Friday, August 31, 2012

Meet Me at the Bottom

We don’t necessarily have to hit rock bottom before we get motivated enough to pull ourselves up and out of the muck we often seem to have settled for in life. But that whole area of our lives of unfulfilled dreams or regrets or fear of failure that stops us from opening the door even just a crack on what might be possible out there, has been in the forefront of my thinking as I’ve participated in The Artist’s Way course these past few weeks. I have a habit of not wanting to attempt something unless I can do it properly, hence many tasks are begun and not finished, but one thing highlighted in the course is that we have to be prepared to produce ‘bad’ art of whatever sort in order to start the journey.

Every stroke of the brush, every phrase created, every note recorded, every dance move attempted, every photo captured, is a step in the right direction. Stepping back and observing what we’ve created might produce a positive or negative reaction from both ourselves and others, but at least it’s something to work with. We have a tendency to compare our efforts to the masters in our chosen field, which as beginners can be extremely deflating. There’s no point putting your first completed canvas next to a Van Gogh, for instance, and as I’m no literary genius, there’s no point judging my efforts against the authors I admire either.

What I can do though is start at the bottom, as hard as that may be, and stumble however precariously towards the goal, for I’m finding that by putting one foot in front of the other, however slowly, the process is gathering a momentum of its own, in much the same way as this poem has evolved over the last couple of weeks. What better way of marking the last day of winter than throwing off the dark, cold dreariness and preparing for the new spring of life which is to come.

Meet Me at the Bottom

Helter Skelter
meet me at the bottom
Bruised and battered
curled into a ball.
Get out of the dirty ditch
bedraggled and forlorn
Brush off the stinking mantle
and slink away to mourn.

Helter Skelter
meet me at the bottom
Screaming like a banshee
braced against the fall.
Grazed and bleeding grab a hold
stumble on into the night
Split the dank and settling mist
stay up, the end’s in sight.

Helter Skelter
meet me at the bottom
Tearing down with pure delight
in answer to the call.
Hair flying, eyes wide, 
a grin from ear to ear
Surefooted, balanced now
gone the hollow fear.








Sunday, August 26, 2012

Looking right back at 'ya


With no new novel at my disposal to delve into this week, I found it rather fascinating that at a time I’ve been reflecting on reflections (no pun intended) and mirror images, I chose to pick up Trezza Azzopardi’s novel Remember Me which I read a few years ago. I’d glanced along the shelves, and as this was one for which I couldn’t remember the storyline, thought it well worth revisiting.

I wasn’t long into it before significant symbols were cropping up, foremost among them that of mirrors, both remembered from the main character’s childhood as well as decades later in her old age. How the shards of a broken mirror reflect a fractured self, an image in fragments, not the whole, how they can be full of sorrow, how the number of human beings gets multiplied just by looking.

Never trust a mirror: full of lies, just like the papers.

Lillian avoids mirrors, somewhat threatened by what the reflection represents, wondering whether what she sees is really her. Whether the essence of what makes her who she is, is standing on this side of the mirror looking in, or lost inside the mirror world. She senses her other self in the mirror, beckoning her, daring her to come.

As a child, in the dead of night, a week after she catches a glimpse of her ‘stand out in the crowd’ red hair now bleached blond, she plucks up the courage to climb on a chair and seek out her reflection.

It’s too late now to stop myself. Not edging up into the glass. Not going sideways like a thief, stealing in from the corner of the frame. I will face her straight on, wide eyed….to let in the light from the darkness….I have to be sure she wasn’t just hiding, trying to trick me. But I can’t see a single thing. It’s black as a hole. No one looks back at me, there is no one on the inside. I get as close as I can, trying to see through the mirror, to see through it and beyond it, beyond the glass sheet, and the silver, through the wooden back of the frame and the rose wallpaper and the chimney and out through the brick and into the night. Trailing specks of mortar, black ash, dust, flying in the darkness to seek her out, find the girl, show her that I am me.

Quite apart from being a great piece of prose, it begs the question Who am I? Am I comfortable in my skin? I know as I get older I spend less and less time in front of the mirror, only stopping long enough to make sure my hair isn’t sticking out in too many directions before heading for work. As the wrinkles etch deeper I wonder about the dreams the younger version of me had in decades past, and if those dreams are still not fulfilled, why they were left by the wayside. Another poem came to life from all these ruminations.

My spirit shell upon the wall
beckons me to come.
She dares me to come looking,
has power over me
taunts me for the life unlived
time stolen, gone for good.

Is she trapped inside her wooden frame
Or am I trapped out here.
Does she wonder what I wonder
has she done the same as me,
Or has she lived a thousand dreams
that I could never see.

Do I take from her the years of life
Or does she take from me
A little piece of skin and bone
in order to be free
from that nagging, sinking feeling
that by drawing in my breath,
there’ll be more and more
of her to see
and less and less of me.

Do her lifeless eyes see nothing
as we watch each other’s moves.
Do we sneak a look occasionally
does she smile or disapprove.
Are my secrets safe there on the wall
does she want me to be free
Is my image there my lifelong friend
Or my enemy.




Saturday, August 18, 2012

Shovelling in the Words

The past week has been fascinating, as if the top of my head has been prised open and someone has been shovelling words and phrases in at a great rate of knots. After several weeks of The Artist’s Way course and sharing with my fellow travellers, and reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg in 24 hours, I’ve suddenly gone into this frenzy of writing.

But not what I was expecting.

I’m writing poetry, something I haven’t touched for nigh on forty years and a task I’ve never really wanted to pursue. My scribblings of decades ago have been culled on more than one occasion, for whenever you revisit old poems or short stories you wonder what on earth you were thinking at the time. They are often stilted, morbid or maudlin, self indulgent, images and metaphors piled on thick as custard. What prompted their outpouring is a distant memory, and the emotion dies in the words.

What I’m doing now might end up just the same. In a week’s time, in a month or more, I might look back and sneer at my feeble attempts, but as I commit to this journey and take it seriously I’m discovering something new, and coinciding with the Olympics may be no coincidence at all. No athlete goes out to run his race without training and routine practice, without warming up, stretching. It’s a no brainer really, something I already knew but have been resisting.

The very act of putting pen to paper on almost a daily basis is opening my eyes, my ears, my mind, opening me, opening up possibilities. ‘Helter Skelter meet me at the bottom’ came from nowhere the other day. Or rather, somewhere, spawning a poem yet to be finished. Words and phrases and images are fighting for space in my head right now, I’m wondering where they’re all coming from, and while they’re not leading me in the direction of the novel I thought I was heading towards, they’re leading me somewhere.

There’s no point waiting for the Road to Damascus moment when the heavens will open and the message will be loud and clear. Right now I’m on the dusty road though, practicing, stretching, warming up for the main event.

MIRROR IMAGE

When I look into the mirror
what reflection looks at me.
My right side here
is right, right there
my left where it should be.

But when you stand before me
you see a different me.
My right is on your left hand side
my left is on your right.
I’m back to front
In body
Am I back to front
in mind?

Do you understand my motives
can you see my latent dreams
Can you navigate
the fissures of my mind?

Do you see beyond the body
are you brave enough to try?
Do I dare to let you
see inside
in those moments you ask
Why?






Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rising from Horsell Common


The haunting strains of Jeff Wayne’s soundtrack to HG Wells’ War of the Worlds was brought to mind this morning as I witnessed the unfolding revelation of the landscape in the valley below. Bathed in the benevolence of sunshine from my vantage point, what looked like the giant machines propelled by Wells’ Martians began to emerge from the dense fog, ominous, out of place.

Drifting up from below came the mournful sounds of cows objecting to the early morning chill, while two old dead gnarled trees stood as sentinels as they have for decades, witness in their lifetime to countless droughts, floods, and gale force winds as well as times of plenty.

Fog is such a fluid thing. While I watched, it slowly drifted away from the higher slopes, revealing more of the farmland beneath. Sheds started to appear, fences, trees, power pylons, then just as quickly a faint breeze in my face heralded its return and what was beginning to be exposed once more became swallowed by a thick white blanket.

It ebbed and flowed much the same as the water’s edge, commanded by unseen forces, though what was a thing of beauty from my spot above it, no doubt would have been experienced quite differently by those immersed in its bone chilling cold.

Simply driving through fog can be quite daunting, straining your eyes in an attempt to peer beyond the barrier, and even shedding light ahead doesn’t guarantee a better view, simply reflecting the whiteness even more. Unseen dangers have a way of emerging at a moment’s notice, and require diligence and quick thinking in order to deal with them. Similarly, there are times when we feel like we’re in a fog, floundering around without a way forward, waiting for the oppression to lift so we can set out again on a clear path.

The moods evoked in a fog can be very similar to those we experience daily. Fog has a way of concealing. Toddlers amuse us by covering their eyes in the belief that if they can’t see you, you can’t see them, but hiding something doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The skeletons in our closet, though hidden from view, have a way of lurking in the recesses of our psyche, and unfortunately manage to slip a bony finger around the closet door now and again and peek out to remind us they are still there. Shutting the door again is usually the immediate reaction, though not necessarily the wisest move.

For me, mist enshrouded landscapes have an attraction all their own, transforming clear lines and distinct colours into an ethereal beauty, but for many the best part of fog is in its lifting. Those days when it drifts in and obliterates the scenery for hours chill you to the core. All warmth is gone, and a depressing mantle of silence hangs in the air. But the moment the temperature rises and the fog starts to rise, it’s like the burden also is lifted. The sun finally penetrates, the fog disperses, the world which seemed to be on hold awakens and comes to life once more.

Whether we operate in a fog or not, there is much in our lives we choose to conceal, sometimes to the detriment of both ourselves and others. To be able to reveal more of ourselves, to emerge from the things which prevent us from reaching our potential and from being who we are meant to be, to see clearly a way forward, now that would be a real blessing.