Category Archives: blogging

The stuff of Life

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‘ It was about being true to the very stuff of life, it was about trying to capture, though you never could, the very feel of being alive. It was about finding a language. And it was about being true to the one fact, the one thing only followed from the other, that many things in life – oh so many more than we think – can never be explained at all. ‘ Graham Swift ‘ Mothering Sunday’

This , then , is what I have to bring today. The closing sentences of the book I have just laid down. It did not disappoint. Within its narrative Graham Swift refers to one of my storytelling heroes – Joseph Conrad – who himself has an interesting comment on storytelling, whose quest was ‘ by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm — all you demand — and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.’

And the overriding sense I am left with is how fiction gives us permission to be most fully ourselves. I cannot imagine being the me I am without having encountered the characters and the writers I have met throughout my days. Science is mastering many of the facts , we are illuminating the darkness, but only dimly. Science is the first to corroborate how much is still unknown. A particle acts differently dependant upon it being observed – does this strike you as prescient on the human condition? We are and simultaneously are not the person we imagine ourselves to be. The codes we observe do not rely merely on the context of our time and culture, but also on our perception of them and of the fluctuating circumstances. That is confusing, much easier to narrate to you a true account of behaviour which shows how I hold personal codes of truth and loyalty , of fidelity and duty to be central to the person I am and yet act in complete opposition to them, choosing to end one marriage to a wonderful man , and father of my two sons because I had walked blindly into a new relationship where I felt at home. Not even a choice. And reader – I married him.

I haven’t learnt enough just from the handful of people who are present in my life, or who have been there in the past – they are priceless, but they do not bring me the breadth and depth of experience which helps me to understand I can forgive myself for frailty, for impatience, for laziness, for ineptitude. Because I am not alone. Because growing up is not just trying to imitate some version of being human handed down by parents et al, it is about encountering the various selves you inhabit, and allowing yourself not to be intimidated or frightened by them. Listening to voices from elsewhere can somehow bring you closer to knowing how to be your own.

In ‘Mothering Sunday’ Graham Swift practices his alchemy – his narrative is from a woman and it has one of the most authorative voice of being woman I have encountered. He is masterly in how deftly he practices this – the small sentences slipped in that are the ‘tell’ of what it feels like to be 22, free, single, and enjoyably bruised by sexual encounter ( not in a violent, abusive way). On removing from the scene, she mounts her bicycle ‘ slightly sore where she met the saddle’ .

I imagine the novelist’s challenge to himself – inhabiting not only the woman’s pysche at 22, but also later on – in her nineties and remembering. I imagine him imagining the reader – me – enjoying his playfulness, his zest for finding the right word, the correct tone, the piercing stab of the dramatic.

The point I am making, albeit clumsily is this – we need stories to remind us not how to live, but that life is mystery. Inexplicable paradox is what exists around us and about us, and the navigation around this mortal coil is facilitated by the storytellers, the magicians, the soothsayers, the lyric writers, the graffiti artists, the dramatists, the teachers.

There is now such a thing as a bibliotherapy – the art of listening to someone’s personal dilemnas and furnishing them with appropriate bookwear. (bookware?) . Such a stance should please me, but I am contrary enough to find something unsettling in it. Something proscribed – but then why not – we go to doctors, why not book doctors? I have a healthy disposition to challenge anything that is ‘good for me’ , and have only just discovered the heady delight of sucking up oranges. Now I evangelise about oranges. And for me they are the only fruit. I still have a long way to go.

I leave the last words to a woman author of impeccable skills, Marilynne Robinson, author of ‘Housekeeping’, ‘Gilead’ and others you may want to discover.

“While you read this, I am imperishable, somehow more alive than I have ever been.”

Notes to Self

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The guy who wrote the original did so in Greek, but was actually an intellectual Roman who was to govern Rome after succeeding the Emperor Antoninus Pius, spending a couple of decades trying to placate the Senate and put down minor rebellions. It was some time ago.

Marcus Aurelius lives long in the mind – this is a book that belongs in the bookshelves of the great and the good throughout history – it has shaped the thinking of men. And yet it was not written for publication – it was written as an ongoing discourse with himself as to how to live a life, how to wrestle with the challenges that being human brings , a ‘design for living’. He is setting  out his set of rules, quite unaware that it would become a key text in later attempting to understand the Roman Stoic philosophy.

 

I am fascinated how threads of understanding weave themselves through history – occurring separately to thinkers from disparate cultures and times – and how those threads resonate generations later, making a fascinating complexity of human thought spinning itself through time and place.

I am reminded of these words,

Knee-deep in the cosmic overwhelm, I’m stricken

by the ricochet wonder of it all: the plain

everythingness of everything, in cahoots

with the everythingness of everything else.       Carl Sagan  ‘Diffraction’

and from Edgar Allen Poe

 “that space and duration are one”

Land of the free.

 

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We , that is my husband and I, are building up to the next adventure!  We have had a love affair with the highlands of Scotland for quite some time now.  So we have been brave and sunk our lifetime savings and some capital that will be our pension pot into a small place tucked away between a river and a mountain.

We live frugally now – by temperament we are both loath to splash the cash – and having brought up the young men to be of independent spirit, in mind and purse, we can finally begin to realise a  long dreamt of retirement. Retirement being in opposition to the facts of the matter – at least for me. I am in training to keep up! My pace is slow but steady and my mindset is positive.  I am restricted from running marathons, or indeed walking further than a few miles without severe impact, but the dream will still live.  I enjoy just being in the midst of all that ‘livingness’ of nature, so we will be trying a little wild camping too. When the sun shines.

So the next couple of months is putting everything in place , then here we go!  I don’t need to travel extremely to find where I belong – just to be able to absorb the sights and sounds of nature is a magical experience for me, and from where I derive my inspiration and my  energy.

 

The illustration is a digitally altered reproduction of an old sea chart showing the coast – and if you like it enough, you can find it on decor and product at my Society6 site and my Redbubble site. If you explore my menu, there are links to take you there.

In my beginning is my end

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‘Dawn points, and another day
Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides. I am here
Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.’

From T.S Eliot’s ‘East Coker’

 

History repeats its lessons

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Text written by 8th-century Chinese poet Du Fu, commenting on the political turbulence in his own experience.

Simplify your life and return to nature when you can – that is my ambition for the next part of our lives together – Scotland calls! The bigger picture is feeling increasingly absurd and we both feel most alive when in the midst of nature. I know we are not alone in this, and we are fortunate that we can reasonably easily frequent one of the most beautiful places I have experienced.

If you tap into my virtual reality you will see the influence that Scotland has on the work I continue to enjoy making. I don’t know, but I feel that can only continue.

If you want further inspiration to reconnect with the solace that nature can bring, why not visit ‘Walden’ by Thoreau – it is a read that stands the test of time.

 

An inheritance, Part One

YeatsI think of death and it reminds me to consider how to live.  I contemplate the brevity of a lifespan and know that choices are important. I am not ready to die, nor possibly will ever feel so, but I am ready to consider what I want to pass on.

As Hamlet replies to Polonius , when questioned on what the matter is that he is reading …’Words, words, words.’

Language is the river we swim in daily, the route to communication, miscommunication, love and hatred. It is paradoxically the most powerful of medium and the least effective.

There is a radio programme on a Saturday morning that delivers inheritance tracks – those pieces of music that the particular contributor wants most to pass down to their loved ones – in  a similar manner I give you my inheritance tracks – written ones.

I begin with Margaret Atwood, a writer who always has something of note to say and always with style. I love her novels, but this is a short poem that for me describes the atmosphere of a new relationship perfectly.

Habitation — Margaret Atwood

[1939–current, Canadian]

Marriage is not 

a house or even a tent 

it is before that, and colder: 

The edge of the forest, the edge 

of the desert 

the unpainted stairs

at the back where we squat 

outside, eating popcorn 

where painfully and with wonder 

at having survived even 

this far 

we are learning to make fire

Source: Atwood, M 1970, Procedures for Underground, Little, Brown.

The line  ‘it is before that, and colder:’  has the perfection of a musical note precisely measured – with just the right element of surprise to quicken the curiosity.

I chose this poem because the five boys that I have the privilege of loving – two my own sons, three from my husbands first marriage, are all embarking on long term relationships. It is this fundamental relationship with a partner that has been the central impetus to my own life – I am introverted and have little need for a wide circle of friendship, but without the anchor of a committed loving relationship I feel adrift and anxious. And I like fire.

Shine on you crazy diamond

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My shots for the weekly photo challenge , which is Shine.  I encountered this sweet little chapel on the outskirts of Glen Affric in the highlands of Scotland. Crazy venue for a church, but if I was to worship anything anywhere, it would be the setting for it.  Sorry, I don’t worship. I do wonder and awe.

Shine