Monday, December 20, 2010

True North

Do you know what a lodestone is?

A lodestone is a naturally magnetized piece of the mineral magnetite. In the picture above, you can see the paper clips sticking to the chunk of ordinary-looking rock--it's a lodestone.

In medieval China, navigators developed a compass using the lodestone. Because it will point north, many people associate lodestones with telling direction and finding one's way in the world.

Almost eight years ago, I had lost my way. My plans to go to graduate school clashed with my new role as a single mom (at this point, I was a hugely pregnant emotional mess); I felt alone and I had no passion for anything. After two years of almost rabid environmental campaigning (letter writing and marching and organizing protests about agricultural issues), I felt depressed about the future of the world and powerless to do anything about it. And while I'd always dreamed of being a writer, I felt guilty that the only story ideas I had involved dragons, fairies and vampires. I was ashamed of everything about myself.

At the time, a friend of mine was planning a birthday party, and since she was interested in paganism, I stopped by a magic and herb shop. Nothing seemed like the right gift for my friend, but a display of lodestones caught my eye. It felt like a sign, like an offering from some mysterious spirit. I bought one and kept it in my underwear drawer.

I didn't think much about it, taking it out once in a while to wonder at the tiny iron filings clinging to the stone's black flanks. It wasn't a beautiful stone, but its heft in my hand and magical magnetism fascinated me.

Weeks passed and decisions that had tormented me became easy. I quit my job. I wrote a children's book. I moved in with my mother. I set aside grad school plans and began a novel. Life wasn't easy--I had to move to Portland and take on odd jobs to pay my student loan, while mooching a home from my sister and sucking the food stamp teat--but somehow, I knew which direction I was going. I knew I needed to be a writer.

Sometimes I still take my lodestone out of my underwear drawer and study it. The superstitious part of me deeply believes that this little charcoal-colored stone pulled me back onto my life path. The more rational part believes that my lodestone is simply a beautiful symbol for the love of story that has always been inside me, hidden beneath the chatter of a busy young life. My time alone turned off that chatter and let the truth tug at me.

We must all look for our own true north. For me, it lies in a land of myth and mystery, of fantasy and horror. It lies in the darkest forest of the Realm of Words, the place on the map labeled "Here there be dragons." There are other places in that realm, good places, wonderful to visit. Maybe you pull you.

If they do, you should let thtem.

Picture by Ryan Somma.

1 comment:

Miriam S. Forster said...

I love the places on the map that say 'here there be dragons'. Those are my favorites. :)