Monday, December 24, 2007

Heilige Nacht

I was going to put up an image of my christmas tree but the photo came out blurred, so this will do for now - and is, in any case, all I really wanted to say. The twelve nights begin here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Me and Jeanette and Julie go shopping

This is a bit previous, but I think I have already decided what one of my new year resolutions should be: I must make more pronouncements, and make them confidently and without equivocation. I must be more like Julie Burchill or Jeanette Winterson. To incorporate both would be a challenge as they are at opposite ends of a spectrum, but they definitely have what it takes to pronounce for England (I wonder if it has something to do with their both being only children, this unshakeable self-belief).

“Shopping is what you do when you have stopped living,” says Winterson, though actually what she really thinks it that it is ok as long as you go to small, independent shops (and doesn’t she have one of her own called Verde’s?) and buy organic. Julie Burchill, on the other hand, says that if you don’t like Tesco’s you need to get a life and that shopping is brilliant and fun especially when you can whizz around and do it all in the one brightly-lit place.

Well there’s shopping and shopping, I suppose. Signs, Christmas 2007 (I told you I needed to make a resolution). The kind of shopping I almost never do is the clothes and accessories kind, and I was recently reminded of one of the reasons why when I ventured into shopping hell in the Brighton malls. Why anyone would choose to go there rather than all the interesting small shops in the Lanes perhaps Julie would understand: I thought I could do it all in one, stupid me, forgetting that mall shopping isn’t like that, especially not for the orthostatically challenged, as I most certainly was the other day, and feeling sick to boot. I got some wrapping paper, gift tags (why? I don’t use them), an item that I took back for refund half an hour after having bought it and four disgusting plastic painting set things for nieces and nephews that I never would have got if I’d been in my right mind.

But shopping for food is something I understand in my soul. Not so Mr. Signs who, on being asked to purchase a selection of interesting cheeses got a hunk of Cheshire. No disrespect to the good folk who live there, but really this is not a cheese that can by any stretch of the imagination be called interesting. Son of Signs complained about it and then I noticed a tub of duck fat smirking at me from the top shelf of the fridge. It is for roasting the potatoes, apparently. But I do not use duck fat for roasting potatoes, and neither do Jamie or Nigella, and actually I prefer your common vegetable oil. I have suggested to Mr. S that he should consider carefully before using his initiative in supermarkets and some very droll banter ensues – don’t be thinking that we are not entering into the Christmas spirit here. But sick or not, clearly it was time for me to make a move, so I did, to my favoured supermarket which was not quite as serene as this, but not far off. I bumped into several people I knew, well we nodded to each other and they gave me a wide berth – I looked awful, felt worse and had a near-death experience when trying to decide between a Duchy Original pudding or Waitrose’s own richly fruited. This may have had something to do with trying to do a spot of Process-inspired creative visualisation. There are moments when even my richly-fruited imagination fails me. It does so now, dear reader, as I try to come up with a fitting pronouncement to rival those of Jeanette and Julie.

Just give me time.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I appear to have caught some kind of bug and feel sick and weird. This means that I am not able to accompany Mr. Signs to Sainsburys for a pre-Christmas shopping marathon. Hey ho silver lining, but actually, as it makes me feel queasy to read anything or even listen to the radio it isn't much fun and I may as well be down among the shoppers. I have a bucket here beside me as I tap, dear reader, just so you know that I have prepared for all eventualities. At least here, in this bit of half-room that we call Study, you can look out at the trees and frosted rooftops. This blue/gold winter weather is perfect and I love it.

I do not know if I there will be any particular revelations concerning Process. If there are you may be sure I'll let you know. Meanwhile, as my dear departed mother-in-law was so fond of saying (near the end of her life) - life goes on. Just as well, really.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Eating the Elephant

So there was this guy who did the Process and on the first day he got out of his wheelchair and walked from from Crouch End to Marble Arch. I don’t know what he did on the second day, but on the third and last day he went home and cut down a tree. A woman who had been bedridden for years got up on day two and answered the door herself. Another threw away her crutches. And Signs? She went to Borders Bookshop in Brighton, had a coffee and bought a book by Ann Lamott called 'Bird by Bird'. It’s a book about writing and so far I’m enjoying it. Reading about the writing process is the displacement activity of choice when I am not writing, and writing about not writing is a close second. The title of the book gets its name because of a story she tells about her brother:

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write [it] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Well that was day one. On the second day I came home and went to sleep. Then Mr. Signs and I did a reasonably thorough uncluttering job of a room in our house and that felt very good. On the morning of day three I noticed that I woke up and felt normal – meaning there was nothing weird going on in my head, limbs, stomach, or anywhere else in my body. And then I went on feeling normal for the rest of that day. I had a sleep again after coming home in the afternoon and when I woke up I still felt normal. You might think I had forgotten what normal feels like, but I haven’t. Normal doesn’t feel like anything at all, but when you are used to having shackles, normal feels like you are a piece of polystyrene floating on the water. Buoyant. The only reason for polystyrene not to float is if something is attached to it, holding it down. When it becomes detached from what has been holding it down, it surfaces again and floats – no matter how long a time has passed.

Well, but today I overdid it, and I haven’t had much sleep. And on this, the first day of the rest of my life, I went supermarket shopping. Cupboards were bare and son has just returned from the Arctic with a head cold and an overdraft. Life goes on and I am not looking for hallelujah moments. I am happy to take it “bird by bird” and notice that climbing the stairs is easier and for several days I have not particularly thought of needing to take prescription painkillers. I did think about it on day two but then I did the Process and the pain went. Today I have taken one because that is what I feel I needed to do and there is no benefit to be gained from pretending otherwise.

There were three of us in the group, plus Mr. Signs who accompanied me. The trainer was a woman who had had M.E. for eighteen years and now doesn’t. The process is used to treat all kinds of things, not just M.E., and it is recognised that this is a physical illness – not “all in the mind”, even though mind is used to bring about a change in the body’s response. Some illnesses appear to respond well to it, others not, nor would it be the right thing for everyone. The process itself is learned in three stages and is simple – but needs to be done regularly and consistently and my inclination is to look at the results after someone has practiced it for a while. Even so, it has taken me by surprise to witness how mind and body (mine) are willing to engage. Therefore I am hopeful. And mindful of the answer to the question: how do you eat an elephant? Answer: bite by bite.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Lightning of Signs

An auspicious start to the day: I have had a mug of pretend latte (instant made with one third boiled water, two thirds hot milk, sugar to taste) and a warmed-up croissant that is a few days old, but it is marvellous how heat revives it. There was a Marlborough Menthol lying around so I smoked that. A run around the forest is out of the question, I have M.E., dammit and, to quote the terminally miserable narrator of Dostoevsky’s ‘Notes From Underground’: “I am a sick man … I am a spiteful man. An unattractive man. I think that my liver hurts.” Well actually, I am a woman, really quite attractive and only occasionally spiteful, and I do not think my liver hurts as such - but it is not OK. Fact. It’s an immune disorder thing (PBC). Fingers crossed I’ll see out the rest of my natural without a transplant, but – my eyes are drawn to the top of Chapter One of the Dostoevsky. Scrawled in my handwriting is the following:
“What can we believe? Reconstructing the true motives beneath the surface presented by the narrator is part of the pleasure of reading an unreliable narrator. The narrative becomes a study of a split personality, a hypocrite or a liar.” ‘Struth, but this is wonderful. To come across oneself in the act of doing – what? Writing notes to a future self, perhaps; one who is no longer capable of such willing and energetic engagement and has all but forgotten the self that was.

But it’s all up for change, folks, because tomorrow I begin a three-day course of something that goes by the name of the Lightning Process which sets out to do a re-programming job so that the immune system begins to behave appropriately again (though they can't do anything about the liver thing, but sorting out the M.E. will do nicely). There’s lots about it on the internet if you want to find out more. It’s a challenging thing for anyone who has had this a long time because accepting the condition, its limitations and the fact that there will probably be no cure is one of the things you learn over time to do – or go bonkers. And doing something like this opens you up again to hope, and actually they won’t let you do the course at all unless you’re prepared to come believing that real change is possible. I have told almost everyone I know that I am doing this and had a mixed response. Most people have never heard of the process but wish me well. A couple of people have tried to warn me off and some have been quite threatened by it and hostile, a response I understand because it was my first reaction when I came across it. I was deeply suspicious of something that promised so much. I questioned whether the people that pronounced themselves cured really had M.E. in the first place and whether the initial high after the course was borne out by long-term well-being. I don’t have answers but can no longer ignore the number of people who seem to have benefitted and I want to test it for myself. Anything ventured is always something gained. Someone said that to me recently and I like it. So I come out with something, whatever (and try not to think about the plastic doll you get given at fairground booths when the ball didn’t quite hit the mark). The big prize, perhaps. The jackpot. I will keep you informed but it may be a case of learning the "technique" and then practising over a period, rather than a hallelujah moment. If I come back claiming to be a new woman who loves spring cleaning and cake-decorating then you will know I have been replaced by Stepford Wife. But, you know, one has to risk a little now and then to live well.

And on another positive note, I have been given this as an early Christmas present:
You just put him in water and he grows into a psychotherapist. In fact he’s the only shrink that grows, is available at all times and doesn’t charge a penny. I am blessed.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Meme Time

I have been tagged by Kahless - so how could I refuse?

A ~ Available: - For what? A chat? Cup of coffee? Lunch at the Ritz or something - ok.

B ~ Best friend: You, Dahling - who else?

C ~ Cake or pie? Both please, with cream.

D ~ Drink of choice: Coffee

E ~ Essential thing used every day: a cafetiere

F ~ Favorite color: No. And it's 'favourite' in England.

G ~ Gummi bears or worms? I am vegetarian when it comes to eating sweets.

H ~ Hometown: What? I am a diaspora Jew.

I ~ Indulgence: I am an essentialist.

J ~ January or February? No preference, and you're being obscure again.

K ~ Kids and names: I have both.

L ~ Life is incomplete without: Leurve.

M ~ Marriage date: Why do you want to know this? Why? Anyway, I have two.

N ~ Number of siblings: One whole, four half, one ex-step (don't say I don't tell you things).

O ~ Oranges or apples? Say the Bells of St. - ?

P ~ Phobias/fears: I'm working on them. OK?

Q ~ Favorite quote: "Neither art nor the artist has a moral responsibility to liberal social causes".

R ~ Reason to smile: Life goes on. My mother-in-law used to say this a lot when she was losing the plot. But it's undeniably true.

S~ favorite Season - "I love Paris in the springtime, I love Paris in the fall, I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles, I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles". And you are still spelling it wrong.

T ~ Tag three people: Oh splendid - a chance to spread the joy around. I tag Barney who as everyone knows (or jolly well ought to) is Ms Pants's remarkable, long-suffering hybrid owly cat. I also tag Chip Dale, because if he won't do it then his wife Gabby might as she seems a very good sport. And lastly, I tag The Periodic Englishman because I really think we need to know what he has to say about all these things, and anyway, where is he?

U ~ Unknown fact about me: You know almost no facts about me anyway. I'm a brunette. Sort of. Sometimes more than others.

V ~ Vegetable you don't like: Brussel sprouts. But sometimes they are ok. With chestnuts.

W ~ Worst habit: We haven't even been to lunch yet and you ask me this? Away with you!

X ~ X-rays you've had: No, really - here you go again. Don't you want to know if I believe in life after death or something? I do, as it happens, which is just as well considering I've had more x-rays than you've had hot dinners, probably.

Y ~ Your favorite food: Oysters. Chips. Stuffing and bread sauce. Purple sprouting broccoli. Don't know. I am a woman with a taste for most of what Life has to offer.

Z ~ Zodiac: Libra, dahling. Moon in - can't remember. Bored now.

Monday, December 3, 2007


Well, it’s here: first week in Advent. I still do things that prepare for the great midwinter event and the sun’s turning at the darkest point of the darkest month; and not just the business with the turkey, the trimmings, the wrapping paper. This time I have lit all four advent candles at once instead of doing it gradually, adding one more as each week passes. I want all the light of them now. I also want to make a space that is ordered in such a way as to accommodate emptiness – not barren emptiness, but that space where words and substance come, the empty place that is starlit, or it is dark but it is a dark where things happen.

And add to the wishlist a handful of beans, and wherever I throw one something will grow. These kind of beans are only given to poor people who don’t have much and I wonder if I am poor or rich. There is no room at the inn and the stable is filled with clutter. Out with it.

I seem to have been hearing the word ‘transition’ a lot recently, perhaps because I am in it, writing mainly fragments I do not wish to share. Increasingly, the real writing suggests a secret activity, one where even the end result should not be shown, not be witnessed by anyone at all, but I choose to read this as a temporary condition.

I had a good couple of days in London, staying with a friend who is also in transit, between one phase of life and the next, and living in a beautiful bedsit in Belsize Park. It is not one of those IKEA’d shiny fake parquet floor and microwave oven jobs that you see everywhere advertised for about £180 a week (and it costs a fraction of that). It is the kind of place that students and people like me used to find in the seventies: scruffy and woodchipped with real sash windows that shake with the wind, a gas fire that glows – no central heating – and people of fragile means in other rooms who share the bathroom and occasionally pin up a crayonned sheet of paper asking God to give grace to accept with serenity the things that can’t be changed. I didn’t know these things were beautiful then but I find them so now because they are passing, almost gone, as this house will be when it comes into new ownership and is converted into studio flats. But also it was a reminder of the beauty of a life lived uncluttered by too many possessions, too many certainties, and the possibility of grace.

We met my daughter for breakfast and I gave her a pair of Ugg boots which she put on her feet there and then. Later she sent me a text to say she loved them and “they’re the best present I ever got” which says something about the boots but more, I think, about her capacity to relish and rejoice in the particulars of the moment – which makes me exceedingly happy.

Son has this morning flown off to Sweden to see a friend and northern lights. He came back from Oxford sporting a sheepskin coat bought for £50 in a second hand shop. This was to see him through the cold weather and it looked great but was, I could smell at once, riddled with mould. So it is lying wrapped in polythene in a shed until I can think of a solution to this, and he has gone off with a new quilted and windproof thing bought at Millett’s yesterday just before closing time.

In a week’s time I begin The Process. More thoughts on this anon.