Writing Tutorials with Sylvia
Is there a story or poem brewing in you, a piece of writing that you long to hone, to rework, to edit, or even to begin, but you don't quite know what next steps to take?
In these private, one-on-one tutorials, I will read your piece (in advance) and bring both line-edits and larger structural suggestions that we will discuss in-depth together. I will also suggest further inspirational reading—novels, poems, stories or myths—based on your writing style, your visions and your specific piece, as well as helpful writing exercises tailored for you to take home and add to your repertoire.
Come to me with your...
• story, poem, novel outline, essay, vision or dream—finished, half-finished or even hardly started
• questions about the writing process, your craft, your sources of inspiration
Come away with...
• editorial comments on the written piece/idea of your choice (up to 10,000 words)
• a personalized reading list (including of myth & fairytale resonances)
• a set of tailor-made writing exercises to take home
• a refreshed sense of excitement & nourishment about the creative process
$275 for a 60 - minute Zoom session
+ a pdf worksheet of personal exercises, reading suggestions
& editorial notes
SOLD OUT UNTIL SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2022
art credit: Katie's Letter by Haynes King (1831-1905)
"It is a red thread coiled
I cannot go astray
because I have hold of it
My mothers are on one end of it
My daughters are on the other
The moon is the labyrinth
I am carrying a vessel as old as the moon
There is salt on the rim
I thought it was broken but it was not
I thought I was broken but I was not
I have become watertight again
after all this time"
- Sylvia V. Linsteadt, from "Time, and the Vessel,"
forthcoming in The Venus Year (2022)
* * *
If you could see your own motherline thread as a line between points, each point the place where one of your foremothers gave birth to her daughter, starting with you and then reaching back and back and back, where would it lead? What would it spell? What could you weave with it, gathered up in your hands? What pain is held in it, making it too sharp sometimes even to touch, too thorny, like the sister weaving shirts out of raw nettles and not spring flowers to turn her brothers from swans to men again?
Even if your relationship to your biological mother is fraught, even if your recent motherline is full of trauma and loss, there is a thread of life, golden as what makes the morning, that stretches from womb to womb to womb into deep time, the miracle of life arising again, and again, and again, from the very earth into you.
My motherline stretches back to Puritans in Maine and Massachusetts, then Protestants in Yorkshire, carrying the devastation of colonialism. From there, the names are quickly lost. The line wheels out across England like raw basket spokes, sprouting willow buds. In some ways feels like all the waters of England carry traces of my motherline. I don’t know how far back. Maybe it crosses over to Denmark with the Vikings. Maybe it stays, flowering out of Scotland, out of Wales, out of Pictish tribes, out of Neolithic moorland people. Maybe it touches my paternal grandmother’s motherline in Ireland. A green thread, arising out of long ago hillforts and elfmounds. At some point further back it winds back across the mainland of Europe, down along the Danube. It winds back, chronologically, to the consciousness of Neolithic Old Europe.
I can feel it there, like light and water and something as strong as earth, in my hands. It's alive, and at its root, at its headwater, flows a great, absolving, blood-thick love. It speaks of a time before the generations of trauma and loneliness in my motherline, as a woman of European descent. It speaks of a Europe before the structures of patriarchal violence we still live within. It speaks of a Europe long ago, when we were woven whole with the earth around us. Far enough back, there are mothers in me, Old European mothers, who remember what it was to speak to the swan at the riverbank, and know them as ancestor and kin. Old European mothers before the coming of the ways of warrior kings.
* * *
I offer this class—at the time of the spring equinox, which is also my own mother's birthday— as a love offering to my motherline, and to yours. I offer it as a place of sanctuary and renewal, a basket woven strong and loving with rushes from the riverbanks of my mothering England, a space to help you safely explore the warp and weft of your own motherline.
What does it mean to follow this thread like the golden ball of wool given by an old woman to find your way? What might we weave of these inherited lines of ours, like the heroine in the Six Swans story, to enact some powerful redemptive healing that extends through our families and beyond, into the wild communities around us? Do we weave with aster—gentle flower— or with nettle —sharp but strong nourisher— or both?
Using European fairytale motifs and creative writing exercises, we will tend to, and follow, our motherlines, listening for what it is they most need, what gifts they bear for us and our communities, and where it is they might lead.
May this work be a prayer for peace on our planet. May it be a prayer for the motherlines in migrating falcons, and gray whales, and great patches of wild iris, and matriarchal herds of elk, and all the threads that weave us together, children of Earth, born each of a mother.
** The basket in the title image was woven by me this spring in a class with the wonderful Elizabeth Crawford, using rushes she gathered along a river in Somerset
In you is a warp that reaches back 10,000 years. In you is a weft that sings your motherline song, womb to womb to womb. No matter the traumas or losses of lifetimes, the thread remains unbroken, the thread remains intact. It is dyed with the blood of birth, with the steep of vision, with the mordant of dreams.
In you is a motherhouse whose floors are full of your foremothers' bones, whose walls shelter the looms and spindles where your motherline still spirals, waiting to be woven all the way back to health. The fire in the hearth of your motherhouse has not gone out in all these tens of thousands of years. Even in the most difficult of seasons, there has always been an ember under the ashes, waiting for your breath. Even in the most devastating of eons, the bones of your grandmothers have not stopped chanting their love for you from the walls, and all the old things their hands knew about life, and love, and death, and birth.
Come, at the root of the winter solstice, at the hinge of this dark season of mothers and the rebirth of light, into the Motherhouse with me, the Motherhouse of Old Europe.* Here, I will share with you a story, a telling of my own motherline, as it winds back through Puritan New England, to Yorkshire, and then deep into an imaginal but archaeologically-rooted past in a pre-patriarchal Europe.
I will weave us a Motherhouse out of words to sit in together and, after the singing of my own motherline song to you— the part of it that I have written up until now, for this is an ever-evolving epic within each of us— I will lead us through some writing exercises to bring us into our own Motherhouses, so that we can begin to tend, and weave with, and be supported by, the foremother threads sheltered within.
Come in to be held, to be spun, to be nurtured, to be rooted, to be revived.
This workshop space is open to all who identify as women or who have a womb, and to participants of all ancestries— I speak of a Motherhouse of Old Europe simply because that is my ancestry, and therefore the space I can prepare and welcome you into.
* Motherhouse, as a term, is one I created (although I'm sure I'm not the first) while researching the social structure of Minoan Crete, combining the theories of Jan Driessen about household sizes and ancestor worship with those of Marija Gimbutas and her extensive work across southern and eastern Europe. I will explore this historical framework within the workshop and within the storied, word-built Motherhouse I will recreate around us.
** A percentage of the proceeds will be donated to Rodakas, a wonderful oral folklore and storytelling organization in Rethymno, Crete dedicated to the preservation of traditions around music, architecture, stonemasonry, ceramics, women's textile arts, and more.
The image used in the poster was taken by me at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. It is a small effigy of an ancestral woman, priestess or goddess within a house--temple, crowned with the Minoan horns of consecration, from the 18th-17th century BCE, Galatas.
There is a hearth in you made from the spark of your original ground. Your εστία. In Greek, the name of the goddess Hestia means not only the home as hearth— literally, the goddess is the hearth— it also means "origin." The point from which something begins. The word itself has pre-Greek roots. This means it is pre Indo-European; pre-invasion; pre-conquest. It points to a εστία as primordial as peace.
So, this hearth in you is made of your peaceful origins. The ones that are ancestral, and the ones that are of soul. Your ancestors from long ago are gathered around this fire singing their creation stories back to you, reminding you of who you are and what ground you are made of. What literal, ecological ground— of root and mineral, tree and animal— and also what inner ground.
Even if everything around you crumbles, this hearth and its original ember remains. Even when the fires tended by the Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome were quenched, still their flames remained lit inside the wombs of all mothers and all children, all those who create, and dream, and love, to this day.
It is this inner εστία that can provide sanctuary and nourishment and kindle light for us, again and again, even when all seems lost.
In this mythic writing workshop at the cusp of autumn, we will venture deep into our inner origins, into our bones, to listen for the creation songs being sung around our origin-hearths. Through an exploration of such historical themes as the House-Temples and hearth-shrines of matriarchal Old Europe and their thematic continuation among the Vestal Virgins of ancient Latium, we will give thanks to Hestia, and begin to re-story ourselves back to home ground.
We will begin to set the stones— or branches, or mudbricks— back in the walls of our inner sanctuaries from where they have fallen due to disuse or destruction. We will retrieve the embers and set them at the center, and listen for the way of tending them that keeps a balance within and without, a way of tending them that keeps us warm and nourished no matter how the winds blow. A way of tending that weaves the wild back in.