This is a series of freewrites I did from Margret Geraghty’s excellent prompts book The Five Minute Writer (2009). This was one of my favourite exercises, and it goes like this:
The British Council recently did a survey about what the most beautiful words were, in the English language. Voters in 46 countries, over 40,000 of them. The top 3 were: mother, passion, and smile. (No chocolate, shock!) Something universal here.
Pick one word from the British Council’s Top 20 and freewrite for 5 minutes.
Then make own list and do the same. (I’ll get to that in the subsequent parts of this series – my own list got long!)
British Council’s Top Surveyed Beautiful Words are:
- Mother (I’ve done this one elsewhere, another blog post, so won’t include it), Passion, Smile, Love, Eternity, Destiny, Freedom, Liberty, Tranquility, Peace, Sunshine, Sweetheart, Gorgeous, Cherish, Enthusiasm, Grace, Rainbow, Fantastic, Blossom, Hope.
The thing that boils your brain and makes your veins feel like hot soup is running through them; the broths of a thousand cold nights breathing in your body. Sweeps of red velvet and purple chiffon as you hold your arms open wide, running past you and the colours take your breath away. A humming feeling of joy and purpose – in life, in touch, in love. The purring contentment of many cats seizes your mind and soars you high, with the birds, up with the birds. Where the way is plain, and route clear, however long it will take, it is your life to be lived. And in the meantime – the stare between 2 people, pulled together by chemicals and a sense of almost divine connection; they stare at each other and feel the burn between them, all parts of them heated and moving.
This beautiful drawing from: justpencilonpaper.blogspot.com
It’s not a cliché to say that a smile from a stranger can brighten a whole day with its spaciousness, the sudden sense of sun. It’s not a lie to say a week’s worth of bad mood can be cleared and healed, to a degree, by one smile in the right place at the right time. Smiles of children, smiles of grown ups, smiles of those you love. The way cats seem to smile, with their sweet faces stretched back. Those little black lips, so dry and warm, the scruff tautness of whiskers. The love of the hug and the smiley face, walking all over your stomach as you try to nap on a Saturday afternoon, on the sofa. Once upon a time, a while ago.
The thing that makes the world go insane. The thing that makes the world slide into narcissism, that thinks it’s altruism. The thing that makes a child smile or cry to see a loved one; that makes a dog wag its tail, that makes a cat thread through your legs, a small weave in a life of weft. The thing that makes you lie awake at night, crying quietly and alone, even with someone next to you. The thing that makes you feel like life is worth living, because of the you that you see in someone else’s face, reflected back like the best mirror. Or the thing that makes you want to die because it has been removed and you don’t understand it. Or you don’t love yourself and see no hope. Love is hope. Maybe, possibly.
On the one hand, this is a glossy romance cover from the 80’s, where a couple on a windswept beach are clinched, and she is barely able to hold her eyes open as her passion drags her head so far back, the weight of her hair, golden and kissed by all suns, falling heavily behind her. The man has heavy muscles, again kissed with suns, and he holds her bowing back, his hair dark and monstrous. They are locked together, like this – for eternity.
Eternity is also where you go if you don’t believe in Christ – eternity of hell, of torment – the ultimate punishment for disagreeing with someone. The punishment of a child who has no more words, no more arguments, no logic or reasoning – or compassion. Its one thing to say that those who prosper in this life through deceit and lies will get a comeuppance in a life to come; another to doom those who disbelieve because of lack of brain damage, to the same place. The urge to fascism in humans is almost unparalleled.
I wonder why so many of these words have been hijacked by perfumes, or marketing campaigns of some sort, to the point where I don’t see their beauty in this list. To me, destiny sounds a hard thing. A life of suffering that you are doomed to. Hmmm. Sounds like a curse word – ‘It is your Destiny!’ She raged at him.
Or else…this is a Bond Woman, Ms Destiny Waits: she’s oiled and limber, has a sassy mouth and is quick with a gun. She runs in high heels, she doesn’t sprain her ankle (as I would); and Bond – well, he may think he has her (he certainly Had Her), but really she’s already gone, on her speedboat, off to the next thing; ‘cos surely, she’s an international art dealer who also plays the harp and violin – she has concerts to attend, places to be. He is but a dalliance; he was fun for a night, and dodging bullets is hot, after all. And that camera crew, that seemed to be everywhere…what was that about?
She lit the cigarette, watching the flickering of the little flame with a feeling of wonder. These little moments of relaxation outside of the office were what made the day doable. She looked out, seeing the many shades of green on the returning colour of the shrubs – the trees still bare.
Most of her life spent feeling oh so tired, and just this small sacred tiny moment, one of not many, where suddenly the world looked gorgeous and new again. It roared through her, the song of herself a song of happiness and sweetness.
When she went back upstairs, moving lightly and slowly, she felt an airiness that had been gone from the morning before. Now, though the time till it was hometime was long, really, it felt as if it could be done. She sat at her desk, tapping away, at varying pace, while her thoughts led her gently onward, feeling in a small bubble of happiness and peacefulness. For however long. A precious time of quiet in the mind and quiet in the body.
6 o clock in the morning and alls well….the echoing wind, and the pent up flat voice of the speaker call to me from 6 years old, standing in the dark curtain covered tiny room. The Fire of London will rage any moment, starting from Pudding Lane and branching out, via small lights in buildings, spreading ever onward. The cracking of buildings; the way they blew the buildings up, trying to stop the fire feeding. People escaping via the river with all they can get onto small boats; Samuel Pepys buries his things, and stands from far back watching the whole spectacle. Time moves in a bubble. A thousand times I have been to this room in the Museum of London, and always, from the smallest age, I come and stand here. Transfixed by the freedom produced by devastation. A new world of nothingness and ever greater harshity, facilitated by crackling and soot and people’s faces blackened for a historical disaster I was never there for, but which haunts me onward. I always come back to the moment of freedom here. It started so small, and leaves you with nothing. A moment of exhilarating freedom; before you realize nothing really is nothing, and all your freedom – if you were an ordinary person – was taken away – your home, the possessions and savings you spent years accumulating to get away from where you were, to better yourself. History is full of such harshness. And now – that room is forever gone in the form that it had – they have remodelled the museum, and while the Fire of London room still exists, it’s a pale pale shadow of what it once was – it has a degree of detachment in its telling of the tale now that takes its monstrosity and reality right away. I do not approve.
A moment in a Japanese garden I have never been to, it’s not even an echo of the Kyoto Gardens which I have been to. It’s a Japan where small women swish back and forth. Their constrictive dressing and tiny feet, their imaginary painted faces (the weight of much stereotyping leaden on their serene faces, serene with being held in place by too much makeup, painted faces not real faces) passing by me, as I sit on a bench, watching the scene. An ornamental fountain makes tinkling sounds, a small gardener rakes over some gravel far to the right. Is he very small or far away, like Father Ted and Dougal – he might actually be very small – he is a figure from a tiny executive toy zen garden, ever raked by uneasy hands of palpitative directors, looking to settle their minds of worries about their careers in this sodden economy, all the things they had to do to get right here…shake shake go their hands on the tiny rake – crack, it cracks in half under the weight of their guilt. I sit in what may be a snowglobe of a garden, feeling the soft weight of sun on my shoulders, warm and bathing me. There is peace sitting here in the sun, watching the imaginations of a thousand westerners go quietly past, with a soft bowing of head; past and into the den of imagination of someone else, who imagines these women elsewhere, doing other things, releasing their small bodies from their garments. I sit and watch the birds fly gently overhead, small birds, pastel coloured – hint of pink. In the far distance is a rice field, a paddy field, and its composed like a painting of serfs working. So pretty, not being the one to sweat and work. Imagination is so often composed on unreal things. This tranquillity is unreal. But pleasant. I realise I am in fact sitting within a Willow Plate…
The idea of me sitting in an empty ballet studio, in a ray of sun, in a perfect lotus position. My spine straight. I sit there, eyes closed, and feeling the bake of the light on my lids – all is red behind them. I see stars and redness, the madness of running veins. The horses of imagination pull past me, and gallop on. I am entering a state I have never been in. I feel a strong connection with the floor under me, the air around all of me. I sit, bathed in the light of the cosmos and feeling my inner space stretch and grow. Planets swirl in my mind; fast and incredibly slow and leaden – yet suspended, great heavy gaseous masses, suspended and non dropping. Meteorites move through.
Really, I am in bed. Weightless on the point of sleeping and cruel is the day I must get up into. Cruel and bright and screaming with light. Beautiful and harsh and strong. I lay there, eyes closed, a moment more, feeling the peace of having woken, and the peace of being able to go back to sleep again really soon. The peace of a little thought, but not the churning wave that usually pours through and tires me further. I feel the strength of the minds fight to reactivate and I still it – a feat rarely done. I say to myself: ‘I am at peace’, and I lay there, so heavy and stapled, in what feels like my truest state – prefect ease and rest and warmth, covered by the duvet; a cat sleeping on my feet; a boyfriend with one leg thrown over me, his breathe warming my cheek. I let it all go, and slide away, back to the place where I lie prone, my hands soft and unclawed, and nothing matters but floating away, sinking and the redness behind my eyes, that fades soon, soon it fades. Away and gone, am I and it.
And then I awaken, finally, and I see that I am sitting upright, cross-legged. My back rests against the shed. I am bathed in light, from head to foot. The sun sits high above me, to the right, a perfect glowing orb that I cannot look at, though I always do, and see that moment of pulsating before my eyes burn the image and then everything I look at after is a black hole in the middle of this dark blotting sun. There is nothing but meadows in front of me, green and rolling and getting dry. Fields boundary the huge field, and far off, cows low to one another, or just low because it’s what they do. They chew peacefully, and the birds sing, up in the trees, an endless twitter and a rustle of branches. The smell is of warmth, warmth and possibly something assort of honey-ish. I have no inclination to move. I stretch out my arms, and I watch the sun glint off every one of my hairs; I watch my arm be golden. Its beautiful, my skin glitters as if I’m wearing body cream and sparkles – but this is just sun. Here it is warm deepest spring – almost summer, and everything is awake and going about its business. I am here to watch and feel and soak it up, and that’s what I do. I sit in sunlight, and I don’t really stir. I put my hands to my head and feel the heat being absorbed by my hair. I consider a hat; but here, if I get drowsy and fall asleep in the sun, I won’t feel sick, I won’t burn; I will simply wake up later, still warm and smelling the honey and still tan, ever more golden. There will be no pain, because this is where I rest; this is the sanctuary. I’m on the Lands, ever safe.
Sweet, sweetie, sweetheart my love. The little things he croons, that I croon too, as we lie there, twining, naked and sweaty and like little furless kittens, a pack of two. In the bed, where all is heaven, and almost unspoken, there we lie. The sun comes through the curtains and against that lifeless 80s wallpaper, makes all look golden. We lie there in content, eyes open or closed, breathing softly together.
Or its what I used to say to Fry, when he was younger and he’s sad and flopsybunny, and thinks the world will go on forever and him too scared to take a part and thinking it will never come to him either – ‘oh sweetie, sweetie, it will be ok’, I say. And if he’s with me, we curl up on the bed and watch some dire horror film or a comedy, and bond out giggly or grossed out way through all disasters of the mind.
Sweetie, sweet, sweetheart: this is the word that makes things feel better, that lets the love and the sweetness come through.
This is a doubled word. It’s partly the word that is overused by fashion gurus as they gush their spittle of redtipped nails over their models; or Gok Wan convinces yet another curvy woman that her arse is really not that bad, especially 20 feet high over a public building, projected down for the gazes of surprisingly kind passersby. (It does restore your faith in humanity, those makeover programmes – specially when they simply makeover how you think of your appearance – have been known to cry out loud and shed real tears while watching someone stop feeling fat and start to feel curvy and perfectly fine.)
It’s a word that speaks of overdone praise, a word that creaks with the weight of Easter baskets and pastel covered goo; necklines that only skinny tall women like Nicole Kidman can wear, in adverts that last 30 seconds attempting to tell the story of stars overwhelming fall from mental poise, supped back in the eyes of a single strangers adulation: you’re gorgeous. That ad was 2009, I think.
In the mouths of ordinary people, it’s a word for presents, that’s gorgeous; or a fur collar in the dead of winter white quiet – wow that’s lovely, it’s gorgeous. It’s the love of me for boy, you’re gorgeous, and you’re lovely, my sweetie, my gorgeous boy…
Sounds like a cherry tree streaming with blossoms that you stand under like a shower and catch all the small pieces in your hair, a pink river breaks over your head and in your eyes, running in air, on streams of cool breeze, the smell of tiny sweet blossoms catching in your throat. You sink to the ground and lie there, a snowangel of blossom all around you, and small dogs, other peoples, come to gallop up and smell you, little park eohippus’s. Cherish the pie, that Agent Cooper always paused to eat, before he was lost to his double and did not cherish anymore. The tartness of cherries, the soft click of the fork against the plate as you push down on the crust and break through with a soft give, against the pastry and through to the cherries inside; the push out, oozing sweetness and the capabilities of cooks. Somewhere, someone stands smiling as you break through that sugar crust, and they watch you as Maggie Gyllenhal watched Will Ferrel learn to love sweet things – glorying in imperfection and getting away from tax and columns. Did you see that film?
Cherish the cherry pie, and streaming blossoms of spring. This is your life.
This is Fry leaping from the earliest of ages. When he was a tiny baby, this is him being held upright in my arms and trying very hard to jump up and down. This is him being sturdy in the face of the storm that whipped his face when we were going home. This is him jumping up and down to this day whenever he feels excited about something. This is him jumping and then that Star Wars model of Stanley’s falls off the shelf and crashes sadly to the floor and looks like a dead body. We are all gobsmacked and Fry lays sadly on the sofa and wants to go home because he feels so bad. Stanley, being Stanley, gets over it quite quickly, when I promise to buy him another one when I can. Fry jumping while I watch his vids and tell him he’s very good, smiling hugely and saying, ‘I feel like God!’ as I watch the latest one for the tenth time, because it really is very good.
This is 2 things. Firstly, it’s a small Irish woman with her black hair in a loose bun, wiping the surface of her kitchen clear of crumbs, after her family has finished eating the freshly baked bread, still warm, that she served them. Now her children are running in the countryside outside, squealing through the fields. She finished wiping and sits in a slant of sunlight, by the table, smiling softly to herself, tired but full of contentment. The next batch of bread raises in the corner, covered with a dishcloth; the last in the oven.
The 2nd thing is a catholic girl sitting quietly in a pew in church, her head bent. She is covered with one of those little black lace mantillas. Her head is lowered reverentially, her hands clasped loosely together before her. Her mouth moves soundlessly and she fingers the rosary, beads flying past her fingers. She is beyond a stereotype, she is a dream of a piety that someone somewhere wishes would exist. In my mind she is the beginning, likely, of something dangerous and unthinking. The little Irish woman in her kitchen is far beyond her in terms of what I consider grace.
This is the land of 70s childhood with Geoffrey and Bungle. This is me wearing little orange trouser suits that my mother has sewn for me, and eating little bowls of frosties with a teaspoon (as I still do, except I eat crunchy nut cornflakes or Special K now – but still the teaspoon!).
Its me dreaming about the first part of the Lands that I ever invented – where unicorns ran freely, in my secret valley, topped always, by a rainbow, sitting softly in the sky, over all, over the verdant greenness of the earth, turned always by the heels of the unicorn as they move through, always on their way somewhere before returning to the spot where they gather, whinnying, stroking each others necks with their noses. Never scared at my approach and always happy to see me.
This is an old word – it’s the Fantastic 5, sweet mildewy smelling books from crumply and dusty second hand bookshops in Worthing. Its old comics with Pow and Kapow and Kazaamm and lots of exclamation marks. For some reason it’s the bracing early morning seaspray and a 5 year old running along the edge of the shingle, his little fists pinwheeling. It’s a myth, a boy word.
My old first cat, an American sitcom I’ve never seen, springtime in film, springtime in life. The walk we had one long ago Saturday that went through West Ham Park – a tiny park but sweet enough (after being used to Hyde Park and Kensington gardens it felt more like a very big back yard than a park). Through to Green Street, which was like an alternative universe. It got slummier and slummier – old houses falling down almost and everything dirty and uncared for looking. People standing about looking unkempt in the middle of the pavement having patois pidgin conversations with others. People walking slowly, lots of very worn or very unfortunate looking people, ugly and breeding. Lots of contradictions – a girl with a very strict hijab hiding most of her top half as well as her head; then skinny of skinniest jeans, and red stilettos, swaggering – what’s the point, any modesty gained on the top half was lost on the bottom?! Loads of brightly coloured clothes and sari shops – I was sad I didn’t have much money and wanted to buy lots of tops that I saw. Beautiful whites, and leaf designs, sequins, but not garish. Flashes of colours; the cheapest pashminas. In one shop we stopped and Stanley bought paneer cheese, and a coconut water drink for me, that had little bits of pulp in it. It was lovely, but Stanley wanted me to throw it away as he didn’t like it. Kept showing me bins and saying, ‘throw it away, there you go’ and I kept saying, ‘but I’m not done and its lovely’. He walked hand in hand for ages, very slow, strolling, and eventually got near home again. I saw a tree in massive bloom and picked a tiny sprig of blossom off, for my altar. When I got home, and we collapsed on the sofa, I remembered it, and got up and put it there, on my Robin Hood plate.
Hope is the name of a child I once had in my head. She did colouring in while she sat in a small ball on the ground. She was very self contained, in her little Aran sweater, all of four or five years old. Little green cords, and small hands, colouring neatly in maroon and green – a big hippy sunflower – a joyful colour. In the dream of the head, the patio doors onto the garden were wide open, and the breeze coming in lifted her soft fine hair, a gentle golden colour, tipped with red sheen. She has the most perfect little skin and bones – she is all unbroken as yet, all unbroken and soon to be willowy. But for now, she is small and untouched and she is waiting for dinner, but has forgotten about it. I make scrambled eggs in the kitchen and watch her though the door, as she sits bent over the colouring, humming to herself some slightly tuneless song but which I vaguely recognize. She hears a bird in the garden and her head cocks like a cat, but she doesn’t really look up. It swings softly back to her work, and bends over it slightly more. She is absorbed; it’s in the angle of her shoulders and the way her little knees are locked there. The eggs are ready and I stand full in the doorway, smelling the air from beyond the garden. It is coastal air, we are up on a hill, and down lower, glistening with all its cold and salty promise, is the sea in summer, waiting, always there and always patient. I look over at the sofa, and see towels from earlier, when we went paddling.
This is an alternative life I never lived, where I am (where am I?) down in Dorset, or Cornwall, and I sing with the breeze in the mornings. My man will come home soon, and I might be sketching in the garden, while Hope sleeps on the sofa. He’ll come back mellow, because the work was satisfying, and he feels good about it, and that is usually the way for him with an absorbing project. I’ll hear him come in, and I’ll try again to capture the line of the fence leading out to the meadow beyond, and for the thousandth time, I’ll think how lucky I am, how incredibly lucky I am. We steal out of the room, to not wake Hope, and go and lie together upstairs on the bed. We smile at each other and just hug. Soon Hope wakes as we are just dozing off, and she comes and lies between us, and we smile at her and hold our arms over her; we all sleep, and soon the cat wanders in and twines herself around our feet too.
The day is dying slowly and hope ate her eggs. It’s a peaceful world and we are charmed to live it.
Next part in this series - my list of beautiful words, and some freewrites on those.