Death and Halloween

A few days away till the best holiday of all… Halloween!

Spirits, witches, pumpkins, and candy (LOTS of candy)… what is there not to love?

For some, Oct 31st is a secular holiday dedicated to trick or treating, parties, and telling ghostly tales whilst sitting round the parlor.

For others, it is a spiritual time. A night to contact one’s departed, as well as marking the end of the harvest as the dark half of the year begins. A time of endings, and beginnings.

For all who celebrate All Hallows, it is the symbol of Death which is most prominent. Not the scary Death of Hollywood, but the mysterious comforter. For all are equal in Her embrace.

“-I’m not blessed, or merciful. I’m just me. I’ve got a job to do, and I do it. Listen: even as we’re talking, I’m there for old and young, innocent and guilty, those who die together and those who die alone. I’m in cars and boats and planes; in hospitals and forests and abbatoirs. For some folks death is a release, and for others death is an abomination, a terrible thing. But in the end, I’m there for all of them.”- Death from Gaiman’s, Sandman

Published in: on October 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm  Comments (23)  
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The Emily Dickinson Museum

During my vacation back in the good ol’ USA, on May 10th, as a one day late Mother’s Day gift, I treated my sister by having her drive me to the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts. 

Located at 280 Main Street, the museum includes tours of both Emily’s house (The Homestead)

and her brother, Austin’s house (The Evergreens).

My sister acted quite delighted to go even though the only thing she knew of Dickinson was that, “she was a hermit who wrote strange poetry.”  Of course,  this might also have been her way of apologising for her demonic cat attacking me the night before.  I kid not.  Warning: if that cat purrs at you it is not a sign that it is a loving, warm animal who wishes for you to pet it.  It is a sign that it is about to leap into the air cartoon-style and  claw at your face if you don’t jump out of its way in the nick of time.

But I digress.

Our tour group (led by a vey lovely and informative woman) began inside the Homestead.   Emily’s grandfather built the Federal style home circa 1813.

After being shown Emily’s portrait, we were told that Emily’s family and Emily, herself, hated it because it didn’t resemble her at all.  Evidently, the artist had dressed her in a style similar to that of her mother, so that the two portraits could appear almost twin-like. 

Instead of the studious pose this picture suggests, Emily preferred wearing her hair loose and free.

Later in life, Emily preferred wearing all-white.  It is unknown whether this was due to spiritual convictions or if she had been influenced by one of her favorite novels, The Woman in White.   In the upstairs hallway, her white daydress is showcased behind glass.  Unfortunately, no pictures are allowed inside the museum.   The simple, elegant dress indicates that she stood about 5’4 or under, and was extremely slender.

Inside Emily’s bedroom is a 17 inch writing desk at which Emily penned her thousands of poems.  Our tour guide informed us that these tiny desks were designed so the writer wouldn’t have space to put things on it, and thus be distracted by them.   (yes, I did make a mental note to myself at that point)

Emily’s austere bedroom:

 (thanks to pbs. org)

On the walls, hang pictures of two of Emily’s favorite writers:  Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot.  Our guide asked us if we could identify the two ladies.  She was surprised when I immediately recognized Mrs. Browning, as evidently most don’t.  I would have assumed Eliot would be more difficult.  (another woman in our group guessed her correctly)

After reading some of Emily’s poems, we walked along the path to The Evergeens.   Emily’s father built the Italianite style house for her brother Austin and his wife, Susan Gilbert.

The socially-inclined Susan Gilbert, entertained such notable figures as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Webster, and Thoreau.  Some speculate that these parties may have been part of the reason that the already private Emily withdrew herself completely from society.

After Emily’s death in 1886, her sister, Lavinia, brought a bunch of Emily’s poems to Mabel Loomis Todd and asked her help in getting them published.   Mrs. Todd (who had been conducting a quiet, yet very well-known love-affair with Austin) had never met Emily in person.  Instead, they had corresponded for a few years through letters.   Mabel spent several years organizing and editing Emily’s poems.  The resulting volumes were published in 1890, 1891, and 1896.

Mrs. Todd went on tours in which she played up Emily’s mystical, secluded nature and eventually sealed her reputation as the mysterious poet from Amherst.

In Emily’s own words:

“I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!”

The Victorian Female Passion for Botany

“Nature is a haunted house- but Art- is a house that tries to be haunted.”- Emily Dickinson

After Charles Darwin’s, On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, the Victorian public became fascinated with natural history.  Women, in particular, took up the hobby of collecting, preserving, and studying specimens from plants and birds, to butterflies and insects.  The pastime was considered both ladylike and educational (unlike fancywork which many women found tedious).  Poet Emily Dickinson started a herbarium when she was a teenager attending Amherst Academy.   Completed, her  sixty-six page herbarium contains 424 plant specimens that she labeled with the corresponding scientific name.

“My plants look finely now. I am going to send you a little geranium leaf, which you must press for me. Have you made an herbarium yet? I hope you will if you have not, it would be such a treasure to you.”- Emily Dickinson in a letter to her friend, Abiah Root, in May 1845.

In July 1841, Godey’s Lady’s Book stated, “If memoranda were made of the places where such wild flowers are found, the latitude, with the common name, and whether they grow singly or in groups, profusely or sparsely, with the time of flowering, ladies might add something to the history of our Flora worthy of remembrance, and particularly so, would they make themselves acquainted with, and note their botanical characteristics.”

While magazines were filled with articles by female botanists, other women preferred to pen tales about the flowers and wildlife about them. In 1838, New England- born Mary Peabody, wrote The Flower People,  a children’s guide to horticulture.   While Mary tutored both males and females in German, French, and Latin, and wrote textbooks on subjects ranging from grammar to geography in her spare time,  botany remained her greatest passion.   Within the book  she was able to share her passion and teach children as magically talking flowers converse with a young girl in her mother’s garden.

Lousia May Alcott’s first published book, Flower Fables, was dedicated to fellow Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson’s daughter, Ellen.  “Dear Nellie…..Give my love to the Concord Fairies if you chance to see them, though I believe they spend their winters in Italy on a count (sic) of our climate…” 

Along with studying and writing about botany, taxidermy, and horticulture, females also began creating bric-a-bracs for their houses made out of shells, cones, flowers, birds, and leaves.   Fern collecting (Pteridomania) was particularly popular as ferns were hardy enough to grow in the darkened drawing rooms of the 19th century, and because their sober color was deemed elegant in comparison to brightly colored flowers.   Along with collecting ferns, women also bred and cultivated them.  Some were dried, pressed, and framed.  Others were displayed in Wardian cases, which were airtight, enclosed glass cases.  More elaborate showcases included miniature gardens and aquariums.

“…At least you will confess that the abomination of ‘Fancy-work’… has all but vanished from your drawing-room since the Lady Ferns and Venus’s hair appeared; and that you could not help yourself looking now and then at the said Venus’s hair, and agreeing that Nature’s real beauties were somewhat superior to the ghastly woollen caricatures which they had succeeded.”-  from the novel, Glaucus by Charles  Kingsley.


– source:  “Inside the Victorian Home” – by Judith Flanders

– source:  “Peabody Sisters” by Megan Marshall


Emily Dickinson: An Astrological Look

Emily Dickinson- Poetess.  Born December 10, 1830.  Amherst, Massachusetts

1. Rising Sign: Scorpio

One’s Rising Sign (or ascendant) is the sign that was rising when a  person was born and reflects their persona, or how they present themselves to the world.

“I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!”- Emily Dickinson

Rising Scorpios exist in a world of black and white.  An intensity seethes under the surface and their will is indomitable.  Often quiet, they prefer to work behind the scenes where nothing goes unnoticed by them.  Very perceptive, they always see through pretense.  A cool facade hides a deeply passionate nature.  When they love, they love fully; and when angered they can be surprisingly cruel for they easily see their victim’s soft spot.  Strongly loyal, they never forget a kindness or an insult.  Intuitive, sensitive, and suspicious- they have a deep-rooted need for privacy, and are loners at heart.  Possessing remarkable recuperative powers, and being very patient, they continue going after most have faltered.  Creative and clever, they often embrace the dark side of life and explore it in artistic ways.

2. Sun Sign: Sagittarius:

One’s sun sign denotes their outer, general personality

“Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
’T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,—you ’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.” – Emily Dickinson

Sun Sagittariuns are restless and independent.  They cannot be held down to routine or to the will of another.  They have a thirst for knowledge and their life is spent in the pursuit of mental exploration.  Straight forward and seekers of truth, they are frank and honest in their dealings with people.  At times their bluntness may accidently offend which is not their intention.  They are open-minded and endlessly fascinated about the world around them.  Optimistic and cheerful, there is a sense of childlike play about them.

3. Moon in Libra

The Moon sign denotes one’s inner, hidden personality

“I died for beauty but was scarce
Adjusted in the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

He questioned softly why I failed?
“For beauty,” I replied.
“And I for truth, the two are one;
We brethren are,” he said.

And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.” – Emily Dickinson

Those with Moon in Libra possess a charming quality.  Graceful and elegant, they have high aesthetic standards.  Fair-minded, they have an inherent need to be in peaceful surroundings and will use their strong diplomatic abilities to accomplish such an ideal.  Artistic, they have a natural eye and ear for harmony.  Caring and affectionate, they often form life-long friendships. Deeply romantic, they see themselves reflected in the person they love.  An inherent need to be in a relationship may cause clinginess and jealousy at times. 

emily dickinson

How To Get Professionals to Read Your Work- The Emily Dickinson Way

Step One:  Find someone to send your submissions to.

 Emily Dickinson chose to send a few of her poems to social reformer and writer, Mr. Thomas Wentworth Higginson.

Step Two:  Sit down to write query.   When addressing it, be blunt.   Emily simply wrote, “Mr. Higginson,”

Step Three:  Begin query with rhetorical question. 

Emily decided upon, “Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive?”

Step Four:   Compose letter.   

MR. HIGGINSON,–Are you too deeply occupied to say if my verse is alive?

The mind is so near itself it cannot see distinctly, and I have none to ask.

Should you think it breathed, and had you the leisure to tell me, I should feel quick gratitude.

If I make the mistake, that you dared to tell me would give me sincerer honor toward you.

I inclose my name, asking you, if you please, sir, to tell me what is true?

That you will not betray me it is needless to ask, since honor is its own pawn.

Step Five:  Compose this letter in a large, looping penmanship that is difficult for anyone to decipher. 

“It was in a handwriting so peculiar that it seemed as if the writer might have taken her first lessons by studying the famous fossil bird-tracks in the museum of that college town.” (Amherst). – Mr. Wentworth Higginson

Step Six:  Decide this difficult to read,  rhetorical-begun query is so brilliant that you don’t even bother signing your name.

Mr. Higginson later said, “The most curious thing about the letter was the total absence of a signature”

Step Seven:   Decide you’d better include your name somewhere.  Just in case.  So scribble it on a card using the the same large, loopy handwriting.

Step Eight:  Stick your work inside the card.  Emily enclosed four poems.  Send whatever you wish.

Step Nine:  Seal envelope.  Address it to person’s home address.  Emily mailed her poems to Mr. Higginson’s house in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Step Ten:   Put on sneakers, prepare to head out to the Post Office, when a creeping thought enters your mind: 

Perhaps times have changed.


Published in: on September 19, 2009 at 4:35 pm  Comments (22)  
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Writing: The Passion of Your Novel

I recently finished a biography on Emily Dickinson.  These words she wrote to Thomas Wentworth Higginson resignated with me: “I was thinking, today-as I noticed, that the ‘Supernatural’, was only the Natural, disclosed-”

I’ve probed  the hidden my entire life.   I can’t remember a time I wasn’t studying the occult.  I remember being nine years-old and taking out books on psychic phenomena, Edgar Cayce, reincarnation, and so forth along with my trusty Nancy Drews – and wondering why the librarian was looking at me odd.

Another love of mine has always been the Victorian era.  The Victorians were fascinated both by the world around them (evident in all the inventions of that century) and in the nature of man.  Forget the the images of  distant, cold persons so prudish that table legs had to be covered.   Heightened social awareness  propelled Abolition,  the Suffrage Movement, education and work reform.  New ideas sprang everywhere: Transcendentalism, Egyptology, Spiritualism,  Theosophy, the Golden Dawn, Unitarianism.  Health movements such as homeopathy, mesmerism, vegetarianism, hydrotherapy.

It is amusing to think many now look upon those times as “genteel”- when the Victorians feared their lives had become too fast paced due to the railroad and telegram.   In the 19th century- the “Newness”- was all around.

With my great passion  for the so-called supernatural and 19th c. history-  it feels a natural progression that my writing should be fueled with these elements.

What are the passions that drive your novel?

And the NaNo Race is Off…

Goodness!  Where do I begin?  What a few days it’s been.   Strictly talking NaNo here.  (it’s not like anything major was going on in the world yesterday.  *grin*)

I had to work Saturday, so my NaNo officially began at 10 P.M.  Then, I perched down on my usual spot- sitting Indian-Style upon the sofa with my laptop – tea within hand’s reach.  I was so giddy to begin.  Writing is such a solitary art and craft that it was warming to think of the other participants all around  the world engaging in the same activity, fortified with their endless cups of tea, coffee, and hot chocolate.

Words rushed from my fingertips onto the page.   Hours flew by.   Finally, at 3 a.m., I started feeling tired.  But that was okay.  Surely, I had surpassed the necessary 1667 daily words.

I clicked on Microsoft Works Word Counter.

1317 words.

At that moment, it would’ve been less horrifying if the Borg invaded my living room.

My eyes were playing tricks on me.

I looked again.

1317 words.

Okay.   The word counter was obviously broken.  It wasn’t counting words beginning with “t” or “s”.


I pressed on another 45 minutes.  1532 words.   It was either give up and go to bed  or resort to typing “la la la” a couple hundred times.

Bed won.  Lying there, I wondered how I could’ve forgotten how formidable NaNo is.  But, then I pulled myself together.   My thoughts turned to Emily Bronte and Emily Dickinson.  Anyone who’s read much of my blog knows Ms. Bronte is my absolute writing icon.   Dickinson is a new passion.   Not only were these two women geniuses- but more importantly, they were complete individuals who wrote exactly what they wished without a care what others thought.  What better Muses for NaNo?  So I called upon them for inspiration.  Invoking their names as I drifted asleep.

It must have worked because on Monday evening I reached over 9,000 words.  Yeah!!!!!!!

After a false start, I’m on my way.   I am sure during the next 30 days there will be other setbacks.   But I am even more sure that I shall be victorious.

How are my fellow NaNoers doing?

Call upon your personal Muses and Write on…