Saturday, April 25, 2009


It was at this time of year that the earth acupuncturist first came here. He is also a cranial osteopath and I went to see him on recommendation, as one does, in the hope that something or other might shift. He had two cats that worked with him. On my first visit the orange one jumped onto the bed where I lay waiting for treatment and sat on my stomach and the black one sat on the window sill close by my head and stared at me. On my second visit the orange cat sat by my head and the black one took up position on my stomach. I like cats, I said, on the point of asking him to move them. But he said they were his assistants and told him where he needed to focus. He had thin fingers that clasped my head and smelled of pepper and herbs. He had long magician’s hair and grew his own marijuana in earthenware pots. He liked to visit the houses of people with my condition, he said, to do a little work there, make sure that everything was healthy. He would charge a fee of fifty pounds.

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.


Zhoen said...

Subtle flows of intuition, spoken in metaphor, compared to our own sense of truth, can be very useful if listened to gently.

The problem, one of the problems, with western medicine, is the concrete application of surety to soft systems. Just naming a series of symptoms doesn't mean much, just as not being able to culture out a bug does not mean health.

I've heard the thing about cats in Feng Shui, sitting at points of negative chi.

nmj said...

Hey Signs, if I read this in fiction I would find it delicious and delightful and eccentric. Call me cynical, but since it really happened, I fear that you gave this man £50 so his cats could sit on you.

nmj said...

ps. that last word ver. was 'squid'

quids backwards or just straightforward sealife?

Reading the Signs said...

I agree, Zhoen - and there is a certain pleasure to be taken from the listening, whatever the outcome.

NMJ, I am going to take this as a compliment - delicious and delightful and eccentric, c'est moi. The £50 was for his visit and he charges more these days - but for people such as we he accepts donations.

I am, as it happens, working with this in fictional context also :)

Digitalesse said...

Regardless of how and why we meet interesting characters, the impact and our memories of them are always remarkable. Truth can be stranger than fiction.

Mim said...

Your description of the osteopath is so vivid and precise I could pick him out of a crowd of thousands--he and his cats.

I hope he did you some good. Once desperate for a cure I saw an acupuncturist who--among other things--advised me to walk backward!

trousers said...

On the one hand I can identify with the note of cynicism already suggested above. On the other, I'm utterly drawn in, in particular from the question Do the black streams run in people too? onward.

My answer to that would be a most emphatic "yes."

I know I'd be charmed by the cats - but though I only know you through your writings, my feeling is that your own level of awareness and enquiry is far more than sufficient than to require the services of someone such as the practitioner described, with all respect.

The words and the metaphor in this post alone are ample evidence of that, for me.

nmj said...

Hey Signs, Of course I meant as a compliment, I love the way you have described your earth acupuncturist, it is very filmic, and he is a great character! But I am too honest not to say I think it is all v dubious - life sucks, we get ill, we have accidents, though some people lead lives full of charm, but I think it is nothing to do with black streams, more genes and/or chance... I would've spent the money on a therapeutic massage.

Gael said...

I read it as fiction, and enjoyed it very much. Are you up to reading short stories at the mo? I have found an anthology you may like and would gladly pass it on.

Reading the Signs said...

Digi, it's true, and I think that is what I really took away from all this - something exquisite/funny/mysterious as well as ridiculous. The M.E., needless to say (in spite of the needles) does not appear to have changed one way or the other. But I have taken something or other from the encounters.

Mim, Thank you, I'm glad you can picture him and the cats. The good he did me was really in the incidentals rather than the particulars. But isn't that often so? Walking backwards is a new one to me. I have recently read about walking barefoot.

Trousers - Mwah! And yes, of course. But that question that drew you, and others such - I allow myself to be drawn in and to wonder - to suspend as well as harness disbelief and cynicism.

NMJ, life sucks, we get ill, we have accidents, though some people lead lives full of charm - yes, absolutely. But, well, see above.

Gael, I'm glad you read it as such because in a sense it is also that, or I have re-membered and re-imagined it all so as to make it live in that way.

I'm doing much better with reading at the moment. As it happens I'm about to read some short stories (Runaway) by Alice Munro. What is the anthology you have?

Cusp said...

Sheesh ! Crazy man! My osteopath, who also offers cranial, doesn't come to the house. I have to go to him. He just wears a white coat and we talk about children, holidays, food etc.

My Reiki healer also doesn't come to the house -- though she would if I asked. She does have cats and they do often sit on my tum when I'm lying on her couch; the warmth and purring are soothing.

Both these people help me to some degree. Certainly the cranial stuff can be very powerful and the Reiki has got me through sticky patches though I suspect the efficacy is down to the deep relaxation rather than tapping into 'universal energy'.

Black streams ? Ley lines ? Bad energy ? Karma ? The universe as teacher ?......I reckon you can learn from all your experiences but as far as the M.E. goes I reckon I was clobbered by fate and chance. I try to work with it rather than against it unless it is being a complete ba**ard (in which case I call it all the names under the sun and curse it loudly )but who knows what's right or wrong anymore ?

If it works for you baby then swing with it !

Reading the Signs said...

Cuspilein, I have put this up for your delectation and enjoyment merely. Yes to what you say. And yes also to the questions, twists and turns that brings me into contact with the strange, the new or the just plain weird for they give me new things to wonder and write about.

Kahless said...

I think you and Mr Signs should swap sides of the bed so the stream doesnt run under you!

Reading the Signs said...

Kahless, you know what - Mr S suggested that himself (even though he doesn't really, you know, believe in it). And I said no because what with one thing and another I didn't want him getting ill too (even though I don't altogether, you know - etc - but one can't be too careful). And anyway, streams are all clear now, you see - apparently. But tell that to my aching muscles.

Anonymous said...

I like Alice Munro, but not quite as much as I think i *should* - if that makes sense. I did like the adaption Away From Her. Have you read any Grace Paley? She's fab.
The book I had in mind for you is called The Sea of Azov, ed. Anne Joseph. A bit of a mixed bag, one of thoses charity fund-raiser things

Reading the Signs said...

Hi Anon, you must be Gael - I haven't heard of the book - just looked it up and it has a few names I recognise. It's kind of you to think of me. On reflection, I reckon I have quite a lot to keep me going at the moment. After the Alice Munro (which I have begun by reading the lovely intro by Jonathan Frantzen), I want to read Oblivion, a collection by David Foster Wallace (which I know will be challenging). In addition, I have several copies of Granta that I want to get to. Do you subscribe to this? If not, I reckon it's something you might enjoy getting (quarterly).

I wonder which writers out of that mixed bag appealed to you most.

Gael said...

AS contributed to the anthology. No surprise there then. Flicking back through Runaway, I realise my prob with AM is that she leaves me cold. I don't have to like a character - quite often I loath them, which is fine - but I neeed to feel *something*, to engage with a story at all. Especially as often shorts are all about emotion, rather than plot.
I occasionally buy Granta (they were giving away the latest issue free at Wordfest). last birthday I had a choice between Mslexia and Granta, will prob go for the latter next time around

Montag said...

What an amazing story!
It is very Evelyn Waugh.
I intend to use the adjective "sacramental" quite liberally from now on. I shall flick it over my petty vices as if it were a Nigerian fly whisk.
(there: that sounded a bit like Waugh's Anthony Blanche!)

We work with metaphor...but I think we actually live and breathe metaphor. To be a story-teller is to constantly create the universe, then choose whether we shall be subject to this whimsical creation - or not.
If not, create a new universe, and so on. That's why I may find it hard to keep track of all the "reasons" for things that happen - which universe are we speaking of? It's so much easier if you run with the one-universe crowd.

When I ache, I have to run to the Master Story-Teller to get back on track.

Reading the Signs said...

An excellent idea, Montag, I think I might do the same. It will transform my chocolate binges into something else entirely. Seriously though, my tongue was only partially in my cheek, for I had him back again recently, as you know.

I tend to deal with this particular universe - as you say, it's easier. But I rule nothing out and have the others somewhere in my consciousness.

Who is the Master Story-Teller? Is't Gawd?

Montag said...

You are the worker in metaphors, you are a story-teller, so you tell us who the Master Story-Teller is.

First, you find the right language to work in.
This took me almost my entire life, but I was always a slow study.

Montag said...

I may have answered the question.
Don't know.

Reading the Signs said...

Gawd bless you, Montag.

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