… dappled light – a vital joy …

Cello bridge, Sept 2009

Shadow on door - Copy

 two orbs surge and ebb

as gold-white-silver and blue

flicker through the mesh

 

of vapour and dust

and amid clouds and branches

needle shadow lace

through myths and hollows

in dappled light on solids

… visible pointersP1100852 - low

 

to deep-breathing space

within, the fulcrum from whence

unfolds everything

*    *    *

I found a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) – ‘Pied Beauty’ – more sophisticated than my Haiku attempt, and with sincerity of devotion I can’t muster. Enjoy …

Glory be to God for dappled things–
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced–fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise Him.

*    *    *

My thoughts on dappled light are a spin-off from an exchange of comments with my on-line friend Joe Linker who asked:   ‘Framing – How much light to reveal? Shuttering – How much darkness to avoid?’

Imacon Color Scanner

Her a scene from a stormy scene in Rye with optimal exposure.

Analogue photography provides brilliant metaphors. No matter how interesting the chosen frame, shutter speed is vital. Too much light will turn the negative dense and dark, bringing bleached-out definitions to the positive print. Too little light produces a thin, transparent negative, resulting in a hard or soggy positive where subtleties of tone are lost. The amount of light is regulated by shutter speed.

 

 In writing this is equivalent to the balance of rhythm, sound and shape of words drawing you into the frame.       I’ll keep practising :)

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… a tribute to snags …

I’d make a lousy fundamentalist of any kind, and was probably born with negative capability http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_capability and a tendency to daydream and contemplate life, skirting extremes, which makes my voice almost inaudible in a culture where sensation trumps. It also means I procrastinate on tasks that need doing, until a snag propels me to act.

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One morning last week, easing myself into the day, the shirt I dusted in the cool morning air was trapped when I shut the back-door; next the sleeve of my pyjamas got caught while I closed the lid of my coffee tin. SNAGS – their repetition blinked a green light for associations and made me think of dreams, how they sneak into the daylight via signals. With only a vague memory of my dream, I followed an impulse to catch up on practical tasks round the house.

A shelf in my shed needed fixing. It had crashed, bringing down an array of cans, sprays and sealants. In the way one thing leads to another, I sorted and dumped stuff, and dumped some more – making space. Seized by the flow of action, I de-frosted the freezer, thinned the ivy round the shed, cleaned windows, filled a sack with confidential papers for shredding, loaded the washing machine and made some overdue phone calls … all amounting to what I call a BLITZ day.

Knocks from the dark, SNAGS, help me overcome procrastinations. BLITZ is how I operate to gain periods of laziness. I’ve learned to humour my inner driver (superego) and made peace with Lazy.

Dark of beginnings

Flees the meddler

The shrill demand

The noisy footfall

The sharp beams of

Imposing eyes

Dark folds its mantel

Round the dreamer

The shy nomad

The vague image

The tendrils of

A budding poem

Approach it softly

Like a lover

It may surprise

Or yield nothing …

———————————-

After my Blitz day, a book came to mind, ‘Worlds in Collision’ (1950) by Immanuel Velikovsky. His research resulted in controversial astronomical theories about catastrophic events planet earth experienced over time, and how the human race was affected. Here a link to a 1972 Horizon documentary:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U18gMJXNyX8

He concluded that as a victim of amnesia, collective humanity is compelled to repeat and re-experiencing traumatic events, to aid, in a psycho dynamic sense, recovery through triggering repressed feelings, wake up, and learn to control the experiences. It’s a wider, thought provoking context for the contemplation of our human lot, which I leave to you, my readers, to explore.

———————————– 

On a smaller scale, we may have memories of being held in the womb and in the arms of our mother – or not. In either case, there are giants to overcome, grown-ups. One of the saddest things grown-ups do is deflating a child’s dreams and desires, talking down: Wait till you grow up. Life is tough etc. etc. It’s like telling a seed, ‘Don’t bother; you’re doomed from the start.’

collage2, familyThe desire to be  held equates home. The longing for a permanent home seems to motivate our actions in relation to food, shelter, competition, acquisition, power, money, knowledge or love, as well as being the impetus underlying the craving for prophets who promise salvation.

Fear of not being held, of having no claim on a place where it’s safe to rest when life gets tough, has made us inventive. We wall our interests, invest in insurances, wage war to protect what we identify with , or claim ownership of ideas, philosophies and creeds. Maintaining behaviours that keep familiar systems in place, we find it difficult to accept with sobriety that we are all in the same boat, that our ideas and identities are fleeting chimeras.

Imagine … wouldn’t it be wonderful to seek nothing and simply enjoy the miracle of living, and be like this child overcome by the mystery of rain?  http://vimeo.com/84802749

There is an experience of home that tends to go unrecognised, hiding, as it does, between each breath, in dimensions beyond time. Such glimpses come and go, leaving a sense of union and connectedness while we’re tossed along the rapids of progress, inevitably bumping into obstacles – the snags of life signalling messages from the unseen.

The psyche is a bridge between inner and outer dimensions (the theme of my novels,) similar to the corpus callosum connecting our two brain halves. On good days I sense that in addition to existing in time, a part of me also resides in another frequency dimension, as a light-body, or soul, resonating in my body while I occupy it.

*    *    *

A day, whether six or seven years ago or whether six thousand years ago, is just as near to the present as yesterday. Why?  Because all time is contained in now. Meister Eckhart

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… the vagaries of days …

My dream sinks to a timeless world the instant I open my eyes and take in the first impressions of the day – a shimmering spider web clings to the corner of the skylight, defined in the early sunbeam – a mosquito hovers drunkenly above my laptop. I recall a similar tiny vampire savouring the taste of my blood during my last day in Darwin; did it converse with this one across the oceans by morphic resonance? P1060804 - lower

Almost two weeks have passed since my return. I miss the Aussie company, and mornings at the pool under the palm roof.

Time is fitting hesitantly into habitual chunks. My body tweaks itself into smaller spaces, and tasks resume their orderly sequence. Breakfast oats don’t land in the coffee filter, and my head no longer collides with the chiming bells hanging next to the kitchen sink. Still, having inhaled another kind of dust for a while, an aura of mystery pervades my familiar environment, and routines are shifting, like I scoff at lists, allowing unimportant stuff to be just that, unimportant.

As the sun pours into the house through the garden door, I step outside. A bright orange hot air balloon almost shaves the branches of the high beech. Another follows, with noisy lettering, not as cheerful as the Virgin one with its clear brand. There being no boundaries to the sky, I’ve the visceral sensation of wanting to shrink and become invisible, musing how privacy and solitude are becoming an issue – there’s only in-back and no out-back left in England.

P1060820 - lower A poem stirs, wants out, but mail demands attention. I share my disorientation with friends. Ideas chatter and juggle into new frames, a changed perception of ‘home.’ What’s home other than moving with the experiences that carry us onwards?

I glance at the patch of Phlox waving from the lush green beyond the window and then distract myself from the screen by trimming a miniature Japonica tree into shape. My blackbird friend comes close enough for us to have a conversation.

I make time for a two hour stint of editing ‘Shapers,’ the sequel to my first novel. Moments of laughter – relishing my writing is surely a good sign, until the next stab of doubt – will anyone be interested in my scribbles? The solution is to keep writing, and trust readers will be pulled into my opus and enjoy the adventure.

Another shot of coffee before today’s therapy sessions begin – undivided attention to process, listening to stories. When silences linger in the devoted space, spirits assemble – we are a crowd of presences meditating on meaning, or the lack of it.

P1060831 - lower Though it was not exactly my birthday, I hosted a small garden party last Saturday, celebrating togetherness with friend. I managed to outwit Sunday’s Hurricane Bertha, which, in my corner, merely brought blustery wind and rain. Clouds parted in time to reveal the brilliant super moon.

Preparing for reading in bed, I catch a tiny movement – a huge spider. Totally irrational, but there’s a wrong time and place for spiders in my house … at night, next to my bed, and it’s a matter of scale. The scenario of a huge spider crawling over my skin plays havoc with my imagination. No time to get a glass and chuck the creature out. I’ve light in my maisonette, but take a torch for good measure, and wait. In a while the monster comes for me from its hiding place among books – full attack! While it baffles me that the sure crunch of a spider’s demise can in such instant bring me satisfaction, it’s also sobering to realise how discordant timing is neither good nor bad, it just is.

P1060834 - smallerGiven the vagaries of experiences each day brings, the only control given to us seems to be pliancy. As I write this, a rainbow flows across a cloud.

‘The same wind that uproots trees
makes the grass shine.
The lordly wind loves the weakness
and the lowness of grasses.
Never brag of being strong.
The axe doesn’t worry how thick the branches are.
It cuts them to pieces. But not the leaves.
It leaves the leaves alone.’
Rumi, The Essential Rumi

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… songlines – family – a wedding in Darwin …

Families are an enigma to me. I value solitude and, yes, company, inner space and, yes, gritty adventure, constancy and, yes, change. I must have been born on a wave of contradiction. With no siblings or surviving grandparents, and my mother gone since 27 years, I’m left with a hermit-like father who avoids communication and  lives at a distance. Well, bless him.

my mother with her grandson

my mother with her grandson

 

Opa and his grandson

my father and his grandson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not surprisingly, my sense of family has an abstract quality that benefits my fiction writing. That said, my family extends to weathered friends whose authenticity I respect, my ex-husband included. Last week, our son, Yeshen, and his partner, Natasha, who live and work in London, had their wedding in the tropical Northern Territory of Australia. Sensible, since most of Tasha’s relatives live around the great coastline of this continent, in Brisbane, Sidney, Melbourne, Perth and  Darwin – where we gathered. As a child, like the author Bruce Chatwin, I once asked, ‘why don’t the people from down under fall off the earth?’ Australian children may well think of Europeans as down-unders and similarly ask, ‘why don’t they fall off the earth and float into space?’

The first three decades of my life I moved from place to place, restlessly roaming my inner songlines, searching for footprints leading to a family of mind and spirit, much like Chatwin described in Songlines, the practices of the indigenous people of Australia, who used to traverse their vast territory following the dream tracks of their ancestors, singing the names of everything they encountered on their paths, as a way of bringing their world into being and endowing their lives with existence and meaning.

I travelled all over Europe, have been to Israel, Africa, America … the other side of the planet had never called me. The thought of clocking up over 20 flight-hours made me nervous. Hey, I told myself, this is an adventure. In the end, my passion for clouds outshone my anxiety. A window seat always helps. Without the view I’d feel boxed in.

As the plane cruised over the Bay of Bengal towards my stopover, Singapore, I stared 36 000 feet down and couldn’t help thinking of the plane that only a few months ago went missing without a trace. I diverted myself, as one does when overcome by the enormity of one’s human helplessness, with useless thoughts, like pondering the possible legal implications when bodies can’t be found. Two days after my flight, another plane went down, this time shot out of the sky above the Ukraine. As it emerged, my son’s father was meant to be on this flight from Amsterdam. Due to overbooking, the airline offered a later flight, via Paris, with complementary business class thrown in. He and we were lucky, others were not.

from my window seat

from my window seat

Life is a treasure, if unpredictable – at times beautiful and brimming with joy, at other times painful and cruel, and often exceedingly strange, without rhyme or reason. We like to think we have control, yet know little to nothing about what decides our fates.

It made the wedding ceremony, which took place on an old pearl fishing vessel, all the more precious. The event culminated with the setting sun painting the wisps of clouds salmon pink. It’s my favourite light.

 

approaching Darwin

approaching Darwin

father and son

father and son

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the ring exchange

the ring exchange

the signing

the signing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the bride

the bride

the sun winks

the sun winks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Because the pearl-fishing boat could only accommodates a limited number of people, the ceremony was small and intimate. The images speak for themselves. Later on, a much larger party met for a fabulous reception at the estate of a relative.

There were songs, one specially prepared by the bride’s mother, accompanied by my son’s father on the guitar, there were humorous speeches, there was the glimmer of water from illuminated rock-like pools, festive lights overhead, candles, and the music and slideshow the couple had prepared. The latter I missed and must catch up on, having been too involved with meeting my son’s new family and getting drawn into stories over champagne, wine and delectable menus.

The pleasant tropical winter night, with tables arranged on English-style lawns, was equivalent to a rare, gloriously European summer night. And of course there were more songs, by Mr Palm of Palm Guitars …

Mindil Beach Market

Mindil Beach Market

P1060262lowerIn days that followed, we returned to favourite places.  Crowds gather, especially on Thursdays and Saturdays, at the iconic Mindil Beach with its backdrop of festivities and over 300 colourful market stalls. People come here to watch the sun grow in size as it nears the horizon, and everyone cheers and claps when the last sliver of red drops into the Arafura Sea.

 

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We travelled to Nature Parks, with abundant wildlife …

Palaces built by termites …

Springs, waterfalls and rock pools to swim in, with the thrill of possible crock sightings …

P1060382 - lowerWe enjoyed nights at the waterfront where they serve fresh seafood and Thai dishes, with Sharks and Moon fish beyond the harbour wall waiting for morsels.

Wangi Falls

Wangi Falls

termite palace

termite palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the garden pool

the garden pool

Russell

Russell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Banyon

Banyon

palm roof

palm roof

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On returning, I watched the lights shining from the islands in the Timor Sea. After 4 hours stopover in Singapore, to stretch my legs, and, delight, enjoy a few roll-ups, yes they have smoking areas at this airport, I settled into another window seat, overawed once more by how such super-heavy Airbuses can lift from the ground. My eyes switched between the book I was reading and the screen on my seat showing the flightpath, with the sun moving across to the Atlantic, while Australia’s night was encroaching on India. Endless hours later, England’s south seemed quaint from the air, with its patchwork of orderly fields framed by hedges and lanes. An American friend once called it Hobbit Land.

Home again. I feel like being gently rocked in a cradle. It will pass. I’ve yet to absorb the experiences of my Aussie adventure, still deliciously disorientated by upside down time and a different kind of dreaming. I got a taste of a new world, as good wine that lingers on, leaving a desire for more, like learning about the traditional owners of the territories, the Larika people. If I heard about Darwin’s man-made and natural disasters, it had not registered. The town was flattened twice, first in WWII – during Japanese air raids, and again in 1974 by Cyclon Tracy. Aussies are a resilient people.

Having enjoyed generous hospitality by the brides fathers, stepmother, mother, aunt and uncle, heart warming company by more uncles, aunts, siblings, their partners, cousins, nieces, and their partners, I miss the buzz of the large family, and not least the cute dogs, Russell and Rosie, whose exuberant joy in ballgames included jumping into the pool. I’ll hold the memory of the green shade under layers of palm leaves, the fresh fish served at the waterfront, the buzzing markets, the incredible architecture of old banyan trees, massive baobab and eucalyptus and the impressive series of sunsets. I’m looking forward to visitors, and maybe assist them in exploring places where their ancestors lived in Hobbit Land.

One image keeps playing tricks on my mind, some dark thing, stuff for a surreal crime novel – a giant toad in a freezer. But that’s a story for another occasion.

Technically challenged, I now hope the images on this page don’t jump all over the place once I press the ‘publish’ button :)

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… first photos from Darwin …

Our summers are Darwin’s winters with uninterrupted sunshine at over 30 degrees.  From October it becomes too hot and humid for the easy life.P1060366lower

I’m here to meet my son’s new family. In two days there’ll be a wedding on an old perl-fishing boat – an event which Natasha fictionalised in a delightful animation, where all guest are bush turkeys. They do walk in that peculiar way.

 

At waterfront locations are great markets, several times a week. The air is filled with culinary smells from food-stalls. Hundreds of merchants sell leather ware, clothing and indigenous crafts. There are fire-twirlers, puppet shows, picnics, and at sunsets the crowds gather.

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I’ve been swimming in safe places, and yesterday in  a fabulous spring pool, which, I was told later, has the very occasional crock sighting. The water is clear and soft and the falls offer a brilliant free massage. P1060443lower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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… physical books I loved to bits…

Aged eighteen, while staying with a family friend in London, I came upon the catalogue of the greatest photographic exhibition of all time – The Family of Man – a mirror to the essential oneness of mankind throughout the world.

The exhibition was assembled by Edward Steichen for the Museum of Modern Art and contained photographs from sixty-eight nations …

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There is only one man in the world

and his name is All man

There is only one woman in the world

and her name is All Woman

There is only one child in the world

and the child’s name is All Children

 

The inspiring collection of images decided my first career as a photographer.

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Ironic, given that my parents’ photographic business had held no interest for me. I realised my search was for what shone through reality, the essence in people and situation. I was inspired by poetry, story, light and shadow, movement, point of view and framing.

Fully embracing this passion started an active and adventurous period of my life, with opportunities to travel and mingle with groups of highly eccentric and creative people.

 

A decade later, at New York’s Kennedy airport, after a several momentous months in Washington DC, while waiting for a flight back to Amsterdam with my husband to be, a title on a book rack screamed for my attention … well, it jumped at me like a dream tiger.

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Man and his Symbols.

You couldn’t find a better window into the ideas of Carl Gustav Jung.

It was Jung’s last project, addressed to a wider public, readers who would not normally come upon the over 17 volumes of his work.

Due to its pocket size, as you can see, the yellowed pages of my copy travelled and have been well-read over the years ….

The book came about through the persistence of the remarkably diverse John Freeman: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/politics/2013/03/john-freeman-face-face-enigma

He interviewed Jung in a Face to Face programme for TV: https:/ /www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPGMWF7kU_8

Seeing the programme, Wolfgang Foges (Aldus Books,) urged Freeman to persuade Jung to write a book for the general public. Jung firmly refused – until he had a dream. He consequently asked Freeman to act as editor and co-ordinator with the average reader in mind. So it became a collective project between Jung and four of his followers, M L von Franz, Joseph L Henderson, Aniela Jaffe and Jolande Jacoby, and was completed before Jung’s death in 1961,

In his introduction Freeman suggests the reader will find it a persuasive and profoundly absorbing journey … which, for me, was true from the start. During eight hours on the plane, with an occasional glance at my partner, the receding skyscrapers of Manhattan, and the expanse of oceans, my interest in dreams and the unconscious were powerfully validated. The book makes a convincing case for the imaginative life as the most distinctive characteristic of human beings. I totally grokked this: The unconscious is no mere repository of the past but also full of germs of future psychic situations and ideas … they grow up from the dark depths of the mind like a lotus and form a most important part of the subliminal psyche.

Two years on, having become a mother, and living for five years in rural Somerset with treasured time to study, it was C G Jung’s work that inspired me to delve into cultural and mythological research, leading on to my training in psychotherapy, and later still, to write novels.

My shelves contain many more books I loved to bits, and I wonder if digital version of these publications would have had the same lasting impact.

Frankly, I doubt it.

Only today I shared a tattered copy of Kahlil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’ with a supervision client. She had never heard of the poet and was delighted.

Do you have books that fall apart through love and physical touch and still inspire?

 

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… framing our impressions …

Last week a friend visited, and I took her to a local Sculpture Park set within ten acres of heath and woodland, a place where meandering pathways lead you into a deep dream-scape of rare plants, springs, streams and ponds, and where artworks face you at every turn.

The evening before, over a meal in my garden, we shared stories – about ageing and loosing people, about war-damaged fathers, about writing workshops in prisons. Our discussions often home in on the suppressed feminine in both men and women. So it’s not surprising that while we wandered through the park our two pairs of eyes were resting longer on artworks expressing aspects of the feminine, and our observations mingled.

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I thought I share a few photos of sculptures that caught our attention.

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This bronze figure of an earth mother and warrior combined in one impressed. Her solid stance, yet also her surrender to something other. I took a picture and looked again, moved to touch her rough coat. There were her feet, standing firmly on the ground, a tool or weapon hanging from her belt, the little fists, speaking of determination, and there was her smooth, yielding face turned upwards in ecstasy towards a transcending spirit.

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The endearing foursome forming a protective square made us linger.

My friend reached out to add her hand to the interlocking hands.

P1060117 lowresAnd we loved the little feet …

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I felt a natural affinity with this bird woman, again taking a closer frame, to highlight her relationship to the bird.

It’s talons rest gently in her outstretched hand, bringing a greeting, and maybe a message.

The woman keeps a respectful space between her and the bird, a space filled with wonder, in which to savour the special meeting with her core nature.

 

A most haunting sculpture was this shell of a person. My friend reached into the dark emptiness. I called ‘Hello’ into the hollow and the sound was swallowed up without returning an affirming resonance.

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Later, with the help of Photoshop, I turned the image into a negative, and there you have it – the essence of what we are, light, often hidden.

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Day in day out we absorb a continuous hyper stream of phenomena. What makes us stop and observe more closely and choose a meaningful frame to digest our experience?

Is it an emotion, a sound, a movement, a desire to touch, an association, a memory, a pattern recognition, an inner seeing, the intuition of an essence, a context that resonates with our lives, an interesting angle, a certain light …?

For creatively inclined minds, these processes fuse and culminate in an urge to compose and share the impression of an experience by placing a frame round an image … a story.

A symbolic understanding arrives and signals once more  into the unknown, framed anew.

*    *    *

LINKS:  http://thesculpturepark.com/

http://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2011/10/18/sculpture-park/ post from a former visit

http://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/the-inner-silence-of-henri-cartier-bresson/  master framer

http://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/what-makes-a-photograph-arresting/ a knack for composition

http://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/inspiration/ young people observing and being creative

 

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… that deep romantic chasm …

Yeshen, dad, violine 2

Our son was born in the Quantock Hills, and we lived there for a while, in a place where Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poetry was inspired that deep romantic chasm which slanted down the green hill

England, the green and pleasant land a link with Blake’s words on screen. This older version made me smile. In case the link won’t work https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKaJ4b0XYmI

Green hills come with grey skies. Endless weeks of rain leave me melancholic. Then I long for sunshine & hammock days, when fragrances of jasmine and honeysuckle linger until midnight, friends gather round a fire, tea-lights twinkle in trees, a glass of wine or two, or three. This year, sunshine flips to rain almost daily,  green overwhelms as jungle that needs mowing, trimming and hedge-cutting. I’m left wondering if the rare sunny day is worth all the effort and contemplate a Mediterranean lifestyle.

Israel, Carlos, 71, Anna Karina - smaller stillYears back, after three months of filming in a desert – swift sunsets, brilliant stars, marvellous moons, scorching hot days, cool nights, stark and beautiful – I returned to a lush and sensuous Bavarian autumn – myriads of colours, the smell of moist earth, mist, the sweet water of ponds soft on my skin, different kinds of dreams – such a contrast, it made me think how powerfully our temperaments are influenced by climate and weather, in ways we experience ourselves, in ways we feel and think, in ways we express ourselves, write poetry, compose music.

Countries with balanced climate are rare, so it’s unreasonable to expect people to be balanced and temperate. And would it serve us, I wonder? Would it make us too complacent?

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We’re not machines. Each of us has a unique frequency, intricately bonded and tuned with nature’s whorls and spirals in continuous movements of renewal and becoming. I concede, even a single balmy summer’s day brings a smile and restores my senses – blue flowers swaying in the breeze, reading poetry in my hammock.

So I dream of sunshine, but too zealously. As in Plato’s myth of Er,  variety and extremes seem to turn the spindle of necessity and stimulate the imagination. What we commit to in life encounters grit – stuff that grows pearls in oysters and also polishes hearts. And there is the grace of precious moments, when seasons overlap in us, when all our senses are switched on, and the young, curious self, with its eternal projection into the unknown, imagines the unimaginable …

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… one more taster of ‘Shapers’ …

Engrossed in polishing the text of ‘Shapers,’ the latest idea for a post is as yet unwritten. To maintain my blogging rhythm, I thought I share another excerpt, leading on from … A taster of ‘Shapers’ … 

*    *    *

The underground lake

Gart pondered the word he hadn’t come across – misgivings …

‘You see yourself in others as through a broken glass,’ said Rat, alert to his puzzlement.

‘Not in Mesa I don’t,’ Gart was quick to say. ‘And Leo, I despise him. I know how his mind works. I’m nothing to him. He used me to gain power in Rhonda.’

Rat shook its pelt and scuttled ahead into the tunnel. ‘Come along, you’ve got to cross the lake. There lies an answer.’

Gart struggled to his feet, limbs stiff from what seemed endless hours on damp rock. He recalled Oruba talking of a junction with a slab in the middle – and a password. ‘Not so fast!’ he shouted. Stumbling, he fell flat on his face. The glower shot from his hand and rolled yards ahead, a little spot of light before the blackness of the tunnel beyond. He touched his nose, wet – blood. There was no pain, only numbness.

‘Don’t fret. It’s useful to be visibly injured when you attempt to cross the lake.’ The silhouette of Rat loomed like a giant keyhole from where Gart was spread on the ground. ‘Not far now, hurry.’

Gart wiped at the trickling blood with his sleeve and then crawled towards his glower. Not far was an understatement. He followed the tail of his guide along three more junctions before a square slab signalled the gateway to the underground lake. Now where was the password? He sampled his pockets for the scrap of paper. ‘Lost it, must have happened when I fell.’

‘Didn’t you memorise the code?’ Rat sounded alarmed.

‘I only glanced at it.’

‘Try a few words, as they come.’

Gart shook his head. ‘It was short, that’s all I know.’

‘This place is dangerous to loiter in,’ Rat twittered. ‘I’ll race back to see if I can find the note. Your light may attract unsavoury entities. Turn it off! Whatever happens, don’t give in to fear!’

He did as told. In the blackness Rat’s last word echoed – fear – it came, consumed his reason, a snake. Kill it – kill it – he heard his own voice demanding. A blazing sword, not his, swished through the air and severed his right hand. Gart screamed and a thousand screams returned from the walls around him. Something shone in the darkness and slithered towards his lone hand. Voices murmured close to his ear, faces crowded in, concerned, until one face loomed over him, erasing all others. It was the menacing sneer again, the bane of his life. Gart coiled up and clutched his knees, whimpering, ‘Leave me. Go away.’

‘Got it, got it.’ Rat jumped onto the switch of the glower light and dropped a crumpled note at Gart’s feet. ‘You saw him, didn’t you?’

‘Saw who?’ Gart said, wide-eyed, looking for his hand, surprised it was still attached to his arm.

‘Say it, now. It’s the code for opening the gateway. Say it loud.’ Gart straightened the note. Letters jiggled, foiling his comprehension.

‘Must do, must do. Get on with it!’ Rat chased its own tail in frustration.

Gart pressed the password through his lips – Batin. A grating noise emitted from the slab as it slid apart.

Bits, temple door - smallRat disappeared down steps hewn into the rock. ‘Quick. Not much time.’ The cavity below brought a whiff of cool air. An overhanging rock barred the way and Gart had to crouch low. He choked and his chest cramped in panic of being crushed. His muscles tightened, ungiving, like tough leather, and a stabbing pain in his shoulder made him cry out in pain. Fragments of a blurred shape drifted by, leaving a bitter smell, and then it was done. He stood upright. Taking a deep, long breath, Gart gaped at a cave towering high into a vast crystal vault. In the middle lay a body of water, motionless, like a sheet of glass. Tied to a jetty was a blue boat, and in it sat a hunched figure, a pale, wizened old man in rags that showed bits of brittle brocade. Too weak to raise his head, he turned his neck sidewise towards the presences and uttered a lament. ‘Have you come to lift the curse?’

It seemed impossible that this face terrified him earlier. The cruel dark eyes had changed into maudlin pools of tears. The sight disgusted Gart. Every fibre of his body twitched with a desire to drown the pitiful apparition.

‘I must leave you here, friend. Be careful now,’ said Rat.

*    *    *

I won’t give away the story, especially since the first book in the series still awaits the light of day. But I welcome feedback. Recent comments were precious gifts, thank you. All helps in the polishing.

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… A taster of ‘Shapers’ …

I’m in the process of editing ‘Shapers,’ the sequel to ‘Course of Mirrors,’  my first novel, awaiting release this year. By no means the final edit-round of Shapers, any feedback to this sequence from chapter eight is appreciated. Gart was called Rufus in  Course of Mirrors. He re-appears in a future society. This is the beginning of a kind of night-sea-journey, where Gart is tested for a role he may or may not fulfil.

The tunnel

Having shut down his craft, Gart looked up to the late light falling into the cave. He felt dwarfed by its lofty height. A sliver of pale moon shone through a crescent-shaped opening in the roof. A glimmer in the rock before him caught his attention. Stepping close, he distinguished the carving of a spiralling maze. Intrigued, he tried to determine its flowing pattern towards the centre, but soon felt dizzy. His head was not right. Odd – it had not occurred to him to ask Oruba why he was sent on this underground journey. Rats, he thought, rats had consumed his mind when the tunnel was mentioned. Here was his chance to meet real rats. He had never questioned why Leo kept providing him with banned books on these creatures, instilling this obsession. Governors were not known to forge relationships of interest, or confer weighty authority onto their staff. Gart smiled to himself. Leo lacked influence, not just politically. He relied on him to exercise command over the Guardian army.

RAT - damballaproductions.deviantart.com

RAT – damballaproductions.deviantart.com

The entry to the tunnel was narrow but gradually opened out. He chose his steps with care. Not trusting the rough ground, he switched the glower’s setting from its sharp beam to diffused light. Deadly still and cool air enveloped him. Every now and then a section of steps lowered the path. There were bends where the tunnel narrowed only to expand again. After an endless straight stretch, a cairn rose like an apparition, its stones stacked up higher than his head, with a rock sticking out like a crooked finger pointing to the right. He strained his ears to identify a sound underlying the silence, a faint drone. And there was another sound, whisperings, behind his back. A shiver in his neck made him turn to cast the light of the glower along the walls – nothing. He loathed the dark. Was this really his choice, or had the black man lured him into this tunnel? Willing himself forward, he counted several cairns that looked alike until his map showed he had reached a halfway point. Dragging on, his linen sack with provisions got snagged by a jutting rock – food – the thought made his stomach growl.

He placed the glower on the ground, rested his back against the rock, and pulled a tin from the sack. It contained biscuits. Chewing relaxed him, and his taste buds declared: moreish. The water in the flask was fresh, with a hint of lemon. An acute sense of pleasure spread throughout his body. Every single cell was drunk with joy.

The sensation astounded him. He took his time over another biscuit, letting the crumbs melt slowly on his tongue, closing his eyes to savour each morsel. A bird – it could not be, not here – yet it was.  A bird sang sweet notes in the branches of a blossoming tree under which he sat and played with stones and shells. A round-faced woman appeared, with a warm smile, tousling his hair. She handed him … Gart’s eyes snapped open. Disorientated, he stared at the opposite wall. The rock glimmered as if alive with tiny creatures, shifting and heaving. Shapes emerged – a nose, a mouth, a beard – the features of a frightful man with a savage scowl. Gart flinched as piercing eyes fixed on him. He heard a voice pleading – his own – please don’t leave me here, don’t leave me in the dark, I’ll be good, please. He curled up and sobbed. He was alone, utterly alone, facing a black abyss. The only control left was to play dead.

He woke with a shudder and cold limbs. Dampness from the tunnel floor had seeped through his uniform. From the rim of his consciousness a sound returned, the drone under the silence, and, close to his ear, a squeak, and another squeak. Speckles of silver danced before him. Something moved in the dark, and then shot through the ring of light cast by the glower. The creature stopped in a shaded nook. Tiny eyes gleamed there. Gart had swift recognition. A rat! He carefully pushed his back up against the wall. Without losing sight of the rodent, his hand felt for another biscuit. ‘Curious? Are we?’ The rat had not moved an inch. Gart broke off a small crumb and tossed it to land just within the faint radius of light. The rat twitched its nose. ‘I might as well have some more myself. Manna from heaven, or hell, my friend, whatever, it’s not a taste one forgets.’

He grasped a truth. Oruba had laced the biscuits to animate his dull senses. His new friend liked the crumbs too, and demanded more. He never had a friend before. ‘I’ll call you friend.’ It was the best he could come up with, and it sounded sweet to his ears. In response, the rat seemed to grow in beauty and size. Such intelligent eyes, making him feel special. ‘You understand, don’t you? I’m offering you alliance. That’s a precious deal, for me anyway.’ Rat nodded. He was sure of it. ‘Tell me about the man buried in the walls here, who smells of death.’ A shot in the dark, but a pressing question on Gart’s mind.

‘He’s buried in you.’

‘Buried in me?’

‘You caught his hatred of the world. You must release him.’

Without warning, the drama of this man tore through Gart’s mind like a tree growing crooked in painful fast motion. A boy called Rufus was scarred by this twisting. He sensed that boy was him. No knowing when and where, the sensation was real, vivid. ‘He betrayed my birth right.’

‘He, too, was betrayed. He should have been king of Itaka. Then again, kingship is an inner state. Become king of yourself. Absolve your resentments, and become kin to a family of heart-species.’

This, Gart reasoned, was no rat talk. Whose voice was talking to him?

‘Look at me as a guardian to you, Guardian. Empty your heart of misgivings and what must be done will appear as clear as a diamond. You choose the shape of its setting.’

The image returned, of a garden, bird song in blossoming branches, a woman tousling his hair and handing him … it struck Gart that the Shapers knew more about him than he did.

 

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