COVID-19 and the Art of Suffering

John Singer Sargent – The Hermit

“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.” ― Carl Jung

Introvert, Empath, HSP, INFJ. Ten years ago I had no clear idea of what any of that was. I’d come to think of myself as a tormented artist, “complicated” or, for lack of anything specific, fucked up beyond redemption. Suffering became an art form, a spiritual practice, a Dark Ages approach people sometimes adopt to give meaning to their lives, if not redemption. After way too many years of this, I decided the suffering-is-holy thing is crap. Spin. Like believing that sinking (or floating) in water proves you’re a witch — until the erudite town elder tells you to stop being a moron.

There is nothing especially holy about suffering. There is no backup, no rescue. Suffering is life, consciousness, and as such meant to be fully experienced. We have to go through to come out; we have to release old things to give new things a place to grow. Nature understands this (I rarely do, until I’m buried in shit). Like a virus, chaos runs its course with or without us and when we emerge, we’ve changed. Or something like that.

Enter the 21st century. Energy sensitivity no longer falls into that nebulous gray area between psychology and airy fairy woo woo. Those aforementioned enigmatic terms are all over the place now. We have books, articles, studies, and Facebook pages full of platitudes and self-identification mantras. “I’m an empath. I see this and feel that. Be nice to me, I’m sensitive. Watch out, I’m reading your shallow ass.” The INFJ ones are even worse. My inner curmudgeon is easily irritated by and properly skeptical of that nonsense. In true INFJ fashion, I scowl thinking that splattering those claims out there insults and defies the very thing. Don’t mess with my shadows. Leave my scar collection alone. Get off my lawn.

Having said that, I also have an intimate, if not compassionate appreciation for that basic human need to be seen and understood. Well, sometimes. On my terms. Ok never mind, you get the idea.

What I do have reverence for — and to be fair, the memes have a place in this — is information and understanding. Science. Research. Clinical studies. Open-mindedness. Awareness. Everything is energy; everything is connected; we are all part of the whole. No matter where on the radio dial you are, we all know the natural terror of feeling we’re at the mercy of something we don’t understand, and I think the terror comes because everything is connected, and not the other way around. How would you know there is a bigger picture unless something seemingly “out there” came along and sucker punched you out of your comfort zone? Interconnection isn’t a theory anymore. Those 10,000 year old shamans had this figured out, and science is catching up.

Enter COVID-19. When this broke open and fear swept over the planet, I started having panic attacks. I was abysmally depressed, physically weakened, freaked out, spun up for no reason, bursting into tears, my whole body fighting a deluge. Then I realized that while getting information and trying to make sense out of things, I had opened all my circuits and got fried. Finally, I remembered what I had learned in my extensive travels through hell. High-pass filter: ON.

Like many of my kind, I no more worried about social distancing than a fish would worry about being banned to water. Just another day in my weird universe. But then this other thing happened. Scanning my social networking threads, I began to feel a deep connection to people. Normally, I swing like a pendulum between this brilliant sensation of oneness with humanity — and a full-on belief that people are shit and a Deathstar would the best fucking thing that ever happened to this forsaken planet.

Ahh, but this breakthrough put those extremes into balance, didn’t it? Suddenly, my ridiculous and often crippling sensitivity became a vehicle, a bridge joining humanity in all its glory: fear, malcontent, anger, insecurity, suffering, abandonment; but also love, empathy, compassion, cooperation, appreciation and humor.

Ergo, I feel less alone than I ever have.

Stay safe, and hang in there. We’ll get through this.

© F.T. McKinstry 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Confessions of a Supernatural Geek

Hello, my name is Faith and I love Supernatural.

I never watched this show on TV; I lurked in the shadows for years until Netflix racked up 14 seasons, and then I dove in. Long story short, I’ve been binging it like a boss, it’s become an addiction and I’m not ashamed. Well, ok maybe it’s a little pathetic but whatever.

This show is fucking awesome. I could go on and on, but I’ll control myself (you’re welcome). All my favorite dark fantasy/horror tasties like ghosts, vampires, werewolves, angels, demons — among other things — plenty of wrath, blood, gore, hilarious pop culture references and all the feels. On the deeper side, it’s full of interesting metaphors that I’ve found personally applicable.

Bonus, the music is quite good and threaded with classic rock tunes that give it a certain music head charm. There are dedicated souls who’ve compiled those tunes from every season and put them in playlists on Youtube and Spotify. I collected my favorites and added them to an ongoing playlist of vintage stuff. For those of you on Spotify (my apologies to those who aren’t), here it is. Get baked and enjoy. Or, just get baked.

 
So I’m half-way through Season 14 of Supernatural now, and will be savoring Season 15 — the last one — after that. Then I’ll have a good cry and return in earnest to reading and writing books. God knows, it’s so wretchedly hard to say no to quality distractions.

© F.T. McKinstry 2020. All Rights Reserved.

The Fylking Omnibus On Sale!

They thought the wars were over. But time is nothing to an immortal, let alone a warlock with an axe to grind. High fantasy woven with Norse mythology, swords and sorcery. The Fylking Omnibus, which includes Outpost and The Wolf Lords, is now on sale for $2.99 (normally $5.99). Get both books in the series for the price of one. Sale lasts through January 27, 2020.

In the worlds of their dominion they are called the Fylking, lovers of strife, song and steel, an immortal race of warriors akin to the Otherworld. Their empires span the heavens; their deities, ruled by the elusive Raven God, embody the forces of war, wisdom, passion and nature. This series tells the exploits of the Fylking and their mortal observers — warriors, royals, seers, lovers, warlocks and mercenaries — generations upon generations coexisting in uneasy peace with the Gods of War.

Includes a full table of contents, glossaries and a map. Available at these e-retailers:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
iTunes
Kobo
Google Play

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil…
Until now.

The Wolf Lords Cover Art The Wolf Lords, Book Two

A immortal warlock bent on reprisal.
An ancient order of sorcerers hungry for power.
Warriors beset by armies of demons.
And a lonely hedge witch whose dark secrets could change everything.
…If only they could find her.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“A truly masterful achievement.”

“This novel is simply WOW.”

“The tone and vibe are spectacular.”

“A complex world of Norse inspiration.”

“Intense and deeply moving.”

“Great writing. Incredible worldbuilding.”

© F.T. McKinstry 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Roots and Seeds

I want the noise to stop.
Hate, fire, suffering, war;
Grief is crushing me.
The cries of nature, the wrath of the world
Plastered with lies, cold fluorescent light
And toxic platitudes.
I can’t shut it off–
And beneath the noise it’s even worse.
I open my heart and am devoured.
Every choice comes with a price:
The anguish of awareness,
Emptiness,
The hiss of a scythe.
Dark Mother reigns supreme.
She does not suffer ignorance
Or indifference;
Her love demands acknowledgment
And the courage to fall
And fall,
And fall again.
There’s no escape, for I am hers.
An old woman, spinning,
Watching.
I am not bleeding, now.
I am patient, furious and inexorable.
I am the darkness,
The reflection in a serpent’s eye,
A breath in the womb,
The resilience of life.
Here, it is cool and damp,
Roots and seeds still live
And creatures wait, held in love,
For the cleansing rain.

© F.T. McKinstry 2020. All Rights Reserved.

In Praise of Yule and the Winter Warlock

Winter Light

Winter Light


Merry Yule!

I confess, Christmas didn’t mean much to me as a kid. Family issues, religion and commercialism left me disillusioned. Ironically, my sensitive tendencies made me an accomplished shapeshifter when the need arose, allowing me to wear a happy kid face on the surface of a shadowy river of sadness. It wasn’t all bad, of course. I liked the music and the lights. But something was missing.

This was before the internet and the mainstream resurgence of things like Wicca, the old gods, and honoring one’s ancestry. I don’t think anyone ever explained the winter solstice to me, let alone its meaning in a spiritual context. I grew up in Houston, it was hot, and every day looked a lot like the next. A spark flickered in my heart when I touched the pagan roots of this season, even if it was only a Christmas classic about places that had snow, reindeer and spruce trees. I loved those stop motion animation specials like Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, with the snowy mountains, elves, little friendly helpful animals, the Winter Warlock, the monster trees, the Burgermeister Meisterburger and the 1960s swirly stoner graphics. I wanted all the stories about love and light to be true, even as I buckled under the stress that came with the very thing.

So I left home first chance I got and came north. Over the years I continued my emotional salvage operation, even after I had abandoned religion, turned to the natural world and amassed a library of books about things that kept the spark alive and helped me grow into my nature like a rooting tree. But I soon discovered that many “pagan” systems, while engaging, were missing something too.

Dark Mountains

Everyone wants to be a witch until it’s time to do witch shit. I’m not talking about setting up altars, growing herbs, gathering magical tools and praying to the old gods. That’s all cool, it creates a space, an atmosphere, a place to focus one’s intentions, much like going to church is to others. It has a purpose. But I still felt empty. I wanted connection. I wanted to be the thing and lo! oh dear if that desire didn’t put me right into the shadowy river of sadness. It was still there, sapping my light, even as I gazed into a candle on Yule to honor the return of the sun.

Then I learned something. It began with the idea that everything is connected, a popular idea now. But it’s easy to blur an idea like that into something nebulous, even impracticable, because it has such far-reaching implications. I came into December this year on a leaky raft of depression and doom that no holiday cheer could lighten; wave after wave of it, as if something had tuned my radio dial into all the sorrows of the world and the seeming hopelessness of another long winter. I cried a lot. I wanted to die. The darkness was crushing me. Until, at some point, remembering myself, I stopped and said, Where is this coming from?

Then I realized I was riding a wave that had its roots in my blood, in the bark of spruce trees, snowflakes, bears, wolves and love too, binding it all together even as it drew me into the void along with every sad and toxic pattern in my heart, my body, the projects I’m too afraid to start, some heartbreak or another, a belief in worthlessness, the white hair in the shower drain. All flowing down into the darkness of the longest night, one of the countless, elegant ways nature releases the old to the new. The rebirth of the sun. It’s one thing to celebrate that as the beautiful thing it is; it’s another when the shift is happening in the self, inexorably, in sync, as if beckoned. Everything is connected.

Witch shit happens.

Wishing you and yours all the love and light of the season in whatever way you keep it. Blessed Be!

 
 
© F.T. McKinstry 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Introverts, Geeks and Podcasts

Lone Wolf, by F.T. McKinstry

When I was a kid, the term “introvert” had a negative stigma, like some kind of amorphous, withering social ineptitude or something. Having quite enough insecurities, I limped along thinking that what I now know are classic introvert tendencies as bad, broken, neurotic traits easily written off to being dramatically tormented.

Nowadays, light shines upon introversion as perfectly natural. People are coming forward from the shadows and owning up to it. Dedicated Facebook pages and shit. I like to think of introverts as people who process things differently. There. Vague and yet intriguing. Even so, I still avoided the title, until I mentioned this to my therapist who, bless her soul, leaned forward in her chair and laughed like a harpy. Point taken.

Harpies in the infernal wood, Gustave Doré


So after some research, the most clinically valid “Are you an introvert?” tests I could find, and some soul searching in the dusty crypts of my youth, I joined in the harpy laughter. I’m off the charts, and while I’m still not into wearing the introvert thing around, I have learned to be aware and not bite the hand that feeds me.

Enter my quest to become a 21st century author and bring myself and my work out into the light to be seen. Toward this end, I set out to do things like interviews, ask-the-author sessions, podcasts and the like. (Anyone who gets the introvert thing should be suitably chilled by this.) My first podcast was with Jamie Davis on Fantasy Focus. Jamie is a great guy, he put me at ease and assured me that editing cures all ills. So I jumped in, geek cape flying.

Until Jamie asked me an excellent question. “So tell me about the Otherworld,” he says, with a fascinated smile in his voice. I froze and spiraled to the ground like a hero with a tragic flaw.

The Fool, Rider-Waite Tarot

There is nothing as breathtaking and terrifying as the fall of innocence. This doesn’t just happen once, you know; we’re all innocent of something. In the Tarot, this pattern is depicted as “The Fool.” Here he is, setting off on a new dream, a fresh start, he’s baked by the excitement and hope of it all but oh dear! he’s headed for that cliff edge. And there’s his little dog, the voice of his better sense, nipping at his heels saying, “Hey. Um, for what it’s worth, I think this is a lousy idea…” but who listens to that noise?

The Otherworld. I’ve built fantasy empires around it. I’m half immersed in the real thing. For my own books, particularly The Fylking, I did what many high fantasy authors do and made it vast, complex and dear to my heart — but when Jamie asked me to elaborate, all I could manage was a desolate “Uhh…” It was like standing by a deep, raging river and trying to reach out to catch a cupful. Finally, Jamie rescued me and mentioned the Fae. Oh yes, I said — the river is roaring — but, I’m thinking, but this, and that, and then there’s this other thing — I dropped the cup and watched it vanish — oh gods there’s not enough editing in the world that can save this.

Of course afterward, I spent days spinning up the most spectacular dissertations of the Otherworld you can imagine. But it was too late. The Fool was still falling, deaf to his little dog far above, barking wildly. Or so I thought. It was just fine, of course. As promised.

Now wiser, I did another podcast with the folks at The High Fantasy Podcast. I fretted over things, of course, but none of it stuck. We had an epic geekfest that warmed my soul.

Finally, I was interviewed by the wonderful E.G. Stone, in which we talked about Outpost, Book One in The Fylking. It was great fun.

In closing, here’s my thumbnail definition of the Otherworld from Outpost: Terms and Places.

Otherworld: The vast realm of the unseen existing beyond time and space; the source and reflection of physical events. Inhabited by an infinite variety of beings referred to as Others, including nature spirits, elves, goblins, phooka, planetary entities and other natural forces. This includes the Fylking, who occupy the unseen dimensions and are often, though not always, respected as gods. The Otherworld can be perceived by mortals with second sight, though interaction can be dangerous and is ill advised without training and protection. See also Fylking. See posts The Phooka, Goblins and Creepy Horses.

Others

Blessed Samhain, by the way. Heed not the laughter of harpies.

© F.T. McKinstry 2019. All Rights Reserved.

The Wolf Lords on Readers’ Favorite

A immortal warlock bent on reprisal.
An ancient order of sorcerers hungry for power.
Warriors beset by armies of demons.
And a lonely hedge witch whose dark secrets could change everything.
…If only they could find her.

The word is in from Readers’ Favorite for The Wolf Lords, Book Two in the The Fylking! I am grateful and humbled to have received five five-star reviews. Didn’t see that coming. Here’s some bling, with a link at the bottom where you can read the reviews in full.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“This second novel in The Fylking series exceeded all of my expectations for a fantasy novel. An alluring plot weaves intrigue that tempts you into the world of invisible warriors, magical spells and demons. The characters are so vivid and enchanting, they practically leap from the page. I especially loved the tortured, heartbroken character of Othin, who tries to overcome losing his true love. The author’s writing style is beautifully descriptive with so much detail that it draws you completely into the world of the characters. Her ability to build tension and develop character relationships is extraordinary. I could not help compare the storyline to Nordic folklore. This is a gem of a novel.” – Lesley Jones

“The Wolf Lords is definitely a novel for adults. Its dark themes and strains of graphic violence give it an edge. I was easily invested in the story right from the beginning. The vivid imagery and the realistic descriptions just lured me right in and had me reading on until the very end. The story itself is very complex and has layers upon layers of plot that I loved to uncover. The character development was simply amazing. The Fenrir Brotherhood was an enigma that I was very interested in and I also loved the mystery behind the witch who just didn’t want to be found. I loved the flow, enjoyed the setting, and simply cannot wait for the next novel in the series. Very entertaining.” – Rabia Tanveer

“This epic fantasy is a series that had the same effect The Lord of the Rings had on me. The narrative is focused and the author imagines worlds where conflict thrives easily and creates powerful factions with conflicting interests and characters that are sophisticated. The Wolf Lords explores the role played by The Fenrir Brotherhood, an ancient order of sorcerers with dreadful secrets, in a phenomenal conflict. The action is intense and pulsating and the scenes are so beautifully written that they leave vivid images in the minds of readers. F.T. McKinstry establishes a unique, strong signature in the genre of epic fantasy with a series that will set readers on an exciting adventure.” – Christian Sia

“Written for adults due to its dark nature and graphic violence, this is also a highly political and complex tale… The depth of the reading experience is very worthwhile as author F. T. McKinstry puts a lot into the worldbuilding, lore, and history of this setting, giving traditional fantasy fans a lot to sink their teeth into. Different factions have their own ideas about how the world, and the other worlds beyond it, should be run or destroyed, and it’s this mixture of powerful forces which gives the story its excitement. Overall, The Wolf Lords is a superbly told immersive fantasy novel sure to please hardcore fans the world over.” – K.C. Finn

“This is a story that explores the allure of power and the ills that come with it. Conflict is developed at multiple levels and it is interesting how the author builds segments of power and creates powerful groups to oppose each other. The language is unique and the people inhabiting the worlds the author creates have a unique way of naming things. While the characters are drawn from different worlds, the author imbues them with a realism that makes them not so very different from mortals. A sophisticated plot with compelling characters and gorgeous prose. The Wolf Lords follows the tale of an ancient order poised to redeem a world quickly falling apart. It is intense and deeply moving.” – Romuald Dzemo

Check out the full reviews on the Readers’ Favorite Review Page.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Wolf Lords Cover ArtThe Destroyer of the Math Gate has not been idle in the sun’s turn since he nearly defeated the Fylking, his ancient enemies. Wounded, bitter and bent on reprisal, the immortal warlock has gathered an army. He has acquired a spell that will damage the veil between the worlds. And he is waiting.

The Fenrir Brotherhood is an ancient order of sorcerers who serve the Wolf Gods of the North. Haunted by a dark history, the brotherhood keeps to itself—or so it is generally believed. But the older something is, the more secrets it keeps, and the Wolf Lords have not only unleashed an army of demons across the land, but also let the Destroyer in.

When the Veil falls, war erupts and the realm is faced with legions of Otherworld beings, it is left to a sorcerer hunted by the Wolf Lords and a company of King’s Rangers broken by grief and trauma to find a hedge witch whose secrets could change everything.

Unfortunately, she is hiding between the worlds.

Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.
Amazon

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

Outpost Cover ArtOutpost, Book One in The Fylking.

A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
Until now.

“The tone is excellent, reminiscent of some of the earliest examples of grim Norse fantasy.” – G.R. Matthews, Fantasy Faction
Finalist, SPFBO 2016

Read for free with Kindle Unlimited.

© F.T. McKinstry 2019. All Rights Reserved.

The Hunter’s Rede on Readers’ Favorite

Only wizards and hunters know the true meaning of darkness.
A hunter of men with a knowledge of magic, Lorth of Ostarin knows.
Though he does not yet know himself.
…His enemies are about to.

It’s a good day for Lorth of Ostarin, the wily assassin and protagonist of The Hunter’s Rede, Book One in the Chronicles of Ealiron. He picked up three five-star reviews on Readers’ Favorite! Here are some shady snippets:

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“This is a story with a surprising twist, cleverly plotted and filled with action. I loved the protagonist, a man who seems content with his solitude, a man who carries darkness in his soul, but falling in love with a priestess brings out the human aspect of his personality. F.T. McKinstry is a great storyteller with the skill to grab and keep the attention of the reader. While the plot is gripping with surprises stacked along the way, it was the skillful handling of character that caught my full attention. I am always looking for characters that are intriguing and that constantly reveal new dimensions and this author gave me one in Lorth. The novel has a beautiful setting; a world that is magical where the very nature of coexistence breeds conflict. You won’t notice the passage of time as you read this gripping fantasy.” – Ruffina Oserio

“Fans of traditional fantasy and modern gritty action novels will find a superb balance of the two in the work of author F. T. McKinstry. The intensity of emotions from our anti-heroic central figure was really poignant and strong… This makes for a unique reading experience that really brings you close to Lorth despite his many flaws, engaging you on every page and spinning a fascinating plot that winds and weaves to a satisfying conclusion. Overall, The Hunter’s Rede is a grisly, action-packed extravaganza of fantasy, war, and magic not to be missed, and a superb start to an exciting new series.” – K.C. Finn

“The Hunter’s Rede is a tale of magic and fantasy that explores the darkness in the soul of the protagonist. The writing is terrific and I loved how the author paints images of the characters against the backdrop of the settings. The setting is vividly painted in the reader’s mind and it is easy to follow the characters through time and space. The narrative begins in the midst of action and the action hardly slows down. The protagonist is a sophisticated character, inhabited by darkness, and moved by the strong desire for revenge. While he comes across as a ruthless man, he has humanity, a heart capable of love. He also gets broken. It is interesting to see what becomes of him when cornered. F.T. McKinstry was able to grab my attention right from the opening line and kept me reading until the explosive denouement.” – Romuald Dzemo

You can check out the full reviews on the Readers’ Favorite Review Page.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Hunter's Rede, Cover ArtLorth of Ostarin is an assassin trained by a wizard unknown to his kind. He is paid very well to employ both the primeval darkness of a hunter and the ordered light of a mage, an uneasy combination he does not question until he returns home after a long assignment and trips into a turbid river of war, politics and the violation of all he holds dear. Lawless and adept, he picks no sides and takes no prisoners. When his wolfish ways get him imprisoned for crimes he did not commit, he discovers the deeper source of his ability and falls in love with a priestess who frees him to his fate. But the rift in his heart widens under the forces of love, loyalty and the occupation of his realm by a warlord who honors neither hunters nor wizards. To reclaim his homeland, Lorth must bow his head to death itself, a sacrifice that will transform him into the most powerful hunter the land has ever known.

Amazon

© F.T. McKinstry 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Creativity and the Fallen Warrior

For three days I’ve been sitting her under a pile of chores and things that need doing. I’m not doing them. I don’t care.

I’ve lost someone I loved to cancer just recently. My cat is sick. I’m sick. In the news, another fifty people were senselessly killed in New Zealand by some fanatic. Another creature sliding onto the endangered species list. Wildfires. Glaciers collapsing. The usual array of messed up, cruel and childish bullshit in Congress. Trump and his stupid fucking border wall. Politicians ranting about every injustice to get us all stirred up for the 2020 elections. Authors and artists begging for clicks. I drift through my Facebook and Twitter feeds, taking the blows.

The only things I respond to now with any glimmer of life are humor, animals, and beautiful things. An otter crunching on a crab. A homeless man giving his last bit of food to a stray dog. A friend’s garden. Esther the Wonder Pig. A funny meme. Anything involving cats. A cool upcoming film about a monster hunter. But every time I laugh or squee, I feel like an asshole. Where are my tears and indignation?

A friend on Facebook recently posted a funding campaign for cancer. It’s not that I don’t care; how could I not? But my mind shut down and I didn’t touch it. And when he posted a picture of his cat I hit the love button. Why? Because the need for support felt like a black hole, while the cat let a ray of light into my heart. Maybe I really am an asshole.

Truth is, I’m numb.

I see plea after plea. We’re all suffering, we all have issues. We must band together to protect and stand for each other, for the environment, for truth and justice. Yes, we must. But when I try to rise and lift my sword, I crumple under the weight. I’m so tired of grief, pain and outrage. It’s incessant. There are only so many times my heart can get hit before it closes down to protect itself. My inner warrior is sitting under a tree, shit drunk, glassy eyed, darkening the earth with the blood of a thousand wounds. Where is all this resolve supposed to come from?

Numb.

Trouble is, I’m not an asshole. The reason I go out and surf the internet fifty times a day is to find things that remind me that my heart is still open. That it can be. That it’s worth keeping that way.

It’s been months since I’ve written or painted anything of note. I need to heal and I feel like a stagnant pool in an old forest, oily and choked with slime, abandoned by frogs, snakes and salamanders. I spend most nights reading fantasy novels and binging on Dark Shadows. But today I remembered something.

The Source

The Source, by F.T. McKinstry

Creativity. It’s one of those words we hear so often that the meaning is lost. To me it’s everything, the source of hope. Anything is possible. But the creative force is tricky. Firstly, the very senses that make me creative are those which expose me to the pain. Close one down and lose the other. Open my heart to the healing waters and I’ll get annihilated. But then there’s this other thing. I can’t shut off the creative force for long; it finds me. It’s very clever. Pain and trauma aren’t the end-all be-all, oh no. They’re like an engine, driving me. All the books and stories I’ve written, the paintings, drawings and poetry. Warriors, seers, sorcerers, old forests, animals, the in-between realms. My realms. Metaphors, visions, psychological archetypes.

Healing. The world would have us believe it isn’t possible. That there is only dissolution, deterioration. How can that be true when we are all creators? Just look around. There are no limits to this. It’s infinite. Divine, even.

I mean c’mon. The cat memes alone…

© F.T. McKinstry 2019. All Rights Reserved.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

My demons are clever…because I help them.

I can turn anything into a story. I wander around here muttering to myself, spinning past, present and future events into stories like an old spider in a web. I make them beautiful, awe inspiring, and terrible. Some of it wanders into books I’m brooding on. Some of it I torment myself with. And some is just debris rushing down a swollen tidal bore. It’s creative, and it’s therapy. Stories reveal the essence of a thing, frame it in such a way or that, and help us to cope or understand.

I love my therapist. She has wild, white curly hair, an ornery laugh, and a dark side worthy of a crone in a fairy tale. Whenever I present one of my well-crafted descriptions of some personal demon or other, she grins and says, “That’s quite a story you’ve got there.” And we laugh, because I’ve given my demons an identity, a kingdom, power of attorney, and then carved my story in stone like a gargoyle on a cathedral roof. I’d be better off going in there with a finger up my nose. Because as any writer will tell you, no story is cast in stone.

So what’s real? If neuroscientists and quantum physicists would have their say, it’s not what you think. My therapist recently told me that when we experience something, the details of that experience begin to shift and fade in our memory after 20 minutes. Then our imaginations step in to fill in the gaps. Think about that. Twenty minutes. Now slap on a decade or three. What’s real now? Not that old memory, I don’t think. But the emotion around it convinces us that the story is real. Well. Yes and no.

Painting illustrates this nicely. Years ago, I was out in the woods and saw a trout lily blooming near the path. A beautiful thing. So I took a picture for something to paint. When I started the painting, I didn’t bother with the photo, I just went with how the experience felt. The result has nothing to do with that photo; it contains infinite impressions from somewhere else. The same is true of my memory of totaling my truck on a creepy wooded road in upstate NY, drunk and stoned out of my fucking mind. Or that argument I had with my mother about her meatloaf recipe. Just stories. I’ve long since lost the photos.

Trout Lily, by F.T. McKinstry

Trout Lily, by F.T. McKinstry

We live in an infinite sea of stories, alive and breathing, independent of time and space. It’s an open system, always in motion, always seeking balance. I read fantasy novels as a kid that changed the trajectory of my life and saved me from becoming a teenage suicide statistic. Were those stories “real?” Depends on who you ask. To me, they were. Not only that, those stories mean something different to every person who reads them — and they are just as real.

Middle Earth

Map of Middle Earth by J.R.R. Tolkien

Point is, if you can write a story, you can change it. And if you listen, the story will often rewrite itself…and then healing happens. I’ll end with one of those.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Rosemary Plant

Once upon a time, in the spring, when my heart yearns to grow things, I spotted a pack of rosemary seeds in a nursery. Lovely. I brought the seeds home and planted them.

Rosemary BloomsWell, for some reason, the rosemary seeds did not start easily; it took time and effort to get them to sprout. But they did, and one of them got strong and began to grow. It’s cold here, and my gardens are no place for a rosemary plant, so I brought it inside for the winter and put it in a sunny window. In late spring, I took my new baby back outside to bask in the warm, fresh air for the summer.

So it was for many years, and the rosemary got big, with long gnarled limbs and bark like a tree. It bloomed a few times. In summer, it lived on the back porch where it was greeted each morning by the rising sun. In winter, it took up the whole bottom half of the window. It had a soul, my rosemary plant, like sun, wind, river stones and healing mysteries. When I talked to it, it talked back. Sitting outside in the morning, we discussed all kinds of things. Beautiful things.

Last summer’s end, when the shadows grew long and the wind whispered of darker things, my rosemary plant grew silent. Puzzled, I brought it inside as usual, and placed it in the window. But something was wrong. As fall descended in the mountains, my rosemary fell too.

There was no discernible reason for this, as far as I knew. But I knew nothing, and never had that been so evident. I fretted, puttered, and despaired as the rosemary leaves, once grayish green, thick and fragrant, began to shrivel and turn brown. I combed the internet for everything I could learn from those who did know, and when that didn’t help, I prayed to the Soul of Rosemary flourishing in the halls of the Great Earth Mother. A comforting image with no shadow, that. It was like trying to stop the setting sun. Nothing had changed, and yet everything changed, until at last, without a word, my friend left me.

Baby RosemaryI did remember that life is infinite and her cycles never-ending, though grief doesn’t tend to care about such platitudes. Even so, I had managed to get some cuttings, which I put into water to root. In time — a long time — some of them did. Heartened, I let the pale, tender roots get strong, and then I planted the sprouts in a pot and gave them a sunny place by my desk where I can look after them. The plant still feels fragile, with strong places and weak ones, as if it’s not yet certain it wants to be here.

I know the feeling. But as rosemary taught me, some things must stay in the dark for a long time before they’re ready to come into the light.

© F.T. McKinstry 2019. All Rights Reserved.