where the writers are

There are story ideas popping up everwhere, from advice about having varied potato recipes, people with their ears cut off, and totems.

Three people in the past three weeks have revealed their totems to me. Each revelation was a surprise. Such serendipity, that three people tell me their totems without prompting, strikes me as something being passed on that I should attend. 

One friend wrote an eloquent essay to our group about how the turtle became his totem. He had a pet turtle when he was a boy. The turtle escaped its bowl a few days before Thanksgiving. The family gathered at the table and indulged in the annual gluttony. Midway through the meal, one cousin held up 'the Pope's nose' and announced he thought he'd found the missing turtle. The table was silent for seconds before the assemblage exploded with laughter. My friend believed much of the laughter was due to the look on his face. It took him time to digest that this wasn't his turtle, he was being had. From then he became a skeptic. That took him into science. He wears a silver turtle totem on a chain around his neck.

From down in the California coast around Montara, another friend announced that she believed red foxes and bobcats were her totems because she saw, dreamed, thought of them a lot and felt drawn to them. The third friend told me in passing that the owl was her totem. She said the wise owl knows the truth, and is associated with death and rebirth. She believes the owl totem helps her release memories and habits she no longer needs and helps her acquire new knowledge and directions. Interesting.

Now honestly, I didn't - and don't - know much about totems. Totems to me are associated with native Americans across North America and totem poles. I'd written a theme paper about totem poles in sixth grade and remembered some of that. Individuals having totems was a new aspect to me.  

Turns out individual totems are a new age thing.


I Googled, searched and read about totems, wondering if I should have a totem. Was it a deer?

I came across deer all spring and last winter. Whats-your-sign said, "The deer is linked to the arts, specifically poetry and music in ancient Celtic animal lore due to its graceful form. The Celts also believed that deer were associated with the fairie realm, and would lead troops of fairies - hundreds of them trailing behind them as the stag cut a path through the forest."

That sounded intriguing. I liked the part about poety and music. I like music. Songs play in my head quite often, providing soundtracks to my activities. Interesting.

What of the cat? I've had cats all of my life and checked out cat totems. In a way I didn't want it to be the cat because I've had cats all my life and my friends associate cats with me. But they made sense in my life, too.  At Readings From Elizabeth, I read, "Their purr and the calm energy brings balance to the reading environment. Cats are also nocturnal. Because to humans the dark is the holder of fears, the cat has taken on the mystery and the magic of nighttime and darkness." She went on to say, that cats help with editation.

Ahh. I like the dark, though, especially when the moon lights the night.  Hmm...does that mean I don't like the dark, that I actually like light? 

I am a sucker for a cat purr, damn it.

Elizabeth also had a bit about the deer. She said:

"Deer teaches us a few things:

  • Ability to listen
  • Understanding what is necessary to survive
  • The ability to sacrifice of oneself for the greater good of all
  • Alternative ways to get to a goal
  • Gracefulness and beauty

And my personal favorite !!!!



Liked that, too. Identify with it. Maybe I'm too fickle to have a totem. Deer...cat.  My friend has two totems. Am I allowed two totems? 

Actually, it turned out that I could. Some sites claim that totems came and go through different phases of your life. Two are most constant. The more I read, though, the more I thought people are just sort of making things up about the totems, that there are no constants about them as individual symbols. 

Then, Eureka! I'm a writer. I'll search for a writing totem. Yes, clever. My Googling turned up Chris Baty's comments about writing totems.

  • Creator of NaNoWriMo, Chris Baty, urges WriMos to invest in a "writing totem," which is an item (or several items) that helps inspire, get one in a writer-like state of mind and help's battle writer's block. A writing totem can be anything; it could be an item of clothing (like Baty's viking helmet), a stuffed animal, a picture, a chotchke item, anything! Totems are most often around a WriMo's computer (or on the WriMo) and stick by the WriMo in all of his or her creative endeavors. Totems also serve as a signal to others that the WriMo is in "the shadowy Realm of the Novel."

Chris has certainly broadened the definition. Thereupon, I made a decision. My totems are the pen, the deer and the cat. I've always carried a pen and still do, even if I rarely use them any longer, tending to type more frequently. I like having pens in case I need to jot something down. I carried them all the time in the military. 

But Chris' definition had me thinking more. If a totem can be anything, why can't words be my totem as well? I love words. And then, finally, thinking back to my very beginning of creative activities, a final totem would be...a white space. The white space can be a piece of paper, a wall, or a white computer screen. It's a place where I can begin to create. 

I meditated on this with a glass of pinot noir for a bit and decided my instincts were correct: deer, cat, pen, words, white space. 

These are my totems.

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Michael, Now you set me on


Now you set me on the task for the day: discovering my totems! 

Anne Morrow Lindbergh was the first writer I had encountered who talked about writing totems. She did not refer to them in that sense, but in each of her writing rooms or cottages, she arranged a series of shells, leaves, stones, feathers and other pieces of nature from around her property.  

One question:

Can wine be a totem?


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Ha! What an insight!

Sure, why not? I certainly feel a little inspired after some wine. Find a little wine bottle or wine glass key chain trinket and carry it as your totem. Hmmm...I have room for more totems. Maybe I'll add a coffee bean as well!

Thanks for the inspiration. Cheers