Where do stories come from? Two things happened recently, which reinforced ideas which have been hovering for years. The first was in an interview with the author of Mary Poppins (another Pamela!) when she said that Mary Poppins just came in her window. An actual apparition or an idea? It doesn’t matter. It simply echoes what I have experienced as a writer. Ideas come from nowhere: ideas, people, happenings.
For me, if I can get an idea which really draws me, the story then writes itself.
But not from nowhere… Surely nothing can come from nowhere? Of course it comes from your subconscious, but what does that mean? I would argue that not everything we write about is something we have known or experienced. From genetic memory? Perhaps. Thirty years ago I began to wonder whether what I was writing was the story of someone somewhere, who wanted their story told. Maybe it is a person in from a parallel universe.
Could the whole of existence be a great drama, possibly many dramas which touch on each other? ‘There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy,’ says Hamlet.
From more than one source I have heard the following: ‘I felt the dance was dancing itself through me’, ‘ the song /the music playing itself through me…’ ‘the game/ the race were playing themselves through me. ` One of those last was my brother David.
What is this consciousness, these consciousnesses, these lives beyond and outside us? Are they all part of our consciousness, or is there a greater consciousness than our own, and are we part of some greater mind?
Consciousness, from outside or different parts of ourselves, is claimed by some to be what governs and creates our world. Much I have read has brought me to believe, as much as any human can believe, that any god is a creative force. `God said let there be light, and there was light.` ` Said` is the operative word here. In the King James version of the Bible it says, ` the word was god.` Not god is the word, but the word is god. Just as I have recently thought that it is not `god is love` but `love is god.`
Thoughts and words are the creators. Does anything man-made exist which was not first an idea?
Is there a creative force which wanted life? Some thinkers believe in a creative power which is everywhere and is in us. We are part of that, a splinter of it somehow. Wonderful words I read were `you are god being you,` and, `for the sake of stories god made people.`
The mystery of creation. And the power of the mind. It is true that if you give attention to something, give it care and perhaps the focus of your mind, it will be better. This is true of a plant, a house, another person, your own appearance. It is true of a meal. Jewish people say that chicken soups heals. The reason they give is that it takes love. To spend time over a meal, to stir to add things to taste, to wish it to be the very best, that is giving it time attention yourself – your love. That love goes into the meal and makes it taste good, and is claimed to benefit the eater.
The fact that our will or our consciousness can affect things not human or animal at all, is akin to the idea of natural disasters being a reflection of what is in man. I have read, many times, Owning Your Own Shadow by Robert A Johnson in which he claims that everything comes from us; but his message is that we have two sides, good and a bad. And he claims that the world would change over night if we all owned our shadows. He states quite rightly that you cannot have dark without light, cold without warmth, good without bad – all the opposites. If you have good, if you do good, the bad must go somewhere. And he says it comes out somewhere else. One of the cleverest women I have known was always going on about projection. She claimed that wars, any fighting or strife, are an acting-out of pent up anger. And a murderer in a detective novel said, ` I am only doing what you would all like to do.`
What is Johnson`s answer? That we all go out and do murders? Of course not. But it must be expressed – or it will come out elsewhere. We have to draw, paint, write, act out any bad side of our good bits. Lindsay was a sweet and gentle little boy, but he drew monsters, monsters eating each other – monsters eating people!
Johnson claims that natural disasters are an expression of the anger, and perhaps violence, which in most of us lies unexpressed. They have to come out somewhere – like you can`t have hot without cold – and so they manifest in violent acts of nature.
A very good example Johnson gives, of people managing the dark side human beings, is that of some tribes who do tribal war dances: acting out warlike tendencies without any real harm. Actors love being someone else. Partly because those someone elses are often parts of themselves unexpressed. I have heard two great actors who were playing Lear`s daughters saying they loved being evil; and my actress friend recently played the wicked witch in a pantomime – and enjoyed that for the same reason. One of my stories I love because the woman is really nasty to her abusive man. I could never do what she does, but I liked writing it, so clearly part of me would like to.
I know of a family where mum, dad, son, and daughter had to go and live with the grandma. She was awful and they hated it. My friend was that daughter of long ago, and she said, ‘Everyday at the meal table something got broken; my brother accidentally broke something: a salt pot, a cup, a milk jug, a little bowl… She felt it diffused the atmosphere of tension and misery. And maybe it dealt with the family’s subconscious wish to break and destroy the older woman? I don’t think her brother did it on purpose, but maybe that is the kind of thing which is meant by ‘accidentally on purpose.’ x
There is another idea which is similar to the Shadow and that is the Yin and the Yang. I am not sure that I have read much about this, but when I told Lindsay some of he examples I am about to tell you he said. ‘Oh, yes, the yin and the yang.’
I have noted the difference that a balanced life can make. One friend used to be a bit disparaging of another of our friends because her house was not as shiny as she thought it should be, or rather as hers was. She was always calling herself a ‘Martha’ and a ‘working woman.’ She cleaned her large house herself and did masses of gardening. She was always cooking and entertaining, but she was also wealthy and adored. Let us just say that she had the full life of a woman. She was adored, treasured, prized. And could wear the finest clothes, have meals out, have anything she wanted. If the friend had done the amount of cleaning which the other did… well, she did not have the same good things to balance the domesticity. One side of woman is perhaps to be caring and doing the domestic side of things, but the other side of woman is to be provided for, protected, and made to feel good about herself as a woman.
My main friend now likes cleaning and does more than I do. But she has had an academic life always, and even at retirement age is still a visiting professor. She still occasionally lectures. If domesticity is all you get, you can’t do it. Maybe you have an intellectual side which is not satisfied, or a social one or a need to be loved – some lack which makes you resent and reject the Martha role.
Lately, I can’t help wondering about this yin and yang. There is a family I know of similar age to me. The couple are serious church goers. In view of her convictions I have been surprised that the woman seems to look so drab, dreary and sad. I asked a mutual friend if she saw the woman like that and she agreed, but told me she thought it was because the two children of the family have not come to much, could be seen as losers. So it made me wonder if the children are failures because the couple are too good. Mother and father still work past retirement age and are both active in church and charity work. Perfection balanced by imperfection? The yin and the yang. Or is that another example of the Shadow idea? Maybe Mum and Dad should have been a bit lazy from time to time.
Maybe that is why a newsagent once told me that he had a brain surgeon who used to come in for The Dandy or Beano comic! When your mother was doing her degree, she wanted me to send her Mills and Boon books. The highly brain-challenging needs to be balanced by the reverse.
Like ‘accidentally on purpose’, yet another old saying suddenly comes into its own: ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.’ Perhaps it would be truer to say that no play makes Jack ultimately unable to work. Or to become mentally ill if he has no choice.
In writing on the Shadow and Yin and Yan, I have noticed that the ideas are really interchangeable and are in most cases different words for the same thing.
I can remember being a young teenager, maybe no more than fourteen, and looking after and cooking for my father, my siblings and particularly my much younger brother, while my mother went away. It was for a week or more and, at the end of it, I went out with my friends and could not stop laughing and giggling hysterically.
My most recent moment of miracle, realisation, conviction, wonder was while watching a nature programme on television. A turtle. Big. Swimming. Earnestly. Beautiful beyond belief. Black and yellow.
Why is he like that? ‘Oh it`s evolution,’ people say. What does that mean? A giraffe has a long neck because the giraffes which survived were the ones with long necks. But how did you get giraffes with any kind of neck? The gloriousness of that turtle, the intricate design of a seed, tiny insect, a cell, which can only be seen through a microscope.
For me there has to be a creative force. And a conscious creative force. And one which delights in beauty, variety and everything joyful – even fun. And we are splinters of that.
My favourite film is ‘Chariots of Fire’, and one Olympic runner, a religious man whose destiny was missionary work, says ‘I know God made me for a purpose, for China. But He also made me fast. And, when I run, I feel His joy.’ That last sentence never ceases to send a chill and a thrill through me.
When my daughter wrote the dissertation for her degree, she concluded that maths is fun. Lalage chose maths, when could have read many subjects, because she said, ‘it is more fun.’ And when reading for my degree in English literature, we were told that academics had come to the conclusion that poetry is fun. And so it is.
Whatever great creative force there is – and we are part of – would seem to love the richness and diversity of life. Some of my happiest moments have been hearing the stories of Greek and Roman mythology, discussing poems in a group, singing songs in French. And, yes, in working through a geometric theorem. (Geometry was where I excelled most in maths.)
Music is beyond belief. Someone once said music is talking to god. Maybe music is where we reach our deepest selves, which are part of the whole.
My idea of a blissful eternity would be poetry and stories and discussion, but also music and maths. And the ancient philosophers said the universe is all about music and maths, didn’t they?
That astounding moment where Pamela Lyndon Travers said she wrote the Mary Poppins book because the character came in her window. That wonderful – darling – turtle who looked so purposeful, so intent, so entirely himself.
The wonder of creation. But also the power of the mind. If we are part of the great creative consciousness, surely we can direct out lives? And if all consciousnesses are interconnected we need to seek out a way of making a better world.
Maybe such is the purpose of prayer and meditation. Or maybe the directions come through music, reading or talking to others. Just sometimes being still and listening to our inner voice…
a letter to my grandson, Daniel, on his birthday, March 3rd.