Sunday, September 30, 2007

Not Drowning But Waving

Greetings, Blogfolk, and I hope this finds you in the pink.

In Norfolk there was sun, sand, me and my shadow.

Sometimes there were mermaids in the sea

Some mornings there were pancakes and fruit for breakfast.

At night there was moon looking at me through skylight.

On my birthday there was home-made lemon drizzle cake.
Every picture tells a story - but a story is never, dear reader, entirely to be trusted. Or?
"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." (Jeanette Winterson in The Passion).
There were words and there were words. There was word count. Good enough.
I am happy to be home again.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

In My Shoes

Sometimes fatigue has the power to disarm me afresh – I stand back and gasp at the intensity of its singleminded purposefulness, its aim being to disable me and lay me flat. When it strikes it does so swiftly and decisively, no amount of pleading and negotiating on my part will shift its resolve. I can muffle it with pills and an overdose of caffeine but it will be whispering in my ear that it is only a matter of hours and minutes and I will be the more completely floored for having thought to go against its dictates. I have described M.E. as a stalker, but sometimes he (it is still masculine, and given the nature of my primal relationships I don’t know why) takes on a kind of god-like aspect. He is a jealous god, who will admit no others and wants to have me, by hook or by crook, for his very own and sometimes, even now, it throws me.

I have spent three days trying to get shoes. In Clarks shoe shop I sat down and wept – well at any rate, I sat down. The bored assistant with pencil skirt and polished bouffant hair tried not to look at me as I brought back the shoes I had bought only yesterday. I didn’t talk about orthostatic intolerance and how any kind of shoes seem to hurt me these days even though my shoe size is a respectable size 6 standard fit, how I have been looking everywhere for those rubber Crocs that look and feel like beach shoes and are apparently out of this world comfortable (I know about how you can get everything online these days but I need to try things on) and how I would wear anything at all, even those PVC pump things in New Look, or their expensive Italian leather equivalent in Russell and Bromley as long as they put a sole between me and the ground beneath my feet and didn’t hurt. I didn’t say any of that. I said I’d like a refund and she wondered how long till going home time. Sign here, she said, and have you got your Visa. I put the wrong pin number into the machine. We stared at each other across a great divide.

I am going to Norfolk with three writing buddies. I am taking spiral notebooks, a laptop, a new book about fiction-writing suggested by a friend, my down-at-heel Birkenstocks, black suede shoes I got in the men’s section at Pricerite for about a fiver seven years ago, Percol Americano coffee, two packets of Betty Crocker brownie mix and some fruit cake. The aim is to unblank the page and have a Good Time. As long as the former happens (and it will, we are wordsmiths innit), the rest will follow.

See you at the end of the month.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Poetry Cafe

To have a poetry café you need a poet, a room with chairs and a tin. The poet is for bringing poetry, the room with chairs is for people who come and listen to the poetry and perhaps share some of their own and the tin is for collecting money from the people that come in order to pay for the poet and the room with the chairs. You do not need to have coffee. The word café is to suggest the idea of a congenial gathering of artistically inclined people. If you want to add flourishes you have a person with musical instrument making melodious sound, tables with flowers in jam jars and lit candles, incense, fruit cordial (hot apple and ginger in cold weather), biscuits and a couple of bottles of wine for you and your mates or anyone who looks as though they might fancy some. And if people want something more rock and roll there are plenty of inner city venues. You won’t be getting the smoke-filled atmosphere these days but there will still be black walls and bleakness. I’m not being snooty here, believe me I like all that and will go in search of it myself one way or another, but it’s no good being a black walls and bleakness merchant when you live on the Edge. We do things differently here and the punters like it. Well, I like it and I’m number one punter, having begun this so as to keep the poetry buzzing on my doorstep, or as good as.

What you hope is that people turn up – and they do, usually. Visiting poets, used to an audience of Sid and Doris Bonkers plus one or two more on a good night are surprised to see the room quite full. So Ros Barber wasn’t in the least put out by the relatively low numbers the other night, reminiscing about one gig where the only audience was the other poet and his spouse and how they’d basically spent the evening reading back and forth to each other. I was disappointed that more people hadn’t turned up. Something about this time of year, I think - peoples’ kids going back to school, choirs starting up, end of season cheaper holidays, and perhaps it might have been better to have it at the end of the month. And it was such a fine, powerful reading, on the edge of (but not quite) performance poetry. Only four people put their names down to read in the open mic session, so I padded it out with three of mine and kicked another poet who would have preferred to nurse his cold into doing something. The Signs family was there, daughter visiting from London and son not yet back at university, Mr. S. taking money at the door. Not much money, on account of low numbers and we didn’t cover costs, and it would have been good to give the poet a bit more for travel (she hired a car to get there). But no-one complained. My experience is that poets tend to be like that. They do their work, they come, are happy with little, are gracious. But perhaps I’ve just been lucky.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sauce and Substance

I am trying to decide on the right word for what I want to do – but there is a nick on the little finger of my left hand that bleeps a small hurt every time it hits the keyboard. How to bring random things like that into the picture is, of course, what it’s all about, just as it’s all about coming to the virgin (increasingly keyboard) page without a clear, or any, idea of what one wants to say. The nick on my finger is getting in the way of writing. Life itself gets in the way of writing but on the other hand, “the grave’s a fine and private place, but none, I think, do there embrace” or bash out their novels (sorry, Marvell). So I’m paring down or reducing (which word, which word?) so as to be able to do it now while I’m still, in my fashion, tickety boo. Ideally my day would begin early with a cup of mint tea or glass of fruit juice followed by a brisk walk on one of the many lovely parts of the forest I live right next to, a few hundred words bashed out before a nice breakfast of, say, boiled egg and marmite soldiers (it’s all in the details folks) or just fruit and perfect americano coffee with hot milk. After this I’d bash out another thousand or so words before a light lunch of yellow pepper and courgette soup (it’s a new recipe I was recently given) or Caesar salad (and don’t ask me who prepares these bonne bouches, it’s a fantasy, ok?) and the afternoon would be given over to catching up on reading, correspondence, small household tasks (if I must) editing and, the occasional taking of tea with a similarly-engaged acquaintance, more writing plus cultural pursuits and an exquisitely prepared dinner (Moroccan lamb and couscous?) and wine in the evening.

I think a new paragraph is in order so as to bring myself back. I think I’ve said this before: it takes me most of the morning to incarnate into the day at all or, if I get up early, consequences will make themselves felt later. I am trying to remember how on earth I managed to do all the writing I did when the children were small and I was so ill. Certainly there were times when I simply took pills and managed to override, something I wouldn’t manage now, and I wasn’t able to keep it up. Now I have let go of almost everything that might get in the way. Someone else, a writing friend, is taking over the classes I was to have taught this year which is good for her and for me, though it does feel strange to let go so completely of something that I gave myself to for many years.

Reducing is the right word, I think. It’s what you do to a sauce when you want to intensify the flavour and make it more substantial. I need shoes - my old Birkenstocks have needed replacing for two years. I need underwear – my bras have lost their elasticity. I’ll see to these and other essentials, but clothes will do for another few years, I’ve worn the same two pairs of thin trousers for most of the summer, alternating, and my purple shell suit trousers await the colder weather. I have a poetry café to attend to on Friday, Ros Barber (of Shallowlands) being the invited poet but this kind of activity is of the essence and essential to me.

I am boiling off the excess and am already, though I say it myself, very tasty. And I've stuck a plaster on the finger.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Good Life

On Friday I went to a funeral and yesterday I went to a three-year-old’s birthday party. Both were good. The funeral was for the husband of a friend who lives close by and is one of my long-time writing companions and I wished with all my heart that he would not die, he was not old. He wasn’t someone I knew well, but sometimes it doesn’t take much for a person to reveal what is essential about them. The goodness and simplicity of the funeral felt in accordance with the character of the man. I wept, as I have done at each funeral I have been to (there have been four) since my father’s death. As my friend’s husband was a Buddhist, there was a monk dressed in saffron robes who chanted by the coffin which was made of some kind of raffia type of material and reminded me of the Moses baskets that new babies are held in and is the most beautiful coffin I have seen and, I think, most perfect for carrying a newly-dead body from this life. I have no sense of where the dead go to, no conviction that tells me they are still alive in the spirit. Much as I would wish to believe that my father were somehow “there,” it is his absence rather than his presence that I experience most forcefully. But where belief and conviction fail, faith leaps (sorry, could not resist) in most extraordinary or ridiculous fashion – I can’t and won’t decide which it is and feel that perhaps it is both. I have this faith that the substance of a person, the soul, is there, wherever there is, perhaps returned to the place it came from before incarnating into the physical body at birth. I have also this intuition that tells me it is important, and not only for those who are still alive, how we conduct ourselves and rituals at the time, and in the days after, the death of a person.

The birthday party was for my nephew, the son of my half-brother, one of the many half-siblings from my father’s second marriage. Born shortly after the death of my father and with a Portuguese mother, he has the Portuguese version of my father’s name: Michael. The party was held in the grounds of a youth club/sports pavilion. There was a bouncy castle, balloons, a cake with Noddy and Big Ears in a car with the birthday boy’s name on the number plate, a party conductress (can’t think what else to call her) and a clown that shouldn’t have been there. The clown had been booked and then cancelled in favour of the party conductress, but the clown’s wife hadn’t passed the message on, so there he was all painted up and ready with his box of tricks. He said as he was there that he would like to do the gig anyway, paid or not, and in the event he was given half the fee he would have had. He was a nice person, but his tricks consisted mainly of twisting balloons into different shapes and giving out lollipops. I couldn’t quite see the point of the Conductress who got everyone singing Happy Birthday with the unnecessary aid of something pre-recorded and followed this up with pass-the-parcel and Mr. S and I couldn’t help reminiscing how we used to do the singing, games and puppet show of Mrs. Rabbit’s Cottage, all by ourselves. But still, it was good to be there with small children who (now that I no longer have them) I sometimes miss, and with the open-hearted loving kindness of the fully-functioning side of my family.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Just Life Really,

It’s just that sometimes it feels like Boot Camp. But it’s ok because I have a Technique. Back to the old CBT method of reframing. Is that the term? If a picture is crap then it stays crap no matter how you frame it, but there I go being unhelpful, let’s just say there is one way of thinking about something – and then there’s another. So, for example, the world is not a dangerous place for me and those I hold dear: that’s just anxiety, and if you say something to yourself enough times you can make it feel sort of true. I really ought to have become a confirmed Positive Affirmationer, I could have Healed my Life ten times over by now. But anyway, I like the word “just” and think I will use it more often.

It is just M.E.
It is just my dysfunctional family.
It is just someone’s clinical psychosis.
It is just subsidence.
It is just a burst water pipe.
It is just weirdness.
It is just someone dying.

So basically it’s all fine and I have taken some Co-proxamol. In the old days it would have been whisky, cigarettes and possibly a spliff or two, but musn’t grumble.

This morning the weather had that first-day-of-holidays feeling, in spite of all the poor bleeders going back to school. I went out onto the forest. People think it’s just trees, but there is open heath land too, miles of it, and I can walk on any day of the year and find wide expanses of unpeopled places. So I walked and walked and walked to see if I could push through the barrier and slough off (slough? shrug?) the weirdness that is Other People’s Stuff, the better to focus on my own wonderful and winged stuff, but the barrier accompanied me and so did the Stuff.

And now I feel very weird and full of stuff, but my son is watching a video of old Fry and Laurie sketches and there is an apple crumble on the kitchen table. For the moment, these are the particulars that I choose to let be the ground beneath my feet. And prescription drugs.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Pants for Breakfast

While you are patiently waiting (are you not?) for me to complete the first draft of what I ironically (but only just) refer to as my Magnum Opus – why not do yourselves a favour and go over to That’s So Pants and have a butcher’s* at the first chapter of her recently-finished book? And if you like it, pass the word along, innit? It’s The Full English, and tasty.

*Cockney rhyming slang (butcher's hook = look)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

What If? (or how I might be saving the world and no-one even thanks me for it)

It often surprises me to hear what people think I’m like. Obviously they don’t tell me the uncomplimentary things, nor would I encourage this. The word “calm” is something I frequently hear, and “unflappable.” While these are pretty neutral in terms of how one assesses a person’s character, they seem to be qualities much coveted by people who lead lives that are increasingly rushed and stressful. I wish I possessed them too, to the degree that I appear to. In reality, I am a prey to every flying thought and a mere change in the wind’s direction is enough to increase the pulse rate. My daughter travelling across London during an underground strike is a minefield of what ifs, and don’t even begin to talk about night busses at three in the morning. I shut up about it most of the time or I would drive everyone and myself bonkers. There is no-one better in a crisis than me because I am always primed for it – I never need to read any of those Worst Case Scenario books, my undisciplined but vivid imagination has pictured it all. The single useful thing a cognitive behavioural therapist identified was that one of my Core Beliefs seemed to be that anxiety was in some way helpful: that by worrying one perhaps prevented the worst from happening. Obviously it isn’t helpful. “I” know that, even if my core believer doesn’t. It takes energy. It is not a good thing. On the other hand, but this will remain forever unverifiable, perhaps it is only my anxiety that is preventing the world from falling into imminent destruction – in which case, dear reader, you should really be thanking me. I’ve been doing it too long, though. Someone else want to take over?