Friday, June 29, 2007

Light writing

The God of Light moved on the face of the water. The Demiurge waited in the darkness. Between them they formed the world.

A Recording Angel was created, who drew spirit from matter, or made matter from spirit. Whose idea this was is not certain.

Image, idea, thought, language all abounded, solidified from the senses' apprehension of the delicious, terrible, ever-changing world of matter, but trapped in the dark cave of skull, mired in the grey matter of brain. Already the Recording Angel was overwhelmed.

'You're going to have to delegate;' the Angel was told 'they'll have to be told how to record for themselves.'

The sharp hard stone bit into the softer one, the finger was drawn through the clay. The reflecting, refracting particles of pigment glimmered from the walls of the cave. In the dark hollows of the incisions, in the hidden facets of the crystalline minerals, the Demiurge, the God of Darkness and Matter, waited.

The hands were placed on the cave walls, dark earth taken in, expressed, spattered around them, the hands lifted away, shown forever shining from out of the darkness. The marks were grouped, angled, accrued weights of meaning; the forms of things, their lights and shadows, were caught, held sacred. They mattered. They mattered so much people killed and died for them. The Demiurge licked his lips, for he was also the God of Dead Matter, of corruption, of the earthen solid reality of death, of mortal clay.

Things recorded became knowledge, solid matters, transcending death, passed on. By this knowledge more and more could live, could hold on to the dear, sweet world of matter they inhabited, could amass what they gained. The Demiurge smiled and grew fat.

The God of Light said to the the recording angel, 'Make it lighter, smaller, less substantial, reduce the dimensions, two is better than three! Give them a flat white surface, dark liquid, so more spirit can be held in less matter!' Calves and sheep were slaughtered and made into parchment, trees were turned to pulp. The Demiurge lurked in the black ink and licked at the paper skin.

'Let them capture their moments of illumination, their visions in patterns of darkness and light, in translucent glowing shapes and patterns on surfaces light passes through, make them move and change and sound and sing...'

But the images could not hang in pure light, they needed support, a surface to rest on, frames to hold them, the books could not all be contained and cherished. And they became too many; the upper storeys and forgotten corners became clogged with dust covered, mould-speckled, musty-smelling boxes and haphazard piles, corners curling, spines wrinkled and torn, white paper jaundice yellow, gloss crackled, colours grotesquely faded. The Demiurge, who is also the God of Clutter, feasted.

The God of Light said to the poor, overworked, self-questioning Recording Angel ' Give them boxes of pure light, as fine and flat as can be made, in the corners of their lives and homes,
so their visions, their thoughts, their creations, their loves and hopes and dreams and memories, their laughter and their curiosity, their desires and secrets and fears and sorrows and joys can all be contained and made to fly between them, without ever needing to be made into gross matter.'

The lights burn and burn. The minerals, the very matter of the world, are sucked and incised from beneath the earth to form and feed the votives of the God of Light. The Demiurge slavers.

'They are mine' says the Demiurge.

'They are mine' says the God of Light.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007



Monday, June 25, 2007

Compasses update.

The next five sonnets, 6 to 10, are over at Compasses, with photos.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Guy's garden

Going to Guy's garden means getting lost. I planned my route, kept the Michelin atlas open at the page, found my way successfully through the lush and rolling hinterland, arrived at Perret, and , yes, for the third time, I was lost. Which lane is it, they all look similar? Sense of direction deserting me, I had to ask at the bar.

When you get there, you can't mistake it, but once inside, you're lost again. Once it was a rectangular field, now it's a labyrinth, a spatial conundrum, rooms and paths and portals and changes of mood as you pass through it.

'Marie-Lise is picking raspberries,' says Guy, 'go and join her. Josette is pruning the roses, she speaks English well.'

Josette I do not know; she is francophone Swiss-English, and has lived in Poole; she has little accent in either language I can discern, and is very charming. I am soon lost again in the raspberry canes having a broken conversation with Marie-Lise, whom I glimpse intermittently. I eat a number of framboises and quite a few wild strawberries, and we establish a connection with a reference to Bergman.

Like Guy, Marie-Lise and her husband Jean-Paul, who is presently given a job with a rake, are my students. They have been teachers until recently, and are keen and competetive in class.

Guy was born in Perret. He spent his childhood there, then went on to Rennes and Paris, where he met beautiful Claudine, the kind of Frenchwoman who always makes me wish I'd been born French, who helped him in his modern maths class, and he became an educational psychologist. He loved to frequent the quais and the flower markets, and claims to have once given Catherine Deneuve instructions as to how to plant water lilies.

Much later he fulfilled his dream and bought, in Perret, an ancient longère with a field behind it. Claudine said that it felt at first as though they were living in the middle of the road; she had only ever lived in an appartment, never in a house. Until the hedges and trees and flowers grew up she says she felt something close to agaraphobia. In a little more than 20 years, it has become a magical place. They still don't live there all the time; Claudine is still working as a primary teacher in St Brieuc, they have an appartment there too.

Charm is the word. Un nid de chardonneret, I described it to them, a goldfinch's nest, and later thought of the connection with the word charm. Charming, pretty, welcoming, to be sure, but also when there one is under a charm, spellbound, elsewhere, apt to be lost.

Inside is a lustre of treasure, stencilled plates and dishes and bols for cider, pots and jugs and other vessels, old tools and country bits and pieces, restored and given dignity again, pretty, worn, oddly shaped and slightly mismatched wine glasses. The front doorway is no more, it has become a china cabinet,

and everywhere Guy's paintings. In the Paris winters, and later in St Brieuc, and dreaming of garden and village, he decided to paint it. The work grew and grew, last year he had an exhibition in the Rohan pavilion in Gouarec, and was beside himself with happiness. They are rich, colourful joyous oils, proficient but slightly naive. He's lately been amusing himself painting on old pieces of glassware, a need to embellish every surface.

Claudine arrives, cheerful and serene and brisk as ever in spite of having worked all morning and come back to a houseful, some of whom she doesn't know. Without ever once seeming to fuss or flap, she keeps us up to the fairly tight schedule, before the events of the afternoon. It would be very easy to dawdle and linger and gossip. We brave the blustery showers and eat our sandwiches and then the raspberries with crème fraiche outdoors under the parasol.

Other people, and this rather engaging King Charles spaniel, appear over lunch time. When the tour party, mostly English, arrive, and set off round the garden, everyone seems to be doing fine without my help, so I lag behind and take in the detail.

I didn't bother with grammar corrections, lessons are finished, we're on holiday. Anyway, it's too late now, it's been printed, and it's very sweet.

Frogs in our garden are brownish, secretive, occasional, far outnumbered by toads, who are all right in their way but have some rather nasty habits. The frogs here are jewelled and enamelled green and gold, and bask and display themselves and are very much at home. I can imagine any of them would be more than happy to retrieve the golden ball and be kissed in return.

English-style, they tell me proudly, which means paths not straight and David Austin roses. But to me it has only its own style: created with purpose and passion and large amounts of love.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sitting with, and not taking it personally.

One or two matters lately, in one or two areas of life, have necessitated a certain amount of 'sitting with' - and bless you, my Buddhism-inclined friends here, for raising this idea in my awareness, it is a very helpful one. It is not the same as 'sitting on', and I don't necessarily need to be literally sitting to do it; these last couple of days I've been sitting with while stripping and staining the front picket fence. ( broux de noix, remarkable, totally natural, traditional product made from walnut skins and shells, half the price of its inorganic alternatives and gives an excellent, lightfast, even colour...never say you don't get every aspect here) In fact this kind of activity, purposeful, systematic but mentally undemanding, is quite suited to the practice.

The other thing I've been trying to put into effect is not taking it personally. This one I've been considering rather more as a general policy since it came up in a discussion over at Richard's a while ago. It's often a glib thing to say, 'Oh, don't take it personally', forget it, you're being touchy, and has often seemed to me a lazy way of not facing the fact of someone else's unacceptable behaviour; the corollary is that the hurtful thing was not meant personally, the taking of it that way is the fault of the person at the receiving end. Often this is true, but sometimes something is intended - just because you're paranoid...

Even so, the counsel (of perfection, of course) that one is better not construing things as personal affront as far as possible still holds. If someone has something to say to me of importance but is doing so obliquely, being deliberately ignorant of their meaning places the onus on them to be more direct, which seems reasonable. If the matter is not of importance it's better to ignore it anyway. Meeting offence with cheerful equanimity, even if it isn't what you are immediately feeling, takes the power from the offence.

This decision to grow a thicker skin, as it seems, the refusal to go down the path of inferring an increasingly complicated set of motives and intentions, which may or may not be present, in others' behaviour, conflicts, of course, with my idea of myself as a sensitive, imaginative, intuitive person. However, sensitivity has two sides. Formerly the word 'sensitive' was used much more negatively, as meaning proud, touchy, unreasonably reactive, as it is for Meredith's egoist, Willoughby Patten, who is so utterly, selfishly obsessed with his own amour propre and anything he perceives as an affront to it that he is cruel, controlling, monstrous, riding roughshod over the feelings, needs and wishes of everyone else.

Attempting to be sensitive to the feelings of others, and acting accordingly, seems a better idea.
Even this though, can perhaps lead one into error, since again it is based on construing the way another persons mind is working, and which of us can always do that? And it can finish up that one is forever taking responsibilities for others' feelings. Sometimes I've found when one has troubles or is feeling raw, it's more comfortable and comforting to be around fairly oblivious people who carry on regardless and aren't walking on eggshells. Years ago, a not particularly close friend whose mother had been very ill for a long time, so we had stopped always asking how she was, came round one evening with her boyfriend, apparently no different from usual, stayed for a while, we had a laugh and talked about food. Later we found out her mother had died that day, and we were probably the only people in her circle of acquaintance who didn't know . I was mortified, and went straight to see her, and express how sorry I was to have been so apparently insensitive, etc. She said no, in fact it had been a lovely, relaxing evening, exactly what she needed. But thenceforward it was difficult between us, we were awkward and tongue-tied and embarrassed.

Perhaps positive, useful, non-egocentric, creative sensitivity is something like humility; it is only acquired by not trying to acquire it.

Another thing worth considering, what's in it for me in being the offended party? Another anecdote: a neighbour we had, a bright, attractive woman doing a good job of getting on with her life after divorce, cultivating friends and interests, on good terms with her ex-husband, for her teenage daughters' sake but also because she didn't see any point in not being. When we were talking of these things, I remember her saying "It does suit some people, and I have to say it seems to be women especially, to remain aggrieved. "
I hate the idea of being the hurt victim, finding it degrading and humiliating to the point where I deny and reject my own hurt rather than sit awhile with it, and consequently, I think, I suffer more in the long run. But I'm pretty good at aggrieved, and I think I do righteous indignation rather well too.

I don't know why some have to struggle so much more than others with these kinds of negativity, early experience of course accounts for most of it, but observing small children has led me to the conclusion, and I don't think I'm alone, that some people seem simply to come in with more 'baggage'. What we do about it is up to us.

Anyway, for me at the moment, any chafing disgruntlement is way, way more than outweighed by all the truly wondrous things, moments, people in which my life currently abounds. Counting my blessings constitutes a full time job.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Just to say, a new blog is launched, called 'Compasses'. Joe Hyam, who writes as Plutarch at Now's the Time, a daily joy and one of my favourite stopping-off points, has also produced a cycle of 50 sonnets with the title ' Handbook for Explorers', which he began to post a couple of years ago. I borrowed one of the series to do a photo illustration at qarrtsiluni a while ago, and I liked doing it so much I wondered if I might do the same with the rest of them. Joe graciously agreed, and has been sending me the poems in batches. Receiving new installments of 'Explorers', and gradually putting together photographs to put with them, has been one of the most pleasurable things in this line I can recall of late.

One of the reasons Joe stopped posting the poems originally was that doing so one at a time they appeared, as it were, in reverse order, which was unsatisfactory. This aspect of blogging as narrative is interesting but problematical, as I think a number of people have remarked. The 'Explorers' poems can be dipped into and read in isolation of one another, but really they do need to be read as a cohesive whole. However, publishing them in their entirety in one long post seemed, as Joe put it, " rather against the spirit of blogging".

I have found the experience of receiving them in batches, with time to read and absorb them in between, very satisfying, so we decided releasing them in groups of perhaps five or so at a time (preceeded by an epigraph in the case of the first ones), with photographs, was the best way, probably at intervals of about a couple of weeks. I'll post here to say when a new installment is out, and Joe will supply a link too.

I've certainly enjoyed preparing this project, so please go and have a look!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Pointing the word camera

I was sitting at the wooden table under the rectangular green parasol on our narrow brick-paved front terrace, late the other afternoon, when it was warm and sunny.

I had drunk a glass of rosé and had been reading Hannah Green's 'Little Saint' (recommended). I was observing the goldfinches around the tree just across the way; another pair or another brood, but they clearly are still nesting, unless it's just the parent birds enjoying each other's company around the old place now the youngsters have flown.

I thought of how very small their nest must be, and how miraculous it is that a whole handful of fully fledged birds could spread their wings wide enough to carry them through the air in every direction, each one a discrete creature, from so tiny a container, just as it was marvellous that as hatchlings they had unfolded themselves from the diminutive confines of their eggs, living beings emerging from a space apparently impossibly too small. And about how birds, and the smaller they are the more it seems to be so, are concentrated kernels of life force and energy, seeming to contain a power and vitality denser than most of the world around them.

I thought about how ideas, ours, God's, could be like that, and I just felt as if I was on the edge of something. I was dizzy with joy and wonder of the moment, one of those when everything seems complete and as it should be, and the surrounding sounds and air and light seem to form a harmonious whole.

If I could just catch that slant of light, I thought, the way things are appearing now, 'point the word camera' just so... and I fetched pen and paper.

Away to my left down the village street were voices, a dog barking, then answering barks from up the road... at first this was fine, something the virtuoso balancing act of the moment could sustain, like a patch of obscurity or confusion or movement, a patch of dappled shade, in the composition of a picture which adds interest, dynamic, rather than distraction. But as I started catching words and phrases as my neighbour's brothers got into their cars and drove off, and as she came out of her garden and her dog and mine started to shout their protest and welcome respectively, it became apparent that the perfect composition I had, as I perceived it, stumbled upon, was disintegrating.

I brought out another chair and she joined me.

Ten minutes later, my Man from Porlock left, having refused the glass of wine a second one of which might have mitigated the interruption for me. I picked up the pen and looked at the line or two I had written; it looked banal and pointless. The light had shifted, clouded over, the objects looked flat and formless and without interest. I went in to start preparing dinner.

However, you can return, but pan out, away from the need for immediacy, from the bright illumination which seemed to offer so much but might only have been garish, over-coloured, pretentious. Use a different setting, past tense mode, take a wider shot, include more background detail, take your time, rearrange the objects a little even, no one will know if you're careful. Make a different picture, perhaps even a better one.

( My thanks, again, to Tall Girl for the phrase and the idea 'point the word camera', sorry, I can't remember which post...!)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Strawberry thief

Early morning, dew on the strawberry leaves, the sun will burn through the mist.

Another day's warmth and the strawberries will be just right.

Mid-morning, looking out of the window, a young blackbird, brown speckled, his beak just turning saffron yellow, is slipping below the runners, harvesting. As he is chased off, he drops his catch, a big ripe one, half pecked away. Another sorry shred hangs from its calix.

I love the blackbirds for ecstatic, excitable things. I even love the way they can't resist the luminous, glossy red of the berries, go wild for it. But I haven't nurtured these plants - a gift from the beautiful Maxime, a gourmet and connoisseur of fine things even at his tender 12 years, two years ago - on the terrace, strawed them and fed them and saved them from slugs and woodlice, only to see them binged in a day by marauding blackbirds. Tom applies his initiative, kindly fetches a raised bed surround from the vegetable garden, and improvises a knee-high fruit cage, which I can step into to reach them. By the end of the day, there is a generous, unmolested, bowlful for the picking.

Gilding the lily as ever, and ignoring my inner food police, I sprinkle them with icing sugar and rosé wine.

William Morris, it seems, could not bring himself to stop the thrushes raiding his strawberries, so turned them into chintz.

Friday, June 08, 2007


It's June...

It's France...