Care for the Dead

This week’s snowy weather reminded me of this tale, so I thought I’d share it with you all...

No one had wiped the blood from her cheek. It could be hers, leaking from the thousand slices that scored her skin. It could be someone else’s, a remnant of the war. She had ripped her way through the guards, her sword singing her rage. They had taken her father, she took their lives. A trade, she thought. Asgard should pay.

But no war host had waited within the golden halls, just Silver-Tongue. Loki had stolen the wind from her sails. The rage from her chest. The steel from her hand. Skadi crumpled to the floor, felled without a single blow. How could she outsmart the Trickster himself?

“You have demands?”

“My father will not be forgotten!”

“Agreed,” Loki answered, his voice greasy on her skin. “His eyes are stars. My father will cast them into the sky, and he will watch you until Ragnarok comes. Next?”

“I wish to feel something other than this. I wish for joy.”

“Your life will be one long joke, the punchline never-ending.”

Skadi knew the words were turning against her, even as the battle had. Her love was gone. Her vengeance was too. What else could there be for her?

“I do not know how to be alone,” she whispered. And Loki had offered her the companionship of a god. Any god. Hers to pick, if she agreed to his rules. So she reached out for him, clasped hands in an oath – peace for Asgard, a husband for her.

So she was whisked from war to wedding, blood still smeared from brow to lips. Her arms ached. Her heart ached. In her weariness, she chose a soft voice, smooth skin, someone who promised to know nothing of war and all of nature. He offered her the sea, and how she longed to float.

But.

It was a trick (as all Loki’s schemes are, sooner or later). Her husband-lord-master-captor was not soft, or gentle. He was the sea, constantly wearing at her shores. Shifting the sands until her feet were unsteady. Vast, unfathomable, deeper than her understanding went. The water kingdom was not a safe home for a girl made of snow.

So Skadi fled, across the year and over the land, to the highest peak she could find. She called up walls made of ice. Buried the rocks with fields of white. Sent her wjnds racing down the valleys to push men back inside their houses where they belonged. She howled and raged. She cursed the gods. Mortals quaked, and the world was darker.

Skadi did not notice when the girl first came, just that she was there. She knelt at Skadi’s feet, her legs wrapped in blankets but hands and head uncovered and gleaming with frost. Her breath clouded on the mountain-top air, but she did not shiver. She was young, but her eyes held a million unshed tears. She was quieter than the deepest snowdrift, and just as still.

“Your rage killed a man today,” the girl said. “Froze him in his bed until his life drained into my hands.”

“I can’t make it stop,” Skadi said. “I don’t know how.”

The girl just nodded.

“I’m not asking you to. I’ll care for the dead.”

But.

Skadi sent the snows a little shallower the next day. Let the light linger a fraction longer. Her weeping did not slow, but her anger ebbed. She looked into her heart, and named the sorrow she saw there. When she came back to herself, the girl knelt by her feet once more, a silent witness to the goddess’ grief.

“Your sadness killed a girl today,” she said. “Smothered her under a snowdrift until I took the rest of her breath.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Skadi replied. “I’m just so-“

The girl raised her hand.

“Don’t worry. I’ll care for the dead.”

And so it went on, Skadi’s storms slowed inch by inch, the mourning girl’s compassion unshaken. Each night, she offered a reason, an excuse, tried to explain away her pain, and every response echoed the same: I’ll care for the dead. I’ll care. I’ll care. I’ll care.

There was a question in Skadi’s heart, and in her head, but her tongue could not unlock the mystery. She talked of herself, and longed to read the mourning girl’s brain. So Skadi sat. Blood still caked her face, but she cast of her armour at last. Helmet, chestplate, greaves, all thrown down into the snow. This time, she waited.

She waited for a girl with hair as dark as the Allfather’s ravens. Who knew all the sadness a heart could hold, but cared even still. Who arrived in a blink, between one heartbeat and the next, yet seemed as solid as the mountain itself.

This time, Skadi did not wait for the stranger’s sad tidings.

“I am sorry for what I have done.”

“You did what you did because your heart was bursting,” the girl replied.

“They killed my father.”

“I know. I care for the dead.”

“Did you meet him?” Skadi asked. Hoping she had. Hoping she hadn’t.

“If I did, I do not remember. I cannot hold the specific sorrows in my breast or the weight of the world would crush me. I care for the dead, and then I let them go. I let him go on, down the river and into the night.”

A single tear slid down Skadi’s pallid skin. It sliced through the blood, the first to cut through. The question rose through her chest. It closed her throat. It bubbled through her lips.

“Who cares for me?”

The girl raised her hand to Skadi’s face, catching the tear that hung from the curve of her chin. A smile ghosted her lips, and warmed her eyes.

“Do you know why I came?” she asked.

“No.”

“I am not my father’s daughter. He revels in the trick and the trap – in a twisty way out of a tangled problem. They may call me Lokisdottir, but that is not who I am. I care for the dead, so the living can heal. I could care for you, but that’s not my purpose.”

“Then what is?”

“I gave you the space you needed. So you could care for yourself.”

So.

Two goddesses sit on the snow-capped mountain. They tend to their own hearts, and let the winter fall from the world. They may grow to love each other, but also they may not. One showed the other how to heal a fractured heart. The other learned.

Of writing and security blankets

IMG_0631

I am fresh back from the Be Love retreat run by Dr Joanna Martin and the wonderful women at One of Many. Two days examining love, not as an emotion or an action, but as a place to stand. A conscious choice to be love, not just to feel the hormone cocktail of attraction or do nice things for the people in your heart. What I learned could (and may yet) fill a whole category of blog posts…

There were many tears shed and many breakthroughs broken by all, with blood, sweat and yes, even more tears. At the end of it all, I wanted to share an “AHA” moment that I had during the evening session (led by the amazing Susie Heath).

Susie’s sessions are a glorious mix of dance, silent interactions and emotion. Each exercise is crafted to help you feel in your body what your head has been learning that day. Most powerful for me was the last: Susie stood in the middle of the room, a constant centre around which all the women orbited. As we danced, she spoke to us of all the adventures we could have, knowing she was there to look back to when we needed her. And in the middle, she gently dropped the words I didn’t know I needed to hear:

“Go write your book.”

I’ve been struggling with writer’s block for about a year now. My best flow was a three day streak, and even that required a vacation to Memphis for time, space and inspiration to magically align – not exactly a long term solution! But as Annie spoke those words, my brain filled with ideas and – even better – confidence. The tips and tricks I’ve been trying over the past twelve months pale in comparison to the flow I’ve achieved since this moment.

For many of us, writers block really is all in our head. A head game we play with ourselves where our inner critic is stronger than our joy in putting words on a page. What if I choose the wrong word? What if my characters are accidentally problematic? What if writing this novel destroys my finances, makes me homeless, drives away anyone and everyone I’ve ever loved and all I have to show for it is 60,000 terrible words about magical vikings???

What I remembered in that three minute dance is that writers are never really alone. We all have our security blankets – the fixed points of comfort we look to when we wobble on our paths to adventure.

Ritual

The right environment is often a great way to ease yourself into the right headspace. For me, that looks like a massive cup of tea, a scented candle and the perfect level of background noise. Some stories need music, the right melody to carry the words onto the page, where others beg for ambient sounds to conjure the right setting. One of my friends can only write in coffee shops, where people watching turns into story ideas turns into words on a page. Finding your own writing ritual may be a wonderful way to beat the block.

Friends and family

This can be a tricky one to get right – the ones you love may be too quick to love your words, and the nagging voice of doubt shouts a lot louder than their r praise at times. Equally, opening yourself up enough to share your writing only to have it shot down by your nearest and dearest is a form of torture I hope you never have to experience. Trust me, it hurts

img_0623.jpg

A vital team member…

So how do you find the right friends, the right family, to share your writing with? Start with those whose taste you admire. If you have a friend who gives consistently good book recommendations your trust in their judgement and shared tastes may make their feedback weigh a little more. Equally, if you are lucky enough to have writer friends, they could be the perfect partner to swap stories with. What starts as a group chat about fictional ice hockey players might lead to the perfect cheerleader, with pompoms galore and a listening ear when the plot bunnies bite! (Hi Ellyse!)

Writing groups

I plan to talk about my experiences with critique from writing groups in a later post, but they have their place in the confidence game too. Sometimes, there’s nothing like sitting in a room full of people who wrestle with plots on the regular to get your own feelings of flow going. I’ve had some wonderful moments where listening to someone talk through their own snarl has untangled one of my own. Just remember to keep your notepad handy to jot the memory down!

So now I’m turning it over to you – what security blankets have you found for the times when the words just won’t come or confidence fails?

And just in case you need to hear it: GO WRITE YOUR BOOK!