Monday, January 30, 2012

Pith in the Wind

Awake at five - no choice but to go with it: fruit, coffee, quality time with the cat who appreciates the early breakfast. Fruit and coffee is not the best breakfast and could play havoc with blood sugar. But I forestall this by having a second breakfast of bacon and egg. Between first and second breakfasts I gather bits and pieces for a poetry idea I have brewing. I do it quickly and haphazardly but with a certain kind of method born of long practice: the words have been whispering themselves in the small hours, I get them down before they grow thin as smoke and disappear. Remembering them later will not be the same as being in their presence. I look up a couple of references, but don't get stuck on this. Whatever you do, don't walk through the magic door of the computer screen and lose yourself in the internet or La Belle Dame Sans Merci will have you palely loitering, all words lost.

I am writing a short sequence about my stepfather, who died last year, drawing on memories (his and mine) and imaginings. I want to set down things for which I have no adequate vocabulary because they are closely related to a landscape I never really inhabited. But I have discovered that the hard, spiky grass growing on the dunes by the sea at Montrose in the north-east of Scotland is called Marram grass. It is good to be able to name things, but for much else I will have to rely on commonplace words like stone, water, wind, mist, and bring my imaginative eye close, so as to feel their particularities.

My stepfather, who was mostly my ex-stepfather for the many years that I knew him, more or less disappeared ten years ago, when he cut off contact with everyone apart from the one person he lived with. It was a loss felt keenly by his friends and family who learned of his death ten months after the event. So the bits and pieces I am putting together are possibly an attempt at some kind of restoration. The imagined past, he once said, reflects the lived present.

I just remembered that I promised something short, pithy and unspeakably heroic - and this is hardly that. Damn. But on the other hand, these few words and the others are probably the most I can do in the short time available. And considering the mountain (well, small hill) of other tasks that clamour for my energy and attention, there is something of the heroic here, even with the lack of pith. But you can't have everything.


Friday, January 27, 2012

How Things Are in January

I have decided to be kinder to myself. If a family member, friend or (come to think of it) anyone were to commit to doing something and then couldn't, I would not berate them. I would not treat them as I have treated myself, pushing them to keep going as though kicking a poor, worn-out donkey. Shame on me for having done that. I am as deserving of consideration as the donkey. A digression: in our family the donkey has a special place. My daughter and I both had donkeys as our special stuffed animal transitional comfort creature. More than transitional, they accompanied us through childhood. We love the donkey and support the Donkey Sanctuary. Son used to send them his pocket money. End of digression.

I have not been strong or well enough to consider working on my novel project right now. It will have to wait until things change for the better. I am carrying on with poetry work though this too is circumscribed, for at the moment my bed and dear little Macbook Air is the centre of operations. I do get up from time to time - for essentials plus writerly engagements - but the earth's rotation and gravity have to be negotiated.

Signs Cottage is not necessarily the best place for me, it has stairs and other inconvenient things. But Mr. Signs works from home several days a week, and cat is here. Life, still. Sweet.

Tomorrow is the mater's 89th birthday bash (meal in a local posh hotel). She does Pilates and aqua aerobics and is in rude health and sprightly as a pixie.

Back soon with posts from the front. They will be short, pithy - and unspeakably heroic.

(The title of this post refers, quite shamelessly, to the title of Ros Barber's poetry collection: How Things Are on Thursday)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

never mind the title

Sticking my head in the door to say hello here. Hello to who? You, obviously, but to me too. People say that Tweeting is something akin to talking to oneself, and I have often thought this about blogging too. But in talking to oneself is there not the sense of some listening presence - an intimate other - or what some creative writing practitioners would call your 'ideal reader'?

Here at House of Signs we are quite happy with the less-than-ideal, or if not happy then realistic. At least I did not make any stupid resolutions that would now have been broken. But strength is once again at a low ebb. I am looking out of the window as I write this, at my neighbour with her young sons, digging in the garden, she in a green puffer jacket, the oldest boy in red and the toddler in blue. Grandma is there too in a mustard puffer. All are digging. I want to be digging too, not literally perhaps, but working my own patch of land, making grow the things I want to cultivate. A number of things come against this. Even sticking my head around the door like this is not without its difficulties. For one thing, I have to be sitting upright. No, seriously.

It has been one of those mornings when everything that is waiting to be written, sung or planted, the etheric spirits of them all, gathered around my bed singing their various possibilities. We are ready, they said, to incarnate. These voices. They have never listened to reason. They know nothing about Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. By this afternoon there won't be a trace of them. They stay only for the possibilities.

But this piece, all about someone doing something against all the odds, has made me feel very happy.


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Signs and Labels

I have been looking at the various labels on my sidebar. Here are the top ten:

1. Writing
2. Life and Stuff
3. M.E.
4. Reasons to be Cheerful
5. Creativity
6. Food
7. How to Live
8. The Signs
9. Poetry
10. Process

Interesting (to me) that Writing is number one, though perhaps not surprising. When I am not writing, it is always what I want to be coming back to. And even if too ill to be doing much, I love thinking and reading about it, and talking about it with others who are on a writing path of one kind or another. When I began this blog, five years ago, I was having a gap year from teaching creative writing. The gap turned into something more permanent even though I had accepted a post to teach at a university, and even though I loved doing what I did. Still, the fact of not teaching any more has not diminished my interest in in creative language, process - and people. There are so many ways, hidden and manifest, to be and think creatively, even if (particularly if?) one finds oneself on a path that is not of one's choosing.

I have a small window of time each day when it feels possible to attend to something that is properly creative. I have been liking the word 'properly' recently, as you might have noticed. I think what I mean by 'properly' here is: with my whole heart. But also with enough vital forces at my disposal for me to be able to put my heart into whatever it is. And actually, I only have this window on a good day.

On new year's eve we threw the coins, as we always do. The I Ching says I have to "inquire of the Oracle again" to see if I possess "sublimity, constancy and perseverance." I think I can tick the last two. Full marks for constancy and perseverance, and I don't need the Oracle to pronounce on that. As for sublimity - posterity will tell. Or not, as the case may be. Perhaps I will throw the coins again after all, to get a sneak preview.