Saturday, April 12, 2014

Artist Talk: Come Learn About Celtic Knotwork and Possibly Win Some Art

To preview displayed artwork and purchase prints, canvas prints, and more, please visit the Knotted Words Celtic Art webpage at

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Celebrate Poetry Month - Come to the Knotted Words Celtic Art Show

April is poetry month! Come celebrate poetry and the arts at my art show at the Keshen Goodman Library. Bask in the wisdom of the great writers, from T. S. Eliot to Mother Goose to Edgar Allan Poe.

To preview displayed artwork and purchase prints, canvas prints, and more, please visit the Knotted Words Celtic Art webpage at

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Why Dystopia? How Dystopic Fiction Can Help You Improve Your Relationships, Gain Perspective, and Appreciate Your Precious Life

So last spring, when I was eight months pregnant, I had picked up this book, The Passage, by Justin Cronin, at a used book sale. I bought it because Stephen King had reviewed it, saying "Read this book and the outside world disappears." As a lifelong Stephen King fan, I trust him, and if he says it's good, then it's got to be. And so I purchased The Passage without a second thought.

But Stephen King's endorsement was not the only thing about The Passage that had caught my attention. The back cover blurb was utterly intriguing, one of the best I had ever read, so good, in fact, that I just have to include it here:

Deep in the jungles of eastern Colombia, Professor Jonas Lear has finally found what he's been searching for - and wishes to God he hadn't. 

In Memphis, Tennessee, a six-year-old girl called Amy is left at the convent of the Sisters of Mercy and wonders why her mother has abandoned her. 

In a maximum security jail in Nevada, a convicted murderer called Giles Babcock has the same strange nightmare, over and over again, while he waits for a lethal injection.

In a remote community in the California mountains, a young man called Peter waits for his beloved brother to return home, so he can kill him. 

Bound together in ways they cannot comprehend, for each of them a door is about to open into a future they could not have imagined. And a journey is about to begin. An epic journey that will take them through a world transformed by man's darkest dreams, to the very heart of what it means to be human.

Pretty catchy, eh? It really lured me in, making me want to turn to the first page. But alas, I was eight months pregnant, and had more pressing matters on my mind. The Passage would just have to wait.

Time passed, I went into labour, and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. For a couple of months, my life consisted of sleeping, breastfeeding, and diaper-changing, but The Passage still sat the bookshelf outside my bedroom door, just waiting for me to pick it up. Every time I passed by and glanced at its dark cover, I looked at it longingly, the emotional impact of the author's words still haunting me.

Finally, I could take it no longer—the pull of The Passage was just too strong. And so, one dark and scary summer night, while my three month old babe slept soundly, I picked up The Passage and started to read. From the very first page, Cronin had me hooked. It was terrifying—brilliant, beautiful, ambitious, and utterly terrifying. 

As a writer, I was captivated by Cronin's words and the world he created—strong characters, eloquent prose, wicked plot, I read on, knowing I had a lot to learn from this man, this Justin Cronin. With my heart racing and breaking at the same time, I reluctantly put the book down, knowing that I was supposed to sleep when the baby slept and that in reading The Passage into the wee hours of the morning, I was breaking a cardinal rule.

But once I started, I could not abandon ship, so to speak, and every night, when I collapsed into bed while my baby slept or my husband was caring for him, I entered Cronin's world. My husband had given The Passage a nick-name—"Scary Book" he called it, because that's what it was—a future so horrifying, that at times, I could barely bare it.  

I will admit to having mixed feelings about the book—I would look at it on my night table and ask myself—Can I go there tonight, to that very, scary place? And sometimes the answer would be no, and I would pick up another book, and try to escape from Cronin's world, but part of my psyche was always stuck there, wondering what would happen next. Within minutes, I would put down whatever book I was reading, and pick up Scary Book once again.

Cronin's characters are so strong that I did, at times, find myself weeping at the thought of raising children in the dark future that he had envisioned.  In those moments, I had to stop reading, and go and find my beloved husband and child and smother them with kisses and express my love and gratitude for them over and over.  Although my husband appreciated the frequent displays of affection that were the result of entering Cronin's world, he discouraged me from reading Scary Book, saying that maybe it was just too scary for me right now, and that maybe I might do better if I read something a just little lighter.

I agreed that maybe he was right, that maybe a dystopic literary thriller might be too intense for a sleep-deprived, breast-feeding, hormonal new mother, and for a two week period, I didn't read Scary Book at all.  

But did my psyche leave Cronin's world, you might ask? 

No, never.

His characters were always in my heart. They entered my dreams. I thought about them while I was in the shower. No, I had already entered Cronin's world—not reading Scary Book was not going to change that. I soon realized the only way out of The Passage was to finish it.

And so I dove in full force, letting the gravity of the tale propel me forward. In the end, I was wrong—The Passage was just the beginning of Cronin's world—of course, there is a second book, The Twelve, and a third to follow.

While I have read Keith Oatley's Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction and knew that there is evidence to suggest that reading fiction increases the reader's social skills and their ability to empathize, my experience with Cronin's work deepened my understanding of just how much one work of fiction can affect an individual. For even though it has been several months since I have finished it,  The Passage has left its mark, changing my perspective about my life, my relationships, and my world like no other book has. 

Cronin shows me what could be, putting into words humanity's worst nightmare, painting a picture so clear and so real and so plausible that you swear that it's already happening. By showing me the horrors of what the future might hold, Cronin has helped me appreciate my life as it is, reminding me that as bad as things might appear to be when my luck seems low and my perspective is small, there is no way they could be as bad as they are in The Passage, and for that I am grateful. 

So if you are feeling particularly brave, I dare you to read The Passage.  I double dog dare you. See what you are made of. Read The Passage and change your life.

P.S. My Christmas present to myself was, you guessed it—The Twelve. I'm only on page 28, but so far, I'm impressed. And, get this, I'm still scared to read it—maybe I should call it Scary Book 2.

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Gothic Christmas Photos

Well, my first art show and sale at the Have Yourself a Gothic Little Christmas has come and gone. It was very fruitful—I met lots of amazing artisans and crafters, received positive feedback about my own work, and even sold a few pieces, which was very encouraging.

Here are some shots of me at my booth.

For more pictures of the whole gothic affair, please go to Jen Holtom's Facebook page and check them out. 

Have a Merry Gothic Christmas/Happy Holidays.

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Knotted Words Celtic Art's Debut Art Show and Sale

So here it is, my first official art show and sale, and the Have Yourself a Gothic Little Christmas Craft Fair is just the perfect venue for my work.

Held at Maritime Hall at the Halifax Forum on Nov. 30/Dec. 1/2013 from 11am to 7pm on Saturday and 11am to 6 pm on Sunday, the Have Yourself a Gothic Little Christmas Craft Fair and Sale is home to all things medieval, gothic, fairytale, and steampunk inspired. Hope to see you there, enjoying your gothic Christmas shopping spree. 

To view some of my inspirational celtic artwork, please visit my main website at Knotted Words Celtic Art or check out my profile page at Pixels/

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why Gothic Art? How the Dark Arts Can Lighten Your Heart and Your Life

So right before the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday, I posted a new piece of artwork entitled Spinning Celtic Skulls (pictured above), my vision of a glimpse into the mind of Lewis' Carroll's Queen of Hearts. When I pointed my artwork out to my mother, she took at quick glance at the image on my facebook page and her sarcasm was very detectable through the phone when she said, "Very nice, Ange. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too." 

Now, while my mother has always been very supportive of my artwork, she has never really understood my darker side. "Ange," she has said in the past. "I don't understand why you draw and write such dark things. You are so cheerful and happy. You are a nice person. How can someone with such a pleasant disposition create such dark, depressing things?"

And so, Mom, this post is for you—my attempt to answer your question and to go a little further, arguing that it is because I create such dark and depressing things that I am so happy and cheerful. 
This post is for anyone who does not understand gothic art, culture, and philosophy, for all the mothers out there who don't understand why all their teenager wants to do is wear black and listen to death metal, for all the people who would rather focus on the nicer, prettier aspects of life rather than acknowledging the harsh realities of death and impermanence.

But first, I have a confession to make. I am a closet Goth. I have always appreciated the Goth aesthetic, the dark hair and eyes contrasting with pale skin and dark, elegant clothing. I have never had the courage to dress that way, mainly for professional reasons—I don't want to scare my clients away. :-) But while I may not look Goth on the outside, I am definitely one on the inside and this is why.

For me, one of the appeals of gothic art and culture is the acknowledgment of life in all its aspects, its horrors as well as its beauty. Gothic artists and writers possess the ability to see the beauty within the horror. All these images of skulls and blood and death are just an acknowledgment of the truth of the human condition—we are born, we live, and we die. When we can honour the truth of death as gothic artists do, then we can truly appreciate life. In some sense, Buddhists do the same thing, contemplating death in meditations on emptiness of the body and impermanence. Why, one of the major tenants of Buddhist thought is the first noble truth, which states quite frankly that "Life is suffering." So for me, gothic art and Buddhist thought go hand in hand.

"But how does this acknowledgement of suffering and death make you happy?" you might ask.

Because it is a relief to acknowledge the truth. When I remember my mortality, when I remind myself that I, too, will die someday, I can finally relax and enjoy life with a lighter heart, an appreciation for every bittersweet moment as it is. It is kind of like when you were a little kid and you were afraid of what was under your bed and you couldn't go to sleep until you checked to see what kind of horrors lived amongst those cobwebs and dust bunnies and old comic books. When you finally saw what was there and what wasn't there, then and only then could you take a deep breath, and curl up under a pile of heavy blankets and snuggle off to sleep.

It is not until we acknowledge these horrors, both real and imagined, see them face to face and look them in the eye, that we get to know them and realize that they aren't as scary as we initially thought them to be, and that, my friends, brings a great sense of relief, to be able to think, "Ahhh, I will die someday," to never forget that fact, because we never know when that someday is. Maybe it's tomorrow, maybe it's today, and maybe it's 30 years from now.

And so when you look under your bed and your imagination plays tricks on you, and you swear you saw a monster under there, at least now you know what your dealing with, even if your mind has made it up to fill the space, to fill the terror of not knowing, at least now, your mind has given form to the worst case scenario, and believe it or not, my friends, knowing always makes us feel better.

The gothic art that takes us further into the dark side, the images of demons, vampires, and the like, things that the recesses of our mind like to dream up in their spare time, these images give form to the formless frights of our lives, our existential angst. And like the child in the night peering under the bed, in viewing these images, we can relax, and think "Ahhh, its only a blood-sucking vampire—I can deal with that. Ahhh, its only a brain-eating zombie—I can deal with that." But what we can't deal with is the all-pervasive anxiety that gnaws at our minds, chomping and chewing away every little bit of sanity we have left.

Creating gothic art makes me happy because it gives form to my greatest fears, allows me to see them for what they are, imaginary in some cases, the truth of the human condition in others. And being able to make the distinction between things as they appear and things as they are gives me a clarity and a knowing that cuts through any confusion that I have and lets me sit on the honey-coated razor's edge of the present moment, balancing precariously between light and dark, good and evil, resting in the here and now beyond labels, beyond form, beyond conceptualization of any kind.

It is here, in this bardo, this neverland of time, that true happiness resides, happiness without causes or conditions, contentment pure and true. So join me in that space beyond the niceities and horrors of the mind and see what you experience there. Visit the virtual homes of other gothic/fantasy artists, such as Myka Jelina, Charlene Murray ZatloukalJasmine Becket-Griffith and, of course, the infamous Tim Burton, and notice your own reaction to the dark arts. 

To view more of my artwork, please visit my main website at Knotted Words Celtic Art or check out my profile page at Pixels/ If you are interested in learning more about gothic art and culture, you can check out Gothic Beauty Magazine, sold locally at The Paper Chase on Blowers Street in Halifax.

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Stress Management for New Parents: Five Simple Things You Can Do to Help You Cope With Your New Bundle of Joy

So one of my first blog posts ever was "Stress Management for Parents", something I had written long before I actually became I parent. And while I still stand by most of what I had said before, there are a few things I would change about what I had written now that I have a four month old baby.

First, I would make the list of coping strategies shorter. New parents have enough new things to learn and do—any tips I have for them need to be small, simple, and to the point.

Secondly, I would rank the items from least important to most important. Sometimes doing one extra thing is enough to put a new parent (aka me) over the edge, let alone five. Now I realize the importance of giving parents ranked options so that they have a sense that what their stress management priorities are.

So, with that said, here are is Angela D. MacKay's Guide to Stress Management for New Parents. The five simple, most important things you can do to help you cope, in descending order, are:

5) Do something fun while you're baby is napping. All new parents hear "sleep when the baby sleeps", but I disagree. Sure, you need your rest, but you also need some connection to your life before you had a child, and that means doing something of the fun things you used to do in your down time. The key word here is "fun" and just to clarify, what you find fun when you're exhausted and you're life is turned upside down is very different than what you found fun when things felt more balanced. It may be as simple as watching a television show with your partner, or reading a novel while your partner, family, or friends are looking after the baby. As tired as I was, within the first three weeks after my beautiful babe was born, I was reading a novel and writing in my journal while my husband took over the evening feeds of pumped breast milk and supplemental formula. Reading and writing, things I did frequently before my baby was born, reminded me that there was a world outside of parenthood, and that eventually, I would have more of a connection with it.

4) Take some time to problem solve about things that would make your life easier. I was a pretty organized person before I got pregnant, but baby brain left me feeling a little less smart and a lot less organized. There were many important things I didn't yet have when my water broke eight days early, including a night-light, a soother, and a bottle warmer. What you expect to need when you are having baby may be quite different than what you actually need once your baby arrives. Taking the time to think about my options, to talk things over with my partner, and get support from other mothers allowed me to figure out what needed to change and what I needed to tweak in order to make things go more smoothly.

The decision to supplement breastfeeding with formula was huge, and at first, heart-breaking, but I soon realized what a dramatic change introducing formula would bring to my life. No longer would I be engaging in breastfeeding-related activities for 15 hours a day, going without food for five hours at time, breastfeeding and sobbing, wondering when and if my baby would ever be full and how much longer I could feed my child without losing my mind. Now, I breastfeed my baby for an hour at a time, and someone else can feed him a bottle while I go do the things that I need to do to take care of myself. That one choice changed everything for me—wiped out half of my stress, and spread out the responsibility of feeding my child to others, rather than having it fall on me alone.

So take the time to think about what choices you need to make in order to get the most stress-reducing bang for your buck. Tweak your physical space to make it more organized and efficient as needed—organization and structure in the physical world will decrease the chaos in your inner world. Find the supports and structures you need from within the community as well as your friends and family.

3) Tune into your body to figure out what you need to do for you. In those precious moments of quietude when your baby sleeps, just take a moment to tune in with yourself and get a sense of what you need to do next. Do you really need to take a nap? Is food a priority? Do you need a shower? Do you need to talk with someone? Or do you just need to be alone? Only you can answer those questions, only you can tune in in the moment, and discern what you need to do right now. Being present with yourself helps you better respond to both your needs and your baby's needs—when you are at your best, your baby will be at their best, too.

2) Know when you need to ask for help. This ties into number three. You need to know your limits, to know when you are too tired, too hungry, or too emotional drained to properly care for you and your child. Err on the side of caution—do not wait until you are completely overwhelmed to ask for help. I learned that the hard way. Many a time in those first two weeks, I knew I was about lose it after about 2 hours of breastfeeding, but I kept going anyway, thinking that I could just feed him a little bit longer, that he'd get full soon enough.

The result three hours later? A sobbing, hungry Mama and a wailing, hungry baby. When I was finally able to ask my husband to take over before I got so overwhelmed, things were much less stressful for all of us.

And the number one thing you can do to help you cope with your new bundle of joy? You guessed it...

1) Exercise. Now, I know some of you are thinking, "Come on, really? You want me to exercise right after having a baby? That's just not possible." Again, let me qualify that by saying that what you would do as exercise before having a baby, during pregnancy, immediately postpartum, 6 weeks postpartum and 12 weeks postpartum are all completely different.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, exercise is defined as any activity that requires physical exertion. That's all I'm saying—get up and move and you'll feel better.

As a new mom, I spent most of my time sitting—sitting and breastfeeding, sitting and changing a diaper, sitting and reading a story. For me, ten days postpartum, "exercise" was sweeping and moping my kitchen floor. Oh, you won't believe how good it felt, working up the tiniest bit of sweat! I had no idea that I could ever love cleaning my kitchen so much. Finally, I could get up and move!

At one month, postpartum, "exercise" was a twenty minute leisurely stroll with my baby and my dog.

And now, at four months postpartum, "exercise" is roller skating by myself for a half an hour while listening to Rob Zombie's "Dragula" over and over again.  And the difference in my mood is night and day. Even my husband has noticed a significant change in my overall demeanor.

"Are going roller skating tomorrow morning?" he would ask. "I can stay home and keep an ear out for the baby." Because he knows when Mama's happy, everybody's happy. And what makes Mama happy is roller skating.

And so there you have it—Angela D. MacKay's Guide to Stress Management for New Parents. Do keep in mind that while this list is meant to be ranked in order of importance, as you can see, they each tie into one another, and only you can discern what you need to do when. The bottom line is that you need to trust yourself more than anything, even more than the books, more than the professionals. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself as well as your baby and everyone will be all the happier.

© All rights reserved. Angela Dawn MacKay.