beyond the words I write, music frames my every action. It doesn’t matter if I’m driving to work (morning baroque music really synchronizes my cells), grading papers (Amazon Music has some serious study playlists that get the job done), or writing (I’ve created very specific playlists for my very specific writing projects), the music I listen to matters.

It’s an eclectic collection for sure. Thanks to iTunes Match, I’ve uploaded thousands and thousands of songs, albums, and soundtracks that allow me to build unlimited playlists that are available to me on any of my devices, 24/7. I’m not too jazzed about the plugged-in life, but this little offer from Apple allows me to have instant access to the music I need. I take full advantage of that for a few reasons.

First, if writing is the essence of my heart, mind, and soul, music is the blood that courses through my veins pumping life and sustenance to those words I place on the page. Music holds memories and messy possibilities as I create new worlds, breathe life into new characters, and expose the tensions in life that we experience every day, but don’t really have the chance, or the courage, to bring to light.

Second, it is simply an escape to put in my earbuds and return to calmer days, imaginary roads, and peaceful moments I can slow to a low-pulse, timeless experience, with emotions and recollections hovering over me as the music plays on. My music is my inner oxygen. The more I listen, the more I am at peace and one with all that defines me.

My Querencia. This is your space, your wanting-place that makes you feel invincible. It’s your go-to corner of the sky where you are gifted with uninterrupted moments of stillness (or even chaos for some) that is consistent with every vibe that resonates from and within you. In the past, my Querencia has been a log cabin, the sands along the brackish waters of Chesapeake Bay, and the paths that stretch more than 2,100 miles along the Appalachian Trail. But now, in the hectic ways of full-time jobs, family needs, and typical getting-old challenges, I find that my Querencia is wherever I might be with my daybook and my music. Give me a dirty table one afternoon at a local cafe between rushes and I’m good. Or clear a spot on the dining room table around the incredible paintings and anatomy textbooks and I’m ready to venture into other worlds. In other words, my sojourning ways manifest into creative explorations, which eventually manifest into stories, essays, and authentic renditions of who I am, at that particular place in time.

And all because I am not without the very words, sounds, and space that serve as the essence of all I can be, in my efforts to be all that I actually am.


Words As . . .

‘Words As’ is our regular guest posting. We invite creatives of all ilks to respond to the prompt ‘words as’. This month we welcome author Lois Spangler to the page to share her thoughts.

Welcome Lois.

Words as. . . .

Words as what? Fundamentally, words are the bits of language that mean a discrete thing. Go any smaller, and now you have sounds, which are important, but don’t convey a concept themselves. Even prefixes and suffixes don’t quite do it — they rely on the trunk word to have any relative meaning.

Like atoms, you string them together into molecules and you get sentences. A word is potential; it’s informed by other words in a cluster of themselves, and each one contributes to a communicative quality. So, words as chemistry?

Maybe. The word as an atom, the sentence as a molecule. The paragraph as a matrix, and the chapter as a recognisable component of a larger and relatively homogeneous whole. Can a book be a slab of limestone? Or better, can it be a near limitless combination of things — wood and plastic, a carburettor and a smartwatch, separate but near enough to each other to build some meaning? Stephen King has described writing as an act of personal archaeology, revealing things in one’s own mind in the building of a story.

But this approach is limited. Why? We’re talking about stories, which is a separate subject, but stories aren’t the only things words can convey. In this metaphor, where does poetry fit in? Words in poetry convey story sometimes, but often they convey a feeling, a deep inchoate sense of a moment or a state. And they often do it while flouting the rules of prose language. These things aren’t story, but they are just as important.

Poetry aside, we haven’t even considered the quotidian roles for words, like contracts and technical manuals. How do they fit in? In a sense, the chemistry metaphor still stands. A contract tells a story in the imperative, in a way, and so does a manual. The former sets up expectations, and the latter offers guidance.

Maybe we’re still too narrow, or maybe we’re still too broad. Let’s try again.

Words as. . . .

…Words as currency? This implies that words have value, which isn’t entirely incorrect. But it also implies that they can be offered in exchange for non-word things, and this isn’t incorrect either. But can you hoard words? Shore up words like you would in a bank, giving you clout in society in the same way money would? Can you invest words and expect a return?

In a sense, yes. And this is where we’re beginning to narrow in on the metaphorical heart of words. Words as wisdom. Even the emptiest phrases stand to teach us something, defining meaning through the negative space of their own intentions. And the things words teach can be very small in scope, or very large; and that scope doesn’t need to be directly related to stakes.

But even though words contain wisdom, can be hoarded and exchanged, they don’t come into being on their own. They need authors. And for words to function at all, they need an audience. They need us.

Words as us.

Words are some of the closest things to magic we have in this world. I want to share something that is in my mind, a thing that is separate from other living beings. Words let me do that, however imperfectly. They let me offer a little bit of me to you. They’re not proxies, they’re not representatives; they are an imperfect mosaic of myself that I send out into the world, and that you interpret under your own contexts and experiences.

While words can divide, they can unite. While they can alienate, they can also welcome. So with these final words, I welcome you to this shared space, with words as us, and invite you to continue the conversation.

Lois Spangler is a writer, editor, and translator who’s been making stuff up since 1976. When not knee-deep in words, she’s hanging out with friends or stabbing other friends in an historically Spanish style. She maintains a very infrequently updated blog at storytrade.net, and sometimes says things on Twitter as @Incognitiously. Learn more about that historical Spanish style at bsis.club.

Words as Gateways

“In the beginning there was the word…”

Over the weekend, we experienced the solstice. As a kid I was fascinated by the idea of a ‘longest day’ or ‘longest night’ because it seemed impossible. Like most modern Western kids, I was deeply disconnected from the natural rhythms of the planet I was blessed to be born on. Yes, I understood the shift of the seasons yet it never occurred to me (and I was certainly not taught) of the subtle shifts which lent the possibility of a ‘shortest day’ and ‘shortest night’. My Dad grew up in Scotland and he told us of playing cricket at midnight in the north of Scotland during the height of summer – but honestly, it sounded like a Dad-made fairytale!! It was only years later in high school geography I understood it was actually true and how it was possible.

Solstice literally means ‘sun standing still’ (sol = sun, sistere = to stand still). It is a gateway which (depending where you are in the world) goes from peak light through into increasing amounts of darkness or peak darkness into increasing amounts of light. Solstice is a time to stop – literally – and reflect on what has been; to celebrate and prepare for what comes next. Our ancestors understood the power of these energetic gateways and built observational and devotional structures in service and celebration of them. They also understood them as markers of their survival—especially people surviving winters without modern heating, shelter or food availability.

Of Magick and Technology

Arthur C. Clarke is famous for speaking of magick and technology as synonymous with each: any sufficient advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The thing is, Clarke’s words conflate the notion that magick is a boss-level kind of skill/energy only available to the most studied, experienced or naturally adept individual. It makes magick something ‘otherly’ with a side serve of ‘impossible’.

This isn’t surprising. Humans like to complicate things, and there is no other aspect of the human experience quite ripe for complication than magick and an individual’s relationship to it, and with it. Magick is really not akin to “a sufficiently advanced technology”. Magick is actually startlingly simple. It is being the vessel in which it moves through (us) which is the complicated part.


Magick and Gateways

My first gateway into the truth of magick was Barbara Moore when she spoke to magick as the equation:

will + skill + opportunity = magick.

She explained that if you had the desire and the ability and opened to serendipity (or were just open to receive) then anything was possible. That was magick. And I loved it. For the first time it made complete sense to me. In removing it from complex rules and ritual, tradition and history, fantasy and occultism magick opened itself to me in a myriad of exciting possibilities and adventures I could explore.

My second gateway was a short transmission in meditation earlier this year that told me several things:

  • magick is the birth right of all humans incarnate here (this removes the exclusivity that only a certain type of person can engage with magick)
  •  magick is nothing more than wilful intention (mic drop)

Wilful Intent

Wilful speaks to being ‘filled with will’. However, the word ‘wilful’ carries some seriously negative connotations. Wilful hasn’t always been a word of celebration, nor something encouraged, especially if you were a wild, spirited, independent child with containment issues and with parents who were not predisposed to supporting that fiery, full-of-life curiosity.

Will speaks to being filled with passion, drive, determination and life force. Will is an energy of inspired action, movement and expansion. Will is an irrepressible kind of intrepidness that doesn’t wait for permission slips or safety checks to go.

Intent is clear seeing, if we consider ‘seeing’ as a 360-degree all sensory concept. Intent is knowing what we authentically desire for ourselves. And here desire, like wilful, gets a bad rap – perhaps because of desire’s inherent wildness or assumption of selfish singlemindedness, or the way desire is hooked into intimacy and sex. Desire is closely associated with the energy of eros – of a deep yearning for merging and lasting transformation.

Magick could be said to be the desire and intent to connect and merge with the unknown in a way of bringing something into existence from nothing, or transmuting something from one state into another.

Will brings the heart to the party, intent brings the laser sharp focus.

And that’s magick.

The Self as A Complicated Container

What happens next is we get in the way of magick. We don’t allow ourselves to be an uncomplicated contained for magick to move through.

We get in the way by:

  • running unconscious programming
  • holding to beliefs and stories we have inherited or collected along the way that no longer serve us
  • consciously compromising ourselves out of fear, despair, anger, jealousy or shame
  • allowing others to get in the way by choosing others over ourselves
  • entangling ourselves with the agendas of drama, blame, expectation, victimisation and manipulation created and run by others
  • disconnecting from a higher consciousness/energy source

I believe as above, so below. My body is an intricate connection of electrical impulses in a deep knowing of how it all fits together in a mostly seamless functioning and I believe the cosmos is no different: an intelligent movement of energy.

The most powerful and timely magick we can do is to heal our wounds, rewrite our distorted stories, welcome in new congruent beliefs and disconnect ourselves from the energetic schemata of others.

Then magick moves easier. The ability to create from an intentional space, aligned with our hearts and our ideas, is amplified. I tell my clients that it’s the difference between trying to work magick (ie. create change in your outer world) via the Tuff Mudda obstacle race route compared with the six-lane autobahn one.

The Word

It is no accident that the bible begins with: in the beginning there was the word. If we’re really honest it actually started with wilful intent. And then came the word.

Magick is encoded in words, and those words become the gateway into what we desire. When speak those words (either out loud or in our head), when we sing them or write, we build gateways to what we want to receive. It is as simple and as complicated as: ask and you shall receive. A lot of the time we’re afraid of ask, and even more of the time we’re afraid of receiving what we desire.

We are creating our reality through words all the time: what we think, what we read, what we say, what we hear. We do it through what we feel and the alchemy created in the heart-mind crucible. So it is a choice do to it consciously and with heart, or to do it unconsciously with random buckshot sprays of emotion.

Solstice – A Gateway of Gateways

“…from the ashes we rise together.”

For the winter solstice I fed the fire all the things I was ready and willing to let go of. I wrote them out, read them aloud and then let the flames devour them. Then I sat for several hours in quiet reflection by the fire, alone. It’s the most peaceful and grounded I have felt for a long time. In the morning I wrote out seven single word intentions and took them out to the fire pit and burned a candle over the top of them, over the shortest day. This was what I was calling in, having made space by letting go. These were energetic bridges I could walk into the unknown on.

My wilful intent was rendered in words, ink on paper, building gateways to provide foundation, structure and shape for what I desire in the next six months.

A Final Thought

If words are the building blocks of our existence it is because they carry the charge of magick. Words are gateways because of this. And because of this, it’s worth taking the time to mindfully review what you say, how you say it, what you think, what you feel, what you desire and what you focus on.

In short, I want to ensure I’m always anchoring and building a reality that is aligned with my highest joy, my greatest love, my brightest light; a reality that is expansive, connective, creative and in partnership with my purpose here in this life.

It is as simple and as complicated as that.