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Archive for the ‘Poetic Prose pieces’ Category

Lost #4

There are no paths. All around me, endless shades of green, with some brown and red and orange as counterpoint, and no opening, no indication that anyone has ever come this way before. I sag against the trunk of the tree I have just climbed, the memory of those distant mountains burned into my retina like the after-burn of lightning flashes, and for a few long minutes, I want to curl into a ball, and bury myself in the moist leaf-litter and return to the earth.

But somehow I square my shoulders and take a long deep breath. I gaze around carefully and I spot it: not a path as such, just a thread
through the greenery. It’s probably a deer path but it seems to be
going in the right direction at least, so I begin.

The way is not easy; I cannot walk, but rather have to weave myself in and out of fallen branches, over rocks and heavy rotting trunks.
Sometimes, in the soft earth I see the footprints of the deer who use
this trail and sometimes droppings, but they are old, and I feel sure
the deer do not come this way often.

I merge with the forest, my mind slipping into its rhythms as the sun
climbs higher and higher. I sip water from a tiny rivulet that
crosses the path, scooping water into my mouth; it tastes earthy, a
tang of smoky peat teases my taste buds, making me remember something I cannot quite put my finger on. It’s not unpleasant, just odd. I eat leaves, to stave off the hunger, and the occasional berry. In the back of my mind, I wonder how I know whether something is safe to eat or not, and worry that perhaps I do not.

By late afternoon, as the sun has begun its decline to evening, I have
covered perhaps a mile in a straight line and am exhausted and
filthy. I’ve crossed and recrossed the same ground, and it was only
seeing my own footprints in the moist ground my a stream that told me I had doubled back. I never once thought they might belong to someone else. Throughout this great wide forest that seemed from the treetops to go on to the edges of the earth, I cannot sense another human soul. Only birdsong and insects disturb the peace here.

I can sense the sunset even though I cannot see it and I know I must find shelter for the night. I’ve nothing to keep me warm and I am dimly aware that the food I have eaten would be sufficient for a
family of field-mice to live on. Every limb aches with exertion and
my heart sinks because I know that those mountains are still as far
away as ever.

As I climb into a tree and try to snuggle as close to the trunk as I
can, feeling the living force of the sap slowing inside, I ask
myself, why am I heading for the mountains?

But I sleep before I can even start to answer that question.

(for previous episode see: http://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2011/08/12/lost-3/

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For part 1 see Lost #1

For part 2 see Lost #2

Lost #3

I sit until my bones become weary and the grass becomes cold and damp beneath me; the glow-worms slowly flicker and fade and I am alone. Around me the trees softly sough in the night wind and I shiver. I am not dressed for this; my clothes seem unfamiliar and I get to my feet again.

The darkness has become less intense and I realise that the light is
starting to return and I scan the sky for signs of dawn. As the black
becomes navy blue and then a grey tinged with pink I can see I am
surrounded by trees which have grown up somewhat twisted and gnarled, their lower branches accessible even to me.

I walk round, my feet leaving a silvery trail in the dew laden grass
and select a tree I think I may be able to climb and find a massive
oak, its bark green with lichen and moss and scramble up into the
lower branches without much problem. Up and up I climb, awkward and inept and trembling at times when I look down.

It’s one of the tallest trees and when I reach the canopy, and have to
stop to catch my breath, I make the mistake of looking down. A tangle of branches weave in and out like a mandala below me and my mind becomes confused by the pattern. I shut my eyes and try to focus.

I open them and steady myself, gripping the wood tightly and shift a
little so I can turn left and right without risking slipping. Over
the sea of greens, the sun is rising, a great red ball that becomes
golden as I watch the mists spiralling up out of the forest. For as
far as my eyes can see, there is only trees, mile upon mile of
forest. I can see no roads or significant clearings beyond some that
seem to be where the more ancient of trees have fallen to their
deaths. I see no buildings or signs of people. In the extreme
distance, I can see the faintest glimmer of a mountain range, a thin
blue line of hummocks at the furthest horizon.

The forest is waking as I stand gazing over the canopy and I can hear birds and other creatures greeting the new day and I can also hear my stomach rumbling.

Slowly I realise that having got up this high, I have now to get down again and after fixing the direction of those mountains in my mind, I begin my shaky descent.

As I climb nervously down, all I can think about is that sea of green
and the miles of endless forest ahead of me. 

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Lost #2

The fall is so long I seem to cease to fall and the vertiginous feeling
of speed vanishes to be replaced by one of drifting. It makes no
sense at all as the sensation of plummeting had made my stomach lurch and heave and my soul seemed to curl round itself like a spider whose thread has been cut and instinctively wraps its legs round its soft body to protect it before it hits the ground.

I can feel the air whipping past me but the fear I felt seems to have
passed. I am not comfortable but I am not racked by terror any more
and I allow my limbs to uncurl from the foetal position, prepped for
crash landing and find that far from being midway in an endless fall,
I am lying on the ground, cushioned by soft grass. I know it is grass
because of the sweet fresh smell and I run my hands across it, and my hands come back moist with dew. It’s dark, still, but when I roll
onto my back, I see that above me are stars as bright as if the
universe were a billion years newer, set in sky of such rich velvety
darkness that it’s hard to believe it is not a jeweller’s cloth laid
out to show gems at their best. The stars indeed look polished and
newborn, glittering with white iciness you normally only see on a few
winter nights when the air is freezing and even the sounds of voices
become brittle as icicles.

And yet it is not cold but warm, as if the day before had been sunny.

I sit up, aware that I have no injuries. I can hardly take it in. I
fell for so long that I must have fallen an unimaginable height. To
land without harm, or even actually notice the moment I landed
baffles me and I wonder for a short moment what is happening to me.

A cricket strikes up nearby, much as a musician recommencing after a short break and around me, pinpoints of greenish light begin
appearing, low to the ground, and I rise to my feet and investigate.
Tiny phosphorescent creatures wait on the leaf-tips of low growing
plants; I touch one very gently with the very end of my finger and a
spot of glowing light appears there. They’re glow-worms, and they are all around me, in a circle, and their light seems to pulsate softly
in time to the song of the cricket.

I am breathless with wonder but I am also a little scared. Where am I and what am I here for?

I sit down, cross legged on the moist soft grass and I wait, though for what I cannot tell.

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Lost #1

The air is heavy with the cold dank smell of ancient brick wet with
condensation and mildew, and touching the walls I feel the surface
slick with moisture and the passage of countless hands feeling their
way along this light-less tunnel. The only sound is that of my ragged
breathing and the occasional faint plink of water dripping from the
low roof. It’s so low I can reach up and feel the curve of the
arching brickwork, not as smooth as the walls, but my fingertips can
find crevices where the mortar has crumbled slightly. Once, I touch
what feels like a slug and I stop touching the walls or the ceiling.

All I can do is step blindly forward. I have already tried going back but the door where I entered- how long ago was it now? Days or weeks or centuries, I can no longer tell – has vanished. It vanished almost the moment I came through, excited to explore  and too incautious to hesitate and equip myself.

Now I can do nothing but stumble eye-lessly onwards, each step splashing through shallow puddles. I must be scared because my heart is pounding like distant jungle drums, the echo of it in the own ears.

I walk, carefully at first but as the sensation of walking sightlessly
becomes familiar, I stop feeling my way with my feet and just walk.
The ground is wet but even and seems to slope very slowly downwards.

I must walk for years, the rhythm of my own feet lulling me into a
trance, because there is nothing but this long straight tunnel that
never curves or turns but just goes on and on without changing ever.

Wait.

I can see the faintest blossoming of light ahead, like the ghost of the
glow left behind by a struck match and the brightness seems to burn
my eyes after the long dark.

It’s like ancient moonlight filtered through storm clouds, but it is light
nonetheless and  the trance is broken and I hurtle towards it, a
bumbling moth, and as the light grows ever more insistent and
seductive, I slip and slither and realise that the slope has become a
hill, and I am running helter-skelter down it, all caution gone in my
hunger for the light.

As the blue-dim light flares with the brilliance of a neutron star, I
tumble forwards with my own momentum and brace myself to crash face first on wet-slick stone, but as my body lurches, and I flail my arms to try and protect myself, the second of falling draws out and out and my stomach heaves sickeningly as I know that I am falling falling falling falling falling.”    

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What I am and what I am not

I’m not a teacher, as such, and I have nothing to teach you. But we might learn together.

I don’t have any answers, not the definitive big answers to the big
questions. I just have more questions. But my new questions might
inspire you to ask some of your own.

I’m not enlightened; I can make no claim to such a thing being sometimes so lost in my own internal darkness that I extinguish my own small light while thrashing around. But sometimes that tiny pearl of light might be enough to guide a soul home.

I’m not awakened; I live in that shadowy penumbra of the world between worlds, caught in the trailing edge of dreams. But sometimes we may be dreaming the same dream and can compare notes.

I’m not a guru and I don’t want disciples or followers. But I would like
friends and fellow travellers. I will carry your load for you while
you build your muscles to full strength and I hope you will sometimes
carry mine for me while I am weak.

For I am not strong. I stagger and fall and break into a million shining
fragments. I can be brittle, like untempered steel. You may see the
shine of polished metal but it’s only through repeated forging that
true strength comes. Being beaten on an anvil is painful and I try to
avoid it, and yet, again and again, I land in the furnace and the
forge. One day I may be a worthwhile tool but not yet.

I’m not a saint but I may yet be a martyr, for the drive to perfect
integrity takes us to strange and dangerous places where the choices
we make under pressure are not always ones that are good for us as
individuals. But those choices may be of greater worth for mankind
than for the poor soul who makes them.

I am just an imperfect human being trying to understand who I am in
this world. I make mistakes, I get things horribly wrong, and for
this I ask patience and forgiveness from those I may have hurt on my
journey. I have gifts but I am flawed and broken and sometimes I do
not use those gifts as well as I might in a perfect world.

I’m no angel, but I may be a messenger. I stand with one foot in either world, amphibious, between the world of the soul and the world of the body, never quite sure from one moment to the next where the messages are coming from.

I’m an empty vessel, being filled by the living words of my soul, and
letting them pour out and flow onto parched lands. If they water your
soul garden, I am glad; if they swamp your first shoots then I am
sorry and will try and channel the flow elsewhere till they have
grown taller and stronger.

I am a child, looking at the world with tired eyes and sometimes a
heart that is coated in jade, that is so easily broken. For all my
childishness, I am older than you know and in my ancientness I see
further and deeper than I should and for that I will avert my eyes if
you wish me to.

I’m not a leader. No one should follow me where I am going, but I would welcome the company if anyone is going the same way. Sometimes we all need a hand to hold in the darkness.   

   

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Society does not value its artists ~ an examination of systemic contempt

  

I made myself quite unwell over the last four days, gnawing at a festering sore of an issue without really understanding why it bothered me so much. If it had been on my skin, you’d have thought I was merely picking at a tiny scab and making it worse. But that tiny scab hid something much deeper, just as skin cancer lesions can seem unimpressive and fail to convey the threat they pose to health. I thrashed around, snarling a lot and feeling incapable of articulating quite why I was in such distress over what many other saw as a small thing, barely worth noticing.

To backtrack, I’d discovered that a project I had thought both nurturing of writers and of spiritual awareness had turned out to be nothing more than a run-of-the-mill attempt to make some money off the backs of writers and poets. No law had been broken as far as I know, but it reduced the whole thing down to yet another “send us your writing so we can publish it and you can buy your own work back from us as part of a book” scheme. Many poetry contests use this format and unless it’s for a well-known and prestigious prize, it is seldom worth bothering with; I got caught with one a few years back, and needless to say, I never bought the book they offered me at some exorbitant price. If you want to see your work in print, fine. I am aware that many of those who took part in this initiative are delighted with it and have bought multiple copies of the offered book, which had the merit of not being overpriced. But I would be willing to bet that very few people will buy the book who are not somehow connected to the project in some way either by virtue of having work in it or knowing someone who does.

There was something deeper at work in my obsessional worrying at this; there always is and troublesome as it may be to others to see me go through this process and deeply distressing as it is to me to do it, I do eventually dig my way through to the truth at the heart of the matter and this time it is a very ugly truth indeed.

It’s so ugly you may not be able to bear it. I know I can hardly bear to look at it now I have unearthed it.

It’s simply that not only do I see that my work with words is not valued by society, but that all the work with words by writers dead, alive, published and unpublished are viewed with a contempt that runs so deep that we are seldom even aware of it.

Do a straw poll today and ask people to think of the names of writers. Chances are the names you get will be Dan Brown and Katie Price unless you have a fairly literary set of acquaintances. Do the same for poets and I suspect you may find a dead silence and a scratching of heads before someone says, “Oh yeah, Shakespeare. Oh and Wordsworth.” Great results hey? Two beach read purveyors and two very dead poets.

The contempt goes into the industry; anyone who has ever submitted(now there’s a suitably bondage-orientated word to set your hackles rising) work to a publisher knows about the slush pile. Note the choice of word: slush, that half-melted mucky stuff you see piled at the sides of roads after a long period of snow, filthy and useless. If you’ve ever got rejected, the first ones you tend to get are without any sort of personalisation, a stock slip without reference to you as a person or the work you sent them. I have plenty of letters back praising me and telling me to keep going because I was good; they just didn’t have a niche, or they didn’t love it quite enough to take a risk or whatever reason they chose to give. Each time, it sawed at my soul and in the end, I’d had enough. Enough of being considered but rejected. I may have got further than many do, but it wasn’t far enough and the damage it did me was incalculable. That’s why I think this recent brush with more contempt hurt worse, because I’d begun to hope for better, especially among writers (the organisers of this were supposedly both writers and spiritual)

As a society we consume the work of artists (the words of writers) without paying any attention to the artist. We feel ourselves qualified to critique art without knowing anything about the process. Listen in at a gallery sometime, especially somewhere like Tate Modern; the sentence you will hear most is usually, “I may not know anything about art but I know what I like.” I’ve said it myself, which is a lie, because I do know something about art (but there’s another story) and while I understand that appreciation of the finished product is subjective, the understanding of the process of creation is not.

When it comes to writing, any moderately literate person can write. But to write well, that is another matter entirely. I think it may be this accessibility to the basics of the art that means that society has long since lost any sense of appreciation of it. We consume it without tasting it, without tasting the work that went into it. Writers are the milch cows of the media; if one withdraws there are thousands of others to take their place. If you buy books from Amazon, you get suggestions of what to buy next on the basis of what you have already bought. “If you liked Dan Brown, then why not try…” I’m sure you’ve seen this sort of thing. If the Dan Browns and the Katie Prices vanished, there’d be more of the same homogenised and sanitised crap to buy from the pen of someone else. There always is, and for good reason: the desire of the writers ourselves to have stab at immortality through our writing. Most of us know that the chances of winning the Lottery are better than the Best-sellers’ Sweepstakes, but we think, hey, buy a ticket, you never know. It could be me, it could be you. Yeah, well, I have never even bought a Lottery ticket. I’m not a gambler and hoping to make it big through writing is probably the biggest gamble ever, short of throwing yourself off Beachy Head and gambling on the rapid evolution of wings.

I’m not sure where this systemic contempt for writers and artists originated but it goes deep and I have no idea of how to reverse it. For myself, it may involve a giving up of hope for myself and my work. Because perhaps what holds me back is that hope that one day I may be up there in the panoply of literary gods, like Dan Brown and Katie Price (OK, so I was joking there but you know what I mean) and that hoping against hope in a market place so massive that ten years ago I wouldn’t have imagined it could exist outside of science fiction I might have a hope of being noticed. WordPress alone has over 400k blogs; hundreds of thousands of books are published every year. I am a speck of dust in the universe.

But even a speck of dust in the right place can be the start of a whole new world. Just look at the Big Bang.

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Negative feedback loops ~ why they are so hard to escape from

 

This one is from the heart!

I’ve got myself ensnared a few times this last week with situations where my head has been locked in mortal combat with intangibles. Intangibles like worry about money(Monday) worry about family(Tuesday) anxiety about work or lack thereof(Wednesday) and incandescent fury at exploitation and injustice (Thursday onwards).

I think I may have figured some of it out.

Not the answers to the worries, but rather why they become resident goblins in my skull and refuse even logic, meditation and distraction as palliatives. Last night, I was pleased with the fact that I managed to get to sleep despite my roiling skull filled with fury and righteous anger, but this morning I was awake at shortly after six and ready for battle.

The first part of the answer is imagination.

I’ve got a five star solid gold imagination and it’s sitting there twiddling its thumbs waiting for me to use it. And use it I do. When I am not writing stories, I devise strange entertaining extras to add to the shopping list just to make my husband wonder what I meant by Klingon repellent. I create tiny tableaux out of random stones and leaves. I make up silly stories on the fly, just because I can. Why why why…is my constant question, about peoples’ behaviour, clothes, the world around me. Constant questions and constant imaginational overload.

The second part is idealism.

I believe that things could be better. The world, people, me, my home, publishing, art, literature and so on. I take this further and believe that things should be better.

Put the two together and you get a potent mix. Someone who thinks things should be better and has a vivid idea of ways it might be.

The third part is a destructiveness of self that comes back to a default setting of disaster looming and the sheer hopelessness of it all.

So the very things that make me a good writer are also the things that mean I can get so entangled in certain things I am unable to extricate myself. The recent post Scammed (still protected; if you want to read it, please email me for the password) is an illustration of this. I have been unable to let it go because it presented a way for the world to be a little bit better for many people and then it failed dismally to deliver and indeed, has continued to be a serious concern. It feeds into my helplessness at making the world a better place and while I feel helpless I almost gnaw my own leg off to try and change things in some way.

There are few ways I know of to short-circuit this cycle. It usually has to run its course of sleepless nights, anxiety attacks, panic disorder and finally a sort of resolution of walking away knowing I will come back again and again.

One day maybe I will learn a way of dealing with all of this while remaining a sane human being. I suggest if I ever do, you better shoot me immediately afterwards. It’s kinder than crucifixion.

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Maths is not my strong point (Final #smallstone)

 

   Wrestling with figures knocks points off my IQ and makes me feel intensely blonde without ever going near a hairdresser or bottle of bleach. I stare manically at my expenses form and tell myself I can do it. My calculator has vanished somewhere under my desk and I panic and do the numbers on a post-it note and find myself ten Euros short. Panic. How can I have lost ten Euros? Same way I lost my glasses going up the Eiffel tower ~ sheer inattention and stress. Try again, using the calculator on the computer and magically the missing money reappears. I breath again, and count the remaining cash. It matches.

There are guardian angels that watch over people like me. I even got my glasses back, unharmed. We can’t be good at everything and maths is never going to be one of my strengths.

(ps. I am a natural blonde.)

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The texture of silence

 

Silence has texture.

You don’t realise how different those textures are until you stop to listen.

There’s the broken glass, bleeding edge texture of the awkward silence that falls in the ringing aftermath of a fight. You can feel the sharp fractured edges as the shattered peace falls to the ground like glass bird-scarers in an old fashioned kitchen garden.

Then there’s the hungry salivating silence of expectation, that bated breath hush, like the dying tones of the dinner gong where only vibrations and eagerness remain.

And finally there’s the silence you find in holy places, where worlds meet and touch and even overlap. You walk in and are struck by the depth of the quiet, self conscious suddenly of the creak of a door or arthritic knees, yet any sound you make rapidly vanishes, absorbed into the deep silence as a stone dropped into an underground lake. The ripples spread out to infinity and are lost, and the silence returns. It has the texture of the finest velvet, rich and soft as forest moss. When you let yourself be still, you can hear the silence over the roar of traffic or the bustle of a busy kitchen, like a kind of celestial white noise.

When you find a place where this sort of silence prevails, cherish it. Hold it in your heart, explore that texture in your mind till you understand that beyond all the sounds of the world, from the discordant roar of aircraft, the inanity of human chatter to the melody of springtime birds and the wind in the wheat, this silence is the song of the spirit that plays on whether we choose to hear it or not.

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Left of central, pounding in the temples. Pain spreading across scalp, down neck. Stomach sour, rising to nausea. Vision blurring, lights dancing in fairylike patterns. Jaw clenching, mouth dry, eyes gritty with invisible sand. Base of skull tight, pain travelling down spine. Dizzy from pain killers, I stagger to bathroom, retching slightly. Floor cold; I notice the crack in the tiles. Pillow soft, smelling of lavender. I close itchy eyes and wait for sleep.

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