Friday, 31 December 2010

Love in the Snow


Two days of chilly shoulders and frosty undertones. No more snow outside. It has gathered on our hearts. 
We rally round our daughter, coaxing her from tears to joy again and again. It is exhausting, but she keeps us in some kind of contact.
The Solstice fire has died. Christmas has been unwrapped. Another year looms and I am unready to meet it.
Another 365 days of nappies and hoovering and washing up and surviving from coffee with a friend until a cup of tea at playgroup.
I feel physically dis-heartened. Something has gone so wrong. I am tired, but I am always tired and I didn't feel like this last week. I don't remember feeling like this since I have been in partnership with my husband who is usually such a source of joy for me. Today he is an irritant, possibly acidic. Not even a bath of asses milk would be balm enough. I need something else.

 Feeling Rather Tense

My husband needs something else too. And though I ache to give it, I cannot name it, much less find it in myself.
He cannot stay in a space with me. He laces his boots in a silent, depressed fury, kisses our girl who sits on my lap goodbye and opens the door to leave.
My breath stops. He has never, ever, refused to kiss me like this. A desperate voice  from inside me calls,
'I love you.'
The door shuts. The tears track my cheeks and I hug the baby tight as I watch him descend our steps.
He turns around. He'll take his bike; get further from me.
But no. He has opened the door again.
He is in the room.
He says,
'I love you too.'
More tears. And we tell of the mirrored smallnesses which have sucked the heat from our lives.
We kiss. Find resolutions. Find comfort in each other again.
There is a bright flame in the dark and we gratefully warm our hands; thaw our hearts.

Later, I ponder what had led us to that place. Many things, of course, had interwoven the net which caught us, but I see one thing clearly: I had forgotten my machete. When the world is tangled and dense and catches at my hair I have a tool which never fails me if only I remember to use it: I can write.
I recall evenings too busy and sociable or too tired and miserable to write my journal and the dream-binding which followed; which always follows.

I am a fool. If I achieve nothing else this coming year, may I remember that writing is not only my passion and my talent and, newly, my job. It is also my lifeline, the lighthouse beam which sweeps an arc accros the unknown so I can catch a glimpse of my mind-corners and chase the scuttling creatures away.

And I am wise. 2 days of iciness out of 365? We're not doing so badly. I did call out. And he did turn around. He is the source of much of my joy once again.

And all those nappies? That's where the real love is. One nappy at a time, I am saying to my family,
'I love you'.

In Love; At Peace

Monday, 27 December 2010

Solstice and Christmas

I've just had a lovely Solstice and Christmas. I do hope many of you can say the same, including those who don't celebrate either.

The source of much of my joy was, of course, other people. My community of friends came up trumps for the Solstice. A huge fire in deep snow; dogs haring round the field (didn't spot any hares dogging though) and children playing, building, running, laughing, sometimes crying, occasionally even sitting down. 

 Building the Solstice Fire

And the music, of course. We all added our magic in different ways, but I am blessed to have a group of friends who can conjure treasure from the air even with very cold fingers.

And there is me,  dancing on the right, with our bundled baby. And not making music.

I love to dance, my singing voice is not painful to passersby and I have a good sense of rhythm, so I can hand drum a bit, but I can play nothing which makes a tune. I was put off by years of enforced squawking, scraping and screeching on the recorder and violin. It was awful! If I were to play anything it would be cello, but I cannot bear the thought of dragging such a bulk about with me. I like to travel as light as possible (Ha ha say my fellow parents, but I can at least not take a cello too!).

But, one of my daughter's stocking presents on Christmas morning was a harmonica.  I had bought it for less than £2, so I'm guessing it's not top of the range. But I love it! My daughter hasn't sussed blowing yet, so she just sucks it, but I've been having so much fun demonstrating to entertain her. And it fits in my pocket. Perfect.

 Christmas Eve
(and my hair being indistinguishable from the plants behind!)

 So now I have yet another New Year's resolution - to learn to play the harmonica. And maybe that will help me move onto my other ambition of being one of the people brave enough to sing round fires. It's happened, but often the inspiration to sing is overwhelmed by shyness.

So I'm left with a couple of thoughts. I believe I'm shy and antisocial in groups, which fits with my relief that being a writer can, at least for the main part, be done alone. But some of my shiniest times are in company, and not always when I feel super-confident either. Sometimes, and here's the weird thing, I'm in company I'm a little unsure of, I feel shy and inhibited, and I still have a really good time. This will take more musing.

Also,  it becomes more and more apparent to me that all the ways I am a creative being enhance each other. And that other people's creativity enhances mine too. So maybe that impulse to massage the world into aesthetic form for a moment is, not the vulnerable exposure to others I sometimes veer away from, but my strand of the web which connects us all and feeds us, strengthens each of us.

 Dreamweaving Traditional Devonshire Yule Log

And isn't that a good way to enter the new year? Even if I don't stick to all my ad hoc resolutions, I can hold to this thought: that when I fear being creative with others, it will be the act of creation itself which will dispel the fear.

Happy New Year one and all! May all your most ambitious dreams come true :o).

Monday, 20 December 2010

Happiness :o).

Yesterday, I was reading The Economist. That sounds ever so intellectual, but actually I found a word I didn't know in the first few pages. Since you ask, it was 'jeremiad': a long, mournful list of complaints or woes. Quite the opposite of this post.

Anyway, one of the articles was about happiness; who has most of it? You can read it in full here. Much of it was what we would have guessed. Health, wealth, marriage and employment all bring us happiness. 

Children are more complex. When asked broad questions about general contentment, people living with children report much life satisfaction; more than those who live in ordered, quiet houses where sometimes there is a pause between loads of laundry and whole tracts of floor are visible.  But, when asked about the day before, parents are more likely to report feeling angry or anxious. I would guess they are also more likely to have tickled someone, laughed out loud and deliberately made animal noises (as opposed to my dad getting out of a low chair and unintentionally impersonating a cow in calf), and what's not to like about all of that?

From my own experience just this week, within two hours I went from almost crying with frustration at a stupid raincover which was designed not to fit any buggy (My husband put it on quite quickly, but then he may have had breakfast and I was pre-coffee; always a dangerous zone,) to almost crying with soggy mummy soppiness as my little daughter met Father Christmas for the first time (even though she cried when he tried to give her a present!).

None of the above was the point I was aiming for. The big deal with happiness, across the world, is age, in a kind of u-bend. The mid-life crisis is real and makes us more mopey than ever before... but then we cheer right up until we're as happy at 70 as we were at 18... and then we just keep getting cheerier! Hooray! So those curmudgeonly old sods who grumble at all the spangly splendour of Christmas are actually having the time of their lives. Ha! Tie that to your hat and jingle it!

"I am in no way enjoying this, you know."
And what I'm really trying to say is, that maybe this works on a smaller scale too. I have a deep faith in the fractal nature of everything (but let's not go there now.) Maybe that golden glow effect when we feel nostalgic about something is a symptom of the same cause. As we age, we become so much more skilled at finding the joy in life.

So here's my New Year's Resolution: I shall attempt to be pre-emptively nostalgic about life as I live it. I made a good start this morning. (I know it's not the New Year yet, but it would be foolish to delay a good idea for calendrical authenticity.) It was very early and I was trying to feed my daughter to sleep. She was having none of it and I was getting sore. (If you didn't just wince, be grateful.) I was wishing it would hurry up and be 7:00 so I could stop breastfeeding and continue re-reading of The Little Prince while we played. And then I remembered my resolution and realised I'll be nostalgic about such times spent snuggled in the dark, just the two of us, as soon as I stop breastfeeding. The comfort we can share together is so much greater than a little bit (well, it was quite a lot, but still) of soreness. So I pretended I was reminiscing about the present moment (a dubious past in the company of a chemistry postgrad may have helped here) and relaxed into gratitude. A much happier start to the day. She still didn't go to sleep though.

And now there is a foot and a half of perfect snow outside; I have a cup of tea and a packet of chocolate biscuits and the anthology containing my story November has come out. Just in case you're short of a Christmas present, you can buy it or download it for £4 here

And my final word on happiness is that if this doesn't make you laugh, please seek professional help.

Ho ho ho!

Friday, 10 December 2010

A Christmas Gift For You - 'Only a Poem'

Happy Christmas! Here's one you can open early, just because today I'm in that kind of mood.

When I told you lovely people that my flash fiction 'November' had been successful in a competition, some of you wanted, quite reasonably, to read it. Well, I still have to wait for it to be published in its anthology, so here is a different story to keep us all going. I have tried to choose one which isn't too far into any genre to alienate lots of people.

I deliberated for a while before offering this because, once it's published here, it can't be published anywhere else (for money, I mean). But then I decided to switch off that crazy poverty-mentality and have faith that I have many, many wonderful stories to tell and, anyway, it's Christmas!

I wrote the bones of it ages before I started blogging, and the central character isn't me, but you'll probably see, as you read, how it reflects the 'Blimey, If I do this, someone might take notice!' anxiety/hope adrenaline mix which has been my experience of blogging.

I hope you enjoy it and, if you feel moved to generosity in return, please leave a comment or pass on the link. Thank you.

Only a Poem

Susan understood that to hear the poem spoken by her own voice and to know that people, many people, were listening; that was the coin flipped for triumph or desolation. And yet she stood, fighting nausea and dizziness, muttering the words as a mantra, futilely inhaling, exhaling, waiting for the contestant before her to finish. She became aware that some part of her brain was reflexively praying, a habit she had thought entirely gone forty two years after leaving Our Lady’s Convent School. She was not clear what it was that she was praying for, but she knew she absolutely meant it.
          She realised the precious paper was damp and soft in her hand. In theory she had no need of it; each word, each pause, each inflection had become an indelible part of her during the weeks of intensive revision and rearrangement which followed its inception. Now, though, it seemed of literally vital importance that those written words accompany her onto the stage. She could not do it alone. To be sweating about a childish poem in this shabby, dreary town hall at the age of fifty eight seemed ridiculous, but she could not shake off the feeling that this was a momentous event in her life.
Her mind, desperate to escape the present moment, seduced her back to the night the poem came, by torchlight and against a backdrop of whispered complaints from the rest of her dorm. She had written many poems in her girlhood, but, at the furiously truthful age of fourteen, she had birthed into poetry some essence of her soul which had whispered to her all her life and would always be with her. 
This was the only poem that mattered and so was the only one she would never share, never tell the existence of. Never, because she did not have the courage. Never, because it was too exposing. Never, because they did not deserve to be told what they could see for themselves. And never, because if anyone knew the true texture of her soul and said the mildest, lightest word of criticism, she would know she had betrayed her self and the punishment would be permanent exile from her body – left to drift in purgatory while her body smiled and got on with the business of pretending it didn’t matter; it was only a poem. Heads or tails, there was no retreat from this.
Entering this competition was the last thing she expected herself to do. She had read the advert in the local paper and huffed at the very idea. Then, as she passed the paper’s office, she popped in, curious to see who had entered. Kate, the receptionist, assumed she wanted to enter and it seemed rude to refuse the form, so she took it home and completed it in the absence of a crossword with her coffee, then left it for the recycling. Her husband had helpfully posted the thing on the way to work and so sealed her fate. She twisted her wedding ring and felt a surge of anger that he had put her in this vulnerable position. 
Even now, as the compere gabbled his way to a close, she knew she could just say one of the many other poems she had memorised. None of them carried this sense of risk; some of them were good, and probably no-one would notice they did not fit the title she had given on her form, but some solid pebble of fire deep in her gut knew that she would speak the poem she had come to speak no matter what she decided or what bargains she made with herself. Already there was no return.
Another wave of nausea bent her slightly as she wondered why she had told all her family and friends that it was important they be here tonight. Earlier she had peeped through the curtain and almost fainted in horror and delight at the number of faces she knew, all waiting for her. Her husband and children were here of course, and the ladies from the allotment, but also the staff from several of the local shops, the couple who ran the Ring O’ Bells, Molly’s dog trainer, the postman, and friends she hadn’t seen for months or years. Susan wondered about running, now, to another town far away and starting again, but the knowledge that this was her only chance to share her self with the important people in her life was persistent. That thought, alone, had the power to get her onto the stage.
She imagined hearing her name announced with the title of the poem she had concealed for so long. She pictured herself stepping through the curtains, nodding thanks to the compere, folding the paper and putting it into her pocket, taking the microphone and standing solidly on the stage. The panic inside melted. She felt 14 again.
Only when her poem was halfway through being spoken by that powerful voice did she realise this was not imagination. Without a flicker of hesitation she continued, present and strong. It no longer mattered if they loved her, hated her, were indifferent to her. She was alone, her soul bared and brave.
When she finished there was a long pause and her fears pounced on her. People started clapping, but some were standing. She almost fell – she hadn’t considered they might just leave! Then more people were standing, and clapping, and not leaving. They were standing for her – some grinning, some crying, all standing for her and her poem and clapping forever.
She had no idea how she ever got off the stage or into a chair with the million babbling people and she returned to the stage to collect her prize and a shower of wonderful words and to speak her poem all over again in a barely lucid dream.
The next morning she woke with an unaccustomed champagne hangover and lay motionless, wondering how life would be as this newly revealed woman. When she finally got up and braved the world, she discovered that nothing and everything had changed.

Lunar Hine

Friday, 3 December 2010

Winter Trees

OK. You're safe today. No nudity, I promise. (If that's disappointing, check out Self Portrait). Instead, some 'proper' art (you know; a picture of a thing which has been painted many times before) that you could show to your Grandma.

Winter Trees
Acrylic on Card
9" x 6"

 Which is great. Because this little painting was a gift from me to my beloved Nana. I didn't know what she'd think of it when I sent it, but I hoped the thought would truly, in this case, count.

And it did.

In fact, it's quite amazing it got to her at all. I was pondering how to get it to her without it getting bent and thinking I'd prefer to present it to her in a frame, so in the end I just wedged the framed painting (glass and all) into a padded envelope and posted it. It dropped through my Nana's letterbox and landed on her doormat in one piece. 

This is doubly amazing because my Nana's part of London is pretty dodgy and it must have been an intriguing package. I remember (as a child) asking her why someone had drawn a chalk person in the road and getting some evasive reply about graffiti...

So, I knew it had arrived safely and of course my Nana said thank you and that she liked it very much. But it's hard to really know if a gift is genuinely appreciated, isn't it? Especially when it's art.

Unless chance steps in.

As my Nana lay dying (much sooner than we'd expected) in my parents' house, she was sad to be so far away from her own home in which she'd lived for decades with so many memories breathing from the walls.

So my uncle, who also lives in London, went round her house taking photos. It was the best we could manage at the time.

And guess what? The photo of the heart of her home; the living room mantelpiece, showed my humble little painting standing proudly amongst treasures from her long-departed husband.


And later I was told her visitors would be subjected to, 'My eldest granddaughter did that. Isn't it good?'

And although I know that many people have painted more impressive renditions of winter trees than I have managed here, I have a fondness for this little painting. 

And I think, yes, it is good, because when I, so foolishly it seemed, posted off that work and it thunked into my Nana's house, I sent her years of pleasure too, and a reassurance that her granddaughter, who was forever doing odd things in odd places with, frankly, some pretty odd people, thought about her and loved her enough to spend some time making a painting just for her.

And that's a grand achievement for any artwork.

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