Into the Woods

I’m very pleased to reveal my new website. I welcome you all here! It’s a tidy place. As you enter, you’ll find the worlds I’ve created with nothing but words. Just those flimsy little markings we use to articulate the state of things. And, my friends, the state of things for me at this crucial moment is that I am suffering from the condition dreaded by all those who corral those flimsy little markings: writer’s block.

Before I talk about that, let me tell you a story about a little girl who got lost, not in the woods, but in her own neighbourhood, which was close to the woods. That little girl is me. Not until a few years ago, did I realize I used to (and still occasionally) suffer from Temporary Topographical Amnesia, a vascular deficit in the right hemispheric structures for topographic recognition. Loss of visuo-spatial memories, visual object agnosia. Motor automatism.

Come with me as my six-year-old self walks to school…

I was a dreamy child. My mind often roamed separately from my body and I sometimes got lost. Here I am enroute, clutching my Charlie Brown lunchkit. The school is two blocks away. In this first moment it’s a regular day: all the familiar houses are in their familiar places. The street is the same street it always is and I know with one turn to the right it leads to my school. But in the next moment I’m mercilessly marooned, abandoned by my own memory. The landscape is stripped of any meaning. I’m a cipher walking in a generic place on a characterless plane. I’m experiencing a complete failure to recognize and navigate landmarks in previously familiar terrain: topographical amnesia.

I know I am me, but I don’t know where I am, where I came from, or where I’m going.  I know a road is a road in a vague sense, but I don’t know what particular road I’m on: it could be anywhere. I feel profoundly abandoned, a not-Alice stuck in a land of stark objectivity. Not even a dose from a magic “Drink Me” bottle can help me find my way.

Unmeasurable moments later, as fast as it had vanished, the ordinary—meaningful—landscape reappears. I know I’m on my street in my neighbourhood. Happy to reinhabit the known world, I dawdle on to school, swinging my Charlie Brown lunch kit. The first experience of this phenomenon has never left me. What a thin veneer there is between the inner and outer world, and when it is torn away to reveal an unbeworded undersurface, how terrifying and disorienting it can be: a mere presentation of the material, devoid of specificity.

Writer’s block feels a bit like this. Words seem ungraspable blanks. I am able to write this piece because it is not fiction and I had prior notes. What fails me in this present condition is the ability to conjure a fictional scene. But, I think I have erred in seeing this as a deficit. It could instead be—after several years of writing and then releasing my first book—my body’s and mind’s strategy for renewal. Yes! For so long, I wrote inside a fictional bubble. In this new phase, my mind can reverse its scope and wander in the wide undelineated spaces.

And so, in celebration of a new website, I greet you now from a place a freedom, where I roam in the physical world, play piano, cook meals, go for walks, until the “flimsy little markings” start to call to me again.

 

 

16 Comments

  1. Anne Hopkinson on January 11, 2023 at 11:25 am

    Your flimsy little markings were never very flimsy! Getting lost is another way of saying going exploring.

    • Barbara Black on January 16, 2023 at 9:21 pm

      Ha ha. Anne, you always have a great response to things and fine observation skills! I am on the explorer’s path now. Oh wait….there’s an elephant. Gotta go!

  2. Susan Smith on January 11, 2023 at 11:30 am

    Love this. It is so real I could feel the sense of being lost.
    As reading is a bit hard for m, I look forward to the day when you. might read some of your work in your wonderful evocative voice.
    Congrats yet again Barbara.

    • Barbara Black on January 16, 2023 at 9:24 pm

      Dear Susan,

      Thank you for following me along on my little lost walk. I would truly love to read some of my work to you and to others! I love doing readings. Thanks for the congrats. I super appreciate it!

  3. Oscar Martens on January 11, 2023 at 12:23 pm

    Great website, Barbara! If I know you at all, you know of the name of the insect on your cover page.

    • Carolyn Seed on January 11, 2023 at 12:52 pm

      Hi Barb – thanks for sharing something that must be difficult share for a writer. Hope inspiration comes soon for you. My partner has a type of Alzheimer’s where he has difficulty remembering where he is and landmarks mean nothing. Your words were a wonderful explanation 💖 thank you.

      • Barbara Black on January 16, 2023 at 9:12 pm

        Hello Carolyn. Yes, I thought it rather funny to write my first blog for my new website and talk about writer’s block! But, I thought, what the heck, I might as well be honest about where I am right now. And it turned out OK. I spent four years with my Dad as he went through dementia, so I fully understand what you mean about how that condition strips a person of their memories, both personal and spatial. It is heartbreaking to be witness to and I wish you love, courage and togetherness in this journey with your partner.

    • Barbara Black on January 16, 2023 at 9:19 pm

      Thanks for having a look around, Oscar! As a matter of fact, I took that photo myself in Corsica. It was on my son-in-law’s shirt. Yes, I DO know the name of the insect, too! It’s a Scoliid Wasp or Mammoth Wasp, most likely Megascolia maculata AKA Scolia maculata. It looks rather alarming, but this wasp was likely sipping on the nectar from nearby plants, not looking for Swedes to snack on.

  4. Louise crossgrove on January 11, 2023 at 4:35 pm

    At the risk of seeming trite. I say congratulations on being courageous enough to admit to having come to a word block. This is an opportunity to listen to your heart and body and just “be”. It is in the dark times when seeds remember who they are and begin the silent, slow journey to the sunlight. It takes as long as necessary, for that spark and germinating seed to come alive. Wait and be at peace with this quiet time. Trust your body and creative soul that you are exactly where you need to be.

    In the meantime, your new website and blog are beautiful representations of you. It is. Wonderful to know another book is on the horizon. In due time, it will arrive. Rest now. Be wiling to let be and just be. For now. Many seeds are within the quiet and resting phase of life. Perhaps this is the time when dreams can be dreamt and welcomed in the softness of the night. ♥️💜💙

    • Barbara Black on January 16, 2023 at 9:05 pm

      Louise, thank you so much for these comments. I’ve been through every possible solution and every possible emotion on this issue. After months, I have finally stepped back, just as you have suggested, and let myself be. I can feel the work in progress far, far away travelling slowly back to me. I will wait for its arrival.

  5. Louise Crossgrove on January 11, 2023 at 9:51 pm

    A poem came to me today in an email and I thought I would share it with you, Barbara. It is called “Trough” by Judy Brown (The Sea Accepts All Rivers) I thought of your situation right now. Not sure if it is relatable with you but here it is.<3

    Trough

    There is a trough in waves,
    A low spot
    Where horizon disappears
    And only sky
    And water
    Are our company.

    And there we lose our way
    Unless
    We rest, knowing the wave will bring us
    To its crest again.

    There we may drown
    If we let fear
    Hold us within its grip and shake us
    Side to side,
    And leave us flailing, torn, disoriented.

    But if we rest there
    In the trough,
    Are silent,
    Being with
    The low part of the wave,
    Keeping
    Our energy and
    Noticing the shape of things,
    The flow,
    Then time alone
    Will bring us to another
    Place
    Where we can see
    Horizon, see the land again,
    Regain our sense
    Of where
    We are,
    And where we need to swim.

    ~ Judy Brown ~

    (The Sea Accepts All Rivers)

    • Barbara Black on January 16, 2023 at 9:01 pm

      Dear Louise,

      “And there we lose our way/Unless/ We rest, knowing the wave will bring us/To its crest again.”

      You have found the perfect poem that points the way to move (or not move!) through this phase. Perhaps having the horizon disappear is meant to signal a point of rest from the pressing future. And I don’t mind having “only” the sea and sky as my company. I live just a few steps away from the first, and always have the other above me.

      Thank you for this poem.

  6. Diana Kay Sharp on January 13, 2023 at 12:48 am

    Hi, Barbara!! I’m so glad to see your new website!!! Re: writer’s block – I have just looked over some of my past 11 years of artworks to jog a new piece into my creation puzzle, and it seems that from where I am now, some of those pieces of the past carry new meanings from this perspective. I’m planning to revisit the feelings I received from some of those images and reframe them with pieces from more recent works. It’s funny to me, but profound, how juxtaposing two or more unrelated images, brings a new world where they exist together, into view! It feels like another landscape is just beginning to be traveled!

    • Barbara Black on January 16, 2023 at 8:55 pm

      Dear Diana,

      Thank you for your support and for your great creative insights over the years. This new insight in your work is fascinating! I like your notion of bringing older things into the present and seeing how they can jostle together in a new context. I think I just discovered this, too, by going through previous notebooks and finding writing I had rejected or neglected but looking at it anew and, especially, liking its energy in a raw, unedited state. Thanks for your observations. Creativity is a mysterious but ultimately life-enhancing process.

  7. Emily Olsen on January 13, 2023 at 10:07 am

    I’ve walked with you before, another forest, another space. A living room, little words, worlds, a friendship begun. I loved stepping into your spaces—the familiar home of childhood wonder and exploration.

    It’s an honour to read your work. Love the website.

    • Barbara Black on January 16, 2023 at 8:50 pm

      Yes, “another forest, another space.” Thanks so much, Emily, for walking with me, and for taking the time to read my words.

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