10/30/14

DAY OF THE DEAD: A TIME TO REMEMBER


Pumpkin carved?  Nope.

House decorated? Oops, forgot that too. 

Candy bowl loaded and ready? Yes!

I reluctantly confess that I’m not as clever or elaborate with my Halloween decorations as I was when my three children were growing up.  Yet, somehow I still manage to remember to buy a bag of candy for the trick-or-treaters in my neighborhood.  But who am I kidding?  There hasn’t been one child to knock on my door in the last five years!  We all know who is really eating all that candy...

Halloween marks the beginning of the season of family gatherings — Thanksgiving will be here before we know it and Christmas, well, it has already arrived at the major retailers! These are times that families gather to create memories.

Memories... how important they are to help us through both good and bad times.  We--each of us--are the caretakers of our memories.  Will we hoard them in dark recesses of our minds? Or will we dust them off and share them with loved ones?  One holiday that celebrates memories, and is often overlooked or misunderstood, is Day of the Dead.  Widely recognized in Mexico and Latin American countries, this is an annual celebration to remember loved ones who have passed and is observed on November 1st and 2nd, concurrently with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day.  I was raised Catholic, so All Saints’ Day has always been a meaningful holiday.  In the United States, All Hallow's Eve...Halloween...is the big party day we all celebrate.

A few years ago, when I wrote The Butterfly’sDaughter, I learned more about the meaning and traditions of the Day of the Dead in the Mexican culture.  It includes building private altars called ofrendas decorated with bright orange marigolds called cempasùchil (or ‘flower of the dead’) to honor their beloved departed.  These ofrendas can include favorite items of their loved ones—foods, drinks, photos, and other special possessions.  

I love this tradition of remembering and honoring those special family members who have passed.  Also, in Mexico they believe that the thousands of monarch butterflies flying through the region to their winter sanctuary in the mountains this time of year are the souls of their dearly departed. The traditions and the magnificent migration of the monarch butterfly that culminate during the Day the Dead festivities are captured in The Butterfly’s Daughter. 

 I like to create a simple ofrenda in honor of my parents and my father-in-law.  I put their photos up amid bright orange marigolds, a decorated skull plus a few items that they loved and each time I pass it during the day I think of them.  Again, memories...  This, to me, is the power of The Day of the Dead.  We remember and talk about those who've departed, and by doing so, we keep their memories alive in our hearts.


This Halloween, rather than just dress up and eat candy, why not share a meaningful activity with your family?  Create an ofrenda.  Get the kids involved. Display favorite photos and treasured items of those special family members, light a candle and then invite the family together to hear stories oyour grandmother, grandfather, parents, uncles, aunts.  The poignant stories, the funny ones--they all keep their memories alive!  These are the real treats of this season.  


10/13/14

A BABY AND A BOOK

Twenty nine years ago I was put to bedrest during my pregnancy.  I faced several months on my back and I felt trapped, like I'd lost control of my life.  My husband gave me a yellow legal pad and pen and told me, "Mary Alice, for as long as I've known you, you have wanted to write a novel but didn't have the time. Now you have the time."

I wrote and wrote and finished the draft of my first novel.  I like to say I gave birth to a baby and a book!

Now all these years later, that baby, Zack, just had a baby of his own!  I'm finishing my twentieth novel and as I gaze at my sweet grandson, I can't help but think how sometimes life does come full circle.

My son and his newborn son

Looking back, I learned a precious lesson.  Back when I was put to bed I was miserable, thinking that I was facing a horrid obstacle.  In fact, it wasn't an obstacle at all.  The experience was an opportunity.  I learned from this that how we face hardship can change not only our outlook, but the outcome.  Each decision we make moves us toward the next, and the next, and the next. 

If I hadn't been put to bed rest, I might have lost not only my son, something I can't even think about without a shudder.  But I likely would not have finished that first novel that was sold and changed the course of my career and life.

We are writing the story of our lives day by day.  My bed rest experience and giving birth to a baby and a book was an important chapter.  Gazing at my sweet Wesley, this one truly has a happy ending! 

Meet my new grandson, Wesley!

9/24/14

JUST BREATHE!



It's been a long summer and as I face the summer's end I've begun additional research on dolphins, the focus animal of the Lowcountry Summer Trilogy. I'm hoping to spark new inspiration as I push through the end of the storyline, The Summer's End.  Writing is a lonely, confined, indoor activity.  For the past several months I've cut out activities and have been spending way too much time locked inside while outside my windows the seasons change.  I feel tense, uneasy, like a balloon about to pop.
I miss walking the beach.  I long to go out and stand on the Hunley bridge over Breach Inlet seeking out dolphins.  I miss my sea turtles that have left my island on their solitary journeys in the great sea. My only escape lately is to go out to my butterfly garden.  I rush outside multiple times a day, just long enough to steal a moment from my computer to search milkweed leaves for monarch eggs, feed the growing caterpillars and, perhaps, release a newly emerged butterfly to the garden.  Sometimes I just stand quietly and watch the sweet new monarch join the other butterflies to dance on the flowers, feeling the sun on my face. 

Yet, most of the time I'm  trapped indoors.  And it has been raining...a lot.  I feel a disconnect with nature--with the infinite vast and wild that takes my breath away and fills my soul.  Too much confinement makes me feel uneasy and agitated.  I'm out of sorts.  But... my deadline looms over my head (and I know y'all want the next book!) so I dutifully persevere.   

Which brings me to this morning.

In this grumpy frame of mind, I began prowling my library, digging through tomes for some new inspiration for this trilogy that is set against the adorably intelligent and compassionate dolphins.  I didn't know exactly what I was searching for but knew what I sought would be found in a spiritual realm rather than factual.  My hand fell on Ted Andrew's book Animal Speak. I paused.  Joseph Campbell stated that artists were the shamans of today and I believe this is true.  We must trust our intuition.  

I pulled out this book that is a dictionary of animal symbolism and the spiritual powers in all creatures, great and small.  These symbols are sometimes called totems. Since prehistoric times images have helped us transcend the physical to ascertain the spiritual.  To honor nature and to embody its wisdom in our lives.  Shamans believed that every species, every aspect of our natural world had the power to remind us of what we should manifest in our own lives.  They often dressed in animal costume to elicit the sense of wonder, even magic.  Shamans performed rituals that were tied into the rhythms of the seasons to bridge the natural world to the supernatural and offer richer, deeper meaning to their lives.

I can't say I fully understand how this connection to the spiritual power of nature works.  I do believe, however, that one can gain insights into one's life's journey and purpose by simply paying attention to the powers that surround us in Nature.

I realize some people think this kind of thinking is just silly.  Or "woo woo."  I, too, have second-guessed the messages I've heard, or ignored my intuition and the instincts that flared in my gut.  Too many times I've regretted not paying attention to the signals.  Never, however, have I regretted listening. 

Over the past twenty five years I've worked with many different species and I am confident that our connections with nature--both physical and spiritual--are essential to our well being.  And that they are just as powerful today in our modern era as they were in ancient times, if we only open our minds and hearts to what is possible.  We need this inclusive wisdom, perhaps even more today than ever before. 

So, this morning I grabbed the book Animal Speak for no apparent reason.  Just an intuitive hunch.  I searched for the totem dolphin because I thought surely the dolphin would be my current messenger.  Here is what the passage said:

"If dolphin has shown up as a totem, ask yourself some important questions.  What are your words and thoughts creating for you?  If unsure, when dolphin arises you will soon discover. Are you getting outside and enjoying fresh air? Are you holding in tensions? Are others? When dolphin shows up it is time to breathe some new life into yourself. Get out, play, explore, and most of all breathe."

 Just breathe!

I had to smile, even laugh!  I believe this is no mere coincidence.  Yes, I could easily explain it as such.  But to do so would be to deny the intuitive power that I believe lies within myself.  And within each of us if we open ourselves to possibility and listen.

As Andrews states, "humanity has lost that instinctive tie to the rhythms and patterns of Nature."  I wonder if we are so caught up in our technology that we have lost--even deny and ridicule-- our ancient connection to the natural world?

I am listening. Today I will take a long walk in the fresh air. I will find time to laugh and play.  I will take deep breaths.  And in the quiet I will open my mind to creative ideas.  I smile, because I know the words will flow.