Desert and Meadow

‘If you try one new author, try Grace Wynne-Jones…that rare combination of depth, honesty and wit…and all of this backed by a deliciously soft, gentle and loving humour…’

A lot of my novels are about the masks that people wear and what is truly underneath those masks. And of course I sometimes wear masks too. We all do. Just today I rang a friend and admitted I was upset about something. There was a part of me that wanted to say “Isn’t it lovely weather! Did you watch that great programme on the telly last night about making cakes and puddings?” but I needed to be real. I have had many similar conversations .

True intimacy can’t exist if all of life becomes a ‘performance’. It’s lovely to share happiness, but sadness is just as legitimate too. And often these feelings co-exist. Life, if it is to be full and deep, needs to make space for the solace and comfort of apparent contradictions. Instead of black and white one has technicolour. There is light and shade. And the various things we find unlovable about ourselves need our understanding and tenderness.

The characters in my novels discover this. It is something I need to remind myself of very frequently. Like most people, I am far more comfortable with the playful, fun and cheery side of myself. And I sometimes convince myself it is the only side of myself that people want to see. This is, of course, utter nonsense. The people I value, the people who are truly dear to me, see through me anytime I am pretending to be happier than I am. And that is one of the reasons why they are dear to me. They read the looks, the silences and the gestures. And, when I have shared my truth I often find myself laughing again. Real laughter.

I think we all need to find our way home many times every day. There are things and situations that can draw us away from ourselves. ‘Roles’ that can appear to define us. But we are more than our roles and we are more than the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. ‘Home’ is where we know what we truly value, and what we truly long for. Where we know what is truly our ‘medicine’. And we are guided to explore if what we want is also what we need.

‘These things are real: desert, rocks, shelter, legend.’ Judith Fryer

For someone who was brought up in the lush countryside of Ireland I have a strange affinity with starkness. When I was in my late teens I spent some time in the bush in Botswana. I remember feeling that I could almost feel the earth’s dear heartbeat when I placed my hand on that ground. I have many pictures of the high desert of New Mexico in my house. I love the sparseness and the red rock. I love the dry earth and the baking sun…the high clear singing blue sky. It gives one a sense of distillation. Of essence. At night in that landscape the sky is full of luminous stars. I love the Irish landscape too but for different reasons. It calls different feelings from me.

Before I set off to do a ‘Vision Quest’ in New Mexico some years ago (there is a link to an article about it on this website) a poem by Theodore Roethke became very important to me. Here it is:

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

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