this too
Monday, October 31, 2005
  When last we met

To say I’m ambivalent about blogging this is an understatement. Maybe it’ll force me to close this blog. Or maybe I’ll be able to move on. I don’t know. There’s so much else I’d like to write about - exercise my imagination and vocabulary, play more. But I can’t seem to write anything else until I’ve written this.

Imagine I’m a man and this is my wife. We’ve been married a long time and unhappy almost from the start. I first left her more than ten years ago. Her father died a few weeks later, she phoned me and I went back, went through the motions, through the dry, resentful funeral, and stayed. We lived together under a cloud. She was bored and shrill and bitter. I was depressive, uncommunicative, indecisive, knowing I should go, not going.

It is 1984. I left again, went back, left, went back. Finally, two years ago, I left for London and a new job. It is not a great success. Neither my wife nor I has formed a new relationship. Every now and then we meet and talk about trying again. A day together is usually enough to remind us why we shouldn’t.

It is Christmas. She persuades me we should spend it together, at her recently widowed sister’s home by the sea in Somerset. I am fond of her sister, after all, and of the sea. A quiet, relaxing place to be together and try not to rub each other up the wrong way. I have no plans for Christmas. I am prey to sentimental expectations of the holiday and keenly feeling my single state. I agree.

Bad mistake. BAD mistake. Her sister is caretaker of a seaside holiday park. Fifty empty wooden chalets. Deserted. Cold. Bleak. We have a chalet. Unheated. Furnished sparsely, for holidaymakers who spend most of their time outside. She’s told her sister we will sleep together, we are giving it another go. So only one bed has bedclothes. We do not sleep together. We divide the bedclothes and freeze. She will not tell her sister. I may not ask for more blankets. I bury myself in coats, escape into uneasy sleep. She lies awake, chilled, brooding on her own intransigence.

I am angry with myself for agreeing to this. I shut myself in the bathroom with a bottle of whisky. Keep warm by staying under water. Get very drunk, then very sick. Alarmed by this – I don’t usually drink a lot - my wife tries to be pleasant, but cannot. She opens her mouth and the frogs and serpents of a lifetime’s bitterness rush out. Her sister, who looks depressed and clearly wishes we hadn’t come, cooks an inedible Christmas dinner. When not snowing, it rains. I walk on the long grey beach. It is a nightmare.

My wife’s nephew comes to visit his mother. A frail youth of twenty, lost without his father, for whom he used to work. Looking at my frozen, furious face, and trying, really trying, not to turn her tongue on me, my wife turns on him. She has a nose for vulnerability, nags him relentlessly over breakfast, lunch and dinner about what a failure he is, how he must shape up and be a better support to his mother. On the third day of this he stands up, palely silent, leaves in the middle of a snowstorm and drives across Dartmoor to his sister’s place. Really dangerous. Better than staying. Good for him.

I have watched her do to him what she usually does to me, felt so sorry, so indignant, and said not a word in his defence. I leave the next day, soberly appalled at my own weakness, and I think: no more, I can’t bear this woman and I can’t bear who I am in her presence. We do not meet again.

Twenty years have passed. My ex-wife remarried, was widowed some years ago, began to phone me again. Whenever she is ill or lonely there will be an answerphone message. Sometimes I phone back. Sometimes she tells me I’m evil. Sometimes she carps inanely as though we saw each other yesterday. Always she makes me shudder, and I have little to say in return. I hold the phone as though it's a heavy saucepan of boiling water, longing to let it fall, exerting all my effort not to let it fall.

Maybe you think she should leave me alone after all these years. I should change my phone number. No, you don’t, I don’t. Because this is not my ex-wife. It’s my mother. Not my ex-mother. There is no divorce.
Friday, October 28, 2005
  The unspoken

I’ve had nothing to say, as shown by the random proliferation of photos. It seems I’ve lost the will to speak and can only regain it by speaking the unspeakable.

Tamar yesterday evoked the wise therapist she used to see. He sounds like a good ‘un and made me think of the wise, gentle counsellor in my own life. I hadn’t seen her for a long time, but I went to see her this week because I’ve been feeling so depressed.

I looked into her kind face, explained that I’m very depressed because I’m not managing to move forward as I would wish with changing my life situation, and suddenly found myself blurting: “I suppose I believe that I can’t ever have a better life because my mother has put a curse on me!” (she didn’t blink).

Oh lord. Is that really what I believe? How appalling. But I feel better for having voiced it. Nothing is so bad it can’t be faced. But the unspoken, and therefore unfaced, has limitless power.

I am estranged from my mother, who is now 82, and have been for more than 20 years. It was I who initiated this state of affairs, in that I was the one who decided: no, I can’t do this any more, I can’t survive this relationship any longer, and I would really, really like to survive. I suppose I might equally say, though, that she initiated it, by being so extremely nasty that each time we met I lost the will to live.

It is dreadful. It is worse than divorce, since our culture does not accept (I don’t know of any culture that does) that we can 'divorce' our parents. It is inexcusable, unspeakable and ever-present, like phantom pain from a missing limb. If I have no compassion for my own mother (well, I do have some compassion for her, but apparently not enough to make me end what she once termed the ‘life sentence’ I had imposed on her), this makes a mockery of everything I cleave to, everything I have learned from Buddhists about the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion. It goes beyond guilt. It goes, apparently, as far as feeling that I’ve brought a curse upon myself.

A curse that has turned me to stone. I’d like to leave London, stop working full-time in a city office, and I have strong and feasible ideas about alternatives. I’ve known this for several years. And I do nothing about it, just carry on and on with a lifestyle in which I now find neither joy nor reason. A massive wall of apathy and resistance lies between me and the actions necessary to change things. It’s absurd. It’s beyond understanding or endurance that I’ve let it go on for so long. I can’t explain it. Except perhaps by reference to something psychic, irrational, malevolent.

There. How awful.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
  Travels of a donkey

Now in London

Previously in Venice

Photo-mural by Paola Pivi
Wednesday, October 26, 2005

grey gardens
you sadden me

for Winter
to strip you

last flower

now terribly fragile
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
  Still empty


Monday, October 24, 2005

What a thing of beauty the department store is, recently restored to all its art deco glory. A palace of cool and quiet on Sunday morning. Gracious curves and softly filtered light. And no you may not take a photo Madam. And no not one of the twenty-odd sweaters fits. And no not one of the shelves and shelves of different shades of sheets matches these pillow cases. Dwarfed by grandeur and bemused by the gulf between promise and delivery, between beauty and discontent.
Friday, October 21, 2005

Thursday, October 20, 2005

I escaped yesterday and went to an afternoon showing of Tibet: A Buddhist Trilogy, a new digitally remastered version of a film made in 1977 among Tibetan communities in India, Nepal and Ladakh. An afternoon in another world of colour, space, sonority, desert, devotion, of wide skies and small, dark monastery chambers.

Nearly twenty years ago. Here was a chubbier, more mortal Dalai Lama. Here were ancient rhythms of monks’ horns and voices and ancient work chants of labourers hoeing. Faces of plain, naked beauty, sometimes with tears in their eyes as they sang – or was it just the incense, the biting wind? The painful knowledge that this was then, that these communities must be much changed by now. But also that Tibetan Buddhism has since touched hearts and minds around the world, and, seeing those rows upon rows of monks’ faces, that women are now a little more visible in the structures of devotion. The light, the colours look like my photos after I’ve clicked on ‘sharper’, ‘saturate’ and ‘glow’. Women working in the fields in tall hats, weird silhouettes against the sun. And then I remember: women in Wales, where I think my family comes from, used to wear tall hats. Remember: just about the same time this was shot, I worked in fields with Portuguese women, their hard trilby hats tied on over headscarves. Such a little time ago, back then when I was young. It ends with a death ritual, brutally tender. The old man’s tiny body stretchered to an open, rocky place. The body turning to ash in daring close-up, and we seem to see blood flowing in the flames.

Sat for two-and-a-half hours immobile, just breathing, with a lump in my throat.

There’s a DVD.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005
  Not about happiness

Spot the semi-anonymous legs

The recent fashion for researching happiness and its causes fascinates me. I’m inclined to think the causes of happiness are ineffable, but it's interesting that so many are giving it thought.

Having just read a disturbing and provocative article on the subject, I sat down to write about it. Then thought, no, I can’t. I picked up the article, you see, from a blog I read. It’s the blog of someone I know. I sometimes talk to him about blogging, but he doesn’t know (I hope) about mine.

So I can’t link to him, because then he’ll find out. So I won’t be able to acknowledge where I read about this. And the more I think about it, I can’t write about it at all, at least not right now - if this is a current preoccupation of this other blogger's, he might wonder who else is blogging about it and do some searching… and I’m vaguely recognisable, even though I thought better of my picture and removed it.

In fact, I may have said too much already.

How difficult and uncomfortable. I concluded, and continue to feel, that I wouldn’t be comfortable with complete self-revelation or with complete anonymity. But semi-anonymity is really not satisfactory either.

OK, Moose. Here, without further comment, is the article:
Monday, October 17, 2005
  The wrong trousers

Since I managed to lose some weight over the Summer, all my Winter clothes are baggy. Baggy is a good look, I think, if you're thin and angular. If you're tubby, though not as tubby as before, it's not such a good look.

I have these trousers. They're corduroy with 10% lycra - the only kind I could fit into last year. Baggy lycra is a particularly bad look. They kind of stand there on their own...
Friday, October 14, 2005

Pond in Windsor Great Park, near where I spent last weekend

I’ve really enjoyed writing a bit more for the blog this week, since things quietened down around here. Quietened down comparatively, that is – not very much really. But I like finding time to write, even when I’m busy. Wish I did so more often. It makes me feel calmer, less jangling and fragmented.

I don’t often think about why I like to write. It’s a bit like why I like to breathe.

I could wax lyrical about my humble little bit of creative instinct and how allowing it space is deeply fulfilling. And this would be true.

I could also say, though, that it’s all about reducing experience, feelings, to words on the page; tying up chaos to a satisfying pattern. In a word: control. Writing calms me because it gives an illusion of control.

Doesn’t sound too healthy, does it? Perhaps there’s another way of putting it: exercise. Writing is a mental work-out. Stretching out the sore, tense muscles of my mind, and afterwards they feel better. Mmm.

Thursday, October 13, 2005
  Hard and impenetrable

I was thinking the other day about how I was sustained for years and years by the belief that life would get easier eventually: things would work out, a pattern would emerge, as I grew stronger it would all feel more manageable – maybe not soon, maybe not till I was middle-aged or really old, but well eventually…. Of all the daft things I’ve believed in my time, this has to be the daftest.

So here I’ve been, struggling through the excessive workload of the beginning of yet another new academic year. It’s the fourth since I started working in academia. You’d think it would get easier year by year, but it doesn’t. You’d think the stress of overwork would be easier to deal with after more than twenty years of facing it, in difference contexts, over and over and over again, but it isn’t.

It’s not that I fail to learn from experience. I’ve learned a lot.

A huge amount about workload management, focus, what my particular weaknesses and difficulties are. How I used to be much too good at seeing the big picture. How this may be a sign of a powerful and agile mind, but it can fatally consume mental energy and stop you getting on with the job in hand. I learned to resolutely put the big picture aside until an appropriate moment, focus on the thing in front of me.

And a huge amount about the wider personal repercussions of overwork. How I used to choose efficiency over kindness, rant and rave impatiently at everyone around me when I was really pushed. How I used to travel to meetings in interesting, exotic places, meet interesting, exotic people and shout at them for not meeting my standards of efficiency. I learned that that was too high a price for them or for me to pay for efficiency. That the exchange of kindness, however busy you are, costs nothing and nurtures both parties, so it isn’t the additional drain it might seem.

Both of these were hard lessons, not learned quickly, and learning them changed me. But not even these lessons made things easier. Experience only serves so much. No task, I guess, is ever really the same as last time – and neither is the doer.

Take this year. There’s been nothing new. Nothing particularly dubious or ill-prepared or frightening. Just lots and lots of the usual thing – more information and demands arriving simultaneously than the average human mind can process, the instant of panic this inspires, the ritual facing of the panic and refusing it and filing the new piece of information somewhere it can be retrieved when there is time. And I’ve dealt with it well enough, which is all you can ever do. But the toll it has taken, the feelings of exhaustion, confusion, anxiety and intimations of depression – oh god! So why? Why doesn’t it get easier? What was the particular factor this year?

I think it’s that I swore I wouldn’t still be here to do all this again. When I booked the students’ weekend school I’ve just been on, some eighteen months ago, I did so in absolute confidence that some other idiot would actually have to accompany them on it, since I would be long gone. In October 2004, I remember thinking I should make a point of enjoying the bits I enjoy about this, enjoy holding forth to this group of gratifyingly attentive new students, enjoy having knowledge to share and their gratitude for it. Because I wouldn’t be doing this again. And here I still am, doing it again. I haven’t gone. I’ve failed to cross the bridges, meet the targets, make the effort, put in the spade work to tunnel through to my other continent beyond this one. Here I still am, angry and disappointed in myself. And that anger and disillusion with myself has sat on my shoulder, weighing a ton, through every task and every demand and every busy, busy day of the past few weeks. Sat on my shoulder hissing cacophonous insults and bitter reproaches in my ear. No wonder I’m sick and tired, and sick and tired of myself. No wonder it felt no easier, indeed harder than ever.

Maybe there’s one thing, though. Yesterday I felt destroyed by this. I sulked and fumed and chewed my fingernails raw, as I do when I’m beside myself. Disgusting. I really hate it when I do that, though I suppose there are habits more dangerously self-destructive. To my surprise, by today, my fingers were already half-healed. And I think that’s it, the only comfort. Nothing gets easier. I don’t fall over less, it doesn’t hurt less, than it ever did. But, as the years go by, I do seem to heal, recover, bounce back upright more quickly. Or does it just seem quicker in the context of a longer life?
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
  Autumn blogfruit

Autumn’s melancholy is often cheered by a new flowering of creative projects from writers and artists who withdraw inside and find more time for their work and for sharing it. And so this Autumn brings a burst of new voices in the blogosphere, as well as new projects from voices already known and loved.

When I started blogging back in February this year, I’d been inspired by bloggers from far and wide whose voices and pictures I’d loved and responded to and commented on. The bringing near of far-away lives was a special attraction and something I wanted to be part of. But it also meant a lot when one of the first to comment on my baby blog was Mary, who lived just a few miles from me in South London – to know that part of that community was geographically close, as well as widely scattered. So I’m bouncing with delight that she’s finally succumbed and started her own blog, A Breath of Air, which incarnates the warmth, perceptiveness and articulacy that I’ve so valued in her comments.

Sonia came here to comment more recently and always cheered me with her warmhearted enthusiasm. Now she has a blog, Leaves of Grass, with breathtaking photos of her Brazilian home.

I met Moose over in Dale’s comments, and she (well, she feels like she to me – I don’t know) has just started blogging too, at Find Me A Bluebird. She’s a poet, a wonderful poet – how does she do it every day?

Meanwhile, some of the bloggers I most admire, Beth of Cassandra Pages, Dave of Via Negativa, K of Lucid Moments, and Whiskey River, recently got together to launch a group blog, a new forum for literary and artistic collaboration: QARRTSILUNI. The title is an Alaskan Inuit word meaning sitting together in the darkness, waiting for something to burst. If you haven’t, go and read it now! Contributions are sought for this month’s topic: Change and Continuity.

Monday, October 10, 2005
  In passing, the past

Here is the road, longer than it was, and narrower - no, not really, it's I who am shorter and wider and older. And here is the house, the same but different - yes, really. Like me, it's different in aspect and pretensions, but fundamentally unchanged. For our house has been re-olded, re-cottaged, the doorway unblocked and the wide modern windows refitted with small-paned casements. By owners, no doubt, who bought it cheaply because of its lack of original features, who shook their heads and sighed at all that tearing out, in the 50s and 60s, of cast-iron fireplaces and moulded plaster cornicing, traditional Victorian doors and windows. Now it's a pretty cottage again. Indeed, I'd be happy to live in one like it. Not this one, though. The memories aren't good.

The bedroom window's open and as I take a photo a woman's head appears. She glares and bangs the window shut and I shuffle off, embarrassed. Wonder off to sit by the river with a glass of wine. Wine on a late Sunday afternoon in Autumn, wine in a pub garden, alone, wine at all, was not in our lives here when I was a teenager. No such indulgence, aimlessness or solitude. No money either. Not that I have any now. But I wonder and stare and spend in the world nonetheless. Older, freer, more appreciative of small pleasures. More alone, too, and more lost.

An impulse to jump off the train as we pass the road where I lived and stop at the station where I boarded to go to school in the next town. I'm feeling old, at the end of a weekend in the country with 20 students. Tired, impatient and perhaps a little envious of their energy and hopefulness and silliness. Wondering, if I'd known at their age what lay ahead, would I - could I - have carried on? Maybe not. Hope sustains youth. I've not arrived yet, we keep thinking, but any time now... Some of us, though - those with little aptitude for life - never arrive. We go straight from a long, long youth to the beginning of old age.

I drink my wine, deep purple, near-brown Spanish wine with bite and depth. Stare at the low, low sun on the river's metallic surface. The phrase 'withered on the vine' comes to mind, and fits my self-image too well for comfort. The sun goes behind a cloud. Autumn afternoons are short. On the train home, I contemplate the little house on my camera screen and wonder why I did this. As the last juices dry, a drop of nostalgia for what might have been?

Only once home do I hear the news: the earthquake in Pakistan; the villages around Lake Atitlan in Guatemala - I've been there - buried in a mud-slide; avian flu has reached Europe; of the 10,000 British kids who ran away from home last year, only 30 per cent were ever reported missing by their parents or so-called carers. I feel bad for dwelling on my own unhappiness, that if I can't be happy, I could still be useful, but I'm not. Oh dear.

Friday, October 07, 2005
  Away for a few days

No, it's work. Back on Monday
Thursday, October 06, 2005

The weather is so dull this morning everything's blurred, muted. And I'm so tired, eyes sticky and burning, I' m grateful for the soft colours and lack of harsh lines. Grateful for the African family, more grey-complexioned than black, lined up to cross the road, the women wrapped in frail white headscarves that flow down their shoulders like net curtains, gauzy against the grey sky just one shade darker. Their quiet veils and quiet smiles seem to brush my face.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005
  Words of discomfort

I wonder if
anyone walks sanely in middle age. Isn't there
always some desperation for the taste of one last
miraculous fruit, that has to be pulled from the air?

Elaine Feinstein
(currently my favourite poet - I heard her read some of her stuff last night. She's wonderful! Serious case of heroine-worship).
Monday, October 03, 2005
  Leaves of glass

Click on the picture for a larger view
Sunday, October 02, 2005

Trying to, anyway. I don’t do well with overwork, overstress, overtired. Lose myself, lose my words.

Walk in the woods. Cuddle the cat. Go to a party, have strange conversations, leave early with a fixed smile.

Breathe. Surfacing.

My Photo
Location: London, UK

Freelance copy-editor and translator. Keen on language, literature, photography, art, music, buddhist meditation and the countryside.

February 2005 / March 2005 / April 2005 / May 2005 / June 2005 / July 2005 / August 2005 / September 2005 / October 2005 / November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 /

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