Sunday, December 20, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
Brighton tomorrow, taking mother shopping the day after, meal out with writerfriends on Thursday, curry night with neighbours on Friday, carol concert Saturday - life really does go on. And my story too, bursting to be written and asking for my undivided attention.
Monday, December 7, 2009
I am eating gingerbread stars, hearts, little men that look like the figures on exit signs, and wedges of chocolate orange. The cat howls and does not know why, but I do, and I tell her that he will be back in May.
All day it has been so dark. I went out and bought more candles.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
I am post-viral, very, and this is the real bastard, not the actual flu which conducted itself in a predictable and proper fashion - one feels ill, yes, but it is a normal, healthy kind of ill with stages and resolutions. This too will pass. I had a scary bout of asthma, not too bad, but reminding me of the time I was hospitalised with it and each out breath felt as though it might be the last. I have the toothache - nothing (apparently) wrong, but something has agitated the nerve, which hammers most insistently to be acknowledged. Hello nerve, hello tooth. Talking of which: hello heart, hello psyche. Yes, I know, but would you ever just pipe down and let me get on with, you know, things.
So here we are again in advent which, for the whole of the civilised world - in my neck of the woods at any rate - means shopping. Though not for me because, as you know, shopping never was or will be my thing. I was standing in a post office queue the other day gawping at the quantity of cut-price sweets and biscuits on the shelves (post office is in a Co-op store).
Doesn't that look disgusting, said the woman next to me, and for moment I was thankful that the shelf display was there, having its (unintended) effect. For I love chocolate as much as the next person, but there is nothing like a heap of Celebrations and Cadbury's Roses to make you sicken at the excess. The same woman (a village acquaintance) said, I think that everyone who did all their Christmas shopping in June should be shot. And though I might feel that to be a step too far, I cannot but applaud the spirit. I will achieve grumpy old womanhood yet. Ok, I have bought advent calendars and beeswax candles. There will be a feast at Christmas, as is right and proper. The Signs children will get some money because that's what is needed, and little gifties to open, because they are good for the soul, and Mr. Signs will get - well I don't yet know what, as The Wire is all finished, but something. Actually, he has made a list this year and although this may appear to contradict everything I have just grumped about, I do like a man who knows what he wants. And everyone else will get a jar of home-made (but not by me) chutney or jam.
Me, I might have put silk underwear on my list, but actually I need them now because of the cold so I have ordered some from Patra - silken long johns and vests. The creative unconscious is a strange beast. I recently wrote my first ever proper sex scene (bear with me, this is relevant) - proper in the sense that it describes two people who are actually Doing It, whereas usually I tend to come at these things (shut up) more obliquely. By this I do not mean euphemistically, you will find no "she felt the length and breadth of his desire" in my works - forsooth. Focussing on apparently unrelated particulars can sometimes be more potent than zooming in on the act itself, but this time the story asked for it, so I obliged. And blow me down with a feather if silk underwear (thermals, actually), didn't find their way into the scene, yes, and on the male character too, not the female. There he stood in his white undergarments, very fine he looked too, and it did occur to me that if only I could bring myself to get the brand name in I might be onto something lucrative. She felt the depth and quality of his Patra thermal long johns. No, I couldn't possibly.
Happy advent, peeps. The light shineth despite the Celebrations. And that's quite enough brand names for one post.
Friday, November 20, 2009
I gave Son a lift in the car yesterday and sneezed. Bugger. He is due to travel to India to work for several months on 7th December and has work commitments until then. He is away this weekend, saying goodbye to friends (just as well), Daughter was due to come with lovely new boyfriend on Sunday for lunch, and to collect important things for a project she is putting on in London. "I can't get ill now," she says, "I just can't." So Mr. Signs will have to go to the station and hand the heavy bag of photocopied material over at the station and not breathe on her or the boyfriend in case he is incubating. In fact, neither of us should breathe on anyone at all for - I need to look up how long. I probably shouldn't even be breathing on you, folks.
There is a nagging voice that says, you brought this on yourself by blasting away on the NaNo. You knew it was too much, didn't you? Shut up, I say. And when this is over I am going back to it - The Writing, I mean.
Meanwhile, I'll be spooking around the place and dreaming.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
And life does its best to get in the way. Why wouldn't it? It is such an unnatural thing to be doing, this out of the body thing with ghostie characters who inhabit one's imagination, take on substance and are unpredictable or too predictable, like people but not. I have been in my red and white pyjamas all day, with chest infection, feel awful and M.E. god has turned his baleful and venomous eye on me. Actually, he has been doing this from the outset, but today he sat on the bed with me and said: think you got away with it? Payback time!
And - get this - the writing isn't making me happy. Well who said that it was supposed to do that? Occasionally I get a grim kind of satisfaction because I can feel the pick hitting the seam, but mostly I feel a bit shite about it all, although not as shite as I would feel if I were not doing it.
I spoke with my London-based writing fiend the other day. She is working on her novel and has expressed how she feels about her particular work-in-progress. She loves it with a steadfast, dedicated and pure love. It is a source of joy, close to her heart, her attention to it has made it so. I can see the potential for this, even though we (work-in-progress and I) are are not at this stage in our relationship and it is an uneven and precarious kind of courtship.
A measure of Blogoslavian distraction feels like a good thing.
Friday, November 6, 2009
For firstly, five of my poems are out in the latest (No. 48) edition of Obsessed With Pipework (subtitle: poetry with strangeness and charm), and one of them is called Reading the Signs. I really like this quarterly, and not just because the editor was good enough to take my poems. It has the look and feel of the kind of pamphlets one used to come across in what I shall euphemistically call a more rockanroll decade - something that has a cobbled together kind of look, but it is cobbled with artistry and soul - not to mention strangeness and charm. I subscribed to it when blogfriend and writer Ms Pants had her poems published there, and I have read every copy since (unusually for me) from first poem to last and been pleased to see some erstwhile writing cronies from Hackney days represented there. With neurologically challenged brain, it is difficult to keep finger on the pulse and read, as well as digest, everything that one would like to. So OWP is a very good thing for me, nicely made, with concentrated poetry nourishment I appreciate.
For secondly, I am - as I cavalierly bragged in the last post - taking part in this year's NaNoWriMo, and I have bashed out exactly 10,0005 words in six days. This is, to put you in the picture, exactly five words more than I need to be on track for my 50,000 by the end of the month. It is testing my strength to the limit, but so far so good, and look - I am even putting up a post as well. Muscles are aching, eyes are smarting, but this feels like a breeze compared to the hacking-a-path-through-the-mountain that is fiction-writing. Someone, but I can't remember who, described it as such and I felt it was, as far as my process was concerned, accurate. I know what is on the other side of the mountain and have a rough idea of what I might need to do in order to get there, but the path is made with much effort and with no guarantee that you are really heading in the right direction, but if you keep going you are going to get out somewhere, and if it is not exactly the spot you intended, never mind. I have written short stories, poems, bits of novel, but never yet actually done the long haul. When I reach the pearly gates I would like to say that I had a go. And this, I suppose, for better or worse, is it.
You will surely be wondering about Shrink, and where he fits into all of this. Obviously I have had to let him go - the road was, in every possible sense, too long, arduous and expensive and, well, all things must end, even psychoanalytic therapy. At the back of my mind, also, was the image of Woody Allen in Sleepers, waking up some time far in the future and working out that he might just, at this point have completed his psychoanalytic treatment. Don't ask me if it has done any good, I probably won't know until half way through my next incarnation. What I do know is that the notion of banging one's head against a brick wall, and how good it feels when you stop doing that, resonates.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
The one who does the cooking/laundry/dishes is she who isn't out earning money. Stands to reason, and it isn't as though one actually resents it or as if anyone were taking advantage and not pulling their weight around the place. Everyone is doing their best. But it is a problem because of my energy/strength situation: how to fit in The Writing and not just come to it late in the day when it is quite hopeless to think of serious, sustained endeavour. Clue: when I was in the Smoke they had take-away suppers - fish and chips one night and curry the next. Lovely girlperson who comes once a week to clean vacuumed the carpets, cleaned the kitchen floor and changed bedlinen. When I absent myself, life goes on, I can just as well absent myself by going to the study as by going elsewhere and we are all grownups here. Life with small children is a different kettle of fish altogether. But. It does not feel good or right to welcome home the hard-pressed gentlemen folk of the house with nothing and - here is the nub - they and the Daughter are important to me and deserving of my attentions and when chips are down they come first in the scheme of things.
But still. I am determined to crack on with writing project and so have set myself the ridiculous challenge of doing NaNoWriMo this year. The idea came about as I sat outside on my birthday after having too much cake and coffee. Someone said, why don't we do it and I of course, at once, said yes lets, and then if it all went pear-shaped I could blame her for suggesting it. London writerfriend, who knows my situation and is realistic, said I should busy myself with appropriate warm-ups for the rest of this month, so I have been sustaining myself with instant coffee and chocolate, with no observable ill effects, bearing in mind that one is always feeling ill effects of something or other. No, but this is very encouraging, because I will save much time not shopping for and preparing biodynamic salads and raw vegetable juices. My juicer has, in any case, gone back to the chemist that sold it to me because of the particular make being recalled for potentially dangerous flaw in the works. I take this as a Sign - why wouldn't I? Organic juices are time-consuming and preparing them may be hazardous to your wellbeing. Coffee and chocolate rock.
Fifty thousand words in a month? Ha! Watch this space.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Saturday, September 19, 2009
I be ponderin' on this an' that, lookin' ahead t' th' graduation ceremony o' me son and a-realisin' that me preferred clobber o' purple leggins won't cut a dash among th'addle-brained boffins in the land o' dreamin' spires, but shiver me timbers if I be fool enough to be chuckin' pieces of eight at some scurvy clobbermonger for a piece o' schmatter* that won't see daylight from one end o' th' year to next. So purples it be, me hearties, arrr, and I'm a-thinkin' ye scurvy rascals 'd expect nothin' less from Cap'n Signs.
It bein' the 'versary o' me birth next se'ennight, me ol' mate be a-musin' 'pon what might gladden the 'eart of a wordy beauty such as I. He be full o' the joys o' i-phone, a-gazin' at the damn thing and a-downloadin' applications, such as a pox-ridden sudoku-solver, from th'internet – and now he be of a mind to get one o' th 'poxy things for me, but I be havin' none o' it, bein' a simple (as in honest, ye scurvy lubbers) sign-readin' sea-dog, wi' no need o' fancy booty to keep me treasure chest warm.
So that's the long an' short o' it, me scallywags. I'll close wi' trustin' this finds you as it leaves me – in th' pink an' addled wi' grog – pleased to be firin' a cannon through yer porthole – an jus' remember: when in doubt, say “Arrrrr!”
*it is a well-known fact that many pirates have more than a streak of yiddish in them.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
So yes, she, (a.k.a. Janis Mackay), did win it, and I was there to witness the event which took place in a beautiful building close to the Edinburgh book fair, with wine, crisps, chocolate muffins and sweeties in little dishes – well it was a children's book prize, and it was Scotland. It will be published by Floris at the end of October and it will be lovely – a story about a boy called Magnus Finn who is half selkie. I have always been drawn by the selkie and even wrote a short story myself about one of them. Ms North has written an adventure story. I remember speaking to her on the phone after she had begun it. She was working on another project at the time but something on the beach where she lives caught her attention, she says, and she went home and the story of Magnus began. In her own words about this here. So it goes with creative process. You go hell for leather after one story and then another one comes and pulls at you.
Another long time writer friend I would like to trumpet is Wendy Wallace, whose book Daughter of Dust was published by Simon and Schuster in August. In Wendy's words:
Leila began life in an orphanage where most babies had been abandoned after being born outside marriage. Later, she uncovered the complex story behind her abandonment. She met - and looked after - her mother, and discovered not one father but two. She sang for President Numeiri, and came within a breath of living on the streets...
I met her when in Sudan in 2007 researching a piece for Woman's Hour on the issue of abandonment. In northern Sudan, babies continue to be born to unmarried women, despite the strict Islamic laws. Mygoma orphanage continues to receive abandoned newborns.
Leila's story moved me. I wanted to tell it, and she had always wanted it told. We formed a close friendship and agreed that if we succeeded in finding a publisher, we would split any proceeds.
Most important to Leila is that people in Sudan and elsewhere think again about their attitudes to those without families. The aim of her charity - Sunrise - is to dispel the stigma faced by 'children of sin' and its message is simple. "We are not guilty."
I love this book. I love Wendy's writing. She has a talent for creating mood and place (from which the story unfolds) which catches at the breath. I hope the book grows wings and is read by many. You can find it on Amazon, in Waterstone's or Borders under Biography, or you can order it for the discounted price of £6.50 plus £3.00 p&p (UK 1st class) by contacting Wendy at email@example.com
Already mentioned (and on my sidebar), if you haven't already spotted it, is Julie Corbin, whose first book, a thriller called Tell Me No Secrets was the only good reason I found for staying awake into the small hours. An erstwhile student of mine, she came into the classroom and one knew from the outset that she was one of those can write/will write people with both talent and determination.
Three writers, all different, but what they have in common is something I can't really find a satisfying word for: they are dedicated to the business of writing and have given themselves to the work, for the love of it, the doing of it. The success, when and if it comes, is good, but they are busy with the new work – dedicated.
Next post will have something about the life and strivings of Signs. But for the moment, suffice to say that today I fell on the patio, bashed my head and put my back out. But I wrote my thousand words.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Son will be playing geetar in a show called Miles Ahead with other jazz musicians - at C Venue, if you happen to be there and into Miles Davis.
Ms North has been shortlisted for the Kelpies Prize with her story, Magnus Finn and the Ocean Quest and the Signses will be there at the award ceremony on Wednesday when the winner will be announced.
I will be taking the notebook along, probably not writing much in it until my return but one must always show willing, even on holiday.
There is so much auspiciousness in the air, I can taste it.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
My name isn't really Starr, says Ringo, it used to be Starkey.
Still has a star in it, says Eric, and it's one powerful birth name to be blessed with – having the key as well as the star. You can unlock secrets, my friend.
I guess, says Ringo, but he never felt that connection. Stark raving mad was what they used to joke about, him and his mates in the playground after school, or stark bollocks naked. Hey Starkers, they used to call – you comin' ou' toni' or wha'? Good times, they were, hanging out with the lads, ribbing each other and throwing wolf-whistles at the girls on a Saturday night (he liked the blonde ones).
Richard, says Eric – mind if I call you that?
Sure, says Ringo, whatever (christ, was that the time, they still had forty five minutes to go and already he was feeling bored, wishing he were by the pool downing a couple of Buds).
Richard – Star Key – how do you feel about having a re-naming ritual?
Ringo doesn't know about that, and his wife usually tells him how he feels about things.
We could do it right here and now, says Eric – reconnect you to your name of power, words are magic, Richard, I think we both know that. I'm a great admirer of your work, by the way.
I'd just like you to shut your eyes and imagine you are stepping out of the body – will you do that, Richard?
Sure. He could get forty winks, perhaps, make the time pass more quickly.
You are going up into the sky, flying at the speed of light, away from earth itself. You find yourself in outer space – what do you see?
No forty winks then, he had to answer questions. Planets, says Ringo.
Planets is good, says Eric. And I wonder which planet you are going to choose. Look carefully, Richard. Venus is beautiful with all its greens and blues, perhaps it beckons you. Mercury, now there's a gem, Saturn is majestic and brings untold wisdom – and then there is Mars, the warrior's planet -
Chocolate, thinks Ringo, with soft fondant and caramel encased in its dark embrace.
Mars, he says. A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play.
You will just have to believe, as I do, that he does in fact discover a great secret.
Ok – I have been having problems: the Signs hard disc self-destructed and seeing as we hadn't backed anything up since November there has been a bit of bother, some things being quite lost, though others (mercifully) alive in hard copy. We are re-configured now and backed up to the hilt. Never trust a computer, says a friend of mine – they always let you down eventually. The notebook never does, though.
So back to it I go.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Looking out at the black, bare branches on a thick, white sky. I love this small outlook onto rooftops and trees. Though I never see people, it makes me feel less alone, as though I am out there, a part of that piece of landscape, and the fact of my being grounded here doesn’t matter so much.
Today is the first of August, and I record:
The branches most visible to me are still black, and the sky is thick and white. I think the rain will never stop. But today I would not, in any case, know what to do with a blue and golden day, especially if it were hot. The rain and sky are therefore a kindness to me, they cover me like a blanket, similar to the light duvet I am lying under now. I spoke to a friend who is recovering from cancer. She had been out for a morning walk and the lake, the people with their dogs and all the morning runners, all the life in the park, was beautiful. Life was beautiful. Yes, I said, and yes.
Friday, July 24, 2009
I have realised that I am screen-sensitive to a degree I had not appreciated. In other words, it is much better for me not to spend very much time in front of one, especially if it belongs to a laptop, and more especially if it involves a great deal of reading. Typing up what I have written, which doesn’t take long as I am a speedy touch-typist, is fine. Thank goodness for the notebook. I have still to find the completely perfect ballpoint – but perhaps one never does.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
The spirit was always willing, it is ardent and steadfast. But my M.E.-afflicted mind and body fail and fail. We all sing this song, those of us who have lived for many years with M.E. We try not to but out it comes, from the breast, because we want so badly to live our lives and do the thing that is in us to do: paint, take photographs, write, sew, plant, create. We try, but sometimes there is such a small space in which to be alive, and then we think we should do the decent thing and shut up about it but we can’t, it goes against nature. Keep howling, raging, singing, one must, and keep breathing. I have been touched by many voices here in this virtual world that became, for a while, a hearth for me. People come and go, they take on names that become a channel for some essence of them, and when they go or disappear, it matters.
So I don’t want to do that – disappear - at least not without saying goodbye. But retreat is in order because I don’t have the wherewithal to keep posting much if I am going to bring more substantial focus to the writing I still hope to do. I began this blog as a kind of simple reflective practice (I say simple, but I used initially to edit my posts) and to see what might emerge. I didn’t anticipate that it would become an actual place with real people who mattered to me, or that there would be so much fun to be had in the exchanges. Good times.
But back to the I-Ching, which is where I began when I started the blog: Care of the Cow, it seems, does not necessarily bring good fortune and the Ridgepole is always in danger of breaking, and knowing these things does give a kind of freedom. I am also reminded, as though that were necessary, that the Wanderer has no place to lay her head. It doesn’t do to be too literal about these things, but the motif is there quite plain and I have my knapsack here at the ready. I am packing the notebook, the ballpoint and a strip of Nicorette chewing gum. Anything else I should remember? Oh yeah, my sweet little razor-sharp Opinel knife, because you never know. And I quite fancy the thought of whittling while I’m whistling by the fire on a dark night.
I will be putting my head through the door now and then, coming back for the occasional rant or Tweet (as in Twitter, but don’t worry, I’m not going down that road), and I’ll be looking in on y’all, emailable as usual and - gawd! As my dear old Dad liked to say when someone was taking too long hovering on the threshold: "forgotten, but not gone."
Or as my great aunt Linchen always used to say:
“Geh mit Gott, aber geh.”
I should go.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
The day before, I had discovered that some of the attendees were extreme vegans, so no chance of cocktail sausages and tinned pineapple chunks with Gouda cheese cubes on sticks, or a vat of Coronation chicken. Googling vegan fingerfoods was useless, it all required making from scratch. But still, I am now in love with Discovery fajita powder and wholemeal wraps. You just sautee a large quantity of veg, add powder - and wrap. Tinned chick peas and assorted beans are also, as everyone knows, a good vegan thing – I uncanned and mixed with with “oriental” tahini dressing (made up on the hoof). There was also bulghur wheat tabbouleh, sushi and guacamole dip with crudités plus other things for carnivores and fish-eating, gluten-avoiding vegetarians. In the end there was far too much food and I offloaded a quantity onto my lovely vegan neighbour. I used to do this sort of thing a lot but am out of practice, not just with the catering side of things but gatherings in general, unless they have some clearly defined focus such as choral singing or poetry. It has to be said that I am no longer (was I ever?) a party animal – unless it is a party where I can sing Bohemian Rhapsody on karaoke. Just saying this in case a couple of people look in and wonder if I was just pretending to enjoy myself at the garden party the other week. No, look, I am contradictory. I am not a party animal but sometimes go to parties and have a lovely time, especially if someone else is doing the food.
I could complain about the heat but won’t as the weather is due to change soon and then I will be complaining about the rain. In any case, Mr S and I are going to Caithness the day after tomorrow to stay with Ms North and partner in their lovely house on the beach where you can sit in bed and look out at the sea. Ms North and I will be doing The Writing while Mr. S explores the terrain, reads and relaxes. We also plan to eat, drink and talk to seals. There is one who has recently taken to hanging out on that bit of beach and I am hoping s/he will stay around and let me come close enough for some eye contact.
Whenever I go to my hairdresser she asks me where and when I am going on holiday. She and her husband have about seven a year so no sooner has one holiday been taken than the next is within sight. You must like Scotland a lot, she said last time. Because you keep going there, don’t you? Yes, I do. And I do.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
There was a yoga teacher I once knew briefly. I forget what kind of yoga – I was very keen at the time but I didn’t keep it up. What I still remember, though, are the words with with he began each session:
may all beings who live on the earth be free from fear.
Just that. It feels to be as much of the essence now as it did then.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Monday, June 22, 2009
I sometimes read the blogs of writers from the land of focussed productivity and it is like pressing my nose against the window of a richly-stocked sweet shop. I want very much to taste the sweets I see, can almost feel the buttery slide of a striped peppermint humbug or the fizz of a strawberry sherbet in my mouth. But twixt them and me is fixed an impenetrable glass wall through which I can only look, and my pockets have only small change. The looking, though, is better than nothing and I still want to know there is a world out there and in there.
I wrote those two paragraphs last night and suddenly realised I needed to sleep. Now I see I have been rambling about sweets and clearly I was having another blood sugar swing and jars of sweets are in any case not the best image to stand for the actual doing of things, but let it be. So, I have a sequence of poems I would like to complete and a number of writing-and-process sessions scheduled. I have completed bits and pieces that I plan to put inside envelopes and send somewhere. I am waving a protracted goodbye to Shrink just as we were in danger of actually getting somewhere, but the driving was killing me and the writing, so that’s that. Back to the square on the board that isn’t quite square one or Go To Jail but isn’t much further on the road to capturing the castle either – and look, I am coming up with crappy images again, I could never stand Monopoly, probably because there never were any castles there to capture, and I have never been much of an entrepreneur.
I should go. Because otherwise I might begin to list the various things that are cluttering up the fragile soul space of Signs and then this would become a confessional blog, which is not necessarily a bad thing, just as confessional poetry is not necessarily a bad thing (and if you are Anne Sexton it is a very good thing indeed – for us, I mean – it didn’t save her). But I think if one is going to do the confessional then there’s no merit in being coy, it needs to be done properly, hammer and tongs and hell for leather, so to speak, and if done in the right way it is not (as everyone always fears) self-indulgence but something big and generous, and one takes one’s hat off to the blogger who does this.
No really, I should go.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
There are deer also, they venture out at night and get killed on the road. But what would you do here? The forest is not as large or wild as it once was and you too might wander onto the road, get caught in the headlights, your face for a brief moment illuminated, before the crunch. We read signs that tell us to go slow, there are deer and sheep. Another sign might say Caution: Wild Men of the Woods.
You have made yourself a garment out of bracken, deerskin and black bin-liners, something to protect you from the cold, perhaps. Around your neck there is a bone attached to a piece of string, bird feathers in your matted hair. Where is the mother that raised you – or were you suckled by the wolves? We do not see those either, and their absence is as loud as yours.
Alone in the deepest part of the forest where even the forest rangers seldom go, you squat on the thickest branch of an oak and open your mouth. From your throat comes the call of a woodpecker, and sometimes the long howl of a wolf.
One day some children find you – a brother and sister out with their parents for a Sunday walk, an autumn adventure with flasks of apple juice, peanut butter and marmite sandwiches. The parents are a little way behind and do not see what the children see: a wild and hairy man squatting on a branch, his genitals exposed, grey feathers stuck into hair the colour of rusted leaves, eyes like the big round letter O in their alphabet book, and inside the two Os it is black and shiny with staring. They stop and look, you stop and look.
Mum! Dad! shouts the boy.
You’re a funny man, says the girl. Are you a troll?
Dad! says the boy, Dad!
And then your nostrils flare, you growl and you are gone, disappeared.
He was here, say the children when the parents arrive. He wasn’t wearing proper clothes, I saw his willy, says the girl. The father pretends to have a look: well now, I wonder where he could have got to. The mother lays down a blanket for a picnic.
When they have gone, you come back and sniff the ground where they were sitting, pick up a half-eaten sandwich, put it into your mouth and spit it out. You go to your secret place under the Yew where there is a stash of berries.
Later you will kill and pluck a bird.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
I think the apple tree is going to survive as only a few branches have the burnt-to-a-crisp leaves, the rest are ok, and I can see little newborn apples dotted around that look as though they have a good future ahead of them. Some of them will eventually become apple jelly.
I had another occasion to perform, at my friend’s garden party on Saturday – spot of karaoke in the marquee. Bohemian Rhapsody, it was. I have always wanted to belt out scaramouche, scaramouche, will you do the fandango - thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightning - Galileo! etc. Obviously I wasn't doing it completely on my own, but it still took guts.
And yesterday, as if the heavens opened in reply, there was thunderbolt and lightning, and a clattering of hail, followed by hot sunshine, which has continued into today. It being the birthday of Mr. Signs I should expect nothing less, as he has decreed that the sun always shines on the day of his birth. Sceptics might say that it is fortunate his birthday falls in mid-June, but he maintains that it is all to do with having the right attitude. I am, as ever, reading the signs.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Thanks to those who commented in the previous post, and – wouldn’t you know – as it turned out I didn’t have time to read the poem. But your efforts were not wasted! It was one that was almost headed for the virtual bin, but I have decided that Version Two will stay, and in the fullness of time (how I love that phrase, so adaptable) it will find its place.
Yesterday was also the day that Son did the last of his finals exams which, because of the R.S.I. (which became Tennis Elbow and then something else) he wrote entirely on a keyboard in a room with (his words) “all the other cripples” – may the angels bless their endeavours. So now it’s party-time for him, and a space with nothing scheduled but whatever it is he fancies doing.
And today is the Signs wedding anniversary, which we almost forgot (though Mr. S swears he didn’t). No chance at all of my cooking anything, we’re going for a curry. I am almost excarnated with sleeplessness but in that Mickey Mouse kind of state where you can keep walking on air and not fall into the ravine as long as you don’t look down. Tomorrow a friend is coming to stay, there is a big bash of a party we have been invited to, not usually my thing but it’s hosted by one of my lovely weekly writing people, there will be beautiful music and ambience and I will enjoy.
Have a good weekend yourselves, Peeps.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
So, dear Reader Peeps, this is where you come in: I’ll put up both and you decide which one gets your vote. I could also do with a decent title, if one suggests itself to you. Thanking you in advance for doing a beleaguered Sign-reader a good turn, and – who knows – I might do the same for you one day.
I am your litmus paper, if you like;
watch my colour turn from live to nothing
and that should tell you something.
I am your singing canary, let’s say,
that goes before you into darkness,
and when the music stops, you know.
I am closer than you think.
You may have sensed me:
a coldness in the limbs;
the odourless lips of a still-born rose.
I am trying to tell you things,
but I only have this language:
a bloodless complexion;
this deathly silence.
I am your litmus paper, if you like;
watch my live colour turn to nothingness.
I am your singing canary, let’s say,
that goes before you into darkness.
I am closer than you think.
You may have sensed me.
I am trying to tell you things
but have only this language –
a coldness in the limbs,
this deathly silence.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
two weeks it flowered in my kitchen, the scent of it painful,
like losing a sister,
like taking a bride from the altar, husbandless
– a snippet from work in progress. I observe that when I write about beauty it usually comes with pain and I also observe that I don’t write many funny poems, or if they are funny then it’s not obvious to anyone but me (someone did once say I had a kind of sly humour but neither of us were sure if that was a compliment).
And back to the trees: our next neighbour but one has cut down an ash tree. I’m sure there was a good reason for it but it has quite changed the view when one looks out of the window at the back of the house. There is always a tree issue in these parts, the forest is all around us and everything that is not forest wants to be. What with that and keeping the elementals happy one has one’s work cut out.
It has been a difficult week, I’ve been myaligicmusclebound and mainly housebound – without the former the latter would be fine in my little house, albeit with compromised view, but my neighbour (not the hot cross bun one) has had scaffolding put up by the side of his house which is hard by the side of our house. There have been days of banging, scraping and raucous banter, and I am spoiled with so much silence and birdsong, not used to the noise.
Certainly it is time for the rolled purples.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Good, that’s got those out of the way. We can talk about the weather obviously – it’s been great here in Blighty and even a cold winter-lover like me can’t help but feel as though something potentially splendid and redemptive has finally come and announced itself after the god-forsakenly chilly spring we have had. So, well, but as we’re all mostly agreed on that there probably isn’t very much more to say except that it is worth bearing in mind that (it being England) weather will probably be changeable. But you don’t need a sign-reader to tell you that, you can watch the BBC weather forecast.
I have got a list of things for June jiggling about in my brain. It is the cat’s birthday on the 8th. - she will be fourteen. I used to make an effort and stick candles into a tin of Sheba and sing happy birthday to her but she didn’t really appreciate the gesture or seem to mind when I forgot. The Signs wedding anniversary falls on the 12th, the birthday of Mr. Signs on the 16th and we are having a Signs gathering extraordinaire (his idea, I blame the therapy training) later in the month – members of his side of the family, many of whom he has not seen for years and who I have never met. I will not yet allow myself to think about this. Son of Signs clobber will all be coming back to Signs Cottage from Oxford at some point. There are poetry readings to attend and a book launch. Oh, and I will be giving a poetry reading on the 11th that I am feeling strangely nervous about.
I’m sure there was something else. Yes, a creativity day chez Signs. You will be wondering what a creativity day is: well, it is a day on which we (me and two of my long-standing writing cronies) get together and create, in other words we write stuff. We do this regularly anyway, but on a creativity day we do it for longer and with knobs on. And food.
What I always say is, when you have nothing to say, write lists – which is basically what I seem to have done here. I have been very restrained actually, there is much more I could have added to the list. I’ll be back when some of the items have been ticked off.
Have a nice month.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
The thing about children growing up is that you can’t march in and deal with things on their behalf any more. Otherwise I’d have been in milord proctor’s office with a sawn-off shotgun and a plethora of potent curses, obviously. This kind of approach does often bring about results. But on the other hand one also risks making enemies and alienating people so it’s good to have other strategies at the ready, such as who do you have to f*ck to get the necessary equipment/piece of paper/antibiotics or whatever it is that a particular situation demands. Shotgun and curses is more my style, but I can also do gracious beleaguered lady gratefully grovelling, and have done to good effect. I never said I was proud.
I have got a new, blue (second hand) office chair as the other one has been wonky for a long time. It cost £100 but we got it at the “special price” of £90 to take account of the scratched paint on one of its black feet. I have just looked online and seen that we could probably have got something similar, new, for the same price as it is an older model. Sometimes it doesn’t do to dwell on things. I will also not dwell on the fact that my posterior and coccyx seem to be missing the old wonky chair and find this one a bit bruising.
I continue to dwell on the issue of how I can establish a workable writing routine given the lengthy periods of recovery needed between one activity and another. Given the unpredictability of my condition there is no solution that readily offers itself but I will not cease from mental strife nor will my pen or keyboard rest easy till I have built – actually till nothing. I just find that if I am not writing I do not rest easy, nor do I wish to. Today is a recovery day, though, and perhaps a catching up on reading day: short stories (Runaway) by Alice Munro for the book group next week.
Next year in Jerusalem.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Saturday, May 16, 2009
As usual (when there is planned activity afoot), I slept very little last night. But there is a substantial quantity of sleep in the bank from previous nights, and this may see me through. In any case, I feel stronger than I have for a while and there is a strange and fragile elevation, which belongs to the morning.
There is a red rose growing outside my house. It wasn’t there last year and I can only think that the biodynamic gardener who occasionally comes to help keep things from getting over-wild, put it there, took a cutting from the back garden. The look and scent of it is so intense I can hardly take it in all at once, but it will not last long.
The fact that from one day to the next things change sometimes seems nothing short of miraculous
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Having said that, I’m not about to say anything brilliant and insightful about blogging here, I’m just going to reflect a bit. This is really why I began blogging in the first place – to reflect about creative process, life and stuff, I had no particular agenda and was open to whatever might emerge, as long as it was clear (it probably wasn’t always) that whatever did emerge of a personal nature was not a plea for emotional support, reassurance or advice. I appreciate all (well most) comments, but the ones that please me the most are those that either take some kind of pleasure in the words I’ve put up, for whatever reason, or those that take off and turn into real conversation/debate or a bit of seriously playful nonsense. Regarding the latter, there have been some truly exquisite times in the comments section where we have made it up as we went along. I do like that kind of thing, and remember how when my daughter was little the games she liked were always about making things up – creative play in action, not knowing where it might lead or what may unfold. That’s actually the way I tend to write, for better or worse – it does sometimes help to have a map of where you might be heading; novelist writerfriend, if you are looking in: I am working/planning to work on this.
So, but: I have M.E. and have said as much in my profile. The fact of this is so huge and affects so much of life that not mentioning it would really be like trying to hide the elephant in the room. This is a place where I have sometimes lamented, spoken about the loss that comes with a condition such as this, but I have also on occasion stood back and simply looked at what it might mean in terms of creative process, how one thing might affect another. Having it has perhaps made me more of a “ditch poet” (one who looks at what is close up and near by) than the other kind of writer I might have been.
It has recently been levelled at me that I tend to sit on the edge of debate about M.E. – that I don’t get involved with the ‘dirt’. This is quite true and is worth thinking about. On the one hand I could say that it simply doesn’t draw me, it’s not what I do nor do I think I would be as effective as many of the people whose names appear on my sidebar, so I leave the activism to them and will sometimes lend my voice in support and offer appreciation for their efforts – we would be significantly the worse off without them. I was that kind of feminist also. I never went on marches, never put myself in the line of fire (writing a couple of poems for Spare Rib really doesn’t count) and I benefitted from the work of many brave and energetic women. It wasn’t laziness or cowardice, it was simply not the kind of thing I did, my gifts, such as they were, lay elsewhere and I never felt informed enough about particulars to offer something significant to any debate. The support I did give was more of the “ditch” kind.
I don’t offer an apology. I come here to do what I do and I don’t have an agenda so sometimes it’s a bit of this and a bit of that, and occasionally I shine a torch when the moment feels right and the fire is there to do it. Also, it was never my intention to be an M.E. blogger in the sense of that being the primary focus. If I had severe M.E. this might very well have been the case, but I am, as a blogfriend recently put it, sometimes “on the shitty end of moderate” and at other times just moderate – one of the more fortunate ones therefore. If I write about M.E., the point (for me) is really about the writing of it, whether the words are working in the way they should and giving utterance to something or other. I don’t always know what that something or other is when I am writing it – that goes with the territory of reflective practice I reckon.
I wanted to put up a youtube of “All By Yourself in the Moonlight” by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band from years back but can only find the original song they took it from. Bonzo’s version had rude words and was funny, but this will have to do:
Monday, May 11, 2009
I will just have to give you a snippet from everyday life on the Edge where there is a shop that sells biodynamic vegetables and fruit. It also sells hand-dyed silk scarves, soaps made from olive and hemp seed oil, skin creams made with essential oil of rose and lavender and books about how to grow your vegetables according to the rhythms of the moon. I always meet Patrick there. He is an imaginary character who has materialised off and on for several years and I have grown quite fond of him. He rifles through the discounted fruit that is bruised or over-ripe, examines the black marks on a golden pear, weighing up the consequences of spending less money but risking a mouthful of disappointment where there should be juice. The apples are perhaps a safer bet, but even with those you can never be sure once they are past their best.
“It’s a nightmare,” he says, “a bloody nightmare.” His pessimism reassures me and is constant. We are living in the last days and there is a sense of companionship, of us both being in it together. Never mind the rumblings, the catastrophe is here and we are in it. This brings its own kind of illumination which gives a sense of purpose to the day. It is, as he says, a bloody nightmare, and our task therefore is simply to get through it heroically and with a bit of panache. Everything that happens to Patrick is a sign of the imminence of the end of the world as we know it, he is a sign-reader after my own heart. There is only one thing he will not pronounce on, and that is his illness, my illness, the Condition. If you ask him how he is, referring to his state of health, he will smile ironically and say, “musn’t grumble,” then turn his attention to a pock-marked potato as though apprehending a culprit.
“You see what’s happening? The seasons are fucked, there’s too much rain or none at all, and nothing can grow any more. Look at the size of that! Ever seen a sick potato? You have now.” He pushes his metal-rimmed glasses back up to the ridge on his nose, from where they keep slipping.
“And you?” he enquires. “How you?”
“Same,” I reply, “musn’t grumble.” He nods vigorously, as though I had made a very interesting point, even though all I have done is to echo him.
“That’s right,” he says, “that’s the way, we carry on – have to. Who else is really in the know but us? Bloody nightmare, but what can you do.”
I feel like a hero navigating some spectacularly dangerous terrain and he and I are, for a space, comrades in arms against the terrible thing that is manifesting right now in the withered grape and the yellow sere on a cabbage leaf.
Peeps and Comrades - greetings to you from the edge.
Thank you, Rachel.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
It is still in its cardboard box, everything in its place: the glass vials of blue, yellow and red crystals, the pipette, a thin pamphlet of instructions, unread. On the box is a picture of two children, a girl and a boy, that remind me of my Janet and John early reading books. She is neat and wholesome in tight plaits, he is smart and keen, short back and sides, holding a vial up to the light.
It was the Enid Blyton books about girls’ boarding schools called St. Clare’s and Mallory Towers. All human life was there, but there was no complexity. If you were a girl who liked to be pretty and neat, this was what you manifested in all you did. Ditto if you were good at lacrosse and team games. The sensible girls who held the social structure together never did anything reprehensible and if one of those did, say, utter one small untruth or throw a paper dart at mam’zelle in the heat of the moment, she would suffer the purging effects of inner remorse until all was made clean again. She would in due course be made head girl. There was the fat one who ate too much, stole other peoples’ tuck and was lazy, the shy one with problems who would be taken into the protection of the sporty one and go on to develop some artistic gift such as playing the violin, and then there was the odd-ball, slightly out on a limb with a touch of the Tomboy about her and cheerfully self-sufficient who was tolerated and indulged by the rest because she was a decent sort and frightfully clever. She played practical jokes and got away with it. She had a chemistry set. She made stink bombs. She might set one off on a particularly auspicious occasion when parents and teachers were gathered together and the girl no-one liked because she was so vain and up herself was about to make a long speech no-one wanted to hear. The stink bomb sent everyone rushing outside onto the lawn to have their cool lemonade and cucumber sandwiches and the clever, naughty girl was severely reprimanded but the headmistress had a twinkle in her eye. The twinkle followed this girl around like a charm. She could write her own script. She could duck out of things she didn’t want to do (embroidery, hockey practice), she could build a crystal radio set and make stink bombs. She had a secret tree house in the grounds where she kept her treasures: old medals, stamps and coins, a daily journal like a kind of lighthouse keeper’s log book; her chemistry set. When the school goody-two-shoes found out and reported her, it was goody who got the flack for being a sneak, not clever individualist stink bomb-maker. And when the time came for a heroic act, she would come and save the day – rescue the new first-former from the blazing fire. Decent.
More importantly, she had a life that was her own, one that I coveted. I possessed a journal, all I had written into it so far was the words for Raggle Taggle Gypsies but I could work on this. The boarding school would come and with it my chosen persona. All I needed was the chemistry set. I must have flicked through the pamphlet once at any rate. There was no reference to stink bombs. You could mix one substance with another to make something else happen, melt the crystals down and make a large one. I was not interested. But still, I had it.
My boarding school was not like St. Clare’s or Mallory Towers. People were less fathomable. My own nature too was a mystery to me. I was not brave, clever or charismatic or resourceful enough to learn how to make a stink bomb. I read books and found that reading about such things was more to my taste than putting them into practice.
But still. The box has come with me, moved from place to place for decades. The crystals have congealed and hardened. The pink on Janet’s cheeks has faded and John seems altogether insubstantial, as though touched by a wraith from the land of Mordor. There is a yellow and a blue that is never seen on children’s packaging any more, not even in Eastern Europe. The set is what we might now call long past its use-by date; untouched, yet still touched by the glamour of its original promise. I'll never bring myself to open it or throw it away.
Friday, May 8, 2009
I can’t put my finger on what exactly is wrong, and my thoughts (in case you were wondering) have all been, if not beautiful, quite respectable and even creative – I spent the morning writing some meandering thing about getting lost in the forest and though it is unlikely to walk away with the national poetry prize it is all grist to the creative mill and not deserving of this physical thing that has been laid upon me today. I know that M.E. godbastard is not pleased with me for having gone out on a forest walk two days in a row, he is humming around my system like a hive of angry wasps, has painted my face a greener shade of ecru, drawn bags around my eyes and carved wedges into the two vertical lines on my forehead. And what is it about one’s hair that always goes on strike and flattens itself horribly just when you need barnet support?
Fortunately I do not have to show myself to anyone but Mr. Signs this evening, and in his eyes I am never anything less than loveliness personified; or if I am, he has the exquisite courtesy never to tell me, and on a day like today I will have the exquisite self-control not to ask.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
People still don’t really know about Edge Village, the surrounding countryside - or the forest, which is ancient, huge (the largest free public access place in the south east) and famous for Winnie the Pooh and his mates. People scratch their heads when I tell them where I live and even those who are half an hour’s drive away, in Lewes, usually barely register the place and mostly haven’t been there. If it weren’t for the Steiner school and college, which does continually attract incomers, no-one would know about it at all. I could go for walks in any number of places, get myself completely lost and feel quite sure that no-one would be likely to pass by. I keep this idea in reserve for when things get too much. But what often sustains me when things do get too much is this idea that I live on the edge of a wild place, but it is a wild place where I feel kindred. Even when I can’t actually get out into it, I know it’s there, the forest, just close by.
The bluebells are everywhere now, in a week or two the bracken will have obscured them. I still haven’t got the hang of my digital camera and don’t seem able to capture the exact quality of light, may have to take on board that taking photographs isn’t going to be my thing but am tempted to get a digital photograph for idiots book before giving up.
Saturday, May 2, 2009
On Newsnight Review last night she spoke powerfully and looked like a high priestess. Poetry, she said, comes out of silence as much as anything else – this in response to Andrew Motion having apparently gone dry during his period as poet laureate, because of the pressure and lack of privacy. Andrew would write again, out of the silence, and all manner of things would be well.
The sonnet, she said, was like a prayer. I had thought of the sonnet as a song, an utterance, a raindrop that reflects the whole garden, but never a prayer. The poem that I tore from the paper and learned by heart was a sonnet she called Prayer, and it goes like this:
Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.
Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.
Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.
Darkness outside. Inside the radio's prayer -
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre
Today: there is poetry workshopping, it’s a once monthly group and I’ve let go of so much else I want to hang on to this one.
Tomorrow: nothing in the day but people coming for dinner, this has been planned and re-planned for months. Chicken tagine and fruit fool, can prepare in advance, but.
Monday: niece is coming for the day (also planned and re-planned), needs to be collected, picnicked, taken to a local May fair – nothing loud and brash, more of a garden party plus with people dancing around a maypole, tea and cake, arts and crafts.
Tuesday: shrinky (see above), and later a dear and much-travelled friend coming to stay for a couple of nights, can’t re-plan this as she has work to do in the area and anyway. I’ll have to say that I won’t be up to any conversation until
Wednesday: nothing planned, but.
Yesterday I wrote 1,000 words and it felt good. But afterwards it felt like I was doing the browbeating, heavy, leather, resurrection shuffle. But without actions and music.
I am somewhat unravelled, reader, the yarn is everywhere
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
There is a crystal clarity that sometimes comes in the early hours, even to such as me who wakes after feverish sleep with a sense of foreboding gathered in the limbs and around the heart. I am doing too much of one thing and not enough of another. I am needing to take stock, revise, begin again. Thank goodness that there is always this possibility, as mornings like this remind.
I’m putting up a Morning Has Broken youtube (it’s kitsch but its kindred and it’s Cat who is still good – or he was then), and I was having a bit of trouble because the only decent vids I found had subtitles that put “fresh from the world” when it should be “fresh from the word”. One letter, but a world of difference. But this one will do. Listen to the tremor (it's good, Cat) and the words - yes - by Eleanor Farjeon.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
When he came for the appointment he went first to the apple tree in the garden and stood underneath its blossoming branches where he took a tin out of his pocket and rolled a cigarette. He was having, he said, a sacramental smoke before beginning the work. He came with long metal rods which he stuck into the ground at various angles outside our house on the rough, unmade road. The neighbour’s children came to look and asked him what he was doing. He said he was making the road better but when he came inside he took me and my husband aside. There are black streams underneath the house, he said. The metal rods were to neutralise the negative effects and I would feel better soon. I told him about the underground rumblings in the other house in London. He nodded and said that he would have expected as much because that was what happened with people like me. You choose to live on the black streams, he said. You don’t know it, but you do.
It goes like this: we choose to live on the black streams in order to take the darkness and make it better. In doing this we use a great deal of strength and many of us become sick, unless we are cats. Cats, said the cranial osteopath, always sit on the black stream points in houses and if properly attuned will sit on a person’s weak meridian fault line so a healer will know where to work. His cats, for example, had properly located the line of my caesarean scar which might appear to have healed but appearances are deceptive. My cat always lay on my side of the bed which was directly over the black stream which ran underneath our house. The cranial osteopath couldn’t at that time (though he did subsequently) enlighten me as to what it was about a stream that made it black, or why people like me would choose to live above it, but I am artistic and I can work with metaphor. Do the black streams run in people too?
People keep telling me there is a reason for things that happen. I would like to be comfortable with this. Of course I understand that if you smoke two packets of cigarettes a day for thirty years you are more likely to get lung cancer than if you never smoked, that if you fall into a stream you get wet. If this, then that. Consequences. I know someone who puts her trust into something called the Universe. It knows why the lighting struck her house and shattered all the glass in the window frames and why her son fell from a tree and broke his leg on the first day of the morning of the holiday she had saved for a year to afford. She believes that the Universe knows what we need and that we are rewarded if we put our trust in it.
I don’t, but never mind. The streams are clear now. I picture them running like veins beneath the ground’s surface. Dark or light, I tap into them.