Saturday, June 28, 2008


I’ve been thinking about the ‘intimate other’ that you build a relationship with when writing regularly in notebooks, as one frequently does if one is a writing person, even if one has no clear idea about the what or the why of putting down words on paper. Sometimes I imagine my intimate other as a ghostly version of me, but at other times it is I who am the ghost and she is the one imagining me, living the life.

Increasingly, I have become aware of this brooding presence at other times also – alongside me as I crank up each morning, trying to earth myself into my physical body, make a cup of coffee, filling the metal espresso-maker just level with black grounds, slice open a Kiwi fruit, eat a thin oat and apple biscuit; with me as I put my foot down hard on the accelerator on the road to Brighton, trying to get to my Shrink early enough to have five minutes before it’s time to ring the bell, in the car, underneath the huge oak tree where the brown bird hops on the grass and looks at me with one keen eye (it is my bird now, I’ve seen it three times, my tree also, I park under its shade); close by me when I walk into the large, white room where the chairs are always, but never quite, in the same position and I say, It’s like a stage set, the sense that invisible hands have been in between this time and the last and moved the furniture slightly, and he says, yes, the stage is set, and then there is silence. Sometimes I picture her crawling underneath the sofa with the Moroccan scatter cushions and looking at me and him in the white armchairs. Or we switch and it’s me there, and she is the one in the big chair talking or banging the arm of the chair and pulling at her hair while I sit waiting for her to finish whatever it is she has to do so we can go on to the next place, the next activity, which may be to go home and sleep and sleep, or it may be to take the white pills that put two hours of bliss into her muscles so they don’t hurt and then she can walk around a supermarket, buy meat and vegetables, shave the peel from a carrot and finely chop herbs; and she listens out for where I might be, her intimate other who says nothing at all, is quiet as the small brown bird who stands on a thin leg and watches. I am afraid, she says, that I do not have much time left. And then, I feel hopeful
(you are hoping, he says, against hope).
I can, she says, still salvage something. She is saying these things for my benefit, but really I don’t mind the life that we already live. It feels like a life to me; but then, I was never born and living with the fact of death as she is, as one is.

Unless you are The Doctor. Sorry to change tack so suddenly, but I have just resumed this post having watched today’s episode. Is this synchronicity, or what? The Doctor is dying, but even in the throes of death he is regenerating. I think he and I have a lot in common. I’m sorry, but I really do. And so does my intimate other who, at this particular moment, is keeping remarkably quiet.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

but I didn't mean to write about the turkeys

I have been busy. A simple statement like this carries baggage, as regular readers will understand. First of all, being busy, for PWME, does not particularly look like busyness to the casual observer. And then, every item of activity is clocked up by the invisible Chief of Police and appropriate fatigue penalties imposed. I have the electricity-in-the-body thing which feels just like, well, electricity in the body, but not as in “I Sing the Body Electric.” It necessitates much lying down and taking of analgesics. Well what did I expect, bombing (well walking) up Lewes High Street on Sunday after a fine gathering of writers reading their stuff, and lunch at beautiful Bill’s?

Son of Signs touched down for a brief visit before going back to Oxford for a singing rehearsal, and today he is off to Israel for a “birthright” holiday that is offered free of charge to young people who can prove they have at least one Jewish grandparent. He has purchased a pair of Birkenstock sandals and I inwardly smirk because for years he and his sister swore that they would never be seen dead in a pair of those – understandably, I suppose, seeing as their mother lived in them. I am picturing him going to all the places I went to: Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Masada, Galilee.

I was there for about ten months, working on a couple of kibbutzim, picking oranges and inseminating turkeys (artificially, you understand). Picking oranges was ok at first – plenty of time to talk to people or just think your thoughts as you went around clipping the fruit from their green stems and filling up the big wooden crates that waited to take them to the small factory that made canned orange juice. It did become boring though, and the turkey shifts seemed to promise a certain romance and excitement as one had to do the work at night, the turkeys being more amenable at that time. I wasn’t going to tell you about this, but now I’m here I feel it’s only right: to inseminate a turkey you first had to grab your male turkey and get the necessary substance. This involved one person holding him upside down and massaging the appropriate area while another stood at the ready with a pipette and rubber tube which had to be sucked in order to direct the substance into the pipette. When enough was gathered from the males one had then to go round all the hutches and grab the females in order to insert the stuff with a syringe, being careful to choose the correct orifice. Are you still here? No, it was not my favourite occupation. And sitting in the wooden hut at break time, brewing up the coarse black coffee we drank to keep us going, watching the sky turn from black to blue, was not enough to compensate for disrupted sleep rhythms and the sense that this was all, somehow, wrong. I couldn’t eat Christmas dinner for years after. But still, happy days.

One of the “busynesses” of my life are the various writing and workshopping activities that I engage in, and I hang onto these for dear life, so it is rare that I miss one, whatever my condition. I had to last week though, because my mother has been unusually fragile and needing my help with a number of things. But at the Sunday gathering, when a number of us spoke about the various things we did, I mentioned that I wrote a blog where I talked about M.E. and creativity. As it’s not something I have been in the habit of putting about much, I surprised myself. A writer there, someone I’ve come to know over the past year, asked me for the link to pass on to a friend of hers who has M.E. The idea that people who have it might find something in these posts that resonates touches me more than I can say.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Shrink Hydration

I make no apologies for this awful photo. I need a decent camera, my phone one seems to be getting worse, but it feels kind of appropriate to have this blurred-at-the-edges image of my recently-hydrated grow-your-own-therapist doll that I was given as an early Christmas present in December. I brought him along, still bubble-wrapped to my therapy session last week, intending for it to mark a transition between that time and this. My shrink is not one of those much given to the gratuitous merry jape and it was all rather embarrassing, especially when I said about putting him into water and watching him grow. "Lots of associations there, then," he said. What can he have been thinking about?

When I came home I did put him into a jug of water and he grew puffy and pale, with distorted features that reminded me of Frankenstein's monster. I feel in some way responsible for this. He has a large, bulbous head and (as you can see) a fragile little body as though he has had trouble incarnating properly. He never stood a chance because he was only ever someone's idea of a joke. Lucky for him and me that I have faith and believe in the redemption of almost everything, including miniature rubber psychotherapists.

We celebrated the birthday of Mr. Signs with a bash at Signs Cottage on Sunday. It was lovely, but I knew the only way I could manage the day was the three-stage approach of alcohol, caffeine and drugs. It sometimes works well (and did on this occasion), but one pays afterwards and I am paying. And driving my mother and her partner to and from hospital because of an eye operation he had has quite taken the stuffing reserves out of me. The sheer awfulness of NHS hospitals in this country is something one is surely never tired of writing about or relating but I am in a similar condition to the bleached-out rubber shrink and just about as good for anything. We are keeping each other company.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

keeping it real

I’ve had a short elevated spell of the kind that some people will be familiar with: where you experience an uncommon surge in energy and all the things that would usually be approached with caution suddenly seem like a breeze and whoopee you are a bit weightless and excarnated. I went for a walk on the forest, was able to go up an incline with only moderate slowness where I would usually be stopping for rests (or not attempting at all) and I committed to doing a couple of things that I will now have to uncommit from. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself that this is a temporary enchantment arising out of chemical imbalance or something that carries hidden dangers, I fall for it every time because it feels good and who in their right minds says no to something that feels good and makes you joyful and happy, I ask you! In the elevated state, the aching throat that has been plaguing me for some time went away, but it’s back again now, along with vague fluey muscle pains and the usual. Fuck-a-doodle-doo.

In my elevated state I:
Visited my mother and her partner and managed to “keep it real”.
Had lunch with a tarot-reading magician friend and wasn’t unduly put out by the three of swords appearing yet again in my cards.
Signed up for a series of poetry workshops which I really don’t need (I already do this with people I’ve known for a long while).
Began to believe that the folder called “fragments and pieces” might really be turning into something more substantial.

So it’s all fine really, and the workshop leader knows about M.E. and will be realistic.

My cat has injured her paw and is taking it easy, lying down. I think I will join her.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Belle Sleepeth

Apologies to the divinely talented blogger known in these parts as Mr. Anna, but some things are just too good to keep to oneself, and your faithful Sign-reader would not be true to her nature or to you, dear reader, if she did not share the following; this being a "constrained writing" version of the Sleeping Beauty story, written with no vowels save for the letter 'e'. It was supposed to be a combined effort of hers and mine but my input is minimal because, to be honest, I just couldn't hack it. Georges Perec-in-Heaven - enjoy!

Kween gets twelve feefemmes t'bless her bebe gel.

"The bebe'll be meek'n'sweet," the twelve femmes deemed. When the twelfth femme went, then the never-expected rebel femme (13) left them bereft, when she expressed, "The bebe Belle, when seventeen, meets sex, defenceless, needle-tempted, then sleeps, sleeps, sleeps, 100 evernevers.

"Belle's Mère she weeps, Belle's Père decrees: "We'll defend Belle. Never-ever needles here, else Belle'll bleed'n'sleep.

"Seventeen evernevers fleet. Belle feels the secret, femme-gender-engendered need t'see needles. Then, the seventeenth evernevers' eve, she creeps, t'where elder femme 13 keeps secret needles. Belle sees, she feels, she bleeds, she yelps, she keels, helpless - then, she sleeps. Mère sleeps, Père sleeps.

100 evernevers went. Then evergreens grew keen. Men, need-greed-tempted, been'n'left. Then entered the Men's Bees Knees.

He's sweet. The steed he steers, everwhere seeks, then enters the keep where Belle sleeps, bedded w'100 evernevers' evergreens. Next t'her bed he kneels, tempted, presses between her cheeks the redness-wetness dew. Belle feels the wetness deed, the 100 evernevers' eventlessness ends. "Serve thee best," she weeps. There's cheers.

(and we also did Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, with no 'e's at all. I know, I know - we're mad, we are.)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Shrink to Fit

Mr. Signs and I both see shrinks though we see different people and decided to go for different reasons. He is training to be a T.A. psychotherapist and has to do this as part of his training, and I have – you know – issues. For him it’s turning out to be a rich adventure. For me, it is a strange journey over uneven terrain and the landscape always changes. I see a psychoanalytic therapist and they work differently to T.A. people. For starters, there is no such thing as a “contract”, for mains he doesn’t talk that much and to boot he is into the idea of making it up as we go along. This probably sounds like a very expensive bad idea but, having seen more shrinks than you’ve had hot dinners in the past six months, I feel I have landed somewhere or other and reckon he is the real thing – for me, at any rate. I know one is supposed to fall in love with one’s therapist but I want to make it absolutely clear that I have no intention of doing that. No, all I want is for him to be perfect, like god. I’ve told him this and he nodded so that’s settled.

Meanwhile, I am waiting to hear from a certain magazine that I have won first prize in their annual poetry competition. This will be a big help in paying the shrink fees which, although I’m getting sessions at a knock-down price, are not inconsiderable, especially as I’m to start going more than just once a week. And then there’s the petrol money, all the way to Brighton and back, and the fact that now I’m doing this there is even less possibility of my doing any Proper Work for the foreseeable future, apart from a spot in the summer and an ongoing thing for which I shouldn’t really be paid, but hey ho. I have decided to turn the novel-that-is-no-more into a prize-winning short story; and I have begun on something completely different that doesn’t yet know what it is but it is a trickle that may become a rushing river, or it is a cave that may be filled with gold and silver, I don’t know. I’m making it up as I go along.

Monday, June 2, 2008

- "and the living is easy"

My neighbour is a bit fed up because the raspberry bushes on our side of the fence stop her vegetables getting enough light. As we are friendly, this isn’t much of an issue. Her problem is really on the other side where the simply enormous ash tree is threatening to take over the universe, like something out of Doctor Who (and who but Signs to pick up on its occult intentions). Things very easily just grow apace here and everything wants to become forest. Drop a conker on the ground and next morning you’ll find a cluster of chestnut trees invading your little bit of garden, not exaggerating. Life, eh? Gets out of control very quickly.

One of my kids has got through to the finals of a reality TV talent contest thingy and – er – this is going to be on the telly soon and could all get quite big, and I’ll just shut up about that for now. Another one has got a new Amour and is preparing to put on a great big thing of a show at the Edinburgh Fringe in August. Mr. Signs has decided to have a party for his birthday this month. He is undertaking a part-time training to become a shrink and seems to have got in touch with his inner party animal. I must have said this before, but a good image is worth re-using: I feel a bit like Mickey Mouse walking off the edge of a cliff – everything is ok so long as you don’t look down. And Mr. Signs, being a Gemini as my father was, has this unshakeable belief that the sun always shines on his birthday. Which it had better do in the light of the number of people invited, or how they will all fit into Signs cottage doesn’t bear thinking about. In fact, thinking in too much detail about stuff at the moment is something I am not doing, sometimes it just works best that way.

My throat still aches and the glands around my neck feel swollen. It is June, dammit – what gives? Not going to think about that either.