Tag: Graveyards

Filling the Well

Julia Cameron lists the “artist’s date” as a building block to nurturing the creative side of oneself. The idea is to “fill the well” or your artist’s soul by going on an excursion by yourself and taking in all the details of the moment. What do you see? What do your hear? What do you smell? What do you remember? All these minutia “fill the well,” supplying a rich source of inspiration for the writer. 

As an introverted-extrovert, or maybe an extroverted-introvert, I relate to the concept of the artist’s date. I thrive on company. I love chatting and learning from others. I also crave quiet and solitude to repair my mind and heart from information overload. 

Ms Cameron says these dates should be taken alone, but on this date, my husband went with me. I needed a driver!  I’d been given a book on “Pioneer Churches” in my area and decided Sunday was a good time to go and explore some of them. As usual, I was more drawn to the graveyards than the church buildings.   

One of the places we visited was a military chapel and graveyard. Some of the gravestones at this site pre-date Canada as a nation. We walked silently among these stones, hushed and reverend as we trod on “holy ground.” There were other visitors, equally respectful. A few had laid flowers–it was Mother’s Day. 

We visited three sites. I soaked up the balm and beauty of these places. The babble and strife of the day-to-day world receded.  I felt the well filling, imagination stirring. I came home with my mind at peace.

On Monday I read an article at Writer Unboxed that filled me with dismay. The writer, David Corbett, explored good intentions and The Road to Hell, a serious discussion of the culture wars happening in society in general and in publishing in particular. The topic is huge and amorphous and thorny and slippery. Thankfully, the comments were mostly thoughtful, with a minimum of snark — a rare event on social media. Still, I felt my peace slipping away. 

Then I read the next article on the same website, a report on the memorial service for Hilary Mantel at Sourthwark Cathedral. The author, Porter Anderson, spoke of how the architecture and the music eased him away from the hurly-burly of the London Book Fair. His words brought to mind my sojourn among the tombstones on a Sunday afternoon. My mind filled with images of bluebells growing wild, a rabbit nibbling on some grass, a family’s love for a departed parent. My anxiety eased.

The David Corbett article is important. The topic is life-changing for authors and readers. I don’t recommend avoiding the hard topics or hiding away from the issues of our day. There are forest fires raging in my country, there are bombs exploding in Europe and Africa. There are millions of hungry people around the globe. There are families in my home town resorting to food banks. These things are real, and writers need to write about them. It is our job to reflect the world we live in, to try to make sense of it and to point to hope.

The young seaman who died after falling from the rigging of a sailing ship in the 1850’s lived in a completely different world than mine, yet his shipmates erected a stone in his memory. The cared about him. They missed him. They honoured him. 

Love, compassion, connections–these are the stuff of humanity, regardless of the ages. They are also the seeds of story. 

As a writer, I’m glad I took time out to fill the well. That makes me a better writer, and a better contributor to my community. I am grateful to Julia Cameron for giving me “permission” to nurture my own self without feeling guilty or selfish.  I encourage others to do the same.

I admit to an affinity for graveyards, but I doubt many share that quirk. Where do you go to fill your well? What inspires your imagination? What brings peace to your soul?

 

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Tombstones

I have a fascination with old graveyards, the older and more isolated the better.  When I was researching my Prospect stories, I spent considerable time wandering through ghost towns and old graveyards.  The tale of human triumph and tragedy was there, written on the stones.  I could tell when an epidemic has passed through the area by the number of children who died within weeks of each other.   One heartrending epitaph gave a child’s age as 27 hours. One stone gave a brief epitaph of a man’s life and concluded with the words, “shot” and the date.

Some grave markers are stone, others are wooden, one notable one was a varnished tree branch.  Some are nearly impossible to read with moss and lichen covering the face and weather dimming the letters.  At Fort Steele, in British Columbia, there is a very well tended corner of the historic graveyard, surrounded by a wrought iron railing, (the original white pickets  rotted), it contains the memorial of five members of the NorthWest Mounted Police, who died there.

On older gravestones the place of birth was often noted.  As though the deceased wanted future passersby to know where he came from as well as where he was buried.  Perhaps they had a sense of history and knew family members might one day come looking for them.

Here are two examples:  Native of Milton Abbot, Devonshire, England. Aged 32 years, who met with his death on the 15th of June 1864 by accident while working in the Prairie Flower Ore Claim

Native of Sweden. Born in the year of our Lord [date removed]. Died in the R.C. Hospital the 10th of October, 1883 from the effect of a fall in a shaft by which he broke his back and died afterwards within six hours.

 I also have a penchant for reading the obituaries.  There are some interesting stories told in those columns too, although more and more I see “no service by request,” and “ashes were scattered . . .”  In contrast to previous generations, our age seems less inclined to leave a monument to mark their passing through this world.  Perhaps they wish to spare their families expense.  Perhaps their ideology opposes cemeteries.  Whatever the reason, future generations will be unable to wander through a graveyard and read the history on its stones.   We’ll all be poorer for it.

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