I’m having a lying fallow day. Just past midsummer and the hillside swelters. Further down the hill the Grockles staying at the various caravan sites are sweltering too, but they’re paying for it. I wonder whether they are paddling their lacquered toenails in the sea right now, pushing their pushchairs to the one and only shop to buy their ciggies and tins of marrowfat peas, feeding the slot machines in the arcade or simply and very sensibly loafing in or around their temporary homes. That’s what you ‘pays yer money’ for after all – permission to loaf in the sun.
Outside on a series of wonky clothes-airers my washing has been dried to a crisp in less than an hour. I will have to bring it in – mañana or more accurately más tarde, when it’s cooler, since if I were to leave it out all night it might get rained on. I am marooned atop my naked duvet (not, you will note, marooned naked atop my duvet, the cover of which happens to be draped over one of those clothes airers in the garden) with this seized-up spine of mine. The only movement is from my net curtains which ruffle from time though there is no hint of a breeze. All over the house my rescued cats are dozing; ginger cats and black cats, tabby cats, purblind cats, bony old cats and widdly cats. I am in pain, therefore I am lying fallow.
It seems to be a day for feeling second rate, though not in any life-threatening sense. A bug or – more likely, to be honest – a giant tumblerful of ice-cold apple juice from the container in the fridge, has turned my insides to water, so I am reclining within a wince-and-hobble of the loo. This reminds me of the famous poem by William Carlos William about the plums in the icebox. He knows she was saving them but he has eaten them all nonetheless; somehow one knows he is writing to a she; if it were a man he would never have laid a finger on them:
they were delicious
and so cold
And it was, the apple juice: sweet, cold and deadly to my digestive system. Past experience has failed to deter me from drinking the amber nectar; Pooh must have got his head stuck in the honeypot more than once, don’t you think? So, I lie here on my bed in the afternoon, rearranging myself at intervals as one set of muscles or another decides to cramp, surrounded by half-read books, scribbled-on green refill pads and the aforesaid somnolent cats.
There is something about pain that seems to give one permission to drift and think fey, non-utilitarian thoughts. I suppose physical discomfort may produce its own natural opium, the effect of which is to release strange fancies from the subconscious mind. My unconscious mind has always been but a sparrow-hop to the left, not so much a state of mind as another country, one that will come calling on me if I give it half a chance. The unconscious requires an invitation, a gentle, smiling sidling up to, but that is all. After a narrow escape which inexplicably fails to end in disaster, pilots are rumoured to say Thank you Jesus, I have control. Accessing your unconscious is kind of the reverse of that; you have to switch off the words part of your brain first which, especially for a writer, is a bit like letting go of the yoke of an aeroplane.
I am only at the beginning of learning my unconscious’s language. He speaks to me in pictures not in words. This afternoon, drifting, I asked him if he would care to send me something – anything at all (you must be respectful) and there, in my mind’s eye, was a tiny picture of a baby. You’re kidding! A baby, at my age? Is this some kind of annunciation? And then comes the click-over into Lateral. Begin. Babies are beginnings. Unconscious follows up with a young boy in a garden, in shorts, and then a young man in a schoolyard in long trousers. Yes, he pictures, we begin and we go on.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. Perhaps I’m writing for the only magazine whose readers might recall, as I do, listening to Listen with Mother on the BBC Home Service. The nice lady was always anxious to know if teddy was with you. If not, Mummy must go and get him! It was an occasion for settling into exhausted Mummy’s lap followed by a blissful period of thumb-sucking, hair-twining engrossment. There must have been stories, though I remember none of them now. The Nice Lady always sang See Saw, Margery Daw in an ethereal, Queenly voice and man sang Thou shall hev a fishy on a little dishy/ Thou shall hev a salmon when the boooot comes in in what I imagined to be a Scottish accent. I was only three.
You see, there’s always more than one strand to an unconscious mind communiqué. It’s the picture, it’s the picture’s lateral meaning/personal symbolism and it’s all those resonances trailing along behind the picture like Wordsworth’s clouds of glory. In a nanosecond your unconscious will show you something that, if you were writing him (or her – if you’re a man, your subconscious may ‘feel’ female) a letter, would take fifteen minutes.
It is one of the joys of enforced fallow-lying that one’s creative mind gets a chance to slip off the shackles of common sense and shopping lists. Your mind goes into overdrive. The only rule when lying fallow is to keep paper and pencils beside you, since saying hello to the subconscious is neural equivalent of a lifting a rotary from a bowl of Victoria Sponge Mix. Subconscious turns the handle and gobbets of short story, excellent essay titles (unfortunately without excellent essays attached) half an idea here, half an idea there, childhood memories, connections between thoughts, new thoughts and bits of old poems come flying out in all directions.
You may get the urge to find and re-read a certain book; maybe a few pages from Letters from Hamnavoe by George MacKay Brown to remind you of a simpler, nicer life on a less caravan-infested island than this one. Or maybe that mysterious poem Renascence by Edna St. Vincent Millay – now, which dog-eared anthology was that in last time you stumbled upon it? If you have paper and pencils strewn artistically around your loafing/fallow-lying/suffering place you will be able to make a Note to Self instead of trying to lever yourself upright.