Friday, June 12, 2015

The Whimsy of Straw Finials

Photo by Rachel Oakes

A few weeks ago, I was browsing through my friend Rachel Oakes' photos she had taken on a recent jaunt to a small British village, and I paused when I came across one photo.  "Is that a peacock on the roof??" I asked, surprised.  She explained that it was actually a straw sculpture on the thatched roof, known as a straw finial.  We continued in conversation as she explained that such things were quite common in the villages around her.  Meanwhile I was positively glowing with glee to find something so utterly charming, whimsical, and magical. 

I knew all of you would enjoy them too.

According to an excellent write-up on the tradition at this link, the tradition originated from small straw sculpts on top of hayricks and straw stacks.  Taking the form of birds, crosses, crowns, boats, apples, and more, the ornaments were, at least according to some, supposed to be a friendly way to show which hayrick belonged to whom. 

Folklore also suggested that the straw sculptures could ward of witches and birds.  The witches were given "something to play with, thus diverting her attention from making mischief elsewhere."

Although the earliest examples of decorative straw finials date to 1689, it's still easy to find artists making these organic ornaments today.  Below are a few of my favorite examples I was able to find online.
















Monday, March 16, 2015

Have Courage and Be Kind

A few years ago, artistic visionary and director Tim Burton debuted his version of the classic fairy tale-esque story, Alice in Wonderland.  It was released by Disney, and it was a visual feast of glorious surreality.  By all rights, I should have loved it, but something always stuck in my craw when I thought about the way it had been done.  Finally one day, watching the movie again, it dawned on me what the problem was.  The Alice of Tim Burton's movie is a thoroughly modern young woman, who is confident and independent, and who never once throughout the entire movie ever says thank you to anyone who helps her

A few months ago, Disney released another film, this time a movie version of the musical Into the Woods.  Once again it was gorgeous and well done, but it bothered me that there was not one character in the entire movie who I felt was "good."  Everyone showed selfishness, greed, or a lack of conviction.  And in many cases, those negative qualities caused harm or death to other more innocent people.  (As you can tell, I hadn't seen the stage musical in quite some time or I might have been better prepared for such a dreary tale)

Why do I mention all this?  Because this weekend I went to go see Disney's newest live-action fairy tale, Cinderella.  I went into it expecting to adore it, and I left even more thrilled and satisfied than I ever had hoped I would be.  I suppose this is the point at which I need to say "spoiler warning" for those who haven't seen the film yet, although really, who doesn't ultimately know what the story of Cinderella is going to include?  But still, I will be mentioning a few details from the film, so...spoilers.

Cinderella is the best role model of a good-hearted individual that I've seen in the movies for years.  My husband can confirm to you that from the first time I saw the first trailer, posted above, I immediately became a Pavlov's dog when I heard the words her mother said to her...

...and would immediately begin a sniffling cry.  I don't entirely know why these words mean so much to me, but they do.  They seem to beautifully sum up exactly what it means to be a good person.  Kindness.  My goodness (literally).  What an old-fashioned quality that is entirely at odds with the priorities of modern life and modern society!  Selfishness and greed are devastatingly rampant.  In schools, students are being taught that there are no moral absolutes.  And each generation seems to be more and more "me me me" and less aware of the concept of common courtesy.

In the film, Cinderella doesn't just generally flit around in an airy fairy way, grinning, giggling, and being sweet as cherry pie.  She undergoes real trials, real hardships, and shows the true meaning of selflessness and kindness through those times.  There are several moments in the film when Cinderella specifically shows these qualities.  A few that stood out to me were...

-When an employee of her father's comes to tell the family that her father has passed away.  Cinderella is clearly devastated and heartbroken.  But before she closes the door, she pauses and looks at the man, saying "I'm so sorry.  This must have been very hard for you."  (paraphrased from memory) Even in a moment of absolute pain, she still finds the time to sympathize with another person.

-When Cinderella is frantically running to her carriage from the ball, she bumps into the king, bows, and starts to run, but then stops for a moment to say "your son loves you very much, you know.  You must be a wonderful father." (again, paraphrased from memory)

-When Cinderella has just received her cruel nickname from her stepsister, and been told by her stepmother that she has no place at their table, she bolts from the house to a wild horseback ride through the woods, clearly in emotional tumult.  She stops when she sees a flawlessly ethereal and beautiful stag, no more than five feet from her mount.  Hearing hunting horns in the distance, she pleads with the stag to run, and sets off through the forest beside the hunters, pretending to be out of control of her horse, when really she is anything but.  Once again, she sets aside her emotions in the moment to help someone else.

The point is...being good and being kind are not just a coat we can put on when life is easy or we feel like it.  It is a habit we grow into day to day.  For Cinderella, her parents taught her from an early age to care about the well-being of other people and creatures.  It was a habit learned over many years, until it became a natural reaction in most cases.

But sometimes, it was harder to be kind.  Under those circumstances, Cinderella had to draw upon her courage.  It took courage to stand up to her stepmother and still try to go to the royal ball after she was told she would not be attending.  It took courage, more generally, to stay in that household and be bossed around simply because she wanted to protect and care for the home that her parents had loved so dearly.

There is an every day kind of courage, the kind that tells us to keep going, keep moving in our lives even when things seem most dire.  Cinderella had no expectations to meet a prince on the day she saved the stag in the forest.  She had no expectations to find the prince again on the night she went to the ball.  She did these things because she was kind, and because she was courageous.  But I want to believe, no, I need to believe, that the universe is not fully random: that courage and goodness and kindness are somehow rewarded over avarice and greed and selfishness.  Cinderella's great message is that this is indeed true.

Sometimes, life is not a fairy tale.  The movie version of Cinderella is utterly and totally beautiful, a multi-faceted gem from beginning to end.  Even the death scenes in the film are graceful and pure, sanitized for an audience of wide-eyed children.  Sometimes life and death can be uglier than the film represented.  But that doesn't change the importance of the message, or its truth for our lives, no matter how ugly or messy they can become.

Yesterday morning, after going to see the film the night before, my husband and I went out to the store to buy a doll of Cinderella in her ball gown (the most beautiful gown I've ever seen on the screen, fyi).  We were driving from the toy store to the grocery store to do our weekly shopping, and when we exited the highway, my heart went from elated and happy to devastated and broken.  On the exit ramp was the large body of a Canadian goose, hit and killed by a passing car.  That was heartbreaking enough to see, but standing to the side of the road, confused and trying to protect its partner, was a second Canadian goose.  They mate for life, you know.  I immediately burst into anguished tears, and could hardly see to drive to the store.  When we pulled in, I called the local police department to see if they would move the animal's body from the road.  That was the responsibility of the Department of Wildlife, we were told, which was only open Monday through Friday.

We finished our shopping, but neither of us could stand the idea of leaving the animal there.  We went back to the exit after picking up a shovel in our garage, and moved the bird from the road to the ravine by a small creek right beside the exit, but far enough away to give them privacy.  My husband held the shovel, but he needed me to shift the bird onto there.  I could hardly see through my sobs as I gently moved its weight onto the plastic scoop.


It was a moment of pure heartbreak.  There was nothing beautiful or redeeming about it.  It was utterly and totally gut-wrenchingly terrible.  Tom held me while I cried afterward, and he whispered "thank you for having courage and being kind." 

Because that's what I believe in.  Have courage, and be kind.  No matter how beautiful life can be, or how ugly and terrible, that's what can sustain us.  A simple and old-fashioned concept, one easily scorned.  But there are indeed moral absolutes, and in my opinion, kindness is one of the most important. 

Have courage, and be kind.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Mythic March Monday Makings - Week 1 (Sort Of?)

Last week was the first week of Mythic March, but I felt pretty silly doing a Monday Makings update last Monday when the calendar date was only March 2nd.  So this is the first Monday Makings.

How have I been doing with Mythic March?  Weeeeelll truth be told, not so well.  We had a pretty big house emergency come up last Tuesday, right around the time I had hoped to start on a project, and it took all of our focus away from anything creative or non-urgent.  Basically, it's like they say in this blog post, about falling in love with your home again despite its imperfections:

"But alas, owning an old house isn’t always as romantic as it sounds. Trust me on that. With character and age come many expected and unexpected updates and repairs. You dream of decorating and furnishing that lovely old home, but in reality your money might go to exciting things like new sewer pipes, roofs, and electrical panels." 

The blog article includes this little image, which made me giggle out loud when I saw it. 

It's true...roof repairs might not look pretty on Pinterest, but sometimes you have to have priorities!

It appears that my situation might be in hand now, so I can hopefully start working on some projects.  I have a couple of commissioned drawings to do for friends, and I'm hoping before the end of the month that I might also have time to resume work on an artwork I started years ago, before I had even started on the Twelve Dancing Princesses dining room, actually.  I set it aside to work on the dining room, and never got around to it.  I hope to complete that unfinished project, or at least start working toward that end, in March.

So what has everyone else been doing for Mythic March so far? 

My friend Brittany Warman started out Mythic March by making some gorgeous jewelry pieces.  I love how full of mystery and symbolism these pieces are!

Stephanie PiƱa of Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood blog fame wrote a marvelous post on the persistence of myth, and another on the use of armor in Ned Burne-Jones' paintings, both posts inspired by Mythic March. 

So what about you?  I'd love to see what you're working on.  Hopefully you've made a better start of it than I have!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Brimstone Rhine - A Mythic March Pre-Share

So Mythic March hasn't even quite officially begun, but I have a great project to share with you all that won't wait.

My friend and extremely talented writer, C.S.E. Cooney has started an Indiegogo campaign for a new project that hits all the marks.  It's creative, it's unique, it's mythic, and it's definitely interstitial. 

I'll let her describe it to you.

Basically, Brimstone Rhine has two EPs worth of music. The first is called Alecto! Alecto!, eight songs about women of Greek myth and legend as you've never heard them sung. Medea, Medusa, Alecto, Dido, Lysistrata, Calypso, Scylla and Circe: they're all there, each bright-lit under the spotlight she always deserved. Every song assumes its own musical genre, including blues, calypso, rock, waltz, lit-hop, and cabaret.

The second EP is called The Headless Bride. This is a darker journey into carnival-noir-weirdo territory. These eight songs lean hard toward rock and even (gasp!) go a bit METAL at times. But we also have a creepy trad folk tune about a ghost (you know, the eponymous "Headless Bride" herself), and a few more waltzes about beautiful monsters who like to eat people. Oh, and there's a nautical dirge. I call it "Kenning Song, or The Barrow Brine." Get it? Ha! Oh, also there's a VERY naughty nursery rhyme! 

 Sounds pretty amazing to me!  I have her book of poetry, and loved every poem in it, so I can't wait to hear what she comes up with for these albums.  She also is part of a group of women who perform songs at various conventions and events.  They are known as the Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours.  How's that for a name?  Love it!  Point being, she is no new hand at writing songs and performing them either. 

It's a great fun project to support, and I hope you consider chipping in whatever amount you can toward her goal!

Click here to view her Indiegogo page and watch her video explaining the project.    

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mythic March 2015!!!

By Amanda Clark  Link

Oh my dear loveys, I have missed talking to you all.  I've been lost in snowblindness, going through a dark night of the soul this winter season.  I've been quiet here, but I've been busy with Faerie Magazine, creating some stories I'm quite proud of in the Winter 2014 and Spring 2015 issues (which you really should obtain, through a subscription or by going to Barnes & Noble).  But this blog has been quiet.  So quiet.  Too quiet.  In fact, it has been so quiet here, I almost forgot my favorite blog event of the year is coming up in just THREE DAYS.  Just this morning it dawned on me that it's about to be time for MYTHIC MARCH to come around again on Domythic Bliss.  And I was elated to remember.  It was like remembering a birthday party will be held for you just days from now, with tea and scones and cake and flowers and presents. 

Mythic March, for those who may not be familiar, is in its third year this year.  It started when my friend Lisa Stock and I were lamenting how awkwardly timed the National Novel Writing Month of November is...since November is an extremely busy time in both of our lives, during which it is nearly impossible to schedule a massive endeavor such as writing a 50k word novel.  We agreed that spring was a marvelous time to break out into new projects, and Mythic March was born.

Now, I don't know about any of you, but it seems to me that I especially need Mythic March this year.  This winter has been a terrible one in Ohio (and even more so for my dear Boston friends for whom I am sending a sympathetic hug).  I've felt extremely depressed and anxious, fixated on every little small thing (and large thing) that is wrong with my lovely home where I've been trapped for the last four months or so.  The days have been so cold that I've wanted nothing more than to huddle under a blanket on the couch watching Netflix and drinking tea, and yet some part of me has been furious with myself for not creating much of anything or doing anything worth noting for that time. 

Spring is on its way.  Tomorrow night's low is forecast to be -10 here, but the days are getting longer, and more kinds of bird song are in the air each morning.  By the end of Mythic March, the world will look quite different than it does now, and new creations are a marvelous way to mark this beginning.  Our modern society has far too few rituals to celebrate changes in life and in season.  This is one that I feel I am trying to create, both in my own life and for all of you.

So please join me.  Spend Mythic March resolving to create something.  Make a playlist of songs that inspire you to dance.  Write a ritual to celebrate the end of the bitter cold weather.  Write a story, draw a picture, create a collage, invite friends over and make a fruit pie...the point is not what you do, necessarily, but just that it is done with a spirit of imagination and an eye toward new beginnings. 

And when you have started working, please come back here (or to the Facebook group) and share your progress.  I promise I'll be elated to hear from you no matter what you're doing! 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Beat the Post-Christmas Blues!

So yesterday my husband and I dismantled Christmas in our home.  Every year, everything looks so blank and stark after the warm glow of Christmas lights and the greenery and festive garland come down.  Some people deal with this post-Christmas blah by delaying the dismantling of the decorations.  And if it was just up to me, that's probably what I'd do...leave Christmas up until around the start of April.  But for those of us who have to take down Christmas shortly after the holiday, here are some ideas for post-Christmas decor that can still look festive.

I started a pin-board on Pinterest with these and several other ideas, so go there to see even more!

It seems like the post-Christmas vignettes tend to either go in the direction of pale colors and snow, or warm woodsy colors and pine cones and deer and the like.  This wreath below rather nicely encapsulates the variety of post-Christmas items commonly used in decorating.

Another cute idea I thought for the early months of a new year was to do a vignette with different clocks.

Many many wreaths and vignettes feature the lovely small plastic snowflakes I've seen (and bought) on sale at the Dollar Tree.


I love the wee little white owl on this one:


I love the freeform quality of this door vignette:


Others prefer the warmth of bare branches and pinecones:

Some are a combination of both types of ideas...


Personally, some of my favorites involve wintertime vignettes....


Thanks to my friend Barry Lytle for this picture:

Anything 'deer' in colors other than red and green will work too....



And if you can't stand the idea of no color at all, the pop of red cardinals against the snow is just as stunning in decor as it is in winter nature.



So good luck with your post-Christmas cheer!  Remember, there are even more ideas at the pin-board I created!