Between the Worlds: Illness and the Forces of Wyrd

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” ― Carl Jung

The Old English term wyrd is a feminine noun that generally means “fate.” In Germanic mythology, it is associated with one of the Norns, the weavers of fate, an arbitrary and implacable force to which all things, even the gods, are subject. In the classical sense, fate and destiny are somewhat dreary concepts. You can resign yourself and make the best of it, but the path is cast.

However, when contemplated from say, the point of view of seiðr, an Old Norse magical practice related to telling and shaping the future; or the quantum theory that everything is energy and all is connected, wyrd gets a bit more complex. From these perspectives, wyrd is an infinite, living web that exists in the present moment, where one choice can send a ripple that will touch the whole. Because we are mostly focused on the physical outcomes of these choices, it can be difficult to see the source, and easy to perceive the outcome as fated events over which we have no control.

Wyrd bið ful aræd. Fate is wholly inexorable. Or is it? When the sovereign power of choice is brought into the equation, wyrd becomes less of a spider web that hopelessly entangles us, and more of a loom on which a story is woven. A seiðr witch might change a fucked situation by peering into the web to discern the choices that created it, then plucking out the threads to allow new choices. Even when we’re affected by a choice someone else made, no matter how seemingly permanent the result, we can still make our own choices. The only thing that’s inexorable is the ripple on the web.

I’ve been sick for a long time. One of those arcane autoimmune conditions with unsatisfactory explanations, lots of theories and no cure. Life ruined from one day to the next kind of thing. The details don’t matter; these scenarios happen to people every day, and each instance is profoundly personal and subjective no matter what label gets superglued onto it.

One thing common with illness, however, is the experience of fate in all its classical glory, complete with cruel, capricious deities wielding bone needles as they cast their empty gazes over the fallen. Resisting fate is a hallmark of humanity. You’ll do anything to evade it. Fate will send you and your sword down, down to the roots of Yggdrasil for answers and there, you will drop to your knees and weep as you surrender to your own reflection in the pool.

The seiðr witch doesn’t work for free, in other words. You have to leave something behind.

And this brings me to the reason I’m talking about this on my author blog. Something happened to me by that pool, in the still point between the worlds, the spaces between the silvery strands of the web.

Stories. I had been writing for quite some time, wrestling the demons of depression — but not like this. Over the years that followed, I wrote seven novels, culminating with a series involving knitters, witches, warriors, seers, and a realm at war with the Otherworld. I wasn’t thinking about sickness, fate or my unconscious when I wrote those tales, but my heart was, and as I spun up worlds, a path appeared. I didn’t see it until years later. But it was there, an opening on the edge of an old dark forest, mysterious, kind of scary the way it snaked into the dappled shadows — but enchanting too, a portal tucked into the cold, materialistic battlefield of a modern-day illness.

Now I’m the one plucking threads. I’m making new choices. I’m spinning my own story one step at a time. I have no earthly idea where the forest path will lead…but I’m not evading it anymore.

© F.T. McKinstry 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Woodland Snippets

The saying “Can’t see the forest for the trees” is a lovely way of describing how we can get so caught up in the details that we miss the big picture. The opposite can also happen, of course, where our focus is so wide, we miss the details. The ability to shift perspective like this is handy generally, but to my mind, particularly so in writing and art. One needs to be able to stand back and get in close, often at the same time.

Now and then, I’ll notice a detail in one of my paintings that’s interesting on its own. This could be a patch of brush, a leafy branch, a sapling, some flowers, a wolf, a ferny hollow. It might be featured in the work, but more often, it’s not — and that’s what makes it interesting.

So I had this idea of fishing out some of these details, tinkering with colors and moods, and creating new images. Here are some samples; click to see a slideshow. You can also check these and other images out on Fine Art America, where you can buy them on cards, prints, and cool stuff like puzzles and yoga mats, among other things.

© F.T. McKinstry 2021. All Rights Reserved.

The Hunter’s Rede on Self-Publishing Review

The Hunter’s Rede, Book One in The Chronicles of Ealiron, where the Otherworld is alive, nature is sovereign and balance is kept by the sword. The books in this series are driven by an assassin named Lorth of Ostarin, a complex character with a bent toward bringing things to their darkest ends. These books stand alone as individual stories that happen in the same world with Lorth and some of the other characters appearing throughout. Each book includes a map and a glossary.

Below is an editorial review of The Hunter’s Rede from Self-Publishing Review. See it on SPR here.

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

“A lethal warrior without banner or cause rises to heights of heroism he never sought in The Hunter’s Rede by F.T. McKinstry, a dark and thoroughly fun new fantasy saga.

Tapping into the best elements of high-genre writing, with cryptic wizards, dark powers, and jaw-dropping plot twists, this character-driven knockout is a thrilling pleasure to read. The sprawling new realm of Ealiron is ripe for storytelling, and newly hooked fans will be pleased to know this is only the first in a four-part series.

Lorth is one of the most compelling new fantasy characters in recent memory, summoning shades of Drizzt Do’Urden, Aragorn, and other legendary loners from fantasy lit. Not only is he the most feared and well-paid assassin in the realm, having served the Wizards of Tarth for years, but he is a self-taught practitioner himself, which makes him doubly dangerous, and intriguing.

However, when he falls out of favor with those who have newly seized power, and kills one too many of the wrong people, the enemies begin to close in on him from every side, and fall to his blade. An unparalleled hunter being on the other side of the chase makes for exciting reading, as do the visceral battle sequences and graphic details from this author’s slicing pen. However, this novel is not all sword-swinging and sorcery – there is expert plot-crafting at work as well, not to mention multilevel world-building, original rules for magic, and a compellingly dark streak of philosophy.

The exposition is doled out like delectable crumbs, leading readers gradually deeper into this world, but still ensnaring them fully within the first few chapters. A lyrical meditation on darkness within the human soul, peppered with gripping action scenes that feel cinematic in their effortless intensity, this is a must-read work of fantasy, puppeteered by an author with an ear for authentic dialogue and vivid descriptions. The caliber of the writing deserves additional praise, as the dark mood is rarely broken, and every line of prose feels heavy with intention. “As he waited for Death’s exhale,” or “throbbed with prickling fire, like a glowing coal” are just a glimpse of the subtly brilliant lines that tie this novel together.

There is plenty of “journey narration” in an epic adventure like this, but the frequent twists of language and artful descriptions keep even the longest stretches of travel engaging. There are very few weak points in the writing that stand out – self-referential questions, overuse of internal monologue, and occasional lapses in point of view – and there are some overly familiar tropes and bland narration that could use another editing pass, but these issues are few and far between, and pale in comparison to the sincere pleasure of the reading experience. McKinstry has a masterful pen, one born for this niche of darkly epic storytelling.

All in all, this is a stellar first installment of the Chronicles of Ealiron series, with massive potential to be a heavy-hitting standout in the genre.”

Little Tree, by F.T. McKinstry

The Hunter’s Rede, Book One in The Chronicles of Ealiron.Only wizards and hunters know the true meaning of darkness. Lorth of Ostarin, a highly paid assassin with the rough skills of a wizard and a penchant for bringing things to their darkest ends, is about to discover there are worse things in the dark than him.

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© F.T. McKinstry 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Monsters, Art and the Voice of God

“In order to be created, a work of art must first make use of the dark forces of the soul.” – Albert Camus

I like dark things. When it comes to art, whether it’s literary, visual, musical or cinematic, I like it complex, subtle, not easily categorized and reeking of the shadow realms. It needs to affect me, to change me somehow. The most interesting thing about art is that the mystery exists in every form and genre, to whatever extent, like a ghostly silver thread that will lead you across the veil, should you be so inclined.

Dark Shadows (1966-1971). Vintage gothic horror at its finest…

This is not to say everything has to be high-end sophisticated. Far from it. I’ll trawl over that flashy, highly acclaimed drama film for a monster splatter flick every time, like a cat ignoring an expensive toy to play with a crumpled-up candy wrapper. I know monsters. They are the ultimate metaphor for the dank recesses of the psyche, where I like to play.

Consciousness loves contrast, as my beloved old psychologist used to say. If you face down the deepest, darkest abyss of your soul, you’ll break through to the other side. To the light. And vice versa: fly into the sun and you’ll plunge, flaming, into the chthonic depths. And again, and again. After years on this circus ride, I thought I was crazy. Surely, there were psychiatric terms for this, arbitrary labels to categorize the forces of existence, none of them nice. Here, take this pill to filter down that high amplitude, high frequency sine wave so you can be normal.

Yeah, fuck that. I don’t wanna be normal. But this was existential and so intense that I eventually fled to my aforementioned psychologist nonetheless, and it was she who posited the idea that these energies are inherently creative. Once I put that together, I became a maelstrom. I wrote books, painted, gardened, made music—all the things I’d always loved but never connected to the turbulence.

So the other night, I sat down to watch something. On a whim, I clicked on this movie I’d seen float by a zillion times: A Monster Calls. Cute little boy, coming of age, dying mother, invisible friend, etc. Typically, unless it’s a fairy tale or particularly well-done epic fantasy, my favorite stories about kids involve camping trips in remote places where a werewolf or an alien picks them off one by one. Not that I’m a curmudgeonly wicked witch or anything—well ok, I am but whatever—this is more about the power of metaphor. To make art, an innocent part of us must die.

Enter the implacable forces of the unconscious. I watched this movie as if my life depended on it. It went into my cleverly organized perception of who I am and demolished it like a wrecking ball. It hit every little thing. Rotten Tomatoes called this movie “trite and overly melodramatic.” There might have been a day when I thought that (doubtful). But not this day. When it was over, I fell apart like an old cicada shell, sobbing my guts out as I realized I had a choice to make around something I’d been hiding from for years.

A monster, if you will.

Ergo, art is necessary to existence—and ultimately subjective. Where one person sees dreck, another hears the voice of god.

© F.T. McKinstry 2021. All Rights Reserved.

A Small Yet Complex Universe

The Kingdom. Enter at your peril.

Next to books and cats, keeping fishes is one of my greatest passions. When it comes to my aquarium, however, I am careful not to let my geeky, insufferable excitement trip into claiming I’m anything remotely resembling an expert. This is one of those The more I know, the less I know things.

An aquarium is an ecosystem, a small yet complex universe where everything is connected and working together to sustain and create life. I’ve learned more respect for the natural world by keeping aquariums than I have any other thing. Nature is mind-blowingly smart. She makes beautiful things look easy. In an aquarium, where every parameter (and there are lots of these) is up to the keeper, the slightest deviation can throw things out of balance, often to unfortunate results. It’s magical in that you’re amazed when things work, terrified when they don’t, and in either case you probably have no idea why.

My freshwater aquarium is full of live plants and as many critters as I can give homes to without causing Mother Nature to frown disapprovingly. And here comes the geeky part: you’re getting a tour, oh yes. Do stay on the path, lest something eat you like a shrimp flake.

Haunted Castle. I’ve had this castle for quite some time. It used to be dark with red roofs. Now it’s weathered, and looks especially creepy covered in black algae. Yeah don’t get me started on black algae. (Nature: 1; Faith: 0) Thankfully, my lovely snails eat the stuff (Nature: 1; Faith: 1), leaving the castle ghostly and abandoned but for the kuhlii loaches, who have special powers and aren’t afraid of ghosts. They like to prowl around in there and wriggle out the windows.

Enchanted Mountain. The natives will warn you about this place (see, there’s one up top, and you’d best heed him). Even the black algae avoids the mountain. (Nature: 1; Faith: 2) Lurking beneath a lush canopy of Cryptocoryne wendtii, the rock face rises toward the stars, whispering just below the threshold of hearing. The aliens hear it. The cave witch too, probably.

The Enchanted Mountain

Old Forest. Here is a tangled thicket you wouldn’t want to get lost in. The water wisteria (Hygrophila difformis) is hungry, crazy stuff, sending out roots everywhere which grow into more trees. The java fern (Leptochilus pteropus) in the corner grows on a weirdly shaped piece of driftwood that forms a cave network underneath. This is a popular place for wayward fishes to skulk or hook up. Maybe both. I’m not judging. What happens in the Old Forest stays in the Old Forest.

The Old Forest

Witch Cave. Deep within the Old Forest, this is the most dangerous place of all. The witch who lives here knows all your demons, and if you’re mad enough to go see her, she’ll summon them. Those plants guarding the opening will close around you. They have teeth and eyes, you know. Fishes have been known to go into the cave and never come out. True story. (Nature: 2; Faith: 2)

Ferocious Dragon. Well, he’s not actually that ferocious, lurking there next to the Witch Cave. His name is Desmond, and he’s friends with the witch. The algae eaters keep him looking spiffy, and the toothy plants tell him stories. The snails like him, too. Desmond is an all around good guy, really. For a dragon.

 

From left to right: Bristlenose, Nerite Snail, Kuhlii

Bristlenose Catfish (Ancistrus cirrhosus). This is a beautiful, industrious little fish with a big ventral suckermouth and these gnarly, fleshly tentacles on its snout. It looks prehistoric, and probably is. It’s cool to catch the beastie on the glass, where you can see the inner workings of its mouth. If you’re into such things.

Nerite Snails (Neritina natalensis). These interesting creatures move very slowly, when they move at all (they actually sleep), creeping along over everything and keeping it clean. They have powers of teleportation. No kidding, you can be watching one snailing over the glass in the corner, look away for two minutes and swoop! that sucker is clear on the other side of the tank and you’ve no idea how it got there. Sneaky.

Kuhlii Loach (Pangio kuhlii). How I love these critters. The kuhlii looks like a little eel with gills, fins and tiny, beady eyes. They are shy, peaceful creatures, and have no scales as such, making them sensitive to changes in the aforementioned water parameters (Nature: 3; Faith: 2), but this gives them their special powers. They are bottom feeders, and slither around beneath the plants and driftwood, and in the caves. They are also known to hang out in the Witch Cave, where they snack on demons.

The rest of the fishes, I love dearly of course, but I won’t wear out my welcome like an introvert at a party who gets started talking about books or scifi horror movies or something. So I’ll swim away for now. May you all stay well, and don’t overfeed the fish (Nature: 5678042; Faith: 2).

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

Forests and the Art of Metaphor

Forest at Twilight, Gustave Doré

And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul. ― John Muir

I recently saw an image of a tangled forest and thought, “Wow, that feels like the inside of my head.” Then I started to think about that.

The forest is a rich and venerable metaphor for the unconscious, a wild realm where the sun and moon cast shadows indiscernible from the shapes to which they belong; where sound travels strangely and without reference; where creatures can be of this world or the other. Storytellers figured this out a very long time ago, and psychology took it from there, recognizing the nature of forests in the human psyche, complete with predators, hungry roots and vines, mist, vanishing paths, will ‘o the wisps, terror and awe.

Silvery Trees by F.T. McKinstry

The fantasy genre, one step away from fairy tales, if that, is the singular province of the dense, hoary wood. Having written fantasy in one form or another for the better part of my life (and I’m not young), I don’t think I’ve ever written a story without a forest in it somewhere, filled with whispers, prowling things, assassins, spies, fugitives, hidden temples, witches, immortal predators, goblins, phooka, draugr and the like. The forest symbolizes the infinite and inscrutable realm of the unknown, assuming one is brave — or daft — enough to venture in. Of course, there’s always a price to pay for such heroics. But who listens? Fairy tale protagonists are notoriously foolish — as are we all, innocent one moment and facing the monstrous forces of the soul the next.

The rule of thumb is, one finds in the wood what one brings there.

Just the wind…

Psychologically speaking, everyone knows the spooky forest. You can’t be human and not know this. When your life falls apart, when trauma or grief plows into you and shatters your general sense of who, where, or what you are, when you lose your bearings in the unsettling twilight of change, it’s like being lost in an old dark forest, the domain of shadows, tricksters and things that don’t have your best interests in mind. Unnerving enough by day but unthinkable at night, the forest will convince you that there’s no way out. It is a living, breathing being in which you are a tiny thing.

The spooky forest metaphor happens at the collective level, too. Let’s take 2020. For whatever reason — and there’s a fucking Halloween bag full of theories about that — this year was a perfect storm of unfortunate events all tangled up together for the seeming purpose of bringing out the worst in humanity — and I mean all of it, whatever side you’re on. It feels like a bleak, old haunted forest where everyone is lost, confused, and thoroughly pissed off, darting and stumbling around screaming and pumping rounds into anything that moves. Like all fairy tale forests, this one has no gate, no path, only shadows and mirrors. And the only way out is to face down both within ourselves. Put another way:

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is in you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. – Gospel of Thomas

The Fairy Pool, ca. 1850 by Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Peña

It’s not all gloom and doom, of course. If you’re clever, curious, brave and respectful (rude fairy tale protagonists always get their comeuppance), you might befriend an owl or a fox who knows all paths, or be helped by an old witch who decides the trolls don’t need a snack today, or you might step into a golden ray of sun that finds its way through the canopy to give you hope.

Whatever you do, don’t go waving around an axe or a torch. Because, you know, Fangorn.

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

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.

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.

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.

Chronicles of Ealiron Omnibus

Omnibus Cover

An ancient hierarchy of wizards. Votaries of the old powers. Warlords, fiends and shadows. Introducing the Omnibus Edition of the Chronicles of Ealiron, where the otherworld is alive, nature is sovereign and balance is kept by the sword.

These tales are driven by an assassin named Lorth of Ostarin, a complex character with a bent towards bringing things to their darkest ends. Following his redoubtable exploits, each book stands alone, happening in the same world with Lorth and some of the other characters appearing throughout.

The Omnibus Edition includes Books 1-4, maps and glossaries.

“The main character Lorth is a masterpiece.” – Customer review, Amazon

1060 pages
Maps of Ealiron

Read for free on Kindle Unlimited.

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Book One: The Hunter’s Rede. A swords-and-sorcery tale of one warrior’s transformation by the forces of war, wizardry, betrayal and love. In this tale, Lorth discovers his destiny when his homeland is occupied by a cruel warlord with no respect for the deeper powers of the world.

Book Two: The Gray Isles. Some fish stories should be taken seriously. Very seriously. In this story, Lorth sets off on a routine mission and is drawn into the cataclysmic fate of an Otherworld being that rules the sea.

Book Three: The Winged Hunter. An immortal hunter, a gardener, and some very naughty wizards. In this story Lorth must use his darker abilities to help two powerful wizards protect a maiden from a diabolical immortal predator bent on fulfilling a curse.

Book Four: The Riven God. His greatest challenge yet, Lorth falls afoul of a backwater monarchy stained by evil, a wayward princess, and a dark order of warlocks wreaking ruin. When the wizards declare war, the northern seas churn with unrest and a war god keeps his secrets.

The individual books in The Chronicles of Ealiron are available at these retailers:

Amazon (ebook and paperback)
Barnes & Noble
Apple Books
Kobo

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