Wednesday, 27 November 2013
In 2011 I vowed to embrace my inner Tortoise. "Never hurry, never rest" was my motto for the next two years.
And then 2013 happened: the year I emerged into a sudden flood of sunlight and found myself to be more akin to the reckless Hare, racing with wild enthusiasm from one thing to another.
It is now mid-November and I am already reviewing the past year, looking back in order to look forward. If there have been moments when I've behaved like a child chasing fire flies, I know now that playfullness is part of my process. Ideas are one thing I'm good at; I toss them in the air by the excited handful, like confetti, then wait to see what flutters down, what sticks.
Throughout this year of the rush-along Hare I have not forgotten that the Tortoise wins the race in the end. But it is the Hare's energy that keeps this plodding Tortoise in the race, even at moments where she has felt discouraged and lost. I've accepted that I must work my way towards getting what I want by the slowest, most circuitous path. For me there are no shortcuts. I travel each inch of every mile, sometimes on dancing feet and wearing silver slippers, sometimes crawling on my knees through dog shit and broken glass. However I go, I must feel each and every step.
From the story of the Hare and the Tortoise I know that what is essential is not to become disheartened, not to be diverted from my task. This means maintaining concentration, keeping a joyful hold of my dreams and sense of purpose. It is like travelling a very great distance carrying an egg or a balloon. Don't grip what you carry too tightly, or you will destroy it. Your touch must be light but unwavering.
There are times when I question if this is possible? The Hare and the Tortoise reassure me that it is. When travelling slowly over a great distance it is easy to feel lost. Even easier, inevitable perhaps, to lose sight of the path; winter comes and the snow falls, covering your tracks.
Feeling lost is not a good feeling (for me, anyway). Feeling lost and without purpose is even worse. So whatever happens I tell myself: hold onto your purpose. Don’t put it down out of weariness, or throw it away in despair. Keep your sense of purpose pressed against you; hold it lightly but untiringly. Imagine it is a tea-light, guttering, delicate, but lighting your way forward. Protect that little flame. Shield it with your hand and do not flag; do not despair. Remember the Tortoise and her steadfastness, and the Hare and his great zeal, and even if the way forward is no longer clear or apparent, keep pressing on and on. Really, there is nothing else to do except lie down in the ditch and die – and that would be no pleasure at all.
Thursday, 25 July 2013
|The 2 of Swords|
February – feeling burdened; finding fuel; finding shelter; huddling for warmth; dancing for warmth; standing on the parapet staring into the teeth of the hurricane. Looking back and looking back again. Stiff neck and shoulders, cricked from the strain of peering over my shoulder.
March – being brave; reminded that writing and art is the fire that warms and illuminates, even in the depths of winter; telling tales around Pat’s kitchen table, old ones and bold ones, both good and bad ones.
April – sitting on Johnny’s sofa wearing old Tom’s dinner jacket (broad of shoulder, redolent of mothballs and must), reading these lines:
"You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
They called me the hyacinth girl.”
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
May – itching to turn the slow year with my own feet, if needs be; bluebells in the woods and daughters returning, departing again; the orchestra warming up slowly, scraping bows across slack strings, reedy whistling, an apologetic clatter from the percussion section.
June – the Magician, the 2 of Swords and the 9 of Pentacles; still cardigan weather, wearing a shawl covered in roses big and red as pig’s hearts; a lesson in nine parts beginning with the words, “First, become your story; let it inhabit you, for it lives nowhere else; it rides into being upon your breath, your tongue.”
July – return to warmth; divination, finding the water’s source with a whale bone or sprig of hazel; lights, music, action; lifting the stone that has lain in the woods, undisturbed for decades and finding beneath it, an entrance to the underworld? A golden key? Or precisely these things: an acorn, a snail, a salamander?
Thursday, 31 January 2013
I've always dealt in both words and pictures, and sometimes a single idea is easier to pin down as a drawing: one picture that says more than enough. When words threaten to reveal too much, pictures offer something to hide behind. Creativity is a hot potato that I have to put down somewhere, in order to blow awhile on my burning fingers. The page is where things go, and it doesn't matter whether what burns its way through my fingers and onto paper is hieroglyphics or images. There is a time for both, and since last summer it has been the time to draw and paint and photograph.
Therefore, to celebrate the newness of 2013 my blog has some nice new hand-drawn buttons for my Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr links - but for the time being there will probably not be many new words. These I am keeping tucked away in my notebooks until the year is a little older, and I feel a little bolder.
Thursday, 27 December 2012
The rock is an anvil and her raging heart the white-hot fire.
Her breath is the bellows; her fist the hammer; the pulse at the base of her throat is the rhythm she works to.
The instructions are in a book of tattered and patched parchment; the leaves yellowed, crackling like autumn leaves as she turns them; the crabbed lettering faded to sepia; the diagrams and drawings spidery sketches, jewel-bright miniatures. She reads the instructions aloud: draw-out, anneal, forge-weld, temper, indurate, quench, bevel, file, flux and hone.
What she carries on her body is the metal she works with: the rose-gold wedding band; the clamorous silver bangles; the enamel locket; the amber earrings; the garnet pendant on a heavy gold chain; the ring of iron keys; the belt of Scythian coins; the gleaming copper boot buckles; the brass buttons from her father's pea-coat; her mother's silver darning needle and golden pen-nib.
She rolls up her sleeves, ties back her hair and stokes the fire. She makes ready the mould, turns up the heat.
She sets to work.
Friday, 23 November 2012
In everything I create there is:
the walk home from school,
the grey road,
the butcher, the baker, Mrs Brown's old curiosity shop,
the bus stop,
the copper beech,
the calico cat sitting on the wall,
the tub of fuchsias,
the telephone box,
the shifting light,
the tunnel of trees,
the blue door,
the golden key
Sunday, 18 November 2012
I try to imagine where I might have left you:
A gull's white feather folded beneath my pillow?
A pair of horn rimmed glasses under a bedside table in an Ealing boarding-house?
A tarnished dime left in the saucer of my coffee cup at the Yonah Shimmel Knish Bakery on East Houston Street?
I try to reassure you, to coax you out from your hiding place, but you sit tight. It is almost dusk when I finally find you tucked away, small as a nut, deep within the hawthorn hedge; dark eyes, dark hair, the only bright is the gleam of your red Wellington boots.
I take your small, cold hand and lead you home.
Monday, 12 November 2012
The Wilmington Giant, Eric Ravilious, 1939
You see a figure on the horizon and mistake it for a standing stone or a squat church steeple muscling its way out of the chalky earth. Then it moves and these two things happen: eyes and brain finally acknowledge that this is a figure, monstrous-huge, only the torso yet visible over the brow of the hill; and your heart skips a beat.
How to proceed:
1. Most likely it is your common or garden variety of Downland or Melancholy Giant (giantus melancholius). Luckly for you, much less dangerous than his cousin, the wily Wealden or Terrible Giant (giantus horrbilium). The Wealden Giant you should avoid at all costs: their grasping hands the size of 7-bar gates, their filed teeth and taste for sweet human flesh, their cunning brains working overtime behind far-seeing eyes and a super-sensitive nose.
2. The Downland Giant is, by comparison, a lazy, avuncular fellow. He eats sheep, rabbits and hares, and likes to lie among the cowslips on a south-facing slope of downland, weeping quietly in the early summer sunlight. This is probably what he was doing when you disturbed him, tromping past with your dogs and children. Or perhaps he was nestled into one of the many shell-shaped coombes he has carved out of the hillsides around Lewes, his spine curved against the chalk cliff, his head resting on a hay bale.
3. Do not approach giantus melancholius. He is less-dangerous but still clumsy-fingered, feckless in his immense stupidity, and (worst of all) curious. You do not want to be picked apart by those gatepost-sized questing fingers.
4. He is (unlike his cousin) phenomenally short-sighted, so stay downwind of him and all will be well.
5. He has a wolf-keen nose.
6. Do not ask him to build a wall for you, let alone a house. The price will be too high, no matter he is stupid he will hold you to whatever you agree, and you will find yourself surprised at the bargain you have struck. He will take all you that is most dear to you, and there will be no wiggling out; the contract will hold.
7. Instead, admire him for what he is: a walking monolith. And then move away, circling the hillside around him until at last he disappears from sight.
(From Walking the South Downs, by Zina Ultika, 1923 - revised edition)
Saturday, 10 November 2012
The river carried the ring for a while, puzzling it against rocks, the muddy bank, a rotting wooden quay. Then the river gave the ring to a fish; the fish was swimming along with its mouth open, and it swallowed the ring absent-mindedly. The gold gleam was lost in a deeper darkness.
The ring gave the fish a stomach ache. It saw a hook, a worm, near the cloudy surface of the water, and forgot it knew better, bit down hard. The fisherman sliced the fish open, found the ring, tested the gold between his crooked teeth, and tied it in a knot in his handkerchief.
The next day the fisherman gave the ring to his love. Her hair was red gold; she had a freckled nose; had just that moment nicked her thumb peeling potatoes. (She was making chips to go with the fish.) She was surprised how glad she was (felt her heart would explode with joy) when the fisherman pressed the ring into her hand.
"It's nothing," he said. "The river gave it to me."
She tossed the chips into the deep fat fryer, and the oil hissed like a flock of angry geese. When she slid the ring onto her finger it fitted perfectly, lying snug in a shallow groove just above the second knuckle.
The chips were just right: crisp, golden, and perfectly seasoned. But to punish the fisherman she overcooked the fish. Later she tossed the skin and the potato peel into the river.
That night a fish swam back and forth in the silty water beneath the woman's house. It sang to her in a voice that was crisp and golden; she had never heard anything so beautiful. The song filled her head, flooded her room, the house, poured through the deserted streets and out into the surrounding fields and water meadows.
At last, in the darkest hour, just before daybreak, the woman left her bed and walked down to the river bank. The tide was flooding in, the river as high as she had ever seen it. There was the thumbprint of a ghostly moon above the rooftops. Hitching up her skirt, the ring glinting on her finger, the woman waded into the cool, silty water; let the river hold her; and let it sweep her away.
Wednesday, 7 November 2012
In exchange for this cup of tea (strong, two sugars, just how you like it), I'll take a blue Rizla paper and a pinch of tobacco.
You offer me a half-eaten apple (a Hitchin Pippin), assuring me it is the sweetest, juiciest apple you have ever tasted. I take it reluctantly, and in exchange I give you a water-stained prayer card -- St Dymphna, a lily in the crook of her elbow and a fettered demon at her feet.
I give you a sock puppet with button eyes and a red felt tongue. You put a mother of pearl brooch buckle into my pocket.
For a still-warm oatmeal and raisin biscuit wrapped in tinfoil; a milk bottle you found in the stream bed, packed full of emerald moss.
A notebook -- blank now that the first four pages have been ripped out -- is swapped for a string of fake pearls and a diamanté brooch shaped like a lizard, with red glass eyes.
An iron file for a forked hazel divining rod.
A bone lace bobbin for a pack of old playing cards - on the back a bottle-green mermaid chases her tail through a forest of water weeds.
We shuffle, cut the cards three times. I draw the queen of spades; you the knave of hearts.
You hand me a pen made from a goose quill and a bottle of black ink. I sign my name with a flourish; give you my hand, palm facing up, trusting you will take it.
You offer a rumba; I counter with an American smooth foxtrot.
In exchange for your great-grandmother's wedding ring -- old Welsh gold, peachy as a California sunset -- I hand you a plane ticket, for anywhere in the world, economy class, one way, non-refundable.