Monday, 28 May 2012

Breadcrumbs Pebbles String

Hansel and Gretel found themselves deep in the forest, where they had been abandoned by their father at the urging of their wicked stepmother.  Stepmothers, incidentally, are always wicked.  Trust me, I know this.  I am a stepmother myself.

They (Hansel and Gretel, not the stepmothers) entertained suspicions of their unscrupulous parents plans – did they overhear a conversation?  I can’t remember; it’s years since I read this story – Grimm in every sense.  But they twigged.    Hansel rose to the occasion and dropped a series of small white pebbles as their father led them deeper and deeper into the forest.   The reflection of the moon on the surface of these stones enabled them to retrace their footsteps once their heartless relative had scarpered and left them to their fate.  So, much to their parents’ irritation, Handsel and Gretel were back on the doorstep before bedtime.

The very next day, on some flimsy pretext, out they were led once more with their indefatigable father determined to see them off.   Hansel tackled the problem yet again, this time trickling a trail of breadcrumbs to show the way home.  No explanation is given as to why they wanted to go home.  I guess the brothers Grimm assumed we all agree anything is better than nothing when faced with our human vulnerability.   Unfortunately, resourceful as he was, Hansel had nonetheless overlooked the likelihood of the breadcrumbs being eaten by birds: which they were.

So they were stuffed.  Left high and dry in the middle of a large forest where every path looked the same, they had no clear discernment of how they got there and not the first idea how to get back.

They found a most attractive destination composed entirely of sweets and cake, and made the serious mistake of trying to take refuge in confectionery; they were discouraged to discover this was a trap.

By this point in the story, I feel a considerable sense of identity with Hansel and Gretel.

I had too had a happy childhood.  I too fall for the error of taking refuge in confectionery.  And I too have got more than a little lost in the forest.

Perhaps I should unpack this a little.

My upbringing, in English country towns and villages, was peaceful, simple and plain.  We had little disposable income but comfortable homes (we moved incessantly).  Our mother was immensely resourceful and set herself the task of inching up the property ladder by the tightwad route.  Outings and treats were rare indeed, but we enjoyed home-grown vegetables and, in due course after several house moves, home-grown eggs and lamb and fruit too.

School, I loathed with a passion beyond my powers to describe; and so for the purpose of this post I delete that entire aspect of my childhood.  Let me remember the grass blowing back from green to silver in the summer breezes on the hill; the sheep chewing contently, resting in the noonday under great shady trees; the walk to church through green lanes and wooded slopes; quietness and solitude, mist in the ditches and fieldflowers banking up the sides of the winding lanes; hedgehogs in the night garden and the crooning of contented hens in the afternoon sunshine.

This was decades ago. 

I have asked myself recently, what has gone wrong?  What has stolen my life?  Why am I always tired and pressured, dogged by failure – why is everyone such a darned nuisance?

Where are the breadcrumbs, the pebbles?  Is there a ball of string lying unwound, so I might feel for the fraying ends and find my way back to so much that is lost?

By what means has the grip of Mammon made these inroads?

I am perceiving – you may think this sounds a little unbalanced – it is achieved electronically.

The out-of-control banking that has re-defined money as interest-bearing debt and created at a stroke a treadmill of scarcity and associated growth that must destroy every human community and suck the life out of the earth until it is a dead planet.    The living-by-numbers tyranny of PINs and security passwords, automated gates at stations and public toilets, automated self-service checkouts in grocery stores, bar codes and product data that defy the human right to use initiative and common sense.

In the world of publishing, onto which I have a grandstand view by virtue of being a writer married to a publisher, I have seen the tigers whirling faster and faster round the tree chasing each other’s tails until you couldn’t tell who was chasing and who being chased until they all melted down into tiger butter.  To understand this reference you do need to have read a certain now politically incorrect children’s story about a child whose brand new outfit was appropriated by tigers – but even if you are losing me I hope you still have a grip on the principle I am attempting to put across.  Faster and faster the publishers work, achieving more with fewer staff in a shorter space of time while struggling manfully to hang onto the tail of the runaway world of e-books.  Ha!  Did I say “books”?  I think it is more “products” now.  Somewhere in there, a desire for excellence and worthwhile content lingers on – but presentation, image and platform are greater gods and sit in the higher niches.

And the writers?  All on Facebook, dreaming up ever more ingenious ways to pretend to be asking an innocent question or pass on an artless nugget of homespun daily life, while contriving to drop into the conversation (smiling, always smiling) the giveaway, the launch, the blog tour, the new novel, the shortlist, the review, the Amazon statistic, the trophy, the accolade, the promotion, the Amazon video, the new contract, the signing session . . . “I’m so excited . . .”  Really?  Yawn . . .

Never in any century have so many people been so excited so much of the time about so little.


I got lost in this forest and found myself starving and lost in a heartless landscape under a glittering faraway moon, with nothing but the enticements of iced gingerbread to cheer me up.

This was my wake-up call:  I had started to see everyone I knew as nothing more than yet another tiresome call on my time.

So I’ve started to retrace my footsteps.  I’m going to find the way back. 

My chief suspects are everything to do with electricity and everything to do with money. 

I’m going to simplify, simplify, simplify, cutting back on every electronic gizmo, every electronic communication, every electronic method of interaction with the world.  I’ve deleted my eBay and Etsy accounts.   I’ve deleted my Facebook account and scrapped my Facebook author page.   I have taken down the requirements of my life so that I need almost no electrical gadgets – only the ones that the household think they need remain in my life.

The Kindle is given to Buzz, the electric toothbrush to the Wretched Wretch and the Bose to Hebe.  The bedside lamp is Freecycled and the electric fire given to a chilly mortal in a caravan.  The car is sold.

Firelight, candlelight, starlight, sunlight.  The woods, the lanes, the hills, the garden, the ocean. 

No more promoting, no more trying to “create a platform”, no more cutting off my heel to try to force my foot into a high-heeled glass slipper in the vain hope of snaring a prince.  No more panting along saying “Yes, I can, of course I can,” after the dangling carrot of money.

I’m going to find my way back.

Last week as I went out on the bus to see Pearl, this week when I walked through the park to see Carole – for the first time in – oh, years, not months! – I was looking forward to seeing them.

In every life there is suffering and sorrow.  All of us have to earn a living, of course we do.   But I think I was born to be happy.

Blogging.  Isn’t blogging electronic – part of the glowing web that has its tentacles everywhere?  Yep.  That’s right.  So it is.  I will see out this 365 year, see how we go with just this one bridge across to the world gone mad.    And maybe that will have to go too.  Meanwhile I'm going to reduce time online right down.

And the other thing that has to go is spending money – because that is the snare, the delusion.   I see and respect the realistic place that should be accorded to money – for food, for repairs, for sensible necessary equipment and provision.  But not this endless consumer carousel that has made “shopping” into “retail therapy” – an addiction and a pastime.  No more of that.  I am going to take as my frame of reference  my yardstick, my uh-oh meter  the memory of my teenage years.  In the early 1970s – what did I have? What was enough to content me?  What were my pastimes, my wardrobe, my expectations?

What a long, winding path that led out here to this lonely and complicated forest.  What a frightening world it is here, sitting surrounding by fierce eyes and hungry mouths, rapacious demands for more.  Never a day passes without communications from charities and church begging for more money, from advertisers of products of every kind imaginable that I might need to make myself glamorous, enviable, safe, comfortable, blissful, adventurous or fulfilled.  Opportunities held out enticingly, bags for the charity shops dropped through the door.

Well, I’m sick of it now.  I’m going home.  String or no string, pebbles or no pebbles, even if the consumers have had every morsel of bread along the way – by some means or other, I’m getting out of here.  I’m going home.


365 366 Day 149 – Monday May 28th  

I acquired this sweet bonnet in an attempt to be something I am not.  What a stupid waste of money.   


Bean said...

I love this post. Two sentences made me laugh out loud, "taking refuge in confectionery" and your comment about so many people being excited over so little....
But on a serious note, this post is TRUTH, absolute TRUTH. Contentment is not purchased, it comes from within, gadgets and gizmos do not always simplify life, they often times take over life.
You gave a lot of food for thought today, and I am so, so, so HAPPY that you will continue with your blog, I enjoy reading your posts most everyday, and I was scared as I started to read this post that you were going to end by saying farewell.
Thank you for sticking with the blog. It is wonderful that you continue to simplify your life, and you look lovely in the bonnet :)



Paula said...

I love that bonnet. I've been dreaming over one very similar.

Ember said...

:0) Hello friends! Good to see you. Yes, the main reason for keeping on blogging is the acquaintances that have somehow grown into friends as time has gone by. I would miss my friends here very much.

Daisyanon said...

I'm very relieved you are continuing with the blog. You tell it like it is for you and that sort of unvarnished honesty is so rare these days.

If you do ever stop blogging I hope you will leave the blog up. There is so much helpful wisdom here.

Daisyanon said...

PS The other benefit of your blog is that your writing gift enables you to express what someone like me vaguely thinks but cannot put down on paper.

That is such a gift.

Buzzfloyd said...

I think that it may be an error to say that electricity is the problem - it simply happens that you have conducted many of your affairs via electronic means, but they could just have easily been done by traditional means, and would still have sapped you in this way.

Consumerism is not worthwhile. Community is. Materialism is not worthwhile. Conservation is. And so on. All these things can be done electronically, though they needn't be. I am glad you will continue blogging through the year, because I think community is not something to be thrown away lightly for the sake of a red herring.

Gerry Snape said...

1. but I loved that bonnet....true
2.I adored that story of the tigers as a child...thought it the most wonderful thing and wanted to live in India to be able to do such a fear of tigers for me.
3.but I love your posts!!! what shall I do if you decide enough is enough?

Wimmera said...

very powerful and inspirational

Lynda said...

I am visiting my daughter and grandson. They also do not have very good internet signal here, so I have been very limited in my time on the computer...mainly because it is so slow and unpredictable. I've only used it every few days to check emails and read your blog Ember. Even the TV doesn't work properly (I only watch it to get the news).

They live in a fenced, gated, electronically secure townhouse complex, so I have been afraid to go outside the gate while they are away at work and school incase I can't get back in (you need code numbers and swipe cards). But despite this, I have been peacefull and cocooned in their home (washing, cleaning, cooking, reading, knitting) and mostly oblivious as to what is going on in the outside world. And I don't think I'm missing much.

I love the bonnet too...and I'm so happy you are going to continue blogging. Yours is about the only blog I read (and some of those on your side bar).

keitha said...

Everyday I read here. Everyday I love reading here more. Amen and amen once more. Yawn indeed.

kat said...

I'm agreeing - with reservation - but also hoping you'll remember you're just you and part of the world and can't be superhuman, walking away from the negative and towards the positive. We'll always fail our ideals somewhere along the line and that's OK! There's a lot to be said for balance, perspective and the occasional refuge in some very good confectionery!
Blessings xxx

Ember said...

Hello friends :0)

Daisy - yes, we do seem to think alike on so many things!

Buzzfloyd - I think this is a bit like Alvin Hall's advice to one of his clients with money troubles: "Avoid the High Street". Now, clearly the High Street was not causing her inclination to overspend, but her personal weaknesses made it an inadvisable environment for her.
Tony loves the electronic world, and feels at home in it, energised by it, and excited by all its opportunities.
Electronic media have allowed like-minded people to link hands right across the world, standing up for each other, sending money when friends only ever met online run into trouble, rescuing, encouraging and learning. Hooray for all that.
But it comes at a cost.
I do not agree that traditional lifestyles are capable of creating the same effects (especially if "traditional" includes car-less); I think the electronic media accelerate and amplify everything and this makes a significant difference. Traditional ways slow everything down and space everything out.

Gerry - aha! You had that book too!! :0D

Wimmera - thank you! x

Lynda - the place you are staying sounds a bit space-age! Have a lovely time! x

Keitha - thank you - I so enjoy travelling along with friends here xx

Kat - yes indeed! x

Pilgrim said...

I found Facebook to be such a waste of time. So many levels of relationship flattened out, such a loss of privacy. It was so distracting. I got off it many months ago, and it was a relief.

I find your blog helpful, because I'm affecting be so many of the same things, but am not in as removed a position as you are, to be able to find time and energy to evaluate and make changes. I think there is a way to a life of more freedom, but it is going against he grain, and has to be so very intentional.
I sometimes ask myself if my granmother needed something. If she didn't, do I?

Ember said...

Hi Pilgrim :0)

Anonymous said...

Dear Pen,

Your post is so poignant. I understand. May I offer you some hope:

You will find many, many folktales that leave the protagonists lost in the forest. Alone, totally alone, except for friendly forest creatures who talk, or evil ogres and witches, but often both. The hero has to undergo some sort of trial (magic spells and enchantments, perhaps) in order to be transformed into their own complete selves.

The forest is treating you well, I think.

Thy Friend Paula

Anonymous said...

Yay for politically incorrect children’s stories about a child whose red coat, blue trousers and shoes were appropriated by tigers. :-D

Plus I was going to write something else but found that Buzzfloyd had said it much more eloquently!

Jacquelyn Dougherty said...

I'm so sorry to be leaving a question here instead of a comment but I'm doing so in desperation since I've not be able to find any other way to either contact Ms. Wilcock or obtain an answer to my question. Anyway, I was wondering if The Hawk and The Dove - Trilogy were ever published in Hardback. I need to purchase several graduation gifts and would love to send these young ladies out in the world with a copy of this amazing story. I realize I can purchase them in paperback, but it would be a nicer and perhaps more permanent gift in hardback. Thank you for your time and so sorry for the intrusion into this conversation.

Sherry said...

I have this feeling that you have lost your "self" and keep searching. Please know that your writing (books and blog) is very beneficial to many people. I love the way you simply cut to the chase, but not just that, I like your style of writing. It is almost raw and so honest. I don't like when people embellish things just topump themselves up or worse to fill space.

Rest assured that we need you.

Ember said...

Hi Debs x

Hi Jacquelyn - none of my books has ever been published in hardback. Thanks for getting in touch! I hope you will still feel the stories make a suitable gift for your students. x

Ember said...

Hi Sherry - thank you! x

Tess said...

I, too, loved that politically incorrect book. Especially the curled up toes of the beautiful shoes! It was undoubtedly racist but from what I remember of it there was also an innocence to it.
Anyway... I've now read your post three times, once this morning, once at lunchtime and once just now.
Like Bean, what you say struck me as absolute Truth.
I'm in the middle of a blogging break because I was beginning to feel my writing was no longer authentic. I believe I have gifts to offer (writing, teaching) but I can't stand the thought of being another standing up and waving my hand in the middle of the social media throng, shouting "Me, me, look at me!!". Exactly the sort of thing you describe. Perhaps by beaming out rays of authenticity people will come!
I, too, hope you continue blogging. For me, the value of this strange activity is in the relationships it forms and the sense of kinship across the fibre-optics.

Anonymous said...

I noticed your absence over on IH and now I've gone back to the page it seems to have collapsed under the pressure of all your interesting comments and insights disappearing...
You will be missed over there.

Julie N

Jacquelyn Dougherty said...

Thank you for getting back to me about the hardcover question. And YES the books will still make a worthy graduation gift! I hope someday you will publish them in hardback though.

Wimmera said...

i will be cutting my time spent on internet as well.

Anonymous said...


If I were not half a world away, I would be happy to give the bonnet a good home; bonnets are very suitable for a fair skinned 'half English' in the Australian sun and may accomodate my bun which pushes hats of all varieties right off of my head, as do ponytails regardless of how low they are made... My husband may well have kittens, but if it a straw bonnet, it would go with most feel free to contact me off list if the bonnet is wanting a new owner, also the headcovering groups are bound to have ladies that would also be able to rehome said headware..



Linda said...

I have been questioning too. My one thing that is constant in dragging me back to reality is this blog. It is true. Even if I come for a minute, it is better than nothing, because I have little interest in lots of things except facebook these days, have started to get back into reading.

Ember said...

Hi Tess - it is such a difficult thing to discern the way through, isn't it? The problem is that it's so 100%. I think people who are online for socialising and leisure have the option to put on the brakes when they feel like it, but the writers and other professional seem to have to chose between going hell-for-leather and spending their entire life chained to their computers, or fall by the wayside. The choice does seem to be that stark.

Hi Julie - give my love to the dear IH folks!

Hi Jacquelyn - the publishing decisions are not mine at all - but I'm so glad you like the stories :0)

Hi Sarah - the bonnet went to a friend much involved in amateur theatricals. Yes, it's brilliant against the sun and very pretty - but in England it just looks like fancy dress and draws too much attention. If you are looking for one similar, I think I got it from here:
Her prices are very reasonable.

Hi Linda :0) It's always good to hear from you x

JoAnn Wills said...


I recently purchased your book "In Celebration of Simplicity" and am on page 93 as of today. The book resonates with me - it is like balm to my spirit. I was first "introduced" to your posts through Innermost house. I found Innermost House as I embarked on a personal journey of simplicity - seek and you shall find. I wanted to let you know your writings and book have come into my life like clockwork to when I could benefit most. Your book has touched my soul. I understand, and the whisper in my soul won't let me rest; therefore, I chose to write and let you know how grateful I am that my journey crossed the path of your book and your postings at Innermost House.

JoAnn Wills

Asta Lander said...

I had wondered why you were so quiet on FB, but then I have been greatly limiting my time on there and I thought that I may have just missed you - and today I saw the post on IH. Funny I would see this on the day after I gave up my job at the library so that I can be fully engaged with my family and to truly live my simple living values.(Certainly a counter cultural move for a woman who is turning 50 and the mother of older teens.) The only reason I am on the Internet at all is because I am in bed with a cold and it seemed a good time to catch up with things, to put a few things in place to make my life breathe easier.
One of the first things I plan to do is to unsubscribe from all the blogs I follow. I remember reading something you said about not subscribing. I have found that I rarely read the ones I subscribe to - but I did not subscribe to you because I knew I would always return - and I do.
I find that email stresses me. Why have I allowed this 'junk' mail into my life? I have a 'no junk mail' sign on my letter box.
When I took time to have a retreat at home for one week - I didn't turn on my mobile phone, nor check email or FB, nor did I touch the computer and life was wonderful. I had lots of prayerful silence. I created more. I read more. I noticed that I had clarity of mind.Somehow the days seemed longer. I was able to give my loved ones focused attention. It was then that I decided to continue to limit my time on the computer,and the time spent away from the home. I also decided to leave work. I am very aware that the mother sets the thermostat in the home and our home is warmer and far more peaceful when I live true to my values.
The FB page I share with my friend is all about simple living - as you know - and I have noticed that as we work through the challenge to live more simply both Ellen and I are less and less on our page.
I have also had friends and acquaintances approach me to teach them to make laundry powder and even personal products - and this I would love to do. Sharing skills and mixing with other simple livers is so life giving. We are talking about setting up a simplicity circle.
This weekend a friend and I are informally running a creative spirituality mini-retreat in her home - all for free, just for the love of it. No agenda. It feels good!
Your entry about writers and platforms etc - is a tricky one, and one that I also feel so uncomfortable about, but publishers seem to expect it. It is hard to know what to do about that, especially when you (I mean people like me) are still infants in the industry.
I see you have given away your car - and now my car has died, it seems. Good timing.
And the Innermost House - we are now having candle lit nights. It is amazing how much easier it is to sleep after sitting around a fire with candle light and no electronic 'chatter'.
And so dear Ember, your blog entry
has come at a time when I am making some very big decisions. I had wanted to tell you of the changes in my life, and now this seems to be a perfect time. I am so encouraged by the thoughtfulness that you put into your simple living. I am also encouraged by all the others here, who are journeying with you.
We are not alone.
Peace and all joy,
Asta x

Anonymous said...

I relate to this as I began downscaling my life ten years ago. I have downscaled a relationship that no longer fit and rekindled ones which have always mattered even when I did not have time for them. I organize clothing swaps and encourage trade and barter amoungst my friends many of whom think because I enjoy reusing and recycling I must be poor. Because I am self employed and work as much as I need to I am free to go sailing, visit friends, and work in my organic garden. I am far richer than they could ever imagine. I live in a house with central air and heat and use the window for air conditioning and believe in sweaters when it is cold...I am in So California it never gets really cold...ever. I have made it a sport amongst my children to see who can repurpose and reuse the most creatively. The money I save from not being a consumer will take me to Japan to visit my daughter and her family later this year. I live my life instead of it living me. I am still streamlining my life and look forward to hearing more about how your journey progresses.

Ember said...

Hi JoAnn! How lovely to hear from you :0)

I see your ID includes an email address. Are you happy for that to appear? If not, I cannot edit your comment to remove the email address, but I can delete the whole comment. Let me know - or if you want to comment regularly without people seeing your email address you will need to change your setting preferences.
That aside - thank you so much for you kind words about the simplicity book; I'm so glad you are enjoying it!
I do miss the Innermost House Facebook page - best thing on Facebook! Give them my love x

Ember said...

Asta - if you send me a comment with your email address and your normal earth address (snail mail!) we can keep in touch by other means - otherwise it sounds as though we shall see very little of one another! Obviously I won't publish your comment giving your contact details!
You journey lifts my heart x

Ember said...

Ellen - hello friend! Are you the Ellen who is Asta's friend? So good to hear from you, and read the inspiration of your choices and determined journey into freedom! Hooray!

Asta Lander said...

Yes that is her. A x

Ember said...


Lauren said...

I found you on-line today as a result of my first visit to Innermost House web site and then FB page. I have been considering removing myself from FB but it is the only (poorer, to be sure) connection that I have with some family and many friends.

Have you had any concerns over losing your cyber attachment to old friends and/or distant family, and, if so, could you please share some thoughts on this.

I look forward to reading past & future blog posts.


Anonymous said...

My dear! this post has hit home more than I can say.

I have followed your quest for simplicity for awhile, and every time you share so openly, you convict me in parts of my life that I just haven't dealt with yet.

I am reaching 50, and I find myself bogged down and preoccupied yet again. But simplicity, that wonderful gift that Our Lord has given us, because it is from HIM completely, continues to lure me back.

I also deleted my FB account, I had to. I am now in the process of deleting my email and thinking pretty hard about following blogs.

I have your address, you were so kind to share it with me...I'll be sending you a letter, the old fashioned way soon.

Thank you so much for being a beacon in a very murky world.

Much love,


Ember said...

:0) Hi Lauren - good to meet you.

I think the social media have tremendous potential for good. Two examples - 1) It meant a lot to me to be part of the vigorous (though unsuccessful) struggle to save the life of Troy Davis, that was primarily conducted online; and in our failure, to be part of the worldwide vigil we shared in the last sad hours of his life.
2) My daughter is married to an American, and the facility Facebook offers her to allow their little son's American grandparents to be involved as he grows is most precious. She posts scores of photos and videos, so they can see him unwrapping the Christmas presents they have sent even though they are so far away.
I think Facebook can be wonderful and I have nothing against it at all.
It's just that it does my head in.
In the early days of the Society of Friends (Quakers), a man struggled with the challenge of the Peace Testimony. Thise were troubled times, and he did not want to give up his sword. He turned to George Fox for advice. And George Fox said him: "Wear it as long as thou canst."
I think I feel the same about Facebook really.

Ember said...

Hi Maria - I am so glad you will be writing. I have been re-discovering the treasure of handwritten letters - they bring joy in a way that emails do not. Make sure you include your address when you write - or send it to me in a comment here (which of course I would not publish), then I can write to you. I don't think I have your address already, do I? xx

Lauren said...

Thank you for your reply. As with most, or maybe all, things, we must each find our own way and FB is no exception. I did spend several hours yesterday evening reading all the earlier FB posts on Innermost House - good use of my time. What got left undone was several hours of TV watching. A very wothwhile trade. June is my month of no TV, an experiment.

Again, thank you for your insightful reply and I look forward to spending hours getting to know you by way of your blog.

Ember said...

Well, it'll be good to get to know you, too - I think you will like it here, it's such a nice bunch of people who comment and discuss on this blog :0)