Now in this time of the epidemic, racism, mass shootings and threats of war, the first line of an Emily Dickinson poem speaks to me.
“A wounded deer leaps highest.”
The story I imagine from the above line fits with my upcoming novel I’ve been rewriting, Deer Xing, which I began in the early ’90s. A time that seems like forever and also yesterday.
My title evokes the image of a deer crossing a road at a deer warning sign. Its message is clear; drive carefully to save a deer.
The sign gives us humans driving our cars, RVs, trailers and trucks the chance to be present to what is possible and how carefully we can choose to live our lives. And how possible it is to change, to save the life of a deer, such a beautiful, gentle, quiet, vulnerable creature.
Both deer and sign inspire and uplift me to continue reworking my draft. As I edit the final section of my story, I experience deep silence, the same feeling I imagine in the eyes of a deer. And gratitude too.
“Every book is a world.” –Gabrielle Zevin.
Give yourself the gift of a book.
My friend gave me an attractively covered book to add to the Little Free Library I have in front of my house. But when I examined Crow Planet “Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness” by Lynda Lynn Haupt I realized I wasn’t ready to give this book up.
Crow Planet begins with the author, suffering from depression, looking out the bedroom window of the new suburban home her husband and she just purchased in Seattle, Washington. It’s midday but she’s still in her pajamas, seeing no reason to get dressed. Suddenly twelve feet away she sees a nest and hears a tiny bird preening. Looking through her binoculars, she sees a baby crow with a malignant growth over one eye. Both she and the baby bird are injured she thinks, crying and laughing at the same time.
Haupt is a scientist of the natural world who once worked as wildlife rehabilitator and in addition raised nearly a hundred fledging birds. She is also mother of a young daughter also fascinated with birds. After seeing the suffering baby crow, she captures, feeds and when it is healed frees it to join the hundreds of crows she sees daily on her nature walks. She begins to understand that Seattle can become the beloved wilderness she reluctantly left behind when she and her family moved to the city. She learns that urban nature is infused with magic and wonder and I, the reader, do too. The baby crow creates a “liaison with a truer way of being” that is not the romanticized Walden of Thoreau’s “pure nature”, but her — and our—natural world.
Crows are birds of the Corvid family which is several million years older than humans. Most crow populations are increasing while globally birds are declining due to human environmental destruction. This likely is because crows are omnivores who eat anything, scavengers who feed upon the dead (hence the term “murder of crows”).
Crows are also immensely intelligent in a way similar to apes which is why their behavior is so complex. They have an extensive vocabulary, for example a “remonstrative call” consisting of scolding and screeching if you get too close to a nest. They use mimicry. They also whisper, whine, meow, croak, chuckle and whinny. Crows take care of one another; they can use tools and are able to “reach a contemplative state while sunning themselves”. Crows may have a “helper” third crow to tend their young along with the mother, father and babies in a nest. Crows also attend “funerals”, gathering around their own dead. This is known as “mobbing”.
“Everybody has a crow story,” Lyanda Lynee Haupt writes.
My story centers around my mother’s death. It began when I flew to Pittsburgh to be with her at what turned out to be the end of her two-year struggle with cancer. The doctors had predicted she had a few more months to live so I flew back to California to put my affairs in order, intending to return as soon as possible. Five days after I left her, mom died. I returned for the funeral.
Both times I was in Pittsburgh I stayed in mom’s condominium on the fifth floor of a brand new housing complex in Forest Hills. It was surrounded by old venerable trees and inhabited by hundreds, perhaps thousands of crows cawing morning and night. I wanted to believe the crows calling out incessantly in those dark trees were messages from my mom. I wanted to learn their language and talk through them to her. I still do.
I ‘ve placed Crow Planet in the Little Free Library at the bottom of my driveway now. Whenever I see the crows I feel myself once again staring through that window of my mother’s condo divining answers while outside the wild, free birds peck at the garbage and clean the street, then fly off, screeching and circling above me—“Portents” Lynda Lynn Haupt writes, “of nothing but themselves, swirling like all of us in our beautiful, tangled, transitory lives.”
You might think that a book about the most famous writer in the English language would be boring: trite, repetitious or full of pompous academic abstractions, especially if you researched and wrote your master’s thesis on “Murder and Honor in Hamlet and Othello” like I did at Hunter College. But you’d be wrong.
With impressive credentials and superior narrative ability, Stephen Greenblatt in Will in the World unearths and illuminates Shakespeare in the Elizabethan world in ways I could never before consider, especially given that facts about Shakespeare’s life are, according to the author, ”abundant but thin.” I couldn’t put the book down. The thing is, I was learning so much about myself, how to be a writer in my world.
Greenblatt writes: “We know all about the property Shakespeare bought and sold, the taxes he paid, the theatrical companies he worked for. We have his baptismal record, his marriage license and his last will and testament. But what he felt in his heart, what dreams he nurtured, what beliefs he himself had…..”.
What lover of words isn’t fascinated by the mysterious, brilliant William Shakespeare, aka “Will”? Who was Shakespeare really? I was hooked when Greenblatt sets up Shakespeare, at 18, marrying Anne Hathaway, age 26, in Stratford six months before their first child was born. What, if anything, did it mean that soon after–the exact date is vague like so much else–Will left it all to spend the rest of his life in rented rooms in London, two days ride away? Did he love her? Was he forced to marry her? Did he marry her for her money? Did she love him (But he was Shakespeare. How could she not?!)
Greenblatt speculates how Shakespeare may have been wanted for deer poaching, a 17th century theory. Was Shakespeare down and out, stealing venison and rabbits for food? With many credible details, Greenblatt explores and then discards this possibility with great authority, while being cautious about claiming any other hypotheses as certain either.
I was impressed by how masterfully Greenblatt lays out Shakespeare’s world—and mine too. Maybe Shakespeare left Stratford for the same reason I left my hometown, Pittsburgh, PA, to seek my fortune in the big world.
The artistic, political and religious intrigue is both detailed and gruesome, with beheadings at the bequest of Queen Elizabeth as common as parking tickets today. The victims, many of whom were Roman Catholics, are believable and very sympathetic. Greenblatt explores the possibility that Shakespeare may have been a Catholic too. That could explain the secrecy around his life. After all, it was dangerous to be Catholic in Elizabethan England.
Then there’s the mystery of the love sonnets, seemingly addressed to a man, but who? And did Shakespeare actually write the sonnets? Ah, but Greenblatt shows us how we moderns no longer understand the game of sonnet-making, so popular in Shakespeare’s world, where the trick was to be naked while revealing nothing, and tell revealing secrets to only a few chosen intimates.
So much is speculation! Did Shakespeare even write those plays or was it Marlowe for that matter? Was he a fraud as the feature movie, Anonymous (2011), claims? No, Stephen Greenblatt doesn’t buy that theory.
What really kept me reading Will in the World was that I felt supported and encouraged by Shakespeare as a writer in the world. Greenblatt convinced me to identify with this ”amazing success story,” of a bright young man from the provinces who took on the hard, yet exciting game of writing great plays for a popular audience in a tumultuous, changing, exploding world.
I might have guessed that Shakespeare too had problems I have as a writer: daunting competition from establishment writers (e.g., Marlowe), lack of funds, absence of entitlement, spotty, non-existent publication, pressing family responsibilities, in fact, “an upstart crow” in the literary world as the contemporary playwright Robert Greene called him. But that’s beside the point as Will in the world pressed on—and succeeded. Not just for his time but for all time.
Greenblatt’s astute analysis of the playwright’s characters, so modern in their angst, confusion and daunting dreams, illuminates Shakespeare’s own evolving understanding of the world. Will in the World challenges me to understand our world now, four hundred years later, through my writing.
Reading is a gift to yourself. Writing is a gift too. I’ve been struggling to rewrite Deer Xing, a novel I began in the early ’90s, even before the Coronavirus quarantine overturned my daily life.
At my computer today, I experience deep silence and unfathomable time, feeling more pressure and less inspiration than ever to work on Deer Xing. I constantly interrupt myself to check updates on COVID-19, putting off editing the pages stacked in piles all over my desk.
At present Deer Xing is a long, knotted rope of words tied to an old vision. Frustrated by my old story, I imagine a new one shaped by this fearful epidemic, upending us all everywhere. I slash whole chapters, Xing-out characters, freeing me up to see everything—differently.
I take notes looking out my living room window at the four-way crossing on the corner of my emptied street, a concrete desert of unmoving silence, no one driving or walking by.
How to begin again? What would a deer see at a deer crossing?
I think of how my novel Dreamers starts in the green hills of Pittsburgh, PA seen through a young woman’s eyes who imagines Dad loves this city more than he could ever love her.
How Sundagger.net begins when a middle-age, single mother enters a sweat lodge in the Oakland Hills and grapples with Silicon Valley while making peace with ancient spirits in the Anasazi Southwest.
Spiral, the prequel to Sundagger.net, begins in a desert canyon in the Southwest, 12th century A.D, with a teenage girl searching for a hunter she cannot bear to lose.
And my latest, Pillow Prayers, that begins with a photo and a prayer: three women posing in a zen pillow stitchery with its brand new owner, Beth, who imagines a star-twisted prayer, the first of many that follow.
“Every book is a world.” says Gabrielle Zevin, author. In this time of quarantine and isolation, books open our minds and nurture our souls . You can buy Pillow Prayers, Dreamers, Spiral and Sundagger.net in ebook form on Smashwords.com. They can be read on Kindle, computer or another device.
Buy now! Click on Smashwords. Type “Margaret C. Murray” in the Search for books, authors, or series field to select ebooks.
Not satisfied with ebooks? Give yourself the gift of a physical book you can hold in your hands and turn the pages! It’s so easy.
Have you ever stopped to watch a butterfly’s soft flight of light and color leaving you with a feeling like falling in love?
Imagine that you can not only watch and feel the butterfly, but hear it as it flits from flower to flower.
Music artist Chris Goslow has written a song, Butterfly, that takes you to that place.
Every year Chris writes and records a new song on the occasion of his wife Charr Crail‘s birthday.
Butterfly is the most recent of Chris’ songs to Charr, an artist and photographer.
Listen to this home recording with Charr of her birthday song. Butterfly, words and music by Chris Goslow. Performed by Chris Goslow.
Chris Goslow, who is also my son, has accompanied me at my book readings, playing ’60s and ’70s popular music mentioned in Dreamers and Pillow Prayers as well as tracks from his albums Waterfall and The Cherry Rainbow Piano Experience.
Chris also recorded the soundtrack for the videos Stones of Chaco Canyon and My Trip to the War Gods for Sundagger.net and Spiral. For more about Chris and me, see Music, Writing, and Working Together.
Who doesn’t love a good book? Give the gift of WriteWords Press books. It’s easy. Buy here!
“There’s nothing like it anywhere.”
Strike! Discovering Our Power!
Howard Zinn Book Fair 2019
Sunday December 8th, 10am to 6pm
City College of San Francisco, Mission Campus
Who wouldn’t like to attend a life-changing, fun, insightful book extravaganza in the Mission District of San Francisco for a $5 suggested donation?!
By accident I discovered the Howard Zinn Book Fair last year where I was privileged to show and sell WriteWords Press books to interested folk. That day I also was able to sample outstanding lectures, workshops, readings, and presentations by other small press book publishers and authors. It was a blow-out experience of inspiration and insight for me.
Learn more about Howard Zinn.
At the Howard Zinn Book Fair 2019 you’ll be able to interact with sixty publishers, booksellers, and grassroots organizations. You can experience dozens of author readings, panels, and workshops. Some of the presenters include voices from The Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, The Yellow Vest Movement in France, and the Oakland Teachers Strike.
Believe me, there’s nothing like it anywhere. Here’s just a few of the events at the 1st Session (10:30AM -12PM)!
Click here for the entire program. I’m aiming to be in that audience exploring The novel as Counter-History.
Do stop by my WriteWordsPress table when you come to the Howard Zinn Book Fair. We can talk of traveling, of the research I did about the ancient Anasazi of the Southwest while writing Spiral and Sundagger.net, of my daydream in the 1960’s that lead to writing (and rewriting) Dreamers, and about my last work, Pillow Prayers, drenched in San Francisco and Berkeley after the Summer of Love.
Howard Zinn Book Fair 2019
Sunday December 8th, 10am to 6pm
City College of San Francisco, Mission Campus
1125 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA
$5 suggested donation (no one turned away for lack of funds)
“When we organize with one another, when we get involved, when we stand up and speak out together, we can create a power no government can suppress.” — Howard Zinn
Mark your calendar. You’ll be glad you did. There’s nothing like it anywhere.
“A flower is never opened with a hammer.” — motto of From Heart to Paper Writing Workshops
I have been teaching From Heart to Paper Writing Workshops for over seven years here in the San Francisco East Bay and begin each session with this motto.
You’d think I’d be tired of it by now, considering it old and worn out. Yet each time I say “A flower is never opened with a hammer”, I feel the power of the words, the exquisite truth of flowers, and the awe of seeing a flower open. I feel my heart leap with possibility— for myself and for my students who are like flowers too.
Writing workshops are upcoming in Winter and Spring, 2020.
Would you like to know more about From Heart to Paper Writing Workshops? Do you want to register? Please click here.
“One of the most spectacular finds from prehistoric North America.”—USA Today
In my novel Spiral, I created strong women at the heart of the story. I loved writing the powerful female characters of Willow and her shaman mother. But could this small family of determined women, the fruit of my imagination, ever possibly exist?
Recently a friend sent me a USA Today article describing an amazing archeological find. Fourteen skeletons interred over four centuries were found buried beneath the Great House of Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon where Spiral and its sequel, Sundagger.net, take place. With the skeletons were discovered jewelry, shells and mounds of turquoise, more turquoise in fact than was found over all the prehistoric sites unearthed in the entire Southwest.
Obviously these were people of high station and power! What’s more, all the skeletons tested had the same “Mother DNA”. Their “exalted status was passed down not from father to son but from mother to both daughters and sons.”—USA Today
Happily I discovered women really were as strong and powerful in the ancient Southwest as they are in Spiral.
Give the woman in your life the gift of Spiral. Give this epic journey of adventure and magic realism to yourself and receive a signed copy of Spiral. Purchase now.
Celebrate the Winter Solstice at the Richmond Library
Margaret C. Murray will read scenes set at the Winter Solstice from her novels Sundagger.net and Spiral. The celebration will also include:
Astronomy Tai Chi Drumming Art & Song
Honor the power of nature, the promise of rebirth in the dead of winter, the ancient legacy of prayer and hope in the face of the unknown darkness, the sun returning.
Thursday, December 21, 2017
6:00 – 7:30 p.m.
Richmond Public Main Library, Whittlesey Room
325 Civic Center Plaza, Richmond, CA 94804
Experience the 2017 Winter Solstice at the Richmond Public Library with:
Astronomy Tai Chi Drumming Art & Song Book Reading
Local author, MARGARET C. MURRAY, will be showing slides and videos marking ancient Native American knowledge of the solstice while reading from her novels Sundagger.net and Spiral set in the ancient Native American Southwest.
This free program is sponsored by the Friends of the Richmond Public Library.