Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Darkening of the Light

Great title, says Mr. Signs, but people might think you're dying. You won't think that, I hope, when I tell you that it's from the I Ching and carries the image of the light sinking into the earth, which is right for the time of year. This is the view from my window as I sit tapping at the keys by the light of my trusty anglepoise and the Dell computer screen and the sun is going down. Out there in the darkness is my writing shed which I am not using very much at the moment, partly because the heater is faulty and we have come into quite a cold snap, but also because I like it here too.

As a young child, I lived in a German village and at Martinmas (which isn't until 11th November) I walked around with the children from my Kindergarten carrying a moon-faced lantern that was lit from within by a candle. We sang, Laterne, Laterne, Sonne, Mond und Sterne. The first time I did this I hadn't been in Germany very long, so this may have been the first song I learned. My mother was walking and singing beside me. The longer and darker the nights became, the more the candles were lit. I have never dreaded winter and the dark months. When my own children were little, I walked around with nightlights in painted jars and hollowed-out turnips singing, the light shines bright all through the night, la bimma la bimma la bim. It's something to carry with you, the image of light in darkness, for when other kinds of darkness come - the kind that is harder to identify.

I have challenges at the moment: some of those are good, necessary or adventurous ones; there are several poetry cafes coming up, writing to do - and I have decided to be brave and take new steps to see if I can bring about a radical change in my health. I fear failure but I will "do it anyway" on the basis that you only ever really regret what you don't do. Some of the challenges, though, I could do without; they are the kind that take light from you, and strength. It's ok, I've done it before, the lantern walk. When you are out in the open with the elements threatening to snuff out the flame you do what you can to shield it, and then you go back inside singing, the light grows dim as we go in, la bimma la bimma la bim. So that's what I'm doing for a space; withdrawing and keeping the flame safe and lit. It's Hallowe'en soon. I'll be lighting one for you all - and spooking around. (Obviously).

Saturday, October 20, 2007

She Considers Her Father's Hands

I can never forget his hands now because I only have to look at my own to remember the shape and texture of them. What shocks me still is how I only really took them in the last time I saw him alive, and it was such a surprise – to notice, to see this inheritance of mine. They were elegant and spoke of tenderness, the skin brown against the white sheet. The skin; it is my skin, the only skin I recognise by touch. First there was his, then there was mine, then my daughter’s. The first time I touched her I thought: this is my skin. It is strange, coming up against something so belonging to oneself but in another, and recognising it for the first time – because you can never know your own skin like that. And we are connected – not just to each other but to some place on earth that the people who were our ancestors inhabited. The people had skin like ours and we would know each other by touch. I sometimes wonder if there is a place in southern Spain where our lost relatives walk, holding each others’ hands, touching the baby’s cheek, with no idea that one of their people is here on this island that the Anglo Saxons and Normans made their place. One of their people is here, wanting to go home, which is the skin of her father’s hands.

I have a crystal heart. It’s the only thing I have that belonged to him, and it was something I gave him once for his birthday. He kept it on his desk, a small treasure. I tell myself this: that by holding it I make it warm, and as it warms so do we, my father and I, the substance and essence of us, always touching. Sometimes I fall asleep with it still in my hands and I wake in the middle of the night and it is there; warm as blood against me.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Magicians who Lunch

I lunched with a friend today in one of my favourite cafes. Anyone who looks at the photograph below and knows Lewes will guess where I was. There is an exuberance about the place, part of which is given over to selling fresh produce and was today glowing with pumpkins, and the exuberance is also on the plates of food they serve. I had a plate of mixed salad. The white cone thing is something edible and crunchy. The bread is focaccia which, as I am staying off wheat for the moment, I passed on to my friend. It was a remarkable salad, particularly in the way it defied the laws of physics: however much I ate it didn't get any less, in fact I could swear that by the time the plate was removed there was actually more of it.

For dessert I had fresh berry Pavlova. This did seem to behave normally and though there were a few berries and an orange segment at the end, the Pavlova had quite gone.

One of the things we talked about over lunch was tarot. My friend, whose latte you can see just beyond the sprig of mint sticking out of the Pavlova, has many different decks and interesting things to say about some of the variations in symbolism. I once had a tarot reading where I was told that my special card ("significator", I think it's called) was apparently the Queen of Swords. When I asked why he said, "because you just are," and for some reason this seemed a good enough answer at the time - better than if he'd said something about sun sign, colour of hair etc. I am a bit ambivalent about swords. Whenever I do a "spread" - about once every few years, there always seem to be too many of them and I'd rather trade them for a few cups, especially ones that are full and running over with good things, like the exuberant salad plate (and health?). My friend tells me that the Queen of Swords is an impressive lady whose time will come. His special card is The Magician, who is creative with the stuff of life. And only now am I wondering whether he was the one responsible for the seemingly magic plate of salad.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Written Word

I like what Paul Auster says:

"It is the only place in the world, I believe, that two absolute strangers can meet on the deepest level. It's something that reinforces our common humanity. That's the power of writing. You don't feel that in a movie. You don't quite feel it when you look at a painting, although that can be close, but the articulated word and articulated thoughts communicated from one person to another is the province of Literature writing."

And where, I wonder, does The Blog stand in relation to this? I know I am talking to people - even if there were no comments I would know that because I can see from the stats that they look in, and though some flit in and out again, there are those who stay and read. But it isn't the same as the "I and thou" connection I experience when writing in my notebook, even though there is no guarantee of anyone actually reading the words. My stepfather, before he went mad and cut himself off from the world, wrote in the journal that he shared with me:

"Who is the stranger who lives with me?" He was a writer. It is my opinion, though I can't be sure, that the stranger was the "thou" he had become separated from.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Something Lovely This Way Comes

A brown parcel arrived today with my name on it. What could it be?

A birthday present from Cusp! A live, sentient creature!

The cat is curious. She likes brown boxes very much.

Do you see her? Sitting on the desk of my writing shed with her purple notebook and quill pen, beside a lit candle and a copy of Nathalie Goldberg's Wild Mind. Do you see the label around her wrist? Her name is Fraulein Poesie and she speaks german. She says she is a poet who writes mainly about nuts and forests and likes a glass of wine or two in the evening.
She is wearing her favourite purple trousers and pearl earrings, and look - she has a necklace of variously-coloured glass beads.

Poesie meets a couple of the housemates. They have never met anyone this cool (apart from me).

Poesie is no fool. She keeps a wary eye on the cat, who has already shown an interest in Poesie's tail. They talk, but keep a respectful distance.

Signs puts on her purple "crushed silk" shellsuit trousers. Poesie says, "Wow!" They gaze at each other in mutual admiration. Signs is holding Poesie's writing book which is a beautiful, matching colour of purple. Oh, you should see her lovely button eyes close up (press on pictures to enlarge).

Cusp - I don't know what to say. A beautiful present, such as I have never had before. And she is Real.
How is it that you do not yet have a Creative Blogger Award? Please pick one up immediately from my sidebar.
And Poesie, who is now my writing and blogging partner, has asked that you also pick up a Nice Blogger Award as well. She says you are "ein sehr nettes Madchen" (we had the umlaut but it seems to have got lost somewhere) and she is sending you her love.
p.s. It looks as though there are some of Poesie's relatives (sockmonkeys) up for adoption.

Supermarket Heaven

Is this not pleasing? I almost said beautiful but that would perhaps be overstating what is, after all, simply a trip to the supermarket. Sorry about the fact you can’t make it larger and have the experience of almost being there – this due to my not having adjusted mobile phone settings – but you can still see, can’t you, the serene, unpeopled space, the shiny floor of which has just been trodden by the feet of Signs who has just picked up a packet of Purina chicken and rice cat food. This is how it usually is in Waitrose in my little town, a very different picture to the Sainsbury’s experience where most people seem to go because it’s thought to be cheaper (depends what you get) and there is more choice (I’ll live with that). There are shop assistants who stop what they are doing and help you find whatever it is you are looking for. They seem to know what they are doing, what is on the shelves and whether there is likely to be such-and-such in the next few days. Walking up and down the the aisles I have fun pretending to be Stepford Wife, adjust my features to look like Katharine Ross (it’s the 1975 version I like), play muzak in the head, beam benignly at people for no good reason, and if someone were to tell me to “have a nice day” I would probably reply, “yes, thank you, I will.”
This is how my life needs to be at the moment - uncluttered, simple and serene.
Yeah, right.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Chocolat - A Perfume

It is the sweetness of interiors, the light inside compared to the darkness without, the one giving substance to the other. It is the red velvet cushion by an old oak table and the flames of many candles.

I want this sweetness, I will not give up hope.

There is a table covered with orange and red fruit, loaves of freshly-baked bread and red wine the colour of velvet. You ask for a glass of red wine and drink it quickly. I ask how you are.
“I get anxious,” you say. “Sometimes I get anxious when I go out on my own.” On the way back from the Ladies you lose your way. I come half way to meet you and see you standing in a doorway looking left and right, baffled. You look happy to see me. A man has been watching you.
“Is this your mother? I think she got a bit lost.”

You are re-telling bits of our history; how you invited me to come with you to Switzerland for the good of my health, how you kept inviting me but I never came. You never did invite me but, having told the story, it serves as truth. You have told your husband and niece: “I kept inviting her and she never came.” The truth is that I waited and it never came – the invitation, the gift, the sweetness. Your days are numbered. I have seen it before, this sudden dimming of the light. We must have the sweetness wherever we can get it, there’s no time to lose.

The perfume is in a range called “Chocolat” and is the richest of all three. Another one is darker, with an edge, sophisticated, and the other is the white chocolate of the three and popular, I am told, with younger people. It is champagne at midnight while fireworks light up over the river. But I have chosen the one in the middle that carries its sweetness unreservedly and without apology.

It is £55 for the small size and £85 for a bottle twice the size. A saving, says the assistant, of £30. But I do not want a large quantity, I want it small and neat, it will be enough so. I do not want excess. It is my birthday present. I will have it on my dressing table and wear it through the winter.

Is it significant or symbolic that they are temporarily out of stock?
“A run on it,” says the assistant. “Last year everyone wanted the Empress Josephine, now everyone wants this.” They will telephone me in a couple of weeks when the new stock comes in. You write me a cheque for £55. It is fine. But I wanted something to take away with me, to hold in my hands, not this slip of paper signifying a transfer of money from your account to mine.

After you finish your glass of wine you take some of mine, pour it from my glass into yours and drink it down in one as though you need it. What is to become of you? I ask you to check your phone book, see if you have my mobile as well as house number in case you are ever out and anxious and need to reach me. We walk. A sudden fatigue and I need to sit down.
“Not well?” you say, “not well?”
“The blood goes to my feet.”
“My feet are cold,” you say, “I wish the blood would go to my feet.”

You won’t come to my house to eat, I have been trying for years. So little space, so little time, mother, to gather all under one roof, have something distilled, some essence or substance of us that may be pleasing and acceptable.

You have decided to have a house party for your next birthday in the new year. I ask,
“Shall I bring a cake?” Your face lights up, forgetting to say no.
“A cake? Oh, yes!”

Monday, October 8, 2007

Nicely Hitting the Mark

One doesn't always like to be summed up and labelled. Don't you remember those teachers' reports that were either not very nice or somehow failed to hit the mark? And how one carries them on life's long sojourn (or completely discards them, but bear with me for the purposes of this post) like an ill-fitting cloak? And then later, much later, it happens that you are again summed up and labelled and this time it is like the gown that falls over Cinerella's shoulders after the fairy godmother has uttered the words: you shall go to the ball. And you are, for once, appropriately clothed. You are a contender, a winner, a star - you are, in other words, a Nice Blogger. Thank you, David of Witnessing, King of Nice Bloggers.

And, as if this were not enough to make you dance into the small hours, forgetting about midnight and M.E. and the fact that you are probably metamorphosing into a pumpkin as you speak, along comes someone else with something that has your name written all over it and - oh, it is like a custard pie in the face, the nicest of all custard pies (and I know of which I speak for I like them very much indeed), and you lick your lips, sink your teeth into a bit of crust and just know that it is good, for it is an award for Blogging That Hits The Mark and it comes from Anna (F.O.M.P.) Mr .

And just for that, Anna - you know what? I'm throwing an award right back atcha, har! Have a Nice Blogger award yourself, and not just for that but because you are nice, dammit, and I'm sure you know that but if you don't then you should, and be proud of it. Because I say so. Because Nice is the New Cool as far as I'm concerned and as I am a Blogger that Hits the Mark, what I say goes. Power, huh? Goes to the head like champagne, is what I find.

And Kahless - where is she? She's been hiding away for a space, but now she's back and this is a good thing for she is Nice as well as a whole clutch of other things (just count the awards) and, plus, she makes a mean curry. I used her recipe, it's the best. When you've added the Nice Blogger award, Kahless, you'll have one more than me, not saying I'm competitive but I'm keeping an eye on the situation, ok?
Who more deserving of a splat of recognition for Blogging That Hits The Mark than Baroque of Hackney. Will She enjoy the custard pie in the face? I think so, because she is someone who appreciates pies and if you look at this you will know what I mean. And more than this - she writes beautifully, exquisitely, generously about poetry, culture, the stuff of life, in sickness and in health. Good health to her, I say, and thanks for the words and the presence.
Now. I may be Nice and I may Hit The Mark, but this does not necessarily mean I am Clever. I am back to the problem of how to put the award things onto my sidebar. Please do not send good advice, for I know all about it, I just don't seem to be able to do it. But I will later, with assistance. I am not proud. Add this to my list of virtues.
Take no notice of the * - blogger was refusing to let me have a space between those paragraphs. I know nothing but remain undefeated.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Holes, Poetry and Stuff

I’m sure I must have said this before, but I have for some time now had this notion that there is a kind of black hole into which things disappear: mainly single socks and ballpoint pens – the good ones, I mean, not the kind we all have lying around that have run out of ink and for some reason refuse to be discarded. Of course it is annoying and inconvenient but I have more or less resigned myself to the idea and adapted accordingly, replenishing stock when necessary or just wearing socks that don’t match and writing important messages with the lime-green crayon that has stuck by me when other implements have dematerialised. But I can’t help noticing that the black hole is becoming more aggressive. It has begun to swallow umbrellas, kitchen utensils and books that I wish to refer to – and yes, before you ask, I do know what day of the week it is, the name of the Prime Minister and how to spell antidisestablishmentarianism. And much good may it do me. I want my socks, my pens and my books - particularly those. The black hole can keep the umbrellas if it wants. So it is that I come to my shelves looking for a slim volume by the poet Peter Abbs whose reading I went to last night, in order to reproduce a poem of his here, but I can’t. I will have to wait until either the black hole, as occasionally happens, spews it out again or I decide to replace it.

I come away from a good poetry reading feeling this: that poetry is bread. That language matters, is essential, must constantly be revitalised, must be vital if we are to survive with souls intact. And our minds: if all words are hijacked by accountants, men in suits, Sun newspaper and slogan merchants, what can we know or apprehend and what are the consequences for the life of the imagination? As an activity too, the making of poetry is good for a body, as I have witnessed many times in myself and in others. I haven’t written a poem for a while, and suddenly I miss it, that activity. I have been working on my prose project – (ok, novel, but I’d rather say that in a whisper) and it is writing, but it is a different kind of writing. “Do both,” I hear you say – and I should and would, but feel I can’t until I’m securely established in this project, and that time has not yet come.

It is le weekend. Mr. S. is attending his art class, the cat has been dining on a bluebird, there is bread to be got and milk, washing powder – stuff. Tomorrow our daughter comes for a late celebration of my birthday (son being back at university), and we will go out for Sunday lunch. The trees are almost turning, there is gold in all the green, and life is good, sweet and rich. Who can blame it for asking so much of me? What, in any case, would I hold back? Black holes, I defy you. (Give me strength!)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Big Issue, Please.

In my little town - the nearest one to the village where I live – there is a High Street with a Smith’s, a Boots and a Woolworths and an assortment of other shops you’d expect to find in any other little town. Outside the Boots Opticians, by a paved walkway that leads to an underpass, stands a woman with a thick, dark brown plait of hair that comes right down below her waist, and in her hands she holds copies of a magazine.
“Big Ishoooooo!” she calls. “Big Ishoooooo, please!”
She has a powerful voice, like a strong, clear foghorn, and she holds the note at the end for as long as she has breath for the “oooooo.” Most people walk past, and if you slow down for any reason she will come up close to you, switch off the foghorn and try to catch your eye with her own, and she will smile with large rosy lips and beautiful teeth and her voice will become like a housecat’s pleading miaow as she says, “Big Issue, madam, please. Please, madam, Big Issue.” If you buy a copy she will reward you with a look that says you have done a good and beautiful thing. If you walk past she will draw in her breath with an eloquent gasp, as though she has just been stung by a nettle, before recommencing her chant.
“Big Ishooooooooo! Big Ishooooooooo, please!” She is known, perhaps not surprisingly, as the Big Issue woman. She does not come from round here. She comes by train and goes back on it after her day’s work. She has been spotted getting off at Croydon.

She has been doing this for years. The note never changes, nor does her voice falter or lose its power. She has always dressed exactly the same, in long skirt and serviceable boots with a shawl around her shoulders and, with that hair, she looks like someone from the cast of Fiddler on the Roof and I picture her great great grandma and mine and (from the Ashkenazy line at any rate) plucking chickens together in some shtetl. She has exasperated, irritated and intrigued me and now, after all these years, I would miss her if she suddenly decided to withdraw her presence. I cannot help but admire her dedication to purpose, her willingness to give herself up to the one song line which has, as I count, only two notes, the main one being on the dying fall of the “oooooo.” She could have been (perhaps is) a singer. She will catch our attention, whether we want it caught or not.

Her voice has been added to the list of tunes that play themselves in my head. My unconscious likes to think it has a sense of humour and has, for example, played “Stand By Your Man” during the break-up of my first marriage as well as something from the mists of time (and how that was downloaded is a mystery) called “Captain of Your Ship” by Reparata and the Delrons. Today it is the chant of the Big Issue woman. I am going to see a new psychotherapist. This makes it sound as though I’m trading in an old one and do this all the time. I have, as it happens, done this before, but not for a long time. Having made the decision to go for it again last year, I put off actually doing anything until the voice that would not be silenced finally won and I said yes just to get it to shut up. It’s not that I don’t respect the voice, it being the utterance of my inner self. It’s just that I’d like to move forward without that particular number being played and re-played:

“Big Issue. Big Issue, please.”



Saw therapist who said she didn't like "seeing clients with entrenched M.E." She had worked in a Health Centre with "some of them" and found that the M.E. "got in the way." She asked me if I had thought of practising "something spiritual, like mindfulness, so that you can practise being in the Now."

Big Issue. Very Big Issue.

Note: I did not consult her because of M.E. but had mentioned on the phone that I had it. The walk to her house from car park was up a very steep hill. On arrival she asked if I had enjoyed the walk. I said I had been concentrating on walking uphill. But, she persisted, had I enjoyed it? I said not really because I had been (I repeated) concentrating on walking up the hill. But, she continued, had I not enjoyed the lovely view on the way up? It was a lovely view, I said, but no, (for the third fucking time) - I had been concentrating on walking up the hill. I realise with hindsight that I should at this point have walked out.

A few vittun F words apply, I think, but nothing seems quite strong enough just at this moment.