On the Birth of Art In a Time of Death

James Humbert Craig, The Kerry Coast, 1928

Nine Lonely Winds

Nine lonely winds blew over skies to call a mind and heart,
where down beneath pastoral lies; a woman kept her part.

In staying on for morning light and silent to the earth;
she did prefer to keep the night, long for a day of mirth.

No woman breathes until she sigh, to loose a husband’s hand.
His love would ever wander nigh, could she but love his land.

Her dreams abode in snowy fields and there did wait for spring;
his touch would force her spirit yield, their longing yet took wing.

To linger for dark seasons long; would he attend her way,
but mind and heart began a song until it reached the day.

He knew not what the lonely do, their powers to behold;
for he would keep their breezes too, their meaning never told.

And so she sings upon what hill, the wood she cannot find;
where brooks and ferns forever still: the things she leaves to bind.

A sorrow nests the birds to fly; their broken will she tends.
To them she makes her lullabies, in minds and hearts to mend.

Nine lonely winds blow over skies they chance upon her arts,
where high above pastoral lies; the woman takes her part.

by, Robin Whitham McCrady, 2006

When I began my higher education, I lived in a small midwestern town where I registered for a few classes at the local university extension, before I earned a scholarship to a women’s ivy league college in New England. I was working at the campus library, home educating my children, and navigating my way through a horrific divorce that included weekly threats via litigation and actual intimidation. Death and despair often enveloped my mind, my heart, and my spirit by way of circumstances that tortured my two children, and subsequently, myself. But, in the midst of so much darkness, together, my children and I miraculously created a haven for ourselves in the form of the place we called home, even as the house in which our home was made came under siege.

And so, we became incredibly skilled at developing ways to divert and avert throughout the duration, until it finally ended with our own triumphant victory, some five years later. That is a very long time to live in a vague state of traumatic stress, by way of geographic imprisonment. And, it took a very long while for me to accept our isolation, while my children seemed to adapt with more ease, than I, but perhaps that had never really known better? I wondered. At first, every day felt as though I were going mad, as I was desperate to make a place for my emerging young adults to thrive. Together, we discovered agency in many forms, including in some things that everyone mostly takes for granted, when life is not so plagued by abnormality. As I share my own discoveries, I imagine that others will think of their own, too, and that some good will come of what we have all learned.

A very wise man, our family counselor throughout the years of our escape planning, advised me that the only thing that truly heals, is time. So, I learned that time may be lengthy in sequence, but that it can be altered in scope, by way of simplicity. I found his advice to be the very best that I could have possibly received for single parenting, and so, I set about to create ways for the three of us to do just that. I began with attending to the body, then to the mind, then the heart, until the spirit eventually took flight again. Very slowly, over the first two years of what became our imprisonment, we created space that allowed for the healing that was necessary to really live, once more, until we each became equipped for the rest of our lives with essential tools that we still use to this day.

For the body, it began with rest, and so we each slept when and for as long as we each needed, every day, no matter the hour. It followed daily with drinking a lot, a lot, a lot of water, and eating a hearty and healthy breakfast or brunch of protein, such as cheese omelettes, and grains, such as oatmeal pancakes. Throughout the day, snacks were available, and plentiful, in the form of apples, nuts, dried fruit, or light soups and open sandwiches. Dinners were often comfort food such as chicken and pasta, with a lot of vegetables added for nourishment. Carbs seemed to cure neurological systems. Daily vitamins were essential. Cookies and ice cream were occasional, as sugar tends to depress. Trying to maintain exercise was sometimes difficult, but we each had our own method, and followed it by instinct. Day and evening light was soft, the scent of lavender was prevalent, and cozy quilts were placed in every room.

For the mind, I turned to music first, because sounds, especially soothing sounds, were so vital to me for healing. Instrumental was the main feature early in the day, with a lot of pop, classical, jazz, and old croons toward the end of the day. Dancing in the kitchen, while singing into wooden spoons made its way into our weekly rituals, after dinner hour. And all too soon, the walls in our home were shelved with over 3,000 books, from reading as often as possible, for pleasure. Together with viewing positive, uplifting films on a daily basis, we avoided network television. Discussions nightly turned toward tech, and game conversations that I knew nothing about, and would contribute nothing; but watching my children go deep into analysis and debate over the parts of their world where I did not venture became as a healing balm to my own heart. And their laughter. Their laughter will always be there, in the distance of past remembrance, where I hear its delightful, lingering sound.

Then came the heart, which as most parents know, can be a wild ride with young adults. Mine were subdued by comparison to others, and so I devised something called “bitch fest,” for the release of all our pent up feelings. Anyone who needed it, could stand together in the kitchen with the support of the others to yell and scream using every vulgar term known to the English, (or, as it happened, to one of the several they studied), languages. This was not something that we gravitated toward, at all, because we were all very geeky and nerdy, really, and so we switched to Shakespearian insults, which worked quite well, actually. My favorite was, “You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catatrophe!” the last one being a bit dirty, I think. Making mistakes and trying something different was always important, and so, at every opportunity, we reminded each other that we loved each other.

After the first winter, and into the next autumn, we were enjoying life together and we were creating together. Projects abounded, ideas flourished, and inspirations ran wild. We began to see light, and to forget dark. We began to feel alive, and to forget death. We began to find hope, and to forget despair. It was gradual, it was slow, but a transformation came after careful cultivation of the body, of the mind, then of the heart, until the spirit eventually took flight. There were numerous other ways in which we developed a thriving and healthy lifestyle, in spite of everything around us, and eventually we made our way to new, supportive, and encouraging communities that enhanced all our experiences during those long years. My children grew into adults through beautiful, healthy, joyful, and wondrous sequential time that gave way to broader independent scope. Years later, there would be consequences, as there will always be from so much trauma, but not before each of us learned to wield new defensive methods for survival.

Written in 2006, during this, one of the darkest seasons of my life, the poem, “Nine Lonely Winds,” which I crafted with the mathematics of prose by way of alternate a/b/a/b rhyming scheme in nine stanzas, was a challenge by a British Literature professor. A snarky, and mean little man of no real accomplishment, he dared the class to attempt something pastoral in the spirit of Wordsworth. He knew neither me, nor his Shakespeare, all too well, for, “though she be but little, she is fierce…” might have warned him. I was the only student in the class to take it on, probably because I was old enough to be everyone’s mother, and when I set about to write it, the words flowed as easily as the imagery they evoked. It was an astonishing artistic experience, but I was not alone. Both of my children began to create in ways that baffled me. My son drew up elaborate technical plans to build and launch a boat, while my daughter began her own textile creations, after writing an Elvish dictionary, based on her reading of all Tolkien’s work, including, Silmarillion.

The birth of art in a time of death is a very real phenomenon, especially when the spirit, soul, and body are nurtured with thoughtful, and careful means for daily living that are as unique to everyone, as they are to the art that everyone creates. Tremendous emotions, and overwhelming thoughts are captured in such environments, which may allow for the soul to wander freely in a body which is attended by steadfast comfort in simplistic ways that demand to be met. With the acceptance of a timeline that imprisons by sequence, but which might allow for independence through scope, healing is abundant. Making lists, charts, piles, tags, or folders for brainstorming sessions that included everyone in the home, worked best for me. That, and I accepted that the boredom would always precede the excellence. We passed through those years of isolation together with as much support for each other as possible. Soon, we arrived safely on the opposite side of death to find the birth of art in a new life. And, in the end, my adult children assured me that it had always been worth it all.

On the Birth of Art in a Time of Death, by Robin Whitham McCrady, Copyright, 2020.

Wise Women, such as Midwives, Astronomers, Mathematicians, Healers, Philosophers, Herbalists, and Storytellers were once persecuted, as Witches,” from Wise Welsh Witch.

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