Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Rhythm of Signs

Well it isn’t Lent any more and I can report that poetry boot camp was a partial success in that I did what I said out to do for some of the time. Not enough, obviously, but better than nothing. Next task is to polish up some of the stuff I’ve got and send the poems off, which I find myself strangely reluctant to do. I don’t know if this is fear of rejection or some deep condition of laziness or a combination of both. Have decided not to analyse too much, or at all, actually. I have poems, I have envelopes, I have stamps. No, I don’t have stamps, I will need to get some from the post office. You see? Already a hitch. And I am post-Easter discombobulated from disturbed sleep and a creeping undercurrent of general anxiety disorder of the sort which makes small run-of-the-mill tasks into conundrums which quite unravel and obscure the Signs.

The thing is that I can only really cope with the most plodding of everyday tasks in the great scheme of things. I was about to speak of the rhythm of life but of course, because I am (allow me to speak euphemistically) loosely put together, my life has no particular rhythm, even boot camp has to accede to this: sometimes I wake at six in the morning, sometimes nearer mid-day, and it may take a couple of hours before I properly incarnate into the luminous being that is the person of Signs. Hello world, I say at three in the afternoon, or nine in the morning – or even midnight. Signs, replies the world, the party is over but welcome anyway, there’s room for e’en such as you. We chunter along like that for quite a while, me and the world. Then blow me if it isn’t time to put a load of washing into the machine, get the supper cooked, and so to bed. You get the picture. In spite of which, I heroically manage to turn up for poetry workshops and meet with significant others, for the world would be poor without such things – she has told me this in confidence and I believe her.

I am going to London on Friday to visit good friends, watch Son of Signs in performance with his jazz a cappella group – and touch in with Daughter, who has been in Edinburgh a-fixing of a venue for her show (yess!), to be staged there at the fringe Festival in August. Mr. Signs will be away for the weekend a-conferencing with other psychotherapy shrinks-in-the-making. I feel increasingly unable to deal with travelling on the underground, particularly as my journey always seems to take in the rush hour. Also, if I am to be honest, I spend so much time in Signs Cottage that leaving it begins to feel as though one is a tortoise without its shell. This has to be challenged, obviously – and I do, I do. Plans are in place to fly to Scotland at the end of April and Berlin in May. I just carry on, pretending it’s ok. It isn’t but then, in a way, it also is, and has to be. Or I don’t know what.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Juice

Yesterday, as on Good Friday last year and the one before, there was a party in my neighbour’s house (the cottage adjoining ours) with food consisting entirely of hot cross buns which she gets up early in the morning to bake. Last year I had thought we would be gone from here by now, having sold the house, but it didn’t turn out that way and perhaps Saint Joseph, patron saint of house-vendors, who is still buried at the front of the house, knew that the time was not right, or that I couldn’t do without the buns. We take in so much more than food at these festivals. Who was it that said, “man does not live by bread alone?” Well you know who, and this is the time of the festival of his death and resurrection, and I could talk about more than buns and the fact that on Sunday we will be eating lamb tagine with couscous and roasted peppers, followed by passion fruit pavlova. But why would I? Except to tell you this terrible, terrible joke about these men who went into a Chinese restaurant and began to have a dispute about whether there were any Jews in China, so when the waiter came to take their order one of them asked if there were any such thing as Chinese Jews and the waiter said, sorry – only orange, apple and pineapple jews. I thank you.
Gawd. Sorry about that, but I do rather like the joke and can picture it quite clearly as happening in a Chinese restaurant in Camden Town where my Dad took me a long time ago on one of our weekend ‘access’ days out. It was the kind of place (and the kind of decade) where people would go in and order spare ribs, which were listed in brackets as “chop” in case people didn’t know what it was, with a side dish of chips. It was so popular that it became known as ‘chip-chop’ (or was it 'chop-chip'?). And I can, as I said, picture the men talking about the various kinds of Jews, the waiter coming, then me bursting in like a completely inappropriate afterthought, holding up my hand and blurting something about Christian Jews. Because people always seem surprised that you can be one as well as the other. Or as badly. The definition of practising? That one is a bit crap at it, I suppose. Happy Easter.

Monday, March 17, 2008


when the flat field you saw from the attic window
shines with early winter frost

when the goose is cooked, its dark flesh
carved on a bone-white plate

when we sing don’t let the stars get in your eyes
don’t let the moon break your heart

when ground softens to crocus-gold

when summer is almost come, it is your birthday under a green canopy
and the table is empty

when apples are tight and hard and sour
when apples are ripe and red and sweet
when apples lie bruised and rotting

when the cat comes in and howls at nothing anyone can see

when the year turns and keeps on turning, the year ends
and we are at one more remove

a wide river running between us
no ferryman to bring me over

my hands cup the dark water
and the boat, my love,
will not come in

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Not Waving but Juggling.

It is all go in the Signs household. I speak relatively, of course, always bearing in mind that I do not, and am unlikely ever again to, juggle my life. (That, by the way, is something that used to be on the spine of Cosmopolitan magazine: “for women who juggle their lives” – perhaps it still is).

We went up to London to see the daughter singing jazz in the Poetry CafĂ©. This is the kind of thing that falls into the category of Perks of Parenthood, pure and simple. We hadn’t heard her sing or play (as she accompanied herself on keyboard) in public for a long time, and she was good, even though I say it myself, being the mother. Son has also been singing jazz with his a cappella group, competing in an inter-collegiate championship event. I love it that my kids are musical and that they are always busy with music in one way or another. The formative years of listening to me strumming and singing Joan Baez songs may have played its part, or that when I was too tired to speak I found I could still sing. Son is home for a bit before touring, after Easter, with the group in the USA in April. As far as I can gather, they will (apart from a couple of nights in a hostel) be sleeping on student floors.

I can’t decide if it’s good or bad that it doesn’t take much for my life to feel busy. When you live as I do, a little goes a long way and I know quite well that if I am to work at a piece of writing on a particular day, then that is virtually all I can do. It isn’t the writing itself so much as the spaces in between bursts of it where I need to inhabit the half-dream but alert state that may or may not lead to something like inspiration – with poetry, that is. When writing prose, I find (or used to) that the main thing is just to bash on. One needs much alone-time, but not the ill kind, and the only reason I have so much alone-time is because - well, you know. To be alone and ill for long periods is not fun, so one must distract, take drugs (good old Co-Prox), speak to a friend, go to the flicks and eat popcorn and above all believe that all is achievable and possible in this, the best of all possible worlds. Actually I do, I do juggle. Damn.

I have been to see an eminent quack because of something or other to do with immune (mal)function. Briefly, my dentist told me I had to if I wanted him to go on treating me, and since my dental problems are second only to those suffered by Martin Amis, and since the dentist in question is the only one who appears remotely able and willing to address those problems, my arm was kind of twisted. The eminent quack is German and made much of the fact of my Jewishness. Jews, he said, had a great sense of humour and were very creative. I have heard this, and similar, so often I no longer have anything to say to it. I am supposed to feel gratified but in spite of my great sense of humour, reader, I did not smile. I lay on the table thing that was strangely reminiscent of a sacrificial altar and shut my eyes while he prodded my pressure points and asked me to tell him on a scale between one to ten how much it hurt. I was never good with numbers, with measuring, that’s one of the reasons I didn’t progress much with CBT. But anyway, I did the business. Then the dentist, who occupies the floor below, came up and the two gentlemen talked about me and I sat on a chair and looked up from one to the other. They tutted and shook their heads and I counted the seconds and worked out that it was costing me £2 per minute to be there. I had told the secretary of the Eminent one that I would only commit to one session, so as to enable necessary dental work to proceed. I will be getting screeds of notes and instructions. One of the things I am supposed to do is switch off all the mains electricity in the house before going to sleep at night. But this is the only thing I have been told to do that isn’t (from the point of view of one living in our particular culture) either weird or very weird. There are a number of conversations I am to have with the dead, ancestors, beginning with my dear Dad who would be splitting his sides laughing. Well he would, wouldn’t he – being a four-be-two?

The things we do.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Colours and Clothing

It has not escaped my attention that a number of one’s fellow peeps in the fields of Blog have gone very quiet. Although there has been a gradual falling off, it suddenly feels as though the sound I most consistently hear is my own voice cheeping away. All things must pass, and this is the way of the world, both Virtual and Real. But in Real Life one is more constrained. What person has not fantasised about reinventing themselves, discarding the life they are living and replacing it with a shiny new one? By all accounts, it seldom works out the way it should and the result is usually depressing; shiny new life is quickly tarnished and the self that one thought to escape comes and takes up residence, or one wakes up on the cold hill side where “no birds sing,” in faery lands forlorn. But never mind, the fantasy persists. In Virtual Life, though, chucking in one identity for another is relatively painless. I know of one blogger, at any rate, who has done this – died and reincarnated, as it were, and there appear to be no ill effects. I am not particularly drawn to the idea of reinventing, being a sign-reader pure and simple. But. There is always a But, oh creative ones (as any fule know), or there should be; a get-out clause, a divine flaw in the immaculate pattern. For it is the playfulness of this endeavour that appeals to me, in the land of no fixed signposts and obscure boundaries. So it may be that I change my colours and clothing - or disappear in a puff of smoke (Camel, I wish).

I have been steadily, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say unsteadily, plodding on with the onerous Lenten task of poetry-making. Strange that an activity of such central importance in my life should feel heavy. It isn’t, of course. It is pure delight, when I do it. It is only the not getting down to it that is difficult, the coming up against lack of strength, physical and psychic, and the Issues around self-discipline. But, you know, this is why I set myself the task in the first place, and it is bearing fruit. I have a cluster of poems I am pleased with. Not many, for there is an awful lot of chipping about one does before the thing is done. But still, a cluster. And more to come.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Cry Wolf

I interrupt this chocolate break to say that I am more than a little put out to find that any old Tom, Dick and Hanif can write a book and then find themselves labelled (albeit in sublime piss-take) as a "Reader of Signs." Look here if you don't believe me.

And what I want to say is, there ain't room for two of us in this town. Oh - I nearly forgot, I don't live in town any more. Well then, there just ain't room. I too have dark secrets, existential angst and am able to ruminate copiously on all manner of mid-life misery. If that's what it takes, I mean to say!

But here at Signs Cottage it's just the same old, really. Poetry Boot Camp is rather more boot camp than poetry right now, but on I go because that's the kind of sign-reader I am. I am stuck on account of a wolf. It is an imaginary wolf but a confounded nuisance as it refuses to be fully imagined. When the going gets tough, the tough get going and I am doing the only thing possible: eating more chocolate.

I do this so you don't have to. Just saying.