Awa and the Dreamrealm: why I wrote a lucid dreaming fantasy series for young people

Childhood anxiety, illiteracy, and floods of purple sparkly inspiration

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The rush of inspiration came in a flood of purple stars. I was in bed one night, about a year ago. I was falling asleep when I was struck with vision of a mystical glowing creature whispering suggestions for dreams into the ears of dreamers. More ideas flowed and pooled around this one, as I quickly turned on the light (apologising for disturbing my partner) and wrote everything down: dreaming is part of an evolution of consciousness, visions of sparkly purple stars… finding a sensitive child who could see the dream creature… sensitivity as a superpower.

Along with that rush of inspiration came the realisation that this was a book for young people and I’d never written a book for young people before. I felt suddenly compelled to write for young people, realising that fantasy books had played such a major role in my life. As a young person, I’d struggled so much with English literacy, after abruptly shifting from total immersion kura kaupapa, where Māori literacy was so intuitive, into an English-speaking classroom.

It turned out I had an undiagnosed learning disorder, but I wouldn’t figure that out until I was an adult. I was confused a lot of the way through my schooling. Not being able to read or write in English as an eight-year-old in a ‘normal’ schooling context in New Zealand was particularly painfully disempowering. I felt stupid and ashamed and truly believed that it was too hard, that I’d never learn, and that I’d have to find a career that didn’t involve literacy (not many options).

Getting obsessed with particular books was what helped my literacy the most. The first books I got excited about were actually Goosebumps – those spine-chilling tales by R L Stine which were so big in the ’90s. When I was nine, they were the most popular exciting fad, and all the kids wanted to read them. I got caught up in this wave of terrifying obsession and all of a sudden, for the first time in my life, I just really wanted to read.

At first it seemed impossible. It was so hard that I had to get my mother to help read to me (very begrudgingly because she hated those silly books). My first Goosebumps book was about a piano being played by a pair of disembodied hands, and with much persuasion, she would read me a chapter and then I’d read a chapter to myself. I struggled through the first book but my literacy skyrocketed aa I read a whole lot of other Goosebumps books.

My mother, hoping my tastes would mature and realising I liked fantastical things, got out The Hobbit from the library. I struggled with it too, painfully, but I adored the mythical world and cried when some of the dwarves died. Then I read some fabulous local books by Margaret Mahy and Gaelyn Gordon. In intermediate school I was reading Lord of the Rings, which was also a big challenge. But over that time my Literacy went from basically zero to the reading level of an 18-year-old by age 12.

I never planned to write a fantasy novel for young people until that flood of nocturnal, purple, sparkly inspiration came in. After that I realised I wanted to write something that would be relevant for New Zealand kids, that was both familiar and fantasy in a way that I’d rarely found in books. That’s why I loved Gaelyn Gordon’s books. They were just so fantastical: there were three cousin witches in Tripswitch, and mythical creatures that were inspired by local mythology in Stonelight and aliens that lived in your brain in and had magical powers in the Alfred Brown books. Those books made me bubble with excitement.

It was quite a journey going from feeling like I would have no place at all in society because I would never learn to read and write in English to my thrilling love of reading and the sense that I’d finally found places that I belonged even if they were inside the pages of books. I loved reading so much at intermediate school that I learned how to walk and hold books and read at the same time which is really quite satisfying in a way, though it turns out that’s not the ideal way to read (if you don’t like bumping into things, anyway).

Finding that love of books is something I want to share with other young people because I love the feeling of connectedness, of communion with something bigger, deeper and greater. I want to share the sense of meaning and empathy that people can get through reading. These things inspired me to write novels in the first place.

The other thing that came to me in the rush of sparkly inspiration that led to Awa and the Dreamrealm was a surprising sense of terror. It was that kind of fearful awe I get from thoughts of enormous sea creatures in the deepest ocean. And I was very confused about why this was happening. A couple of people I talked to suggested that this fear was part of the story.

The terror made me reflect on the extreme fears and anxiety that I’d experienced as a child, often through ordinary daily life activities. I still struggle with anxiety, and I’ve learned a lot of skills to manage it now, but as a child, I had no idea what it even was.

Anxiety is so invisible. It’s often silent. It’s often thought of as shyness or something else matching the external behavioural responses, but internally it’s extreme and painful and awful and paralysing. For me it is tightening in the chest and constricted breathing, and it was set off by so many things, being such a sensitive child. I’ve read that anxiety disorders in children are on the rise and that 11% of kids experience anxiety, compared to 3% with depression. I’m not sure if it’s actually on the rise or if people just never realised this was happening before.

I suspect that sensitive kids are more prone to anxiety and I wanted to explore this theme in Awa and the Dreamrealm. Being a sensitive person can also be a strength which is why the story kind of celebrates sensitivity as a special ability. I wanted that to be a kind of superpower, and I wanted to bring anxiety into the story in a way where it was both a challenge for Awa and an opportunity for her to develop resilience.

Children and teens have helped me write this book. My eleven-year-old daughter has been a wonderful editor, giving excellent advice. Some of her friends as well as other family members and other young people I’ve never met have read the draft and gave superb advice on how to improve it. I was relieved and excited that they not only read it quickly, but they all enjoyed it, related to the characters and connected with the story.

I started writing and the book bloomed and became enormous. I realised I was writing at least a trilogy, so there are now two more books to come. I think this will make it even more exciting because I wrote this book, in a sense, for myself as a ten-year-old and for other especially sensitive and imaginative, maybe slightly anxious, children. As a child I would have loved the continuity of having a whole series, not just a single book, to mitigate that feeling of sadness when you get to the end of the book and it’s over.

My wish is that Awa and the Dreamrealm can give something of the kind of literary magic that captivated me as a child, helping to boost my literacy to the point where I could eventually write a PhD thesis and novels. And perhaps another child like the past me will pick it up and see a little of themselves reflected in the story.

 

Awa and the Dreamrealm can be purchased online in ebook and paperback form, and from bookshops in New Zealand. 

Children are the worst (and best) spiritual teachers

 

lean-into-it--sweet-chaos-prints

Lean Into It / Sweet Chaos – By Stephanie Wild

Since 2008 I have been going through a very challenging kind of spiritual training. It’s called parenting. This training never really stops and there is no viable way to quit. Lessons can occur at all hours of the day and night, and are always different, often painful, stressful, exhausting, and very very challenging.

When she was a baby, the lessons involved a lot of sleep deprivation, confusion, anxiety and coping with the painful ringing in my chest every time my tiny master cried out. I likened it to the kinds of Zen where the master hits you on the head to make you pay attention. I have, for a long time, considered all of life to be about spiritual learning, and why should this most central, mundane, intense and special part of my life be any different. My baby was born into water with her eyes open. Still connected, it seemed, to the source from which she came. Newborns always appear this way to me: little Buddhas. Present. Totally in the moment whether they are crying or sleeping or staring into space.

As they get older they learn to be less present, but their lessons can teach us to be more present in the most challenging ways. Our children present us with out own incredible vulnerability and powerlessness. They give us the terrifying and agonising experience of being an impotent god. We don’t have magic wands to take away their pain and suffering, to change the behaviour of other children, to make everything okay. They lash out and push boundaries and try to manipulate us, and that is all part of their learning as well as our own.They reflect back to us our own inner-child.

The Moon represents the  inner-child in a person’s chart. The sign it is in indicates the character of the inner-child and the house placement of the moon indicates the focus and wider patterns of this sensitive, vulnerable, reflective and core part of us. Aspects to the Moon with other planetary bodies reveal our key challenges, opportunities and gifts. The Moon reflects our relationship with our mother, our own emotional selves, and also our children. On a similar note, I have written before about Parenting By the Moon, of observing the quick-changing moods as they reflect in relating to children, a practice I am often too busy to think about!

The Child archetypes of fairy tales can be mischievous, but tend towards the innocent.

They are easily tempted, like Goldilocks, the girl in the Red Shoes, or Little Red Riding Hood. They will easily stray from the safe path, their innocence and lack of awareness is sometimes startling.

The way we treat this child self is reflected in the stories involving evil step parents. Generally the children in these stories are presented as pure, good and innocent, the step sisters are the greedy, whiny ones. From an archetypal perspective all of these characters are parts of self. and in our daily lives we enact these patterns, projecting the interior into the external world.

We can be the Too Good Mother/Father archetype one minute, then, when our children push us to the brink of tolerance and we have nothing left to give we can too easily flash into the rage of the Evil Tyrant. We can even become children ourselves, in trying to cope with our children, putting them into a role where they must act as an adult because we have lost all control.

All of this is horrible, wonderful, challenging, learning

The lesson is always to be present, and;

  • Usually, to be patient. To be grounded like earth.
  • Often, to be like water, to flow with empathy and gently shape the situation.
  • Frequently, to be air-like, to use logic and reason, to encourage these faculties to develop in our children, when they are not too overwhelmed to think clearly.
  • Sometimes, to embody the passion and bravery – the swift action of fire – but carefully, because fire can also burn, and violence does not bring peace.

Parenting is the hardest job, and yet least socially rewarded job. As parents we are expected to do so many conflicting things – to be perfect, to be saints, to be disciplined, to be kind and generous and nurturing, to be strict and unmovable forces, to never give in or reward ‘bad’ behaviour, and yet to empathise with the struggles of powerless that our children face on a daily basis… and so so many other things. The impossible struggles might seem hopeless and pointless at times, but they do offer many many opportunities for learning and growing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Good enough”: the power of modest affirmations

A few days ago I was having an episode of crazy – of not feeling good enough – of all kinds of ridiculous internal pressures. That happens… and often there is this pressure to be AMAZING – to be special and wonderful and outstanding and awesome and all of these over-used superlatives.  We overcompensate for not feeling good enough by reaching for the stars (which has often struck me as an ironically air-grasping metaphor). Affirmations usually favor big words, but perhaps there is a quiet power in small humble statements: I’m good enough. Everything’s okay. Relax.

“I’m good enough” is digestible. It’s believable. It’s no great commitment, no great pressure. It’s acceptable, and it’s honest. There’s nothing wrong with being a good-enough mother, a good-enough daughter, or granddaughter or student or academic or writer or any of the other labels people tend to accumulate in their short lives. It is a calm, contented centre in an otherwise chaotic storm of great vulnerability, expectations and obligations. It’s an in-between road that is not a dead-end or wild goose-chase shortcut. It’s just a simple breath of fresh air. I’m good… enough.  It’s an invitation to let go.

This is a time of letting go. It has been a frustrating and transformative couple of years.  Today is about endings, about letting go, mourning the death of the old paradigm and making space… and resting… and allowing the new to arise. Today is a good time for acceptance, for allowing, for letting things be. Today, “good enough” is enough… and probably, tomorrow it will be too.

Rescuing the princess, rebuilding the animus and growing healthy relationship archetypes

Recently I have been exploring the common archetype of the princess in the tower, in relation to my life. It is something that crops up from time to time, when I feel helpless or overwhelmed; I feel out of control, like a small child, powerless and desperate; I don’t think I can do things by myself. Whenever this pattern emerges I secretly wish for someone to rescue me, when really I know I always have to rescue myself.

Please excuse the gendered nature of the archetypes presented here – they actually don’t need to a particular gender, that is just the common representation… I do feel, however, that growing up without a healthy father figure/male role-model has stunted and warped the development of my animus, which I have been progressively healing/growing back over the last few years. The animus is commonly known as the ‘male’ or masculine part of the psyche, but is also associated with the warrior or rescuer archetype. If you didn’t have a present or adequate father/male role model, you may well be in the same boat.

Early on, we who need to rescue ourselves tend to fall into the trap of becoming the rescuer – of being attracted to wounded puppies who we think we can save with our love and guidance. This is a massive exercise in projection and gets quite circular. We are seeing our own damaged animus reflected back through damaged people and damaging relationships. Without a healthy animus, we are doomed to repeat this cycle. The good news is that, eventually, we can heal the major inner fractures in ourselves (if we need to). We can piece one together from the aspects of healthy ‘masculinity’ and strength we encounter in our lives. We can make a frankenstein animus and bring it to life – or re-grow an under-developed animus archetype until he reaches maturity – along with culling all the unhealthy/predator/shadow aspects we may have internalized from having painful or exploitative experiences with men.

Even when we have cobbled together a healthy representation of animus inside ourselves, we may find that we still feel tensions and anxieties arising from attachment and relationships – even with healthy significant others who are not wounded puppies. While being attracted to healthy (rather than damaged) people is a sign of significant healing progress, it doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing from here. Our new healthy animus still needs to be socialised. Invite him to sit down for a cup of tea. Build a good relationship with him. If you are projecting anxiety onto an external attachment, transfer this projection, along with your needs and desires to your inner animus and practice relating to this inner ‘other’ in a healthy and loving way. He can be there for you, love you, support you and rescue you in an insecure world. Through this inner transformation, the external world can mirror harmonious relationships back to you.

Parenting by the Moon

You’ve probably heard of ‘gardening by the moon’, of planting at new moon and weeding as the moon wanes. Many people think these lunar cycles are reflected everywhere in the ebb and flow of daily life.  Last year I began to notice distinct synchronicities between the moon and my life. I would suddenly get the unusual urge to clean out kitchen cupboards and spend the whole weekend tidying and organising, only to check my emails on Monday and find that the moon was in Virgo, and that was exactly the sort of thing one ought to be doing.  I started paying more attention, and even deliberately allowing time to sort and organise my messy life when the moon was spending her 50 odd hours in the virgin sign.

This weekend was another-such time. Without giving it much thought I went about my usual Friday night routines only to find my six-year-old on the floor of the room, sorting through her paperwork! Of course, I thought, this is time to do those things I usually put off. I began cleaning the bath, and my daughter came into the bathroom and requested that she be allowed to clean the bath, please. Sure, why not? It occurred to me then that ‘parenting by the moon’ might be quite a good idea.

 

We can clean and sort when the moon is in Virgo, balance and harmonise with Libra, challenge and explore depth with Scorpio, and do magic spells to quell our fears.  We can philosophise with Sagittarius, love nature, and sleep under the stars, then be ambitious with Capricorn, make plans and climb hills.  We can dream and paint under a Pisces moon, then network and socialise with Aquarius while we explore radical new ideas and new technologies.  When the moon goes into Aries we can start new projects and race each-other. With the moon in Taurus we can lounge around together and eat decadent foods. When the moon goes into Gemini we might need to play on a trampoline and write each-other notes, as parents, we can allow ourselves to be more child-like and laugh. Then, when the moon goes into Cancer we can nurture ourselves especially with extra cuddles and warm milk before we emerge, a few days later, under a Leo moon, to be dramatic, create, perform, put on a show and applaud.

I think I might be onto something. Of course it’s not just the sign but also the phase of the moon that can be considered. A new moon is for new beginnings, then the energy builds as she waxes. When the moon is full the energy is manic and intense, it needs an outlet.  As she wanes we take stock and take special care of ourselves, and take respite especially in the time right before new moon, the dark moon.  Last night I asked my daughter what I thought we should do under the Libra full moon. “I think we should put on really cool clothes and do make-up and maybe we can have a fashion show” the girl with the Libran ascendant replied.