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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Halfway through the Dark

Take heart – we’re halfway through the dark.

No matter how bleak it seems, we’re halfway through the dark.

We are a nation divided, yet we are still a nation. We have been shaken to our Constitutional core, but we still have a Constitution. I won’t assume that you and I see the same causes or agree on every detail of what the solutions are, but I trust we have similar goals and values and that we can find a creative way through this.

Every day of 2020 gave us opportunities to refrain from leaping to premature conclusions and rushing to unthinking condemnations. Our job as writers and artists is to open our eyes and our hearts, take note, observe human behavior and ask genuine, open-ended questions.

How quickly we report what we discover depends in large part on our genre – journalists share far more frequently than novelists, a sketch can be revealed sooner than a portrait.  How quickly we respond should NOT depend on our discomfort with uncertainty.

The writer’s/artist’s job is to be willing to be uncomfortable in the pursuit of truth, beauty and understanding, and to remain uncertain long enough to find truly creative (that is, novel and useful) connections. And boy howdy, 2020 delivered uncertainty!

Just as seeds sprout in the darkness underground, creative insight requires a time of not knowing and wandering lost in the dark. You can’t become enlightened if you haven’t traveled through darkness.

You can’t write the full depth of what you are called to write if you and your characters/themes don’t face the darkness in the world and within yourself/themselves.

Celebrate the Paradox of Light and Dark

Take heart, for today is the winter solstice and we are literally halfway through the dark. I believe we are metaphorically halfway through the dark, too. It takes courage to not let myself become discouraged. I take comfort and celebrate the symbolism in the paradox of the solstice – the literal halfway point.

Today is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. Today is the darkest day of the year, yet we are halfway through and turning toward the light.

In fiction, we call it the “all is lost moment.”

In the Jewish tradition, Hanukkah falls around this time of year, reminding us that when we think we have nothing left, no more fuel to burn, something miraculous can happen.

In the Christian tradition, Christmas is celebrated within days of the solstice to remind us of the paradox that the “King of Kings” is not a man at the height of his physical and social power found in a palace surrounded by the trappings of power and wealth, but a helpless baby found in the humblest, poorest shack for animals and laying in a food trough.

Spring Is Born in Winter

Winter starts today (for those of us in the northern hemisphere). Frigid winds will blow down from the arctic. The temps will drop. We’ll get snow and ice and more gloomy days than we wish.

BUT, from this day forward, every day will be a little longer. The sun will rise a few minutes earlier and set a few minutes later each day.

The solstice marks a turning point. The changes brought by a few minutes a day might be masked by winter’s gloomy weather, but they are happening. Just those few minutes more sunlight each day will transform winter to spring.

A few minutes more each day could transform your writing, too.

Today, on the Solstice, everything turns around. Today, on the Solstice, consider what you want to turn around in your writing life… your family… your community… your world.

Today is Solstice, so I share a Solstice Story that brings me hope. This Cherokee Creation story tells us it is not the mighty warriors who have the power to bring the light, but a small, insignificant grandmother.

Grandmother Spider Brings the Light

In the long ago when the world was new, all the animal people lived in darkness.

One day Fox had a dream of a Lake of Light far to the east. The Light was so beautiful, Fox said he would try to bring it to the People. Fox ran in the darkness as fast as he could. When he came to the Lake of Light at last, it was even more beautiful than he dreamed.

Fox jumped into the lake to grab a mouthful of Light to carry home, but the Light was hot! It burned Fox’s muzzle and feet black and turned the rest of his fur bright red, except the very tip of his tail, which stayed white. Fox still carries those colors in honor of trying to carry the Light.

Fox limped home, wounded and burned. But he had seen the Light and told everyone how glorious it was. Fox inspired Buzzard who offered to bring the Light and flew as fast as he could to the East.

When Buzzard saw the Lake of Light, he tried to carry a ball of Light home in his fine top feathers. But the Light was so hot, it burned all the feathers off of Buzzard’s head, and he’s bald to this very day.

One by one, all the animal warriors bravely journeyed through the dark to the east. And one by one, they all came home wounded and still in the dark.

“Maybe what we should learn from this is that we are not meant to have the Light,” one warrior said. “Maybe we are meant to live in darkness and be content.”

“Maybe,” a quavering voice replied, “what we should learn from this is that it is not the task of a warrior to bring the Light.”

The voice belonged to Grandmother Spider. “I am old and cannot run fast like the young warriors,” she said. “But send me and I will go.”

Before she left, Grandmother Spider went to the river and gathered clay with her long fingers. As she sang a clay-shaping song, Grandmother Spider made a small pot. Holding her pot in front of her, Grandmother Spider walked slowly in the dark to the east.

Because she walked so slowly, Grandmother Spider’s little pot was dry when she reached the Lake of Light. Maybe you know that if you put a clay thing in the fire too soon, it will shatter. But if you let the clay dry completely, it will not break but will become stronger when you put it in the fire.

Grandmother Spider dipped her pot into the lake. She held it up and it glowed with the Light within.

“Ah, you are beautiful,” Grandmother Spider said. She returned home carrying her little pot of Light.

Then she took a bit ball of Light and put it high in the sky for everyone to see. This she called the sun. She put a smaller ball of Light in the sky and called it the moon. Finally, she shook out the last drops of Light across the sky, and these she called the stars.

Grandmother Spider taught the sun, moon and stars to move in right rhythm so there would be day and night, light and dark.

“Because,” she said, “we need them both. It is in the darkness that we are prepared to carry the Light.”

How have you been prepared? What darkness are you walking through? What light do you carry?

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8 Comments on “Halfway through the Dark”

  1. Rose I. December 21, 2017 at 9:09 pm #

    Wonderful and encouraging post. We live with paradoxes all the time. Christmas is especially a paradox but I don’t think many people are comfortable with paradoxes. The beginning of longer days is indeed encouraging. “My soul may set in darkness but it will rise in perfect light. I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”


    • rosannebane January 3, 2018 at 3:04 pm #

      Thanks Rose for your comment and that wonderful quote (from Sarah Williams poem “The Old Astronomer to His Pupil” in her book Twilight Hours – if anyone else wants to find it.) That line “I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night” reverberates in my brain.


  2. Sharon December 21, 2017 at 10:24 am #

    I love the Grandmother Spider story. Thanks, Rosanne, for your timely and inspiring post!


    • rosannebane January 3, 2018 at 3:05 pm #

      You’re welcome, Sharon. Thanks for your appreciation.


  3. Bridgit Colleran Albrecht December 21, 2017 at 8:50 am #

    Thank you for this wonderful reminder that the humble heart keeps working through the darkness. Happy Solstice, Everyone!


    • rosannebane January 3, 2018 at 3:05 pm #

      You’re welcome, Bridgit. Thanks for your comment.


  4. Jeff C. December 21, 2017 at 8:12 am #

    Wonderful post! I feel better for reading it, thanks!


    • rosannebane January 3, 2018 at 3:06 pm #

      You’re welcome, Jeff. And thanks for letting me know it had a positive effect on you.


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