raw mind unfurling #1

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{I have been struggling to write for a while. I keep starting pieces and getting stuck, loosing the thread, not finding the right space or time to write. Fidgeting. Yesterday I just decided to sit down and start typing. It had been raining most of the day, I had left my flat and sat in Flint Owl, I felt crotchety, like I needed to shake out my feathers, arch my back, shout. So I started to type, without thinking. Just typing and typing, letting my mind unspool, unfurl, without judging or looking back. I typed on and off for 20 mins, pausing to draw breath. It felt good. Without pretence or form. A bit weird and rough. Today I tried again in a different mood. Just letting my fingers form what they were given. I’ll try again tomorrow. This isn’t proper writing. I am not sure what it is. But it feels a useful exercise. It’s very much inspired by Max Porter’s incredible book: Grief is the thing with feathers. But without the finesse. Anyway. Maybe I’ll finish those other blogs soon too….}

 

What is stopping me writing stopping the words flowing from me what is blocking me making me feel sick and strained and strange and stained what is stopping me from expressing outwards becoming bigger flying away leaving my feet travelling upwards what is stopping me screaming and shouting and heaving in lungfuls of air and wailing when I want to wail?

Why has all this time and space and freedom stifled me, pushing down on me like a solicitous blanket, killing me with kindness? Where has all my fire gone? Where has my drive, my fear, my itch, my dreams, my vibrant vertigo gone?

I don’t want to scratch at night but I do want to write again sense nonsense. I want to have the skeleton framework in which to hang my meat, my life, my trinkets and meaning and coloured bits of scarf and scruffy dreams. I want to work I WANT to learn I want to be able to be afraid and fuck up and that to be ok. I WANT to be appreciated for what I can do. I think I am quite good, but alone everyday left to my own devices who knows? Unpaid, unheeded, under-stimulated, same again, same again, same again. Who knows?

Pour it out, tip it down like the chemical glugging, stinking, retching poison to unblock the sink that will not unblock full of clogging, clagging shit of cake crumbs and coffee grounds that will not be dissolved, resolved, absolved. Not forgiven. Not even forgotten. Just left out in the rain until it warped and moulded and rusted and rotted away. And even then. STILL THERE. An eyesore just a block. Just a breeze. Just the solid stupid static feeling of the nothing. The passing of time without marks.

The lying in sweated sheets with the no-way-forward thoughts pressing out of your poor-slept sour skin. Nothing. Not a thing. Not a jot. Only rotting rhymes that will not.

Sieve out the lumps, stir it through until you blister. Bluster. Pester. Rub red raw. Random royal icing like snow. Heavy and curl-able. Not something that should actually be eaten. Something that should be looked at. Contemplated. Confiscated after the fact. Stuck. Strapped. Striped. Stripped. Whipped. Wanton. Deserved It. Deserved what she got. Served. Shot. Love all. STOP. Don’t stop.

Words which are stuck, spun, backwards. Not exactly what they means. Part of something else. Not funny haha. Most definitely peculiar. Not who they expected. Out of character. Ache. I am repeating myself? AM I? It wasn’t actually a question. This conversation is over. It wasn’t actually an argument. WE ARE NOT SHOUTING. Nail biting. Nails bitten. Nailed. Cross. NOT CROSS. Just having a discussion. None of your business. We can’t talk about it anymore. There is no point. Pointed. At you. Not. For want of a better word. For want of any word. MY KINGDOM FOR A WORD. Where has it gone? Pointed. On the tip of my tongue. Feeling. You. The tip of my tongue. Speaking. Tip top. Trap. Trop. Trop, trop triste. Mais ouí.

Fuck off.

Now.

Then.

Back and forth, it’s not like we haven’t been here already. We’re gone over this ground before, it’s not like this is NEW. River and stones and sudden floods and winter land. Scavenger. Scraped clean by the crows and rooks. Corvus taking all they want and there is not much to take. Beads. Bills. Beaks. Broken bones. Stoney stares. It was not there’s but they took it anyway. Didn’t they. DIDN’T THEY? It may not seem much but it was all we had. All we had and we we’re proud of it. Bare bones. No niceties in necessity.

Mother after all.

All.

 

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past imperfect

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Kintsugi – healing with gold.

 

{I have been writing a blog for a lovely local shop, The Good Times Homestore. I generally write on living in Lewes and lifestyle type things. It’s been a real pleasure to have a reason to write, and I realise I need to make more time in my life for creative expression. With all the turmoil of what has been going on lately I have found it difficult to write. But when I actually made the time to  get pen to paper it has felt really helpful, I recommend it! Here are some thoughts…}

In Japan they revere old trees, propping up their branches, supporting their beautiful decline, respecting their extraordinary length of life, witness to ages.

They also do a wonderful thing with broken pottery called Kintsugi, which translates roughly as ‘healed with gold’ or ‘gold joinery’. It is the art of repairing the cracks with a mixture of resin and gold dust. Rather than seeing something as faulty it acknowledges the history and experience of the object, the apparent imperfection that makes it unique, as something precious, not just to be disguised but to be appreciated.

It makes me think of the oft-quoted Leonard Cohen lyrics from ‘Anthem’:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

One of the things I love about this little town is its history, its connection to the past in a way that feels relevant and alive in the present. From our beautiful castle and barbican, the plethora of tradition soaked pubs, the bookshops (often antiquarian), the Grange, Priory Park where I jog amongst the dog walkers, amongst the beautiful ruins.

This is a town of pageantry and protest, where on any given morning I wake to markets, processions (official and not) somewhat terrifying displays of Morris Dancing, not to mention the impressive site of Harvey’s drays and cart, complete with drivers in bowler hats delivering beer across town. The Downs that encircle Lewes radiate an ancient energy, crowned with the shadows of hill forts, scattered with flint arrowheads and scarred with ancient chalk quarries.

Then of course there is the bonfire celebrations. Although I am yet to experience them I have started to appreciate what a huge part of the Lewes’ yearly ritual they are. The fundraisers, fêtes, gala dinners, the heraldic signs above the pubs, the glimpses of structures, the bonfire sites in the woods. This doesn’t feel like a relic of the past, this is something alive and well, a steady beating anarchic heart which grows and changes each year as each generation takes it on.

When I tell people about the bonfire celebrations their response is generally one of delight and longing, sometimes surprisingly fervent. It has made me really consider tradition in opposition to the cult of the new, our high-speed disposable culture; particularly in this time of intense political upheaval where some elements of ‘tradition’ and the past have become laced with a dangerous negativity.

I was never great at grammar, but it feels like we need to appreciate the past imperfect at this present time.

Today I was sitting, writing from my beautifully battered wooden table, loving every mark and scar it holds.

As I watched an elderly gentleman immaculately dressed stood chatting with two teenagers one sporting blue hair, the other dreadlocks. A woman consulting her iPhone as she buys cherries from the market, a young man serenading the exchange kids with traditional folk songs. Tiny moments, but hopeful ones, bridging past and present somehow.

It got me thinking about Kintsugi. So much of the past it beautiful and valuable, there are so many lessons to be learnt, things to be appreciated, things to be valued. But to move forward we need the cracks, we need to break from the patterns that don’t serve us, we need to create space for the new, the different, as yet un-thought ways of doing things. The resin and gold dust. The light.

We probably need to actively break a few things to move forward, to allow the past, with all its imperfections to remain relevant. With all that is happening, I really hope Lewes will continue to appreciate and celebrate the past, and let it crack, or even make the cracks, when cracks are needed, so we can let the future burn brighter for all of us.

 

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Beach Fire Thormanby Island

 

 

in response to colour

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{I joined a writing class a few months ago called Write & Shine  which proved a wonderful creative start to the morning and a great source of writing exercises. These are 2 small pieces which came out of the workshop. The 1st inspired by a particular shade of dusky pink. The second, about the artist Paul Gildea, was inspired by a brilliant poem by Frank O’ Hara.  They were both written in 10 minutes.}

 

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Soft. Slight. The first light on the horizon, the promise of dawn, your tiny nails, the underside of your sleeping palm, twitching slightly as you sleep.

A petal fallen from the last collection of roses, leaves mottled with a black spot. It always comes this time of year, when the pretence of summer is finally dropped, and the sunshade (matching-mottle-mildewed) is taken down, packed away.
Petals fall at night, lying silent like sea shells on the table cloth, waiting for you.
So still, so perfect (tiny nails, tiny hands) that you can barely stand to sweep them up and drop them out the window.
By noon though, they have withered, browning at the edges.

Finding you in the lane felt like intruding on something I wasn’t supposed to see. I smelt you first. A strange sweet smell that filled my nostrils and made my throat tighten a little. You weren’t perfect, stiffened already, so very dead, so very black. Like a Victorian toy, strange and polite, lying neatly alongside the muddy path.
Your little pink paws made me sad. I leant down and touched them, forgetting myself for a second. Naked, vulnerable, clean – their contrast from your black-bloomed fur nearly unreal. I wanted to pick you up and take you home. But knew you wouldn’t have liked that.

 

Paul

Paul has shut the door.
I did not slam it. I shut it. He barks.
A long dark streak of grey, dawn, darkness…
It’s a fucking pavement, don’t get clever,
This coffee is cold. Filmed scum brown.

The next day the door is open, a lean shaft of light dances
Joni croons on the radio, the strokes are soft, gentle pale pearl
For a second it’s perfect, there, just there, do you see it?
Yes? Good. Now move, I don’t want anyone getting in the light.

Night falls, the house tiptoes. Shadows have started to grow long.
Tap on the door. Knock on wood.
Are you superstitious? Oh you would be, wouldn’t you,
Women and their witchcraft ways! No, come in, come and look.
And there, through the dark, gold breaks like a rebellious grin,
Paul acknowledges your praise. Now fuck off.
He says, still smiling, light in his eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

about the birds

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{Watching parakeets as I waited for a train in Dalston made me think of this piece I wrote about 6 years ago musing on ideas of identity and growing up.  Aged 2 I would request to be left in a tree, I suppose so I could get on with being a bird without the distraction of grown-ups’ disbelieving gaze. I still feel like that sometimes.}

 

High on Hampstead Hill, green arrows herald the dawn
Sharp parakeets, second generation Londoners,
Fly the Northern Line to Clapham Common
Sundays spent at home on the bauble hung Plane trees.

 

Looking to the sky, the man at the corner knows that
His call to prayer is still a foreign sound,
Parrots screech from the Mosque roof (furniture-store-below-not-an-inch-wasted)
And sound as at home as the schoolgirls,
Who race, hijab-ed, in twos, chattering across the winter skies.

He looks upwards, against all logic, it has started to snow.

 

You arrived at our bird table in a flurry of green, blushing pink
We were transfixed by you.
You lit the drab April afternoon like a lamp, but you didn’t stay long
And afterwards, we were to comment that you didn’t seem comfortable,
And we worried, when you had left,
About how you’d cope.
It was so cold that Easter after all.

 

I was startled awake by a sensation not unlike pain.
From each blade of my shoulders came the distinct feeling of movement.
My chest arched as if in convulsion and my arms hung like ghosts.
The moment was fleeting, but as I rolled back into sleep
I knew the little black and white feathers
Tickling my cheek, were just eiderdown.
My feathers would be longer, brighter.

 

You said as a child I knew all the names of the birds
Did it not occur to you that they knew mine?
I was simply trying to be polite.

I think now we are strangers. The years pass so quickly.

 

for its own sake – a love song to the garden

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Spring
I’ve been weeding in the afternoon sun, my back aches in that typical dull way from bending, pulling against the long dandelion roots which snake deep into the damp soil.
The broken plants smell green, peppery, a sharp song of sap and sweat, staining my arms with the spilt milk of their stems.
My eyes itch, my skin is blotched with persistent nettle rash, flying ants crawl over my boots.

I am happier than I have been for the longest time.

I get to thinking, as I weed around the broad beans, the tender lettuces, the spinach plants, that this is thankless work. In the sense that the plants will not thank me, let alone pay me for clearing their patch, removing the snails, carefully mulching the soil with compost. And as this is our family vegetable garden, this labour is out of love, not for financial reward.

But the reward is right there. There in the deep rich soil, the compost from years and years of peelings, tea-leaves, the Sunday load of coffee grounds. There with the tiny seedlings we watched perform the miraculous-everyday process of germination.

Autumn
How strange it is that we are so caught up in a world of transaction. We have been conditioned into thinking the world relies on bounded instances of give and take. And yet, we know and experience continually that is not the case.
That joyful feeling of freely giving with no expectation, the wonder of experiencing the world around us, which asks for nothing in return, the near unbelievable mystery that we are alive in the first place.
In the city I found I lost this feeling so easily, and that we were all chasing it, often in the wrong way, as it cannot be purchased, it cannot be bounded by transaction. It asks for nothing, and in a sense, everything.

I get the sense, as the year goes on, of being mindful of doing something for it’s own sake.
The rabbits get in and eat all the spinach and lettuce seedlings. Some sort of blight rots the broad beans. Weeds continually crowd the fresh ground. Everything else wants to eat what I have planted. For so much of the work there is no return. And yet somehow in spite of that, or maybe because of that, there is something deeper than return.
The garden calls me back again and again, not asking for love and attention (nature reclaims its own, simply, thoroughly, it is only we who judge this as neglect) and I return because just being part of the process is so joyful.
I do it for its own sake. For my sake.

I see the seasons through the soil. The asparagus pushes upwards suggestively and determinedly in April. Potato plants leap up from their deep trenches in May. Then rogue squash plants, strawberry plants, mint and parsley that dance far beyond my twine-aligned rows. Robins and the chickens follow me for worms. I spy my first two swallows as we pick endless rocks from the soil, surely two herald a summer, time to plant out the brave little seedlings.
Now in profusion, golden potatoes, squashes, courgettes, raspberries, onions, mint, sweetpeas that stubbornly refused to climb their canes. So many things we did not plant, that just grew, like a giggle, shooting up unexpectedly through the soil. So many things whose destiny was not to end on our plates, but rather go back to the soil, or feed the rabbits, bugs, birds.

This was not a labour with a measurable ROI, but rather an immeasurable one. The intense physical joy of picking and eating things with the full consciousness of having seen them grow is made more extraordinary in it’s ordinariness.
Nothing in the garden has grown for because it was contracted to. It has simply followed the beautiful order it is part of. Spiraling endlessly towards the sun, pushing, flowering, fruiting with such perfect elegance it is breath taking.
Nothing here is convenient, time efficient, predictable. And maybe that’s why it tastes so good. And feels so very precious.
In a world of metrics and measurement, deadlines and deliverables there is an irreducible part of myself, a wordless story, an inner song, which craves this perfect, clambering, beautiful chaos of our unbounded world.
And questions: why we have distanced ourselves so thoroughly from it?

Maybe this is not the time for answers, maybe this is time to kick off our shoes and go out and get our feet in the soil.

natural alternatives to an identity crisis

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{Written 1st March, West London}

So this is interesting. I’m sat reading an article in the Observer about the issue of masculinity and the role models for men.

It feels as if, as the traditional ideals of the 20th-century man – strong, stoic, repressed – begin to fade away, nothing has stepped into replace them. In today’s pop culture landscape there’s no single archetypal ideal that we are supposed to emulate. (Max Olesker)

One on hand I wholeheartedly agree, in a world where the idea of the ‘feminine’ has been examined minutely in every way, the idea of modern maleness, masculinity, hasn’t really been in the spotlight. Not in a positive way at least. (And at risk of being shot down for gross gender generalisation, I think this is level of self-examination and endless discussion is a feminine trait, well certainly a western one. Hence where we have got with feminism and all that follows. And yes before the knives come out, I remain in continual gratitude to those women who made it possible for me to even write these words, even have a voice.)

I would like to reassure or maybe commiserate with Mr Olesker. As a woman in her 30s understanding whom one is supposed to emulate is equally as confusing. Is this a post-feminist era? Are we supposed to allow men to pay the bill and open doors for us? Can we seek random sex through Tindr? If men are feminists can we be ‘masculanists’? And would that be considered and insult?Is it anti-feminist to get a Brazilian? In an age of apparent equality why do we have issues of equal pay, discrimination, 8 year olds wanting to wax their legs and little girls in provocatively revealing clothing?

There is no obvious path, no easy how-to guide.

Mr Olesker concludes
Just as men must fight for, support and celebrate progress – with initiatives such a HeForShe, launched last year – we must help one another as we enter the next stage of our cultural evolution. If we do, maybe our personal masculine crisis will give way to personal masculine identities all of our own. What have we got to loose by trying this? Nothing but our ever-increasing sense of worthlessness.

Yes. Quite.

I wish he’d talked a bit more about this last point, and this ‘cultural evolution’, as far as I am concerned, that is the really interesting bit.

Maybe one of the issues is that all of the examples he mentioned, David Beckham to Dapper Laughs, are creations of mass media. In fact when you start to think about it, maybe elements of our identity crises stem from our continual exposure to the mass communication of our current world. From advertising to social media, to TV, to fashion, each one reifies and solidifies the last, telling us what we should buy, who we should emulate, what we should wear. Blogged, re-blogged, Instagrammed, pinned; the 10 o’clock news giving legitimacy, Twitter debating, self help book on self help book, sound bites and vox pops, the red tops sensationalising, the columnists decrying, brands taking our insights and making them into products which we buy…Consuming to become ourselves.

Amidst this maelstrom of stimulus and input we mould and piece our fragile identities. Looking for archetypes, looking for meaning. Looking for someone, something to tell us some unshakable, fundamental truth about who we are, and who we are not.

And we are surprised young girls from South East London are heading to join Islamic State?

The thing is, as Max’s last sentences emphasised, the extraordinary opportunity innate in this era is for us to seek our own identities. To set sail on journeys of self-knowledge in our unique and individual way, to understand what being ‘me’ means to me, through my experience.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an easy thing. This is a life’s work. And maybe we need all the help we can get – be it religion, mindful practices, counselling, sports teams, musical affinities, professions, activism, yes maybe even consuming. Just as long as we see all these things as ways to help us on this journey and not the be all and end all, as long as we see them for what they are.

And yes we are culturally conditioned, contrived and created by all that surrounds us, in ways that we will never even know. And yet, and yet…we are so much more, we have the capability to be so much more.

Personally. For me. At the moment. I am exploring what it means to be a woman, what it means to be me, through my relationship with the world around me. The inexorable, beautiful, complex-yet-simple, timeless nature of, well, nature; helps me understand so much. Through moments of experience, moments of clarity, moments where all my pronouncements of ‘I am this’ and ‘I am that’ fall away in the perfection of a snowdrop, the return of a corpse to the soil, a sapling’s roots gently but firmly lifting and breaking the concrete.

I acknowledge this is an education of constant change, complete non-fixity. This is my journey at this moment. Tomorrow might be a different matter.

And there’s the rub. Even by writing it down and sharing it I am fixing it. And no, this isn’t helpful in trying to provide an answer for anyone else’s quest for the real feminine, the real masculine, but maybe that’s exactly the point. My journey cannot be your journey. I can offer insight from what I have experienced, narrative, fables, stories…but in the end that is all they are.

So read this and move on, on your path, on your journey…

a hidden treasure

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I recently listened to Stephen Jenkinson talk about love and grief in an introduction to the film about his work ‘Griefwalker’ (http://orphanwisdom.com/griefwalker/). Stephen talked about love and grief as being the same emotion, or certainly intrinsically linked.

His observations provoked my thoughts around these emotions and their relationship. For many years I have had two framed pictures I commissioned made of bridge cards, one of which reads ‘love’ and one of which reads ‘loss’. To me they are a pair, one does not come without the other.  Loss cannot be experienced unless you love, and with love comes inevitable loss: loss of one’s individuation, but also in the sense that we love because we are finite – as Khalil Gibran eloquently expresses:

Love knows not it’s own depth until the hour of separation.

We know this on so many levels – ‘absence make the heart grow fonder’ as the old adage goes, and more than that, we love because we can acknowledge separation.

So I started to think of it with a different language: grief is the knowledge of separation and love is the yearning for unity or movement towards unity. They are both part of a movement, from and to.

To open this out a little further –  an extract from a hadith from the Qu’ran, traditionally thought to be in response to the Prophet David’s questions on the purpose of the Universe.

I was a Hidden Treasure that longed to be known. Hence I created the World, so I could be known. 

Here is the movement of love – and for movement to happen, there has to be distance, has to be a sense of separation. For the lover to recognise the beloved the lover has to be separate from the beloved.

Maybe this could also be seen as ‘free will’ – our self reflexive, thinking minds have the ability to see the Universe as something separate – with such great heights of beauty that we can fall helplessly in love with. (If only we would).

It’s like a dance, away from and towards, in breath and out breath, the pulse of a butterfly’s wings, expansion and contraction, darkness and light.

But maybe it is in the very fact that love is movement, that grief is implicit. Think of that extraordinary truth ‘this too will pass’. Everything in our world, whether we like it or not, shows us that change is the only constant. The moment has already passed, as we live, we also die.

Look! The moment has already passed.

Stephen gave an example of how we love beauty in nature, flowers for example,  because they pass, they die. Their beauty and brevity makes them breathtaking. I wonder if they were constant would our feelings be the same?

It strikes me we are the only thing in the Universe that thinks itself separate. And actually as the hadith alludes to, this separation is but an illusion to allow for the movement of love.

Somehow we seem to have lost something in translation. We are obsessed with stopping the process of change, obsessed with making things infinite. Maybe if we started to understand that the illusion of separation only exists to allow us to experience love we’d see things differently. And maybe if we started to understand the real changeable nature of everything, we would fall madly in love with our lives, our world, this Hidden Treasure. Maybe, even for a moment, we could let go of the illusion and understand the real and infinite nature of Love.