Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Things That Annoy Me, no.4: 'Donkey!' My Feelings About Poetry...

I always had an uneasy relationship with poetry.  In school, I found Shakespeare’s speeches impenetrable, until one day I clearly remember suddenly getting it.  It was as though I fell in a pool: all at once, I was submerged, and even the words I didn’t understand made sense within the gist of the sentences.  I loved the rhythm, I loved the playfulness.  I was missing all the complicated metre and the various flashy effects and devices going on; I mean, I was appreciating them without a blind clue of what they were – I was simply catching the resultant shape and the joy of it.  Then one day, a couple of years later and for no good reason, I fell out again.  And sat on the edge of the poetry pool, wet and bedraggled, and confused.  Since then, I intermittently like Shakespeare. 

Other school, college and university course experiences with poetry were similar, I would either like the poet or their work straight away (because I got it!), or I would suffer through all the teasing out that lit courses require of you: what is the metre, what is the imagery, what metaphors/similes, if any are there?  Is it a trochee?  Is there enjambment?  My overwhelming thoughts at these worksheet approaches to poetry were: blah blah blah, bloody hell!  Why is it deliberately so complicated??!

The thing is:  I have always been a reader of stories, of novels, of plays.  It’s not that I like things to be clear and linear and go from A to B.  I like too much odd writing for that to be the case.  I particularly like to be confused by what I’m reading, often.  I’m a great fan of unreliable narrators, for example.  But I do like to able to have a vague idea what I am reading about, in order for me to care.  It’s ok if I don’t if I am carried along by the writing.  Then I will be patient and wondering.

Too much of the poetry I have studied for courses, and read by myself has been simply clever.  Like that’s the most important requirement.  Pretentious, is how I ended up thinking about it.  Deliberate cleverness for the sake of it; to stroke one’s own ego.

I married a poet once upon a time, hello Alias Troubadour!  I recently discovered you are reading this blog, so welcome back to the poetry rant you will be very familiar with from long years of hearing it!! 

I’ve heard poetry described as a form where every single word counts, works, does something…and then compared to prose with a snitchy turned up nose, as if to say: look at all those spare and completely extraneous words!  Every writing course I’ve ever read emphasises the importance of making every word count in prose too, and in all my favourite books and authors, I’m not aware of loads of misplaced or vainly present words.  (I do like to overload a sentence with words when I’m writing, but that’s just me being greedy!)

Alias Troubadour used to write quite magnificent poetry…to a point, I thought.  The point being: when we first met, he wrote loads of the most beautiful love poetry to me that I’ve ever read.  And of course, to This Very Day, I would say it was His Very Very Best Work!  Tender and full of image, softly spoken emotion.  And some of it was clever…but never to the point where I got lost.  Which is the point.

The rest of his work – OH!  It used to drive me insane!  I could see that it was all very…clever, and had bits and pieces explained to me.  I used to get roundly fed up with being told that if I couldn’t understand this or that bit, or wasn’t prepared to put the time in to think about it and ponder, then really, it wasn’t for me…That used to very much annoy me.  It reminded me of the Bible.  If something is so impenetrable that it needs a glossary, many commentaries, historians, and so much context that we could have several other fat books worth next to it simply to interpret it…then what value is the original THING?  If something is so hard to understand that it’s almost incomprehensible – then who is it for?

In the case of clever poetry and Alias Troubadour’s in particular, it was for other clever clever people who also liked to play incessantly with words (and also, a lot of them had a deep love of very bad puns indeed – the pun is coming back into fashion, you know, have you noticed??)  He used to run an online forum where he and others of this mindset would go and play with words together – writing villanelles together one season, and other forms the next.  I would look over his shoulder and understand one poem in ten.  Which used to infuriate the hell out of me!

I don’t think I am stupid, generally.  And I can’t stand things that make me feel stupid – and that seem to be there for solely that purpose!!  Specially when people used to raise an eyebrow at me, blow smoke in my face and say they’d come for a walk with me in a minute, when they had finished their latest part in some sonnet game or other!  Argh!  I remember once, saying to the dashing and very pleased with life Troubadour that for all the sense his poems made to me, you could stick the word ‘donkey’ in every poem, randomly, in the middle of any line and (a) the loyal (and sycophantic) readers, eager to not appear lost, would agree it was some brilliant device he had invented and then find a meaning for it for themselves, and (b) though it might have improved the sense of any of these poems, (c) I still wouldn’t have understood them at all.  It wouldn’t have broken up any meaning that was there, because I couldn’t see any!  I totally can’t remember what his reaction was to me getting so flustered and angry and rude about it.  I think he was indulgent, perfectly confident in himself of the excellence of the creations (and the happy reaction they would get amongst his following).  (We used to have many intense arguments about poetry some of which lasted years, which is a cause for great amusement, I feel: what a civilised thing to have a mini ongoing war about!)

But I still feel most poetry is a donkey, to me.  For me.  Saying that, I have a list of poets I do like, that has about 20 people on it, but its never a form I pick up for love – as it seems to be trying so hard all the time. I never read it as effortless, or seamless – I am never lost in it.  Either I am thrown out by not understanding something, or I am just not feeling the voice I am hearing.  The major exception to this in the last couple of years, has been John McCullough’s The Frost Fairs, which I mentioned in an earlier post (Book List of 2011, Part 1).  That did read effortlessly, each poem a story, a coherent voice.  But I will stick with prose I think.  (And those execrable not-poems I produce when feeling surly; which I have the good sense to show no one, except Alias Dreamer occasionally, since he is forgiving of flights of badly written fancy!)

I don’t think the world would be better without poetry or anysuch – I’m not THAT annoyed by it: its just a purely personal gripe, at being made to feel dumb.  I like to flow with things I’m reading.  I think we need the Poetry Tribe in the world, they think in a sidewayzee manner and more than one type of thought is needed here: tolerance to odd thought patterns!  But like a communicable disease, I shall place them far away from me, because on average, they irritate the hell out of me (and a lot of them are subject to Famous Poet Envy, and imagine themselves Sylvia Plath-ish, or Ted Hughes-ish; being either doomy and depressive, or drunk womanising scoundrels).

Good luck all the poetry lovers; and please don’t go on about its brilliance to me, I shall start to doze.  All the while wondering why the poet couldn’t have written a good prose story instead…and whether Alias Troubadour sometimes or occasionally still wears a cravat, which is partly how I knew he was a Proper Poet (body of work aside), as it actually suited him very well and looked rather fetching and jaunty.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Truth, Taking Back Words, Garden, and Being Here


I did start my diary, after all.  I’m not writing masses in it, just little flickers of things.  Buts that’s all that was needed, all I want for it.  Flavours, tastes.  I also started to do some limbering up exercises for this year, for more strenuous writing to come.  The whole Freewrites thing is the best way for me to start when I have no clue what I mean to say.  Sometimes you just pick a word and write a sentence or a paragraph, whatever comes into your head; other times, it’s a sentence that begins and you continue it.  Here’s some I did the other day…as Mr Hooting Yard would say, its perfectly ok that I am waffling on and have nothing specific for you today!

The truth is…
About as easy to come by as just thrusting your hand into a pool and catching a minnow, just like that.  It’s subjective, half the time.  How often can you get a fact (so and so died at such and such a time; so and so was born, at such and such a time) and it be all there is to the truth?  So rare.  Around the facts, like ivy or barnacles, come the interpretations, the emotional reactions, the liabilities of human perception.  Remember whoever it was in Hard Times, that described a horse by all its concomitant factual parts?  And it was all true, and none of it sounded anything like a horse at all? The truth is more than the facts.  Some days I feel I never should have had another baby.  Some days I feel it’s the best thing I have ever done – and both these statements are simultaneously (even) true.

I wish I had said…
Nothing.  I wish I hadn’t felt the jealous and rather spiteful urge to cut his achievement down to size.  Stanley stood next to me in the kitchen, one evening almost two summer's ago, the baby asleep on his shoulder (as he does so well), and looked pleased with himself, and very fatherly.  Almost as if it was all easy, and easier than he had imagined.  I felt proud, and jealous…of what?  The ability to get the baby to sleep?  Or just the freedom to think its this easy all the time…?  I thought of the 24/7 that is Fluffhead and me.  The way I get only snippets to be myself.  I heard myself say, with no forethought, just this blustery and yet cold burst of emotion: ‘You know you do Fatherhood Lite, don’t you?’  And I watched his face fall, just slightly around the mouth, and the eyes darken and shut off to me.  And the surprise, hurt.  All there and gone in a split second.  And I instantly regretted it, and hated myself. What a vituperative, nasty thing to say.  How unnecessary, really.  I apologized almost straight away, and then the more I thought about it, even more.  But he wandered off, as if it didn’t matter.  When, really, it did.  So what that I was tired, and my tired brain spoke…When I think of it, it makes me cry.  How nasty I can be.  I remember it to this day, with shame.

I need proof…
Again, that there is magic, I sometimes tell myself.  As if the frantic and tearful spelling that gained this house wasn’t a proof enough.  The fact that I now live here, in the nicest place I have ever lived.  In the country, nearly, in a tree lined street.  Where, when I walk down the hill to the villagey 3 main streets, I see thousands of trees in the background, behind the houses.  They are spongy with distance, having that haze and blur of things far away.  The houses are positioned between them, barely poking through – the trees win, clumping so vigorously.  Shades of green everywhere.  How can I need more proof, when I look out of my room’s window, and on one side is a quiet street, the houses white and orangey red, with painted beams in black – all so quiet, and so orderly.  And on the other side – the garden – wood pigeons, jays, magpies, blackbirds, sparrows, robins, woodpeckers, blue-tits, squirrels, cats.  The garden is alive with wonder, and I wonder at it all, and watch it change every day.  Apart from not being several acres wide, it’s everything I ever wanted.  And maybe I need to work up to my acres – learn to husband something smaller to begin with.  That would only be fair.  I feed the birds everyday almost, leaving them extra stale bread, or seeds.  The feeders are full of fat balls.  All are welcome.  Even the elusive fox that leaves its shit on the lawn at night, when we aren’t there to see.  The bread is left in the afternoon, and always still there when I go to bed.  It’s always gone in the morning.

It’s true, you know.  It’s easier to see magic in the countryside.

I went outside and…
There was no longer a yard, or an inner London street, stinking, loud and overlooked.  There was the garden.  Wide and surrounded by hedges and trees.  The three firs, a triad of dryads, guards and sisters.  All is hushed beneath them, and bare, except for the ivy and borage, which creep quietly.  The cherry tree, majestic and deeply secure; its roots go throughout most of the garden.  The holly tree, which is shaped like a perfect spade in a deck of cards.  It hides its trunk, the leaves gather so low.  They are the tree, holding its own perfect form – and the shiny and dangerous leaves, with their dangerous berries, are all you can see of the tree.  I had to get on my hands and knees to see the trunk properly.  There’s an area under the tree that a small child could sit (were he fearless concerning bugs), and have his own private world.

I sat outside on the lawn yesterday – when the day was sparkly and not overtired looking, as it feels today, and I just watched the trees.  I froze, but all was so clear.

For the first time ever…
I might feel like I am somewhere that is actually home.  Since Grosvenor Hill, I haven’t felt that – and never as a grown up.  As a child, you always more or less accept where you are – and if I have to be in London, the City, or Mayfair (how lucky was I, daughter of a roving housekeeper?), were the two locations worth being in.  They had enough interest and seclusion at the same time.  But now – out of London.  And do I miss it?  No!  I miss the galleries, museums and the shopping, a bit.  And Leicester Square, so easy to get to.  But I think I will simply appreciate them more, now I have to go to them deliberately, and make a big deal about it.  Like I will do later this week, when I have to go into town to go to hospital.  For the first time ever, I come home, and can’t believe how lucky I am.  I am constantly thinking it, and saying thankyou, to something.  Something.  Something.  It’s like I am stepping into my life, just gradually, but this is the location to do it.  There’s space for change, and I can feel it.  I need to take it, and to be my life now.  Not just watching and waiting.  Even though it’s difficult now, with Fluffhead being so much of my time and life, I still need to try and accept and do it now.  This life – for the first time ever, no longer about to begin – but: begun.  What an honour!

It surprised me when…
My nan died.  As it did when she told me, years ago, that my childhood memory of her eating oranges every day, the house always smelling of them, was not true.  That it was something she did for a couple of months and that was all.  Yet I remember it as an aeon of tradition, a solid fact.  And when she had a stroke, and wasn’t herself anymore, and then died shortly after, it was as if this could not be true.  When these things happen, I think people go into another plane, another dimension.  Life is so fervent and strong, and vociferous, here – and when people get very sick and start to die – they are in contravention of the laws of here, it seems, to me.  They are trespassing, breaking a law, a rule, a way of life.  They make a hole.  And they slip through, to another place, where drifting and seizing death is a more fluid thing, a thing always possible.  There it makes sense.  But here, always a shock.  Trouble is, there breaks through to here, all the time, at the drop of a hat.  There is here.  Just a flip.  Not even an accident.  Here all the time.  It’s just our juicy brains, crammed full of ideas and pictures and zinging with electricity that refuse to see how such an amalgam of life can be turned off, just like that.  But it can.  Step on a bug, accidentally admire the garden, with your toddler in your arms, and squash a huge snail that was minding its business, with your sightless big foot.  The things that happen to us are no different.  No sense, mostly.  Just are.

It was no use pretending…
That I was going to live forever.  The thing about living in the country, is suddenly you are constantly faced by the cycles – by the living and dying nature of everything.  Things change all the time, grow big overnight, wild, out of control, rampant.  This is the country: the outside tries constantly to come in; sometimes you let it, sometimes you don’t (I live with the mousetraps now).  To an extent, you feel yourself warring against all these other life-forms (plant and animal – not sure I am warring against mineral, as such?), jockeying for your place where you are.  You miss ALL this aspect of things in the city.  In the city, man has won – and odd, that being the case, that he has created for himself such an ugly grey wasteland, in many areas.  Why?  So many colours, and we have chosen to replicate an overcast day.  And then spray swearing all over it, and upset words, angry words.  We yell, and yet no longer speak; so many, and many do not see each other.  Here, less pressure for space means more likelihood of eye contact.  And if you watch the ground, there is no escaping where you are here: dead plums, dead cherries, dying crab apples, all that is not consumed falls to the ground and dies, slowly becoming the earth again.

A long time ago…
I dreamed of unicorns in my secret valley.  The place in my mind where I have limitless landscape, and created worlds of space; an Earth in my head.  Thus were the Lands begun, and I did not know it.  Here, with me, like another dimension of spherical perfection, they are, ever changing, ever the same, ever since.  Everything I could ever want is there.  And yet, when I visit, I spend most of my time in the porch of an empty potting shed in the middle of a vast summer meadow, with my cats nearby.

Still I dream, and why not?  Why not here, where one of my dreams has come true?  Surely that is a powerful place for dreaming to be done, on the site of a wish already fulfilled daily.

A long time ago, I dreamed.  I still dream, and still decide what is to be done.  The little girl BlackberryJuniper, holds hands with a little long haired boy, and two more small ones trail behind.  We stand on the edge of forever, the edge of it all, and we watch and decide what comes next.  We sleep and dream, and hug and feel the warmth of life with love in it.  The unicorns watch when they do, and trot away when they don’t.  They have the whole world to roam in, so they do.

I turned the corner, and there, coming towards me, was…
Alias Octa.  This is many many moons ago.  Nineteen years now.  I hadn’t seen him in over a year then.  I remember only that he blanked me totally, proving what he had said about not even spitting on me in the street if he ever saw me.

I sometimes wonder, what happens to me if I fulfil my dream, write, publish, and I am suddenly a bit prominent for a short while (as that is the way things go).  And there he would be, in the media somewhere (as he is), hating me, wishing me dead, in the back of that stubborn Taurean head (as at the front of it, he would imagine he wasn’t thinking of me at all ever).

The idea, knowing that someone out there hates you with a passionate commitment to that emotion, no intention of ever forgiving; ever viewing you as anything other than a slug…well…you can’t worry about them, can you?

I don’t dream of him at night anymore, hardly.  I don’t dream of him forgiving me; or being my friend, or being together with him as if we never broke up all those many years ago, so justifiably.  For years I dreamed these kind of alternate reality dreams.  I don’t even dream of seeing him down the street, with his family (who are all lovely, and good for that) in my mind.  No interaction at all, just the knowledge that he is ok. 

Though I feel him sticking to the edges of me like that sticky fluff that used to end up being over everything in Paddington, because of the Westway outside.  I, and everything, was never really clean.  Always scummy, always dusty, always fluffed.  Grey and sludgy.  Love shouldn’t be like that.  It shouldn’t glitter and glisten and sparkle you for a year, then turn into grey sludge.  Glue of the worst kind, barely done being dead animals, still lumpy, still showing hair.  Shouldn’t, should it?  Not right.  He went places maybe he should not have gone, and found out what I should never have done.  And it smeared us both, Alias Octa and me.  And maybe we will always fight to clear our eyes from the sludge that it left, never quite seeing clearly. 

Or maybe we are victorious.  Maybe our eyes are clean.  It’s just that other idea – the stone in our pockets that is always there, and sometimes we wonder what that weight is, and pick it up, and are downcast to remember.  One day, maybe, we can set the stone aside.  Throw it into the sea, or set it down, simple, in the garden.  Where nature can do to it, what she does to everything.  Claim it, grow over it, change it, use it.

Maybe I will be brave enough to try and set it down one day, and not keep fetching it back as punishment for myself.

That smell reminds me of…
The first proper planned rituals I ever did.  I opened one of Alias Troubadour’s boxes that he had repacked, of mine from the old life in Paddington, and the smell just flowed out.  I couldn’t discover which thing in the box smelt so beautiful.  But it was so familiar.  It was nights shut up in the bedroom at Paddington; the others not allowed to interrupt me. 

I would be gone about 2 hours usually.  At the end of the bed was the bookcase that was positioned quite high.  It wasn’t quite steady, one of Troubadour’s knock ups from stray wood.  It was my altar there, much bigger than what I have here.  Covered in a pashmina, whichever relevant colour.  I would stand on the bed, or squeeze between the bed and the altar, and cast the circle.  Finger, or wand.  I always used to do too many spells in those days.  I had to plan out the rituals carefully, and refer to many books (and have them to hand) because I always crammed so much in.  I was so eager and hungry.  I wanted so much change. I wanted to feel the energies flow, of so much magic.  (I like to think I am better these days, mostly only one spell, well planned and thought, and written; mostly there are hardly any spells now except in emergencies.  Now it’s all about balance and integration, trying to feel and understand the web and move within it.) 

It was hope, the discovery of power of myself, of my mind.  It was the idea change could occur, made a real intention with symbols, an enactment of a reality to come, to be, that was already, somewhere.  I called it.  I told a story, with gesture and action, with my props, each meaning something.  I told myself my future, and believed it.  And so it came to pass. 

One summers day…
I lived here. My life finally began. 


Saturday, 14 January 2012

Writing and Not Writing, and the Light on the Wall


It’s a strange thing.  I bought a new diary, for this year.  It’s pretty, with a green cover (my favourite colour, rich meadow grass green) and flowers on it: pink, orange, blue, white.  Everyday I think: I’ll start that today.  Just a few lines about what I’ve been doing, an observation of something naturey.  Something Fluffhead did; or Stanley said.  Just a tiny brush note of what the day had.  A sip, a mouthful, a tipple.  Etc.  And every day so far, I have veered away and done something else.  Here we are, almost half way through the month, and January is going unrecorded.  Which gives me an odd set of feelings.

Firstly, it makes me feel like I am invisible and don’t exist…in that, here I am, the eternal present and all that.  And yet, the past also exists – but since I have a terrible memory for a lot of things, and at the least, an often inaccurate memory, it seems that unless I bother to write things down and catch the flavour – so many many many things get lost. Pooof!  Gone!  Forever!  And some of these things were quite nice.  Worth remembering.  Little moments of sensation, or tiny good thoughts or feelings. 

When I impulsively made fairy cakes last weekend and used ready made icing with swirled food colouring on top – pink, yellow (using toothpick dipped in water where colour had been dropped). And small silver beads on the top of each one.  I just decided it was fairy cake day.  They were lopsided and decidedly imperfect (that’s the wonder of amateur home-baking), and I loved each small and nutritiously negligible mouthful.  I made 10; I ate 9.  Fluffhead ate half of one and then later sat on the rest and ground it into the sofa, causing a stain only equal to the likes of Pansy Cradledew’s pink (and delicious) macaroons, when she visited last year (and Fluffhead did more or less the same thing).  See?  Now that would be lost forever if I hadn’t just remembered it for you.  I could go on to add a layer on it, and tell you I added almond essence when the recipe didn’t call for it, and I over egged it a bit so the end result was so violently vanilla and almond that Stanley could smell them from upstairs.  (I do believe he was wan and sad that he couldn’t try one, but they had egg in and he’s mostly vegan.  And I love baking and get annoyed that I can’t regularly make all my favourite things which are all full of the dreaded ‘chicken abortions’ as he calls them.) 

The other thing not having started a diary for this year yet makes me feel is…free.  I am out from under the thumb of the obsessive need to record.  This need I have to organise myself into recollections that make sense, and tell a story or have a purpose in some way (and I’m too much of a lover of order to not try and find the pattern if there is one that I can find – which can lead to lots of very windy and torturous reasoning; as well, it has to be said, as some remarkably good leaps of intuition where I suddenly GET why I have been doing some cack-handed thing or other). 

It’s odd too, because I have been experiencing a furious need to write this month, and I have been sitting on it.  Partly because Fluffhead was sick for ages and I had no brain for anything other than feeling tired and worrying.  Then there seemed to be a shite load of necessary new year admin stuffs.  Then there seemed to be no babysitting appearing; and Fluffhead’s naps got really short for a while.  So there was no Blackberry Juniper time available, to either get thinking on what to write, or get that writing hat-head on, or actually write anything as such.  Constant interruption and constant having to get back to where I was was leeching my impetus to do anything with the hurried half hours I was getting to myself: one per day.  (Which I ended up spending reading, which is never time wasted, and quickly got into, easily put down; or putting away seemingly endless laundry; or sorting out more of my clothes for that promised marathon sewing event to begin at some point in the near future.  Or speaking to Fry on the phone.) 

I really object to that story people often tell me, about how the massively prolific and successful  Nora Roberts got her first novels written around the kitchen table, while her small child sat quietly next to her, playing...or she chased him about, with her exercise book and pencil, while writing, on a snow day.  I mean, goodness!  Whose child quietly plays while you try to write a novel???  I maintain this child is either fictional, or angelic in some way.  Whilst Fluffhead can play by himself at a stretch, woe betide me if I try and do anything focussed – like a cat, he senses it and runs straight over and walks on it [insert whatever it is here]/ takes the book away/  wants to draw on it…if I’m at the computer, of course he wants to come and sit on my lap and also play with it.  Of course, adult stuff is dead interesting.  It’s why they much rather love to play with an empty milk container and lid than the presents they get for Xmas.  ‘Cos they already want to be us, and be with us, and do the things we do.  As Us, a lot of the time.  Very nice, really, very flattering.  Very unconducive to writing a novel!  Or even a short story.

It’s a weird sort of rest, in a way.  All this not writing; when I lie in bed at night and find myself trapped with Fluffhead’s whole body on my writing arm, so that even though I have a notebook, I can’t get to it to note down the suddenly unstoppable stream of babble that might be an ok blog entry that is piping through my head!  The next day I sometimes remember what the subject was, or a couple of lines; and yet, they seem strangely tame and uninteresting and lacking the cohesion of their brothers and sisters they slide away, possibly never to return, who knows…I let them go. 

I was out in the garden today and while having an argument with the worlds most outrageously overgrown and madly enthusiastic buddleia, I started writing in my head again.  I had to finish the pruning before the light went down (I had started late), so that was that, I listened to myself waffle on, liked some of it, and lost the lot by the time I came back inside.  (I had become distracted by the fact that though I was pruning loads off this impudent and ambitious shrub-tree-world-dominating-base-camp, there was still absolutely loads of it left, and that I didn’t seem to be having any effect on its  [plus seven foot] height whatsoever, despite many big branches coming off.  And the worry of bugs dropping in my hair.  And worrying that I was hurting the tree with my inexpert ministrations and giving it the world’s most painful haircut.  I kept apologizing to it for my ripping off of the small branches that wouldn’t come off with the secateurs.  And thinking I need one of those hedge trimmer saw things.  Turns out, that while I am not terribly good, thus far, at growing and tending to stuffs in the garden, I am good at tidying it and trying to make it orderly and ready for the next phase etc.  Good to know I have some sort of aptitude to start off with, since last years herbs and flowers almost to a one died a death of excessive infestation with thick black aphids…)

So whilst I am actually wanting to write – stories aren’t coming, and neither are characters, at the moment, but scenes and conversations keep appearing, as do nearly blog entries (about allsorts of inconsequential poodle, so you haven’t missed anything massive here) – these things keep getting lost.

Hence I thought, today, I would sit here, with my half gloves on, and four sweaters, in my room where my breath frosts on the air (I dare not get out a thermometer, but I will tell you that I left a cup of water in here last night and I do not lie, but it was ICED OVER this morning when I came to try and drink it!  My lip got stuck!).  And hurriedly, before I get frost-bite, try and tell you that – I am not writing my diary yet!  That this, and that short story you had before (significantly better than the dodgy one preceding that, I thought) are the only indications of January this year I will be able to find, in later life!  It’s almost terrifying!  (And definitely not balanced!)  All those tiny thoughts and good feelings, and moments when I looked up and saw how the light was golden on the wall and how incredibly beautiful that light was; the red berries remaining on the holly tree, glistening violent after hard rain in the morning, when all else is oddly dark and greyed…all…gone…

Yep.  That settles it.  Must try harder.  Free is one thing; but my memory is bad enough without having any recorded memories to fall back on that are at least partially accurate from being written near or at the time.  And I’ve never cared how small they are, how dumb or insignificant they might seem.  They are all flavour.  And how complicated (in terms of how much different stimulation we all receive and react to,) we are.  Some sorting, or random recording would scrub up my otherwise undistinguished days.  Open the diary.  Have a nice blank page.  Consider talking to myself…

But since I spent that time I had today doing this; I shall have to begin tomorrow.  The talismanic tomorrow, always available, always ready to be a nice fresh start, again.  But yes.  I shall start. 


Monday, 9 January 2012

A Little Doom for the New Year!


This is by way of an I'm Not Dead post.  Apologies for the late start up to this year.  Fluffhead has metamorphosed, as does occasionally happen, into the scary and baneful Tetchyhead I mentioned ages ago.  He's been ill, one thing after another for about 3 weeks now, and its left me no time to do anything much but nap when he does.  

So here is an old story I wrote, so you have something to do when you sadly think - where is that Blackberry Juniper type person?  You'll notice it blends a bit of writing in I've already shown you.  Or you might not.  Either way, I hope you like it, and I hope it makes you feel good and moody, or at the least confused.  Since here I am sharing the frame of mind I'm in today - tired, doomy, and ready for bed!  Enjoy, or not, but hopefully...

And regular transmissions will hopefully carry on soon!

What is the point of Bluebells?

I feel tired.  When they ask me out for drinks, all I want to do is go home.  And the board meeting minutes are unfinished; they need to be done by the end of today. But what’s the point of going home?

Toby will be there composing his music, it will be the same as usual – ‘fights about going to bed at a decent time,  and because of that not happening, not having sex, let alone spending any time together’.  This is what I said to Clare.

Clare watches with her usual intent expression, which also seems a bit puzzled, for some reason, and then disregards everything that has been said to her.  ‘Yeah, but you’d feel better.  So come out – just have a couple, get the sparkle on, and then go home and have a better sleep than you would have?’ 

I sigh, lots of that going on lately, deliberately unhunch my shoulders and go to the bathroom to fix my makeup.  Redoing the eyeliner, I listen to the comments of Annabel in the toilet next door.

‘So you’re coming out then?  Yay!  Are you putting more paint on?  You never used to do that…is it that thing when you’re having a downer day and you need more armour?’ 

‘Yup,’ I say, long ago having learned there is little point evading Annabel.

Two hours later

I step outside the pub.  Bloody hell it’s bright. 

I feel in my pocket for the cigarette packet, am dismayed to see there are only two left, and feel for the lighter.  Bugger, Laura had taken it earlier in the day. 

Rather than speak to any strangers, so not in the mood, I go round the corner to the restaurant next to our offices.  Very convenient; restaurant on one side, pub on the other.  It’s a quick job to poke my head round the corner of the kitchens at the back, and ask for a sachet of matches. ‘Santinis’.  Benjamin, from Equador, gives me the matches, and insists, with a flourish, on lighting my cigarette for me.  He lights one himself.  I catch the flash of sulphur in my nostrils.  I like it, its real and it feels like something.  A nice change.

He’s half shaven, and it’s a good look on him – an aging someone’s dad with a glint in his eye.  He makes an incredible omelette. He fed me one once, when I forgot my lunch – even cold, it was a masterpiece.  He feeds and chats to all the stray people he finds, and I seem to be in this category.  Which is nice.  I am not choosing to find it insulting.

We stand together and watch the smoke swirl.  I like his manner.  He has that demeanour: the folded arms, resting easily back against the wall, turned not away from me, but not to me, that says to me – I’m here, you can talk.  But you don’t have to. We watch the trees together.  They swish softly in the breeze.  Scents of pasta sauce and oysters mingle not unpleasingly together.  I enjoy the drawing out of the saying nothing.  I listen to small eddies of gravel get shushed along as the tiny yappy dog from the block of posh flats opposite, skitters past.  The old lady who walks him frequently asks me what my name is; she always forgets and asks me again.  She meanders past, and before she can see me, Benjamin engages her as she leans to reattach the small dog to its collar.  I smile at him, and he winks, and I head back around the corner to the pub.  I am unsteady on my feet, and have to make an effort to walk carefully in a straight line.  Clare is right: this is way better than concentrating on all the other things.  

Two hours later

I am doing that massively clich├ęd thing of fumbling with my key in the lock. I had texted Toby to say I would be late, this is all fine.  He’s composing, he won’t notice any difference, me there, me not there, whichever. He didn’t reply.

I call out hello after I’ve slammed the door rather loudly.  The house smells of nothing.  He’s not eaten.  I am aware of a deep quietness, and of the room spinning, all the colours still being wildly bright…my pink sweater, tossed over the side of the chair, screams to me to look at it.

I am hungry.  He’s not been out to get bread.  He never seems to go out to get anything anymore.  I know he gets in late, with the contract being so far away – Northampton is a long journey back to the East End, but…I feel like I do everything now, since he started this job.  I open a tin of baked beans and just eat them out of the tin – a treat this is, just like when I was small; then it was pilchards in the tin.  He hates when I eat from a tin. 

I realize I can hear no sounds.  He’s already gone to bed.  Right.  So he is cross I am late, I get no dinner, and this is how we are going to play it.  Right.

I go upstairs, feel my shoulders hunching up again, and try to say a few words to the lumpy form in the bed.  I can’t even see his head properly. I go to turn the light on and think better of it.  What’s the point?  He’s not responding to me.  I slide inside too, and feel no warmth from him; it’s as if he just isn’t there.

Like it has felt for months. My nose is blocked, so I lay on my back waiting for it to clear, I don’t turn to hold him.  He doesn’t seem to notice, can’t even hear him breathing.  I feel myself drifting into the spinning that is still within my head, even though my eyes are closed. 

I think about going to see my mother tomorrow.  At least she will be happy to see me?


Saturday

I’m out with my mother, walking the Bluebell Trail near Alfriston.  The day is warm after a cold start.  I take off my pink sweater, and put my sunglasses on.

There’s that beautiful lowering of sound levels you get as you enter a wooded area, as we go in.  The trees must absorb sound.  They form a canopy over us, screening out some of the sun. The rest dapples the ground, in bright striations that move, as the leaves swish in the light breeze.  So much better than London; I feel so many parts of me starting to relax.

I think about texting Toby, he loves bluebells, they are all around.  Again, the niggling thought….what’s the point?  He won’t text back.  He doesn’t seem to want to talk to me at all.   I don’t understand how distant he has become.

Birds are calling to each other from all directions overhead.  There’s a sudden mass of sunlight breaking through, as a twitter of woodpigeons detach from a tall tree to the left.  A black feather floats down right in front of my face and lands softly on my t-shirt. I pick it off, and my mother calls to me from ahead, snapping a photo of me.  She’s using flash, and it blinds me for a second and I drop the feather, feeling its silkiness run through my fingers and be gone.  When I look for it I can’t see it, but I find some dropped bluebells and pick them up.  They are cool and sullen against my fingers, already losing their remarkable blue, paling quickly as they start to dry out.  I take off my sunglasses to look at them properly.  Toby would love these.  I almost want to cry.

I look ahead of me to where my mother is.  She’s come to a halt about a pond, and is struck by the reflections in the water. The reflections are striped with jagged tall tree images, black and mean.  I walk over to her, skidding wetly on a patch of mud and having to steady myself on a hazel tree.  Gripping its bark, I have a strong, though momentary sensation of intense earthiness.  It feels, though it’s clearly a young tree, that it has been breathing evenly here for a thousand years or more.  It is the most strongly rooted and locked into its sense of place thing I have ever touched.  I release grip and move on, feeling less solid almost immediately.  This I just the sort of thing I used to tell Toby, these weird sensations I get, changes in perception.  He used to care.

Mum shows me the photo, her arm brushing against mine.  She’s so thin, I feel her bones; and when she speaks, I imagine I hear her voice as softer than usual.  She seems smaller beside me, and when she shows me the picture of me, I look alarmingly curvy, and more present than she, with her soft and flyaway hair, bobbed and fading to honey brown.  I can see her scalp. Her lips look thinner and lacking in colour.  But when she grasps my hand and pulls me on, commanding: ‘We have to bear to the left now’, I can see she is as strong as ever.

I’ve had the feeling all day that she’s been trying to talk to me about something.  I assume it’s her and dad having problems again.  I want to confide in her about Toby’s strange attitude.  I keep wanting to ask her if she thinks he’s having an affair.  But she never seems to quite get to what she wants to say. 

My mother feeds me a bourbon biscuit, so I stop and fish about in my rucksack for the apple juice I bought on the way in.  I plop into cross-legged sitting and glug it all down, closing my eyes and feeling it wash through me like a whole apple tree of crispness.

It feels amazingly peaceful, even though there is a bit of twig that has worked its way somehow into my boot, and is itching my ankle something chronic. My mother turns and smiles at me; she looks a bit sad, the corners of her mouth don’t quite make it upward.  Perhaps worried.  I wish she’d say whatever it is she wants to.

Monday

I arrive in the office, getting my jacket caught in the door as I always do.  I jerk myself through it, spilling a bit of my coffee over my trousers.  Great.

Some of the directors say hello to me as they arrive.  I smile hello back, wondering why their eyes linger on me a beat longer than polite.  I look down at my shirt, convinced I spilled more than I thought.  I can’t see anything; I dab with a screen wipe anyway.

I text Toby, the little ‘love’ text we send each other every morning when we get to work; his is usually hours later than mine because of the length of the journey, stickiness of the traffic.  At present I am trying to be detached, and see how many mornings I can send this and him just not respond.  Alarmingly, I feel the need for a drink.  This early.  This is not good.

My supervisor, Maleka, comes up to me.  She’s dyed her hair over the weekend, a vibrant chestnut red.  I compliment her as I like her, she’s a straight up sort of person.  Seems like she’s about to be that way now too, she has that look.

‘Kay,’ she begins, and my feeling is confirmed.  She definitely has something to say.  Grateful that somebody has something to say to me, I smile at her.  Of course, I am now worried I’ve done something wrong.

‘Kay, Jeremy and I would like to see you, for a word?’  It’s not a question.  I rise, gesturing to the phone.  ‘Its ok, Laura will cover the switchboard.  If you’d just…’ She takes my arm, an unprecedented step for her.  Not a touch led person, Maleka.

I am ushered into the small meeting room, the one with the blinds, the one where bollockings take place.  I am now decidedly uncomfortable.  I am made more so, when I see Jeremy’s pinched face, looking paler than usual.  I sit down, and he ceases his pen tapping on the table.  I feel myself breathe in and hold it.  I remember the board papers, they are late now.  I flush.  Shit. And I’ve been a bit late, recently, here and there.  I’m just not sleeping so well.

Maleka arranges her skirt around her thin legs and clears her throat.  Blimey, she’s uncomfortable too, this can’t be good…

Jeremy’s head looks strangled by the tightness of the purple tie.  Against his pink shirt, it doesn’t go well, he looks ill.

‘We think you should take some time off,’ Jeremy gets out, and can barely make eye contact with me.

‘Eh?’ I say, then realise I actually said that out loud.  ‘Er…why?’  I can feel my hear thudding – oh god, I’ve really messed up, it’s more than board papers, and I can’t even think what it was I did wrong.

Jeremy looks nervously at Maleka, and I can see a tiny twitch above his left eye. Their tension communicates itself to me.  I hunch up and make an effort to sit straight at the same time. I feel like I’m holding myself very solid, ice-like.

Maleka takes my hand.  I can feel myself raising my eyebrows, and my first urge is to pull away.

‘Since Toby’s death, you’ve been acting very odd,’ she says.  Baldly.

I am frozen.  I am ice.

‘We know it’s only been three months, and grieving takes many forms…’

I can feel my hand resting under hers.  Hers burns me, I am so cold.

‘…but we are very concerned that you keep talking about him – as though he were still alive.’  She takes her hand away and puts a tendril of bottle chestnut red behind her ear.

My mouth is open, and my head moves of its own accord, from side to side.  I keep getting clips in my head, of news reports, the news, me eating beans on toast, seeing news of a car crash on the M1…a bad one…a number for people to call.  I see myself calling it.  I see myself being sick.  I see myself…nothing.  I don’t see anymore.

I face her.  Jeremy looks frozen too, white as a sheet.  She is looking at me squarely. I see sympathy.  I see my mother.  I see Benjamin.

‘He isn’t dead.’  I hear myself say.  I still have my phone in my hand – I show it to her; my hand is shaking.  ‘He texts me every morning, see…?’

I put it in her hand.  ‘Inbox, inbox…’ I say, gesturing.  Or somebody does, I am far away.  My eyes have gone funny.

‘But, Kay, my love,’ she says, and her voice cracks.  ‘There’s nothing there.  For three months now, there’s nothing there.’

I look down at the phone, see the emptiness.  He is ignoring me.  Why is he ignoring me?  What have I done?  It hurts.