The Bridge

Still snowed in and woefully unvisited, but now freezing rain on top. Still one-finger typing as desktop banjaxed. Sigh! It does tend to turn one philosophical.

So here goes. Small amount of dense New Age stuff coming up. Won’t take offence if you tune out and opt for daytime TV instead.

Do you believe in Other Lives? I believe I do, as far as it is possible to believe anything when you have no way of knowing. I’ve never been big on Faith but I suppose I do rely on instinct -that internal tuning.

Somewhat suss, of course, that believing seems to become more urgent the older I get. As a teenager at the Methodist I couldn’t help noticing that two thirds of our congregation were elderly ladies, their quavery descants far outweighing those few bass voices. Someone remarked then that people tend to return to religion when they start to get scared of what is or might be to come.

The most  acceptable explanation of Life, Death, the Universe and all that, that I have found so far, is The Michael Teachings. These are [claimed to be] channeled through receptive humans from a collective of advanced souls known, at its own suggestion, as Michael. There are other such entities – Seth, for one.

The Teachings say that human essences (souls) are tiny sparks of consciousness cast out by the Tao/God, in its immense and restless creativity. We/It are here, temporarily, on this lowest plane – the physical – to learn through lives we selected and partly designed in advance, to suit our spiritual purposes. The most relevant of the lessons we learn are recorded, by our essence, which survives beyond the death of the body and this life’s chosen personality.

The idea is that this all enriches God, or that the Tao/God becomes conscious of itself/experiences itself through us – those little sparks. Without us there would be no It, and without It no us. We strive, through many lifetimes of struggle, to reunite ourselves with God, or if you like to remember what we are, and have always been.

There’s no way of knowing, of course, you just have to follow your inner compass.

I must say, at this point, that there is a whole lot of human-originating ‘tosh’ piggy-backing on the Michael Teachings – or so it ‘feels’ to me. Stuff about planetary influences, soul ages, precise numbers of lives and a hierarchy of spiritual planes, body types and personality ‘overleaves’ of which I am deeply suspicious. It’s a bit like a game of Chinese Whispers, with every channel adding his or her own little human obsession and peculiarity to it – or that’s what it ‘feels’.

You may notice this if you read The Michael Handbook (Stevens and Warwick-Smith), which is a good introduction, though it gets too specific for my liking as it goes on. This is the problem I have with it -it reminds me of the husband of a friend, who spent his whole life designing train timetables for British Rail and was one of the dullest chaps I ever met.

I can’t believe that God would get bogged down in so much tedious detail, or would bother to catalogue and label things like some Victorian biologist. God ‘feels’ fluid to me, like something boiling and churning with joy, or delight, or creativity – yes, something playing.

So, other lives. My feeling, along with Michael, is that all lives are happening at once, but also enternally – this is not difficult to conceive of  once you ditch the idea of time as anything but a convenient illusion – and that some part of us has remained behind – or exists in parallel – and is observing all of these lives. What happens in one life may influence what happens in another, or many others. We may be able to move between lives at will, or choose to live some ‘future’ lives in what seems, from here, to be the past.

And maybe this cycle goes on and on for ever, though you could choose not to reincarnate once your work was done. For when would God/ the Tao ever cease to create?

Increasingly, as I get older, I have an unsettling sense that my this-life memories are being rifled through, and not by ‘me’ -scanned, but so fast I can only get a vague sense of it. And at the same time – and the same unfollowable speed – I begin to ‘remember’ tiny flashes of lives that are not this life – faces, flying as if with wings, landscapes, battles, feelings. Lost knowledge being retrieved, fresh knowledge being recorded or ordered in some way.

To me this feels like the beginnings of a bridging process. Maybe lives are not suddenly cut off or suddenly created but blend seamlessly into one another, with sometimes a rest or transition period in between. So, at the end of our lives there begins a gentle preparation – by some inaccessible part of us – for the Change. What we have learned is retrieved and re-ordered; what we ‘forgot’when we arrived here begins to return, in minute glimpses.

And at the beginning of the next life, in babyhood, the reverse process -a gentle forgetting of our origins and purpose; a clearing of the decks and a restructuring so that a new life’s learning can begin.

Phew! Cup of tea and sandwich definitely required at this point!

Post McEwan Stress Disorder

This picture is from tiny card my mother once sent me. The message inside is mundane:

Monday, 2pm

I received your letter. Went over to the garage. Explained about little red spanner [Skoda’s irritating ‘service due’ warning light].

They can deal with little red spanner ie: take it off so that it won’t be a nuisance any more.

I left the key with them. It will soon be dealt with.

Love, Mum XXX

It felt a bit creepy reading this so-ordinary and long-forgotten message from Mum’s earlier self, but it was nice to see her handwriting, and to see that all the full stops were once again in the right place, the ‘i’s all meticulously dotted and the ‘t’s all crossed. The style’s clumsy for her, though – ‘it’ must already have begun at that point, and I didn’t realise.

It was a long drawn out and horrible Flowers For Algernon process, for us both, first watching her handwriting decline and then her mind refusing to tell her what to write in letters to friends, and her desperate strategies to keep doing so: the sudden change to writing in pencil – I bought her a whole box of 2Bs and a desktop pencil-sharpener which neither of us could then fasten to the desk; the endless, obsessive process of rubbing out bits of sentences and trying again; the rewriting of entire letters; the asking me to check them before she posted them.

I have a little nightmare of the same thing happening to me one day – and not realising – and gibberish appearing in this blog, and either no one telling me (and who would want to be the one to do that?) or everyone just Unfollowing. Oh, God save us from an unknown future.

I found Mum’s butterfly card in one of my books. Being lazy and using everything from letters to bus tickets to torn-off pieces of cereal packet does have its upside. You never know what little treasure you might to come across when you get round to tidying your books. I also found a lot of bookmarks from a particular second-hand bookseller.

Every time you order a second-hand book from them, no matter if it only cost 99p, they include a nice cardboard bookmark with a design submitted by a reader. And they are excellent bookmarks (they must have many graphic artists among their readers) and also an excellent selling point. It works with me anyway: I always look down the list and see if I can get the book from them rather than any of the alternatives, out of sheer bookmark-greed.

I notice a preponderance of the black-and-white-one-with-the-many-skulls. I remember, in fact, them sending me three black-and-white skull bookmarks inside a single ancient paperback one time, and picturing some poor, bored school-leaver on work-experience in an office on an industrial estate, fishing for the umpteenth time into a plastic bin full of pretty bookmarks and flinging in whatever happened to come out. I wonder if they do swapsies?

And now, by the magic of technology and a lot of messing about with fancy filters I am able to use Mum’s little butterfly card in a post. Mum would have been horrified, not at the idea per se but at the prospect of me attempting to explain it to her. Her eyes would glaze over the minute I started on about my computer: Mum was very good at un-listening, as no doubt most Mums are.

Why am I going on about butterflies? Well, I was going to use this picture as an illustration for the next Books From My Bookcase item. This was going to be a debut collection of short stories called A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies by John Murray (2004). The book leapt out at me because it is one of two physically beautiful books I possess, the other one being the hardback first edition of How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff – the one with the gorgeous red flowers. Hang on, lets try to find it:

how i live cover

The above doesn’t do it justice. Bits of it (the leaves) are all shiny and lit up – sorry, metallicised – can’t find it in the dictionary but sure it’s a real word – metallized just wont do! – and bits of it are left matt. And Tropical Butterflies is yellow and brown and kind of fusty-Victorian-looking, and inside there is a bonus – an extra sheet – what do you call that? – the front paper – with a glossy version of the same yellow cover, a delightful little shock when you open it.

Now, later on in life, I understand why I married an artist. I thought it was only an unhappy childhood and alternative brain-wiring we shared but it was also an eye for beauty. In another life, maybe, I shall be a  collector of objects d’art Maybe I can go back (since I doubt that ‘lives’ are in chronological order) to the 17th Century and be a man (makes life easier, always) and have a cabinet of curiosities full of wonderful and mysterious things that I can show off to callers. Or maybe I’ve already had that life.

Rats.

In any case, having found A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies I realised I had only in fact read a few little bits of it. The short stories look good, if a mite challenging. They certainly got good reviews:

“John Murray’s stories are a genuine cultural breakthrough… adventures of the mind, and rich in human feeling, true departures from any other known fiction.” Muriel Spark

I think I read a little bit of one and had uncomfortable flashbacks to Ian McEwan. I had a really bad experience with his macabre short story collection The Cement Garden (1978). Every one of those tales frightened the living daylights out of me. Never been the same since. Post McEwan Stress Disorder.

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One Long Frog

‘First swallow your frog’ used to be one of my favourite mottoes. In other words, at the beginning of each day tackle that one task you want to do about as much as swallowing a live frog. However, it seems to me that the older you get the more frogs seem to string themselves together until some days seem to be One Long Frog.

Take the other day, for instance: mammogram; long wait to see a doctor about a persistent cough; chest x-ray. And I only had tooth x-rays the day before. Won’t I be radioactive? Or are mammograms some other sort of wave and/or particle? Long bus journey there. Long bus journey back.

And tomorrow? One Long Frog. Long bus journey to see my elderly lady. Well, I like seeing my elderly lady and she likes seeing me, but listening-and-prompting for an hour is surprisingly hard work – like job interviews – something I was good at. Good at the interview, rubbish at the job, usually.

After elderly lady? Remove scratchy ‘visitor’ dingly-dangly thing with awful photo from around neck. Speedwalk to bus stop. Catch next bus into town instead of home. No doubt will get the Smelly Person again. I never realised human beings were smelly until I started caching buses. In town, catch next train. Then another train. Then walk to Mum’s bungalow to meet a person called Peter from a removal firm. Person called Peter is going to pack up a whole bunch of Ex’s paintings and prints and drive them and me back home. Thank goodness. At least I haven’t got to brave the school bus, this time.

While he’s making the Works of Art damp- and rodent-proof – for who knows how long they will now be languishing in my garage? – I have to pack up Nan’s blue tea set. That’s the only thing I’m ‘rescuing’ before the house is cleared – by someone called Gavin, or was it Steven? – and Mum’s lifetime possessions, and all my lifetime memories, get driven off and distributed around the local charity shops.

To be honest, I don’t know which is worse – seeing Ex’s painting again and being reminded of Ex – because the paintings are the person – or seeing Mum’s house half empty, and that garden – her life’s passion and obsession – merely mown. Just sort of kept under control until the new owners or, as seems more likely, the bulldozers move in.

I always promised myself I wouldn’t go back, after that last traumatic/humiliating day/night when Mum was marched off to hospital, sandwiched between two burly ambulance-men. ‘Worst part of my job, this is’ one of them told me. But there’s no avoiding it. I’ve had my orders.

However, I remind myself of what happened with Nan and Grandad’s bungalow, in the same street. After they died Mum insisted I went along there with her. I was young(ish) then and had never seen a cleared house before. Nothing of Nan and Grandad remained: empty rooms smelling of linseed oil where someone had been fixing the windows. That house meant so much to me and it had never, ever, occurred to me that one day its whole shabby-familiar insides, together with Nan and Grandad, could just be gone. I hated Mum for taking me along there. I hated her businesslike mood.

‘Don’t you miss Nan?’ I asked her.

‘Oh, I’ve shed a tear or two, when I’ve been on my own.’

Shed a tear or two. Is that what you say about your own mother? But I knew what she was doing: brushing it under the carpet, setting it aside, saving it for later when I wasn’t there. Self defence.

That night I dreamed myself back in that house. I was standing in the empty kitchen and Grandad hurried past. I tried to talk to him but he couldn’t seem to see me. It was as if I was the ghost. And outside a sea of daisies pushed their way up through the lawn in that clever, punning way that subconscious daisies have.

For a long time I couldn’t see anything else but that empty, linseed-smelling house. It overlaid every childhood memory. My past had been removed. But gradually, over the years, the house as I had known it returned. I realised I could revisit it at any stage in its history, and myself in any stage of mine. All its past incarnations were still there, and so were mine.

And so I hope that gradually, after tomorrow’s final visit to Mum’s house, the colours of the past and all those lost versions of me will start to surface again. Finality and emptiness will be just one version.

Now out fly the little demons

I have no idea who Godot actually was, have you? But Vladimir and Estragon were waiting for him. Waiting, waiting, waiting… It’s how I feel today – as if Godot, in all his multifarious forms, is never going to arrive, and I haven’t even got a fellow-tramp to grumble with.

I’m waiting for WordPress to email me back with the solution to my ‘no links’ problem. They promise twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Suspect even if they do email me I will neither be able to comprehend nor implement their solution, but you never know.

Waiting…

This morning I phoned a firm I used to work for (twice) and asked them if they would take me back for a ‘third term’. I know they are likely to say no, and it has taken me the best part of a week to muster the courage to even phone them. But – can’t afford to leave any stone unturned. You owe it to the cats, I told myself. Not that the cats care. Anyway, now I’ve gone and done it.

And I’m waiting…. and it’s thirteen minutes past two…

Human Resources need to check round various different departments. I am thinking maybe check round various different departments is HR code for no, but we’re too kind to say so; we will say no later today; or maybe we just won’t call you back so that you can surmise that’s what we probably meant? Or does it in fact mean we need to check round various different departments?

So I’m waiting….

And I’m doing what most people do while they are waiting – trying to get on with other stuff. I watched half a repeat of Stargate but remembered the plot so well I turned off the TV. I plodded through a big heap of ironing. Well, that’s done now… I got an idea for a post and here I am writing it.

Well, that’s good…that’s…positive…

We spend so much of our lives on hold, don’t we? At the moment we are waiting for the Referendum, which is Thursday. I get a postal vote and voted weeks ago but still, I’m waiting…

Until today I was telling myself Que Sera, Sera. My one little vote isn’t going to decide things. Who’d want that responsibility? Que sera, sera – but I am starting to be afraid. Whatever the outcome, by the end of this week things will be altered.

Half of the population will be jubilant. The losing half will be furious and will never forget that the winning half opposed them, and won. Either half may decide to consume all the lager they can lay hands on, wrap flags round their stupid shoulders and riot semi-naked in midsummer streets. We seem to be good at that.

The losing half will lose faith in the democracy they totally took for granted up to this point, and the losing half will spend the next ten years blaming the winning half for Every Single Thing that goes wrong with Anything and Everything, from Friday forward, whether related to Europe or not. We will never hear the last of it.

They gave us this choice – that’s democracy. They shouldn’t have given us the choice, that’s the political and psychological reality of the thing. They opened the little wooden casket: now out fly the little demons.

Waiting… My mother is waiting to die. We visited her yesterday and found her in a wheelchair, too weak to stand or even rearrange herself in the chair once the carers lowered her into it. She had spilt porridge and water all over the place and had just been changed yet again. Grey-faced and distracted, she can no longer speak and no longer looks at us. I write our names on the white-board. She stares at it in terror.

She stares out of the window, hoping that a bird or a squirrel might land on the boundary fence. Sometimes she points at the boundary fence, but we but we can’t see what she’s seeing. Her hands shake. Her nails have grown long, like claws. I can’t help her and she can’t help herself. Even the carers can’t help her, only change her, lift her, feed her and bring her beakers of cranberry juice.

It kind of puts paid to my theory of souls. Until this last thing happened to Mum I chose to console myself with the belief that we designed our own life, between lives, when we were again souls. We passed on what we had learned from our past life, rested for a while and then gradually became aware of what we still needed to learn; with help from the wise ones we chose our next incarnation. And down we came, flutter-flutter-flutter, into our new bodies, to continue the eternal learning process. But what can this day-to-day, hour-to-hour, week-to-week suffering possibly be teaching her? What possible purpose is there in being like she is now?

Waiting… waiting… Learning to wait.

waiting 2

The Life of Laura

I’ve been reading A Life Discarded – a biography by Alexander Masters. I haven’t finished it yet: 84% through, according to the Kindle.

I think I’ve mentioned this before. Masters’ friends, Dido and Richard, happen to be passing a skip in Cambridge one day and discover 148 discarded diaries, some randomly scattered, many packed into an old Ribena bottle box. He delays and delays; Dido gets very, very sick; Richard has a terrible accident and is paralysed, and because our biographer is superstitious and feels there may be some message, some code to be discovered in the order in which they were found, it takes him years even to put the books into chronological order. Over the years he has discovered the writer is female, and that her name is Laura. With the diaries in order he discovers several more things:

that the sequence, although stretching from 1952 to the day on which Dido and Richard made their discovery, is not complete. He has in his possession thousands and thousands of words of an obsessive, voluminous diary-writer’s diary, but only a fraction of the whole;

that the diaries had been tossed into the skip by builders the day Laura was evicted from a house where she had been ‘imprisoned’ as a housekeeper for much of her middle and older age, on the death of her employer – maybe only hours before Dido and Richard had found them;

that Laura, though now an old lady, is still alive.

That’s the bones of it – the mystery/adventure story behind Laura’s own story; poor, valiant Laura of the squandered life and the lost ambitions, recording a whole lifetime of neurotic fears, artistic ambitions, failure on almost every front; poverty, boredom, loneliness and television watching.

She doesn’t read back what she has written – all those hours and hours a day of obsessive scribbling – which is how, when he finds her, she is surprised that the diaries were even missing. She does not read back at all; she writes and writes ‘to protect her brain’ as her biographer puts it – to knock the words out of it, to eliminate wretched thoughts. Diary-keeping means she fails to practice the piano, her drawing, or to write anything else. It ‘gobbles up’ her talent. She briefly goes to Art School. She works in a library and gets sacked. Then she gets sacked from a string of other, mostly housekeeping jobs. Because she does not read the diaries back she never does come to understand why. Decade after weary decade she does this one, ritual activity, but can study/focus on nothing else.

I must say although it’s an intriguing story I did often wish that Alexander Masters would but out and just let me read the diaries. I got a bit fed up with him and his clever-clever detective work (like working out her height from the slant of her letters, and calling in psychics and detectives to read the vibes) although of course we must be grateful to him for seeing the potential in Laura’s diaries at all, and saving her ‘life’ for posterity. He’s a skilled and entertaining writer – if he wasn’t, he and Laura would have been consigned to the Cloud well before now – it’s just – he isn’t a woman, he isn’t a failure and he isn’t of that generation. I found myself wishing to read the diaries themselves rather than all those teensy-weensy, out of sequence extracts.

I suppose what I’m trying to get around to, and avoiding getting round to, is why I felt I had to read this particular book, out of so many, and what I have learned from it – which is unpleasant, though not unexpected. Unlike Laura, I do read back what I write. I do analyse. And I don’t just write to bang the words out of my head, although that’s part of it. It is medicine, writing. Not therapy – there we are straying into Self-Obsessed, Dire and Totally Unreadable territory.

So, I could see the parallels – the lack of focus, the constant distraction; the woolly-minded, unemployable dreaminess… a thread of it does rather seem to run in my family. One of my sisters is like it, like me – the other not at all. My mother was an odd mixture of both – steely, unimaginative practicality but cursed with what my father used to call her Butterfly Mind.

Butterfly Minds can be useful, however. Not for life – oh no, not for life – but for writing, journalism, some kinds of inventing. It’s like being a magpie in a world full of shiny, interesting things – a magpie in an infinite junkshop, maybe. Everything is equally fascinating, infinitely strange. Nothing can be ignored or left to rot, quietly. And so we hop (or flutter, if you’re still stuck on the butterfly imagery) from one heap of junk to another – examining; pulling out a thread of tinsel here; picking up broken pottery; finding lost earrings. What’s this? How does it work? Oooh, this would look nice in my nest…

With that kind of mind you need a hefty dose of guidance (‘support’ as they call it nowadays) and she didn’t get it. I didn’t, either. You can almost hear her un-supported-ness, as she tells you about boiling up the stalks of sprouts, which she got cheap at the supermarket; fretting about Michael Barrymore and his troubles or fantasising about being a concert pianist when she’s too old, nowhere near good enough and doesn’t practice. She needs looking after. No one looks after her.

diary of discoveries

Diary of Discoveries by Vladimir Kush – (banana painting also by Kush)

But it did make me think about such fruitless, frustrating lives. Are they really wasted? Sometimes we spend our lives trying to create one thing but actually, unwittingly, creating something else. People are often remembered, not for what they thought was important, but for something else entirely, a thing they didn’t value.

It did remind me about the returning and recycling of souls, and how they are said to plan, before entering into a new existence, the life they need to lead, in order to learn what they need to learn. When they return to the ‘centre’ they take with them what they have learned, the ways that they have grown, and they leave behind traces in other human lives, unpredictable consequences. So, it’s nothing as crude as saying – though of course, it might be – this must be my lifetime for being a quadriplegic, or spending twenty-five years in an iron lung; this is the lifetime for falling off a cliff and discovering what it feels like to fly through salt-laden air and land in a mangled heap on the rocks below; this is my lifetime for barefoot scavenging on slum waste-heaps and hoping not to get stuck by discarded needles.

But it might well be – this is my life for failure and tedium; for unrealised dreams; for feeling fat, boiling up cauliflower stalks and failing to clean out the fridge; for physically loathing my employer yet staying with him till he dies and I am summarily thrown onto the streets; for actually caring about Jeux Sans Frontières or Michael Barrymore. This is how I progress. This is what I learn. This is the path less travelled; a day’s excursion; a small detour in a far, far longer journey. This is what I leave behind, and may other people see what I did not.

This is part of where I’m going.

The Phoenix Fire Mystery

Reincarnation: do you believe in it?

I used to haunt my local library, and I found this enormous hardback book called Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery (Cranston & Head, 1977).  I booked it out so many times in succession that I might as well have kept it. When eventually they decided to “modernise” the library, the book – along with a good third of the books in the library, it seemed – disappeared, during one of the days I had foolishly let it out of my keeping, to be replaced by a whole lot of tacky music cassettes. I was cross about that. All the times I’d thought about stealing ‘my’ beloved old friend Reincarnation, and never did because my conscience wouldn’t let me – and then they throw it out to make room for – not-books, for dross. It was at that point I gave up on public libraries altogether, and thankfully soon after it became possible to order books online.

Which is where I got the equally enormous paperback copy that sits on the desk beside me now.

Sometime after we divorced, my husband told a mutual friend that I had Got Religion around this time – one reason he was glad to see the back of me. There were many reasons he could have cited for being glad to see the back of me – looking back, even I’d even have been glad to see the back of me – but he was wrong about that one. I didn’t Get Religion then, and I still haven’t. I started thinking for myself around then, and searching for answers. The search goes on.

I remember one summer’s afternoon, sitting on the back step of our house. He was down the garden in his workshop constructing something intricate and splendid involving lathes and drills, and I was just… sitting on the step, thinking about reincarnation… and something suddenly clicked. It was… you know like if you mesh your two hands together in front of your face…?  Something fitted together, precisely. Something felt absolutely right, at last. And that was reincarnation. I just knew it was right, not through any intellectual process but as if retrieving an ancient memory. It fitted with that feeling I had since a child, that the past is not something irretrievably gone, but all around us still. I felt my ancestors, and strangers, and scenery long vanished – beside me. I knew time was an illusion, but I didn’t know how.

Over the years I have read more, in different fields – testing it – trying to find something that would be an antidote to that unreasonable, unscientific certainty – but only seem to have stumbled across more and more things that fit with it. It now seems to me that the traditional Eastern idea of reincarnation is a simplified version of an unimaginably complex reality. I think there is more to it than amassing good karma and bad karma, and the possibility of coming back as a worm/slug/dung-beetle if we misbehave, or working one’s way up to some kind of disembodied semi-angelic status if we’re really, really good.

My sense is that when we die, we leave our used-up physical bodies behind, obviously, but then maybe rest between lives. And during that between-lives period we design, assemble or are irresistibly drawn back into, another life, depending on what we next need to learn; the ‘life after life’ pattern being an extended learning or growing process. I think we are ‘sent out’ – or maybe even fling ourselves joyfully out – from our source – like flares from the sun – and we ‘return’ – or maybe sink gratefully back – to our source; and that in returning we bring with us what we have learned – so that the source is enriched and in a small way modified by everything we have seen, experienced and suffered.

I don’t see ‘That’ as anything that can be named; or as in any way static, but rather as  a something continually and violently in motion – boiling, like the sun – always rearranging, realigning and reconfiguring. I see human creativity – that surge of joy that happens when a poem line comes to you, or you when you paint a picture just right, or capture the photo – as a fizzy foretaste, a pale, just-bearable echo of what it is to be That – the violence, the frightening creativity, the rage, the restless urge for change, the passion to bring into existence Something from Nothing.

Getting Religion, I suspect, would have been the easier option!

Though all dies, and even the gods die, yet all death is but a phoenix fire death, and new birth into the Greater and Better.

Thomas Carlyle

What’s Going On, Mrs Robinson?

You know that scene in The Graduate where bewildered Ben (Dustin Hoffman) finds himself high up in a chapel behind a glass window, desperately trying to interrupt that dull little Elaine’s wedding before it’s too late? He’s hammering and hammering on the glass but no one seems to hear him. Soon after my own wedding I had a dream similar to that. My window dream was this: I was standing high up in a giant, modernistic airport or railway station, looking down at crowds of people walking fast and mostly, it seemed, in one direction, on the level beneath. Suddenly I saw my husband, walking with them, but I knew he would never be able to hear me through the glass. I watched helplessly as he walked on and disappeared and I was left with a sense of panic and sadness.

So, you are saying – that’s pretty obvious – her Unconscious knew she was making a mistake even as she made it. Unconscious was trying to tell her that she and this man were destined to be isolated from one another, always, walking on two different levels and never able to overcome the communication barrier between them. I refer you to a poem I wrote some years later when Conscious, belatedly, had got the message.

I believe Jung put forward the idea that one’s Unconscious is likely to be oppositely-gendered to one’s conscious self. Certainly, mine is male. Jung’s “Philemon” was enviably classical and elaborate. He seemed as much a psychoanalytical colleague as a Guide to the Underworld and – puzzlingly – was a ‘he’, as was Jung:

Philemon was a pagan and brought with him an Egypto-Hellenic atmosphere with a Gnostic colouration. His figure first occurred to me in the following dream.

There was a blue sky, like the sea, covered not by clouds but by flat brown clods of earth… Suddenly there appeared from the right a winged being sailing across the sky. I saw that it was an old man with the horns of a bull. He held a bunch of four keys, one of which he clutched as if he were about to open a lock. He had the wings of a kingfisher with its characteristic colours…

They held interesting discussions together:

In my fantasies I held conversations with him, and he said things which I had not consciously thought. For I observed clearly that it was he who spoke, not I. He said I treated thoughts as if I generated them myself, but in his view thoughts were like animals in the forest, or people in a room, or birds in the air.

Jung: Memories, Dreams, Reflections: Confrontation with the Unconscious

I can also ‘see’ – or at any rate dream of – my own Unconscious sometimes. He tends to be wearing a long, black coat like Sherlock Holmes. Sometimes we walk together on a beach under a black sky. Somewhere in the distance is a power station (haven’t yet worked out why). A dark sea laps against a pebbly shore and an alternative ‘me’ seems to be rising up out of the water, like Venus on the half-shell (only plainer). Sometimes he is walking up ahead a way. Sometimes he is in a cottage in the middle of a forest. It is night, as usual.  He is putting logs on the fire and peering into the flames. I never see his face. He never looks directly at me and yet I am not afraid of him. I feel I must address him with courtesy and not expect too much; I request, knowing that he may choose not to comply; I question, knowing that there may be only silence. We are like nations, hitherto at war. We need each other, if we are to go forward. At the moment we are engaged in negotiating an exchange of prisoners across a mist-shrouded border.

He uses pictures rather than words, the man in the black overcoat. I struggle – though less so as time goes on – to ‘catch’ his images as they flicker across my consciousness – and to interpret them. For instance – I’d been mulling over that sense of existing ‘on the borders’ between one world and another, as described (with some difficulty) in Strange stars appear in our skies. As I fell asleep I think I had been asking him for help, for more clarity about his side of the border.

I woke up suddenly with an image of stars – weird, huge stars, a bit like stars on top of a Christmas tree. Then it occurred to me that they were the stars from Van Gough’s painting The Starry Night which I had chosen to illustrate Strange stars. It was like he was saying “Beginning…” It was almost like the start of one of the legal dictation tapes I used to have to type up: We’re talking about… As if he was defining the subject. 

I pictured Starry Night once more, with a kind of question mark. Beginning? And with something like impatience the weird, huge stars flashed back twice in quick succession – “Yes, beginning!”

To be clear, I am not describing seeing things or hearing voices. (I hope not, anyway: if you hear no more from me on La Tour Abolie it may be that the Men in White Coats have arrived and carted me off in the van with the barred windows.) At no time did I see anything with my physical eyes or hear anything with my physical ears: rather, an image appeared in my mind and a meaning – after a second or two’s delay – swam up and attached itself to the image. The meaning – you seem to get to it by lateral thinking. You need to let your mind slide sideways or dance around it. It seems to me like an alternative, more sophisticated language: more comprehensive; more economical – and you’re hearing it with something other than your brain.

Sometimes I even get micro-flashes of what feel like past – or otherlives. I say other, because I suspect all lives are simultaneous. It’s almost like freeze frame. I know they’re past lives but I don’t know how I know, except that in at least one of them I have an aerial view – I’ll be swooping down a green valley, for example, and there’s a battle going on. Yet I’ve never seen such a battle, or such a valley, and I’ve never been able to fly. As far as I know….

The other thing about Subconscious is he seems to want to ‘send’ in waves. There may be months… years, sometimes… when I forget all about him and then suddenly it’s like someone battering on your mind’s door as he tries really hard to get through, or possibly reconfigure ‘updates’ silently downloaded in advance, so that they start to make sense. It’s almost like when subconscious ‘data’ arrives it’s randomised, or encoded and has to be incorporated into an overall pattern.

We’re like people from different countries, my Unconscious and I. We’re marooned on a desert island together without a dictionary. Of necessity we’re having to start from scratch by pointing at stuff and repeating – palm tree in your language, palm tree in my language, leaf in my language, leaf in your language. Cocoanut, sand, sea…

I frequently ask myself why I keep on with the writing. None of the earlier motives or explanations seem relevant now. I am never going be loved and appreciated and interviewed on intellectual TV programmes about my latest, wonderful, literary achievement. I am never going to write a best-selling novel, or any novel – and I probably never was going to because (as I now know) I don’t possess the ability to sustain that level of focus on a single project for months or years, especially when there’s no guarantee, or even likelihood, of success. As I’ve grown older I’ve sensed the skill-level increasing even as the ability – or even the desire – to grind nobly on with some literary Lost Cause or Herculean Labour, has been decreasing. I now realise I was always a butterfly, a synthesist – a finder of patterns and joiner-together of seemingly disparate things. Writing has remained the Special Interest but simply refuses to narrow itself down any further. That is the category: everything.

No point at all in continuing to write, and yet I do. And I think I do because of him – the man in the black overcoat – the one by the beach, whose face I never get to see. It’s because writing is, at the moment, still the best way for him to get through. I’m still an infant at the direct, picture-sending method of communication, but indirectly, through the writing, much more gets through, and sticks.

I have often agonised – why ever did I choose – or was I given – this writing obsession? It’s never done me any good – so what was I supposed to use it for? And the answer seems to be – it’s not for you to use it, it’s for it to use you.

venus2

 

 

 

 

 

In Antiquity

She seems to standing in the middle of the road, and experiences a sudden rush of terror. Yet there is no obvious reason for this, since the streets are utterly deserted. It is a silence like she has never heard. Where is everybody? Where have they all gone?

The shop in front of her is familiar – and yet not. It straddles the corner. Someone had done something to the pavement – it has a dip in it and there is an inset strip with bumps in it. What can that be for? And beside the shop a yellow sign with an H and some numbers. It was never there before.

Weeds grow across the door. Some kind of wire mesh inside the windows. No! How can passers-by see the goods, with that there? What is going to entice them in to buy… what will they buy? A Chinese vase – possibly Ming? Or a carved wooden elephant shipped from the furthest reaches of the Empire. The Queen herself possesses such a glorious creature, she might say. It graces the Entrance Hall at Osborne. Such a consolation to her in her widowhood. It might be true, though probably it is not. You have to paint a picture for your mark…potential purchaser. Nobody ever purchases a simple vase or a wooden elephant. Rather, they buy into the romance of Orient, or Empire.

That yellow paint around the door, the faux Grecian columns framing a door that was once purple but now seems to have been torched back to some hideous underlying scarlet. Weeds grow along the threshold. How are the customers to enter, when all is obstructed in such a fashion? It is one of the first rules of shop-keeping – the shop is a welcome haven. It must be warm, though blizzards rage outside. Unlike the street, with its chaos and ordure, the clatter of passing horses and carriages, the shop must at all times be quiet; clean and sweet-smelling. How much nicer to be inside inspecting the merchandise. Purchasing the merchandise.

Churchfields Antiques her shop is called. She remembers it now. Someone has labelled the street on the wall beside it, as if to assist her. The sign looks odd. Surely it used to have a seashell pattern at either end? Surely the lettering was fancier than that?

In her day.

And then she looks down at herself and sees that she is shorter, and that her body has become that of a little boy wearing strange-looking, little-boy clothes in place of her black bombazine. For, like Her Imperial Majesty, she found mourning – for a husband who drank himself to death ten years into a childless, loveless but profitable marriage – a convenient disguise. She examines her hands, so recently gnarled and liver-spotted, and discovers that they are little and smooth. And then she recalls the carriage, coming at such a speed, the driver screaming a warning she cannot hear and has no time to act upon, and the horses out of control…

Everything passes, she thinks. That is why they have stopped me here – whoever they are – on this winter’s day in whatever year and made me – no, made him – look.

I – she – gave her every waking moment to this shop, extracting every farthing from every foolish passer-by; hoarded junk and lied without shame as to its provenance. Those were her masterpieces, she thinks, and that was her fulfilment – the invention of the perfect story, the truly irresistible lie. She married the shop rather than its owner. She gave her life to the shop rather than him. And she died in the street outside the shop, like a dog thrown into the gutter. And now…

The wind blows in over factory roof and terrace, bringing with it a shower of sleet. The boy remembers his now-name, and the when of his present life. Fumbling in his pockets for his gloves, he drags his collar up around his ears and turns in the direction of home.

 

Write Here, Write Now

 

 

nd

Abracadabra (A New You Effective Tomorrow)

Hmm, being someone new, tomorrow, anyone in the world I wish, alive today or long ago. Hmm….

This is one of those Daily Post prompts. You’re meant to write a Post in response to the Prompt, then create a Pingback within the Post – somehow. That’s an awful lot of Ps to get one’s head around but I’ll have a go, though knowing my technological luck it’ll either fail to ping or it’ll pong instead. Another hazard of pingbacking, apparently, is self-pinging. I envisage this as some nightmarish feedback loop, my blog feeding back to my blog feeding back to my blog…

Talking of ponging. We weren’t, but it sort of ties in – I can’t help but hear the late Kenneth Williams fulsomely singing in a commercial for toilet cleaner. Kenneth Williams was a comic genius, one of those chaps you couldn’t help laughing at. But uneasily, always uneasily. A strange mixture, always: ultra-camp/scary. Anyway, a rudimentary cartoon loo, having inserted into its tank a block of a freshening product called Bloo, announces “Oooh, I feel like a New Loo.”

I wonder what it would be like if you could, though? Take some sort of magic tablet, wave some sort of wand, yell Abracadabra – and there you are all of a sudden: someone else. And maybe somewhen else.

Apologies: marginally relevant Blast from the Past.

Well, I definitely wouldn’t choose to be me again: one lifetime of me-ness has been way more than enough and if reincarnation turns out to be a kind of Groundhog Life and having to come back as the same person again and again and again until I get it right… Nooooooooo!

I’d like to be a Man, for starters. Men on the whole lead more interesting lives, and they are free in a way that women still aren’t. Still. And probably never will be. I want to lead a proper life.

And I’d like to be musical because that’s something I’m not – except in my soul. In my soul I am a great composer, I am… In reality I am the girl who could never make sense of musical notation. I got stood next to the music mistress in Assembly and told to turn the pages while she belted out some hymn or other on the piano. She knew I couldn’t read music. I’d had to report to her in the staffroom after school about not being able to read music, even. So why… ? Revenge, I suppose.

Of course I turned the pages in all the wrong places and nearly died of fear. She was bald, I remember, my music teacher. Going thin on top. And Apparently her false teeth fell out during one of her music lessons – landed with a porcelain chatter on the piano keyboard, apparently. If only they had obliged during my page-turning-assembly-humiliation, everyone might have laughed at her instead.

And if I’m going to be musical and a man I want to be Thomas Tallis, who wrote Spem in Alium, the best piece of music ever. I always wanted to meet Thomas Tallis – how much better to be him.

In which case I’ll have been born towards the close of Henry VIIIs reign and will have started out as an organist in Dover Priory, in my own county of Kent (so perhaps I am Thomas Tallis, spookily reincarnated for some unfathomable reason as a lumpy old Englishwoman). And then I’ll make music at Canterbury Cathedral (been there, done that, paid the entrance fee, investigated the souvenir shop – they won’t let you out otherwise).

Throughout my career, though ‘an unreformed Roman Catholic’ I’ll play a careful political/musical game, subtly adjusting my style to suit the tastes of four successive monarchs. Not much else is known about my life except that I will write quite a lot of the world’s most fantastic music. But what else matters apart from that?

I’ll die peacefully in my house in Greenwich in November 1585 and be buried in a church called St Alfege, the exact location of which has disappeared from the maps. My bones may be discarded by labourers when the church is rebuilt between 1712 and 1714. All that will remain of me is a brass plate upon which someone has engraved some verses so dire as to be worthy of that remarkable (and much later) Scottish poet William Topaz McGonagall:

“Entered here doth ly a worthy wyght, / Who for long tyme in musick bore the bell: / His name to shew, was THOMAS TALLYS hyght, / In honest virtuous lyff he dyd excell.

“He serv’d long tyme in chappel with grete prayse / Fower sovereygnes reygnes (a thing not often seen); / I meane Kyng Henry and Prynce Edward’s dayes, / Quene Mary, and Elizabeth oure Quene.

“He mary’d was, though children he had none, / And lyv’d in love full thre and thirty yeres / Wyth loyal spowse, whose name yclypt was JONE, / Who here entomb’d him company now beares.

“As he dyd lyve, so also did he dy, / In myld and quyet sort (O happy man!) / To God ful oft for mercy did he cry, / Wherefore he lyves, let deth do what he can.

Her mind is Tiffany twisted, she got the Mercedes bends

Well, this is going to be a post about Heaven – or at least my idea of Heaven – and I was going – rather obviously, in hindsight – to use that line from The Eagles’ Hotel California This could be heaven or it could be hell. Then I came across this other line and couldn’t resist it. How could anybody think up a line that brilliant? It’s got everything. I am lost in admiration.

What set this weird and wonderful post off? Well, I was lying on the sofa, as is my wont (what is a wont I wonder?) watching TV and half asleep. There was a cat wedged under my chin, making it impossible to turn my head – so technically I was listening to TV – another cat on what would have been my lap had I been sitting up, and third cat half on, half off of the sofa arm, reclining heavily against my bare foot. And I was thinking – it wouldn’t be Heaven without cats.

How many cats? I wondered. I concluded it would have to be every cat in the world, plus all the cats that ever had been. Heaven would not be Heaven with a single kitten or manky old stray excluded.

You would be wading through cats, I told myself.

No, myself replied. Heaven – if there is such a place – must be infinitely vast. Heaven, if cats are involved, must also have trees, and shelves, and cardboard boxes. It must have an infinite number of hidey-holes and secret places. A cat is not happy without a perching place and a hidey-hole. That would make Heaven the classic house with many mansions – a rambling, Victorian, wood-panelled, bookshelved, mouse-holed, secret-passagewayed sort of set up. It would need to be full of dusty, half-open carpet bags, broken luggage trunks with interesting, pattable metal clasps, spiderswebs to get caught in, spiders to pursue and, eventually, chew.

It would need dirty window panes through which could be glimpsed acres of rolling countryside. It would need coaches coming and going, and gardener’s boys, and at night, foxes on the lawn. It would need moss-covered statues for butterflies to alight on. It would need a moon, and starlight.

It would be a kind of indoor place with an outdoors to watch.

It would need owls, and bats. That would be for me and the multitude of cats.

It would need books and paper, and pencils, and pencil-sharpeners. That would be for me. The books would need to be old. Musty, their pages uncut for centuries. Hidden knowledge. Sleeping stories.

It would need a park, because maybe I could go outdoors sometimes. In that case it would need to be a park emptied of people. A park with broken benches and flower beds full of pansies, daisies or daffodils, according to season. There would need to be chestnut trees, and sparrows, and blackbirds, and worms for the blackbirds to tug at.

And there would need to be the sea, somewhere or other in this particular Heaven. A warm sea and an empty beach. And fishes in the sea, all colours of the rainbow. Fishes with stickle-fins and iridescent scales. Maybe a mermaid or two. Mermaids wouldn’t bother me as long as they kept their distance, as they probably would because mermaids are not very sociable.

And it would be possible to fly, of course. Who wants to be earthbound in Heaven? Maybe the cats could fly with me.

I suppose that’s it, though. That would be my Heaven. But supposing I was a cat-hater or a dog-lover? Supposing I was by nature a sociable type, the life and soul of the party? How could it be Heaven, to that person, without parties to go to, champagne to quaff, the tinkling pianos and the dancing girls? Ergo, there would need to be a separate Heaven for each of us, a self-created paradise – and maybe that is the case.

My own feeling is that we move from lifetime from lifetime in a continuous process of learning and growing. My sense is that we are God Becoming, or God Conscious. We move from lifetime to lifetime, perfecting ourselves and enhancing or enriching That of which we are fragments. Except that linear time is an illusion, so whatever it seems like, all is happening now – is happening, has happened, will happened –in a single moment. We are, in a way, angels dancing on the head of a pin.

After each life we are able to rest for a while. Then we begin to design or to be attracted back into, the next life. And maybe at some point we come to some kind of transition or translation, where rebirth becomes voluntary rather than obligatory, and we can rest for ever if we want to. We experience what we set ourselves to experience; when in life we suffer and are enraptured and all stages in between, daily, hourly, from one micro-second to the next, moving between a multitude of levels and states of being.

Which could be Heaven, or which could be Hell.

What do you think?

 

ALL SHALL BE WELL AND ALL SHALL BE WELL

I haven’t listened to Radio 4 for a while and assumed that Thought For The Day had long since ceased to be. Probably the only programmes destined to last for ever on Radio 4 – assuming Radio 4 lasts for ever – are The Archers and Desert Island Discs. However, I was mistaken. Thought For The Day is still alive and kicking, and ‘tasters’ are available here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00szxv6/clips

I often wondered how these speakers actually came by their Thoughts. Did they wake in the middle of the night before the broadcast with the whole thing mapped out in their heads? Or labour for months beforehand in wonderful, book-lined studies, with old-fashioned typewriters, surrounded by unwashed coffee cups and balled-up bits of paper?

Mostly the insights one wakes up with in the middle of the night turn out to be gibberish in the cold blue light of morn, although I did once get the Meaning of Life – or one of them – in a sudden flash. Driving down a narrow country lane (not the safest of circumstances for a Road to Damascus experience) it came to me that The Two Worlds Are One. And I still have those words, but only the vaguest of notions of what they signified. It wasn’t something you could think about, you see. It just was, it was a knowing. But of course, you can’t go around having knowings all the time. Sometimes you have to do the dishes and hang out the washing. For all but a fraction of your life, all you are likely to be able to manage is thinking.

Last night I woke up with a Thought. Only one, but here it is:

That sometimes you are powerless to forestall disaster, and that this is the hardest thing of all to get your head round. When you read books, when you see films, there’s always something the characters can do to make things right. The road out may be through Hell itself, but there always is a road out. But in real life sometimes you just have to stand back and watch the person you love rambling towards that precipice, singing a foolish little song to themselves, and knowing there isn’t going to be much left of them if they go over.

Which is quite gloomy, but then I thought – we all have many lives, and we – or our potential selves between lives – design our next lives with care, and maybe with help, so as to continue the process of learning and refinement. And so it seems to me the person wandering towards the edge intended to go over – or not, as the case may possibly be – when designing this particular life for themselves. And the person forced to watch disaster unfold also intended to be there. You intended to be there. What better lesson for the ego than that for once there should be no road out, that here is where it happens, here is where you stand and wait.

It seems to me that you and I and our small group of friends, relatives and acquaintances are involved in a kind of dance through time. We meet up, life after life. Sometimes you are my father, sometimes my brother, sometimes my child, sometimes my murderer and sometimes my friend. Sometimes you play a walk-on part – that person who dropped the jar of marmalade in the supermarket that day; that person who stood next to me at the bus stop one sunny Spring day – and sometimes we share the lead; sometimes you may miss a life, or I may, but we will always meet up in the end. So let’s just hope that:

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

Julian of Norwich