Tag Archives: garden

… 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

Advertisements

20 Comments

Filed under Blog

… surprise – blog tour interlude …

Ruth - watering plants in her allotment.

Ruth – watering plants in her allotment.

Wow – my friend Ruth Paris  joined a blog tour, which is the ritual of charting and connecting-up undiscovered blog-islands in the virtual sea. I was so impressed she took on this challenge I’ve so far avoided, my hand reached for the baton before I knew it. Besides, Ruth’s posts about her ‘middle-of-the-roundabout allotment project’  on her Huerto site are a pleasure to share. Here some photos from Sept 2011. Her recipe page alone is worth a visit … and certainly the virtual islands of the friends she introduces. And it’s true, she does pick out the teeny little stones and whispers encouragement to the weakest seedling. Look at her ‘about’ page and you find she also wears another hat.

The theme of gardens has irresistible appeal. I like the thought Ruth shares, inspired by our joint friend Shazadi – since we can’t change the world we can at least cultivate our gardens – which applies to earth-tilling plots as well as the metaphorical kind. In that sense, here are my responses to the 4 deceptively simple questions this tour asks of its participants.

1 – What am I working on?

I’m editing my second novel, a sequel to ‘Course of Mirrors,’ completed two years back. Last year I was contracted by a small, devoted publisher and am looking forward to having my first novel released in a few months. English not being my first language (more about this here) – allows me the perception of a stranger in the strange land of my psyche, not unlike the protagonist in R. Heinlein’s book. In a way we’re all exiles owning a planet somewhere – be it an inner world.

2 – How does my work differ from others of this genre?

I puzzle over the term – genre. It may apply to career writers, which I’m not. Writing is my moving on from photography, another tool to symbolically express what drives me. Set in an imaginary world, my characters outward their inner conflict, the archetypal tragic/comic exodus I feel entitled to elaborate on. If genre it must be, my novels could be called mythic poetic adventures, gripping magical quests.

3 – Why do I write what I do? 

I may fool myself, but I can’t help thinking that re-creating or co-creating history can make us whole. I’m fascinated by how our fragile identity is formed through early mirroring, how people and environments define us. How we oblige like sleepwalkers and build a myth on these early templates, and inevitably mirror others.  And yet, small shifts in awareness can change our perception from deep within. Each of us brings along something unique we’re yearning to recognise. Without the recall of that signature we feel a lack.  Having been intensely involved with many groups and sub-cultures throughout my life I now tend the seeds I gathered and cultivate my soul garden. using the magic of words that string together and create music, sculpt feelings and even lift the invisible.

4 – How does my writing process work?

It didn’t, until the pressure became so great I decided a few years ago to reduce my professional work and commit time to writing. When a character takes shape and is called on a journey, I trust the narrative will unfold in my imagination. With consistent attention there eventually emerges the emotional coherence of a short story, or a chapter, and another. For me, this process, though enjoyable, happens in semi-darkness. I can’t force the outcome.

Editing is fun, and sometimes torture, which is when I crave diversions – watch birds, make coffee, fix things, blitz-clean the house, sort finances, prune hedges, cut grass … and relieve my pangs of guilt for neglecting friend by stepping out from my solitude. I may go harvesting in public spaces – that is, observing how people move, which I find endlessly fascinating.  On really bad days doubt intervenes and I sulk over the ‘who-do-you-think-you-are’ syndrome,’ until I accept I’m no Shakespeare.

In the end it is always being with friends and reading that refreshes my conviction in writing.  On many levels engaging with people and their stories helped me understand my private myth, and more.

*     *     *

A few entries on gardens from my archive https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/tag/garden/

The task of choosing further runners for this tour from a tapestry of amazingly creative people gave me a headache. To stem the flood, I’ll cheat the rules and introduce only 2 writers to weave the thread onward and hopefully reveal more secret islands.

Philippa Rees

Philippa

Philippa

The book that wrote my life … Philippa says of – INVOLUTION – an Odyssey Reconciling Science and God – an epic poem, and a spiritual revelation. It’s been called a tour de force. In nine cantos the work travels through pre-human involution, the enfolding of consciousness in matter, early man’s emergence on the Serengeti … through the recorded civilizations of Greece, Rome, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance towards Enlightenment and finally Modernisms’ success of science – of which the latter, ironically, obscures the internal story – the story of direct intuition, nous, experience.

I totally grok this.

And I’m looking forward to meeting Philippa this weekend. She’ll join a gathering of my friends and share what sparked her life-long project. I imagine she’s good company, holding memories of gripping stories, including her childhood in South Africa, which she’s beginning to share on her blog, ‘Careless Talk,’ accessed here.

Diane Dickson

Diane

Diane

Diane is a prolific writer of short stories and novellas. She hardly pauses, and generously shares the developing instalments of her work on her website. I’m totally addicted to her posts. Increasingly, she publishes e-books through Kindle and now also in print-versions.

Her characters are usually teetering on the edge of change before they slip into a life-changing crisis. The protagonists are often so hilarious you want to shout – get your act together. Then there’s a cliff-hanger and you’ve  to wait a day or two for the next instalment. Stories range from light-hearted, uplifting, to mysterious and dark and they all have surprising twists. As I said, I’m addicted. A recent published tale is:

The Man who lost his Manbag and Found Himself‘ Here’s a modern day odyssey, and a simple recipe for losing your identity.

Both authors presented here, like so many I came to know during these last years, fought their own publishing battles. I hugely admire and have great respect for their skill and perseverance. There was never a time I did not find selling myself daunting. Even during days of professional success I relied on others to shout out the existence of my ware. I need someone to hold my hand.

Some of my friends are slow in developing their island on the internet, yet offer compassionate mentor-ship I can’t emulate. Notably Evlynn Sharp  We worked on various projects together, and I feel deep gratitude for her support.

*     *     *

And here more cheating – I’d like to introduce the islands of two young people engaged in the buzz of life, with scarce time for leisurely blog-tours. They’re brilliant at what they do. They make me proud, my son, Yeshen and his wife Natasha Tonkin, a director of animated films.

I wrote about them recently https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/weddings-still-happen/

14 Comments

Filed under Blog

… my blackbird …

Cutting grass – a blackbird sings just for me – I delight in its delight of fresh delicacies.

My black friend

My black friend

Under slow-sailing clouds in shades of white, concluding my war-path on dandelions, and having put up my hammock, I sit and watch first apple blossoms and my black friend, hopping closer and closer in its ritual dance – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 –  pause – picking up a worm – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – within a meter – we look at each other.

Blackbirds are enduring friends in my garden, notwithstanding the occasional mishaps:

https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/major-drama-in-my-garden-all-my-fault/

https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2011/07/22/update-on-the-drama-in-my-garden/

15 Comments

Filed under Blog

… a Sunday in July …

A Sunday car boot sale. Eyes swivel left, right, down, up, for value. People dream or stop to chat … how much for that? A fiver … three, two, one, or nearest offer … teddies, dolls and plastic swords, toys on wheels … she’ll love that … glasses, cables, plugs, unwanted gifts, mugs, pots, rags, shawls, jumpers, trousers, frocks, linen, shiny trinkets, books, mags, prints, discs, records, chairs, shelves, mirrors, bells, rugs, tools … objects of desire lure as metaphor … stuff … beautiful and ugly scraps, are carried off in plastic bags.

P1110274

Carboot 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carboot 1People, thin and fat observe each other, nod or shrug shoulders, roam … ladies walk stately in big hats, toddlers run off, sunburned babies sleep, bored kids tweet or text, dogs strain on a leash or are fed, men with tattoos strut, a batman rises from the neck, geometric arms, flowery legs, stars form a line down a spine …

Leaving the cross currents of the human aspirations, I retreat …

P1110278 - lowres

back to my peaceful patch, where ribbons flutter in the breeze, endowed with wishes. Colours glow with life, ever changing. And simplicity affords my gaze inside – through the gap of nature’s light and shade.

P1110284 lowres

 

 

 

 

P1110279 - lowres

 

 

 

P1110291 lowres

 

 

 

 

And later that night I watch the wide screen … tragic accidents, people fighting for what they presume right, trapped in beliefs, and, oh, Andy Murray wins a tennis match for the UK, and is glorified as UK’s knight.

 

20 Comments

Filed under Blog

… the house-guests of body electric …

SHE calls me body electric. SHE – incarnate as hu-wo-man – oh the mystery – and such hard problem for the scientists who establish evidence of truth via the elimination of untruths. Meanwhile they identify my parts, their functions and complexities …

I’m a miracle, my ears perk at the slightest sound – the little groan in the joints of wood and brick when the house moves a fraction as the weather swings about, soft tweet of a bird, the hum of fridge and its sudden shudder, a rumbling pipe, creak of loose floorboards, or the faint scrape on the stair in the middle of night, when the tip-toeing lodger sneaks to the kitchen to pinch a little honey. Not my concern, I only notice. Exquisitely attuned to my network of neurons, I pick up irregularities, tiny fluctuations of mood, unfamiliar smells, odd tastes, taut muscles … the chatter of Jego, but more of him later.

Magic-Leila's wings02Whoever I house, I prompt stretching exercises, crack joints to unblock energy, flex shoulder-blades that still mourn their wings, and shortly massage cold fingers-tips, my antenna for vibes. I rejoice in my multitasking, my handling of objects with skills no programmed AI creature could ever hope to achieve. With the unfailing accuracy of a spy, I pick up signals against the faint background buzz of the blood river and readily adjust to spheres beyond my skin palace.

And SHE – my occupier – revels in the fleeting novelties of my gift, the senses – the paradox of pain and joy, where humour lurks between tears and laughter, moments with friends, bliss in a garden, like pruning branches for light to fall through foliage. SHE loves light. A breeze lifts the smoke of a roll-up, diaphanous shapes flow illuminated against a sunbeam until the shade swallows the spectacle, fluorescent spider webs, and blossoms fall.

Spider, 3

I have bouts of melancholy, made aware that my fine architecture is only a short, temporary abode for my occupier. It saddens me when SHE pays no attention to my signals, or is absent, travelling in abstract realms.

One day she’ll be gone altogether, leaving me behind. There’ll be no more breath and currents flowing through my organs, cells, brain — switchboards to her mind-spheres. Will she take along her impressions and associations?

I perceive phenomena in passing, pure and simple, with an artist’s sensibility. Semi permanence is the business of Jego, a sophisticated but battered and nervous entity that draws conclusions from what my senses transmit.

Example – SHE lets me drive a car to visit a friend. On instinctive pilot, I allow Jego to grab surplus energy. He elaborates on what he perceives through my senses.

That pub, why did the new owner paint it dark grey? A monstrosity, insulting the eye, aesthetically revolting, this must be someone’s idea of a cool concept, what a waste of paint!

Escher's_RelativityThough amusing, his habit of sending spam into mind-clouds affect my equilibrium.

I draw attention to a stomach-cramp. Jego quickly analyses the cause before chasing another thought. It’s marvellous, and thoroughly compulsive, how he creates realities, juggles thoughts, day and night, unless SHE attempts a pause – counting breaths, reciting mantras to calm my overexcited synapses, or diligently monitoring Jego’s pranks to get him to focus on something coherent and creative.

On occasions he achieves concentration, calms, then we all relax into harmony, and for a short while a crystal-clear comprehension dawns …

Ah – we are dancers in a hologram – oh – who’s in charge?

Here Pomp makes an appearance, an intuitive entity, a messenger born of many traditions, with equally many names and disguises, a channel to the universal psyche. Though Pomp is not in charge, he knows stuff, and brings a tribute, the remembrance of an unfathomable awareness behind timeless intelligences every particle has contributed to, is essentially part of …

‘We are more than dust,’ SHE confesses, ‘and to fulfil our purpose I must embrace you, little body electric, and partake of your pain and joy.’

‘What about Jego?’ I ask.Dore - Jeune_Mendiant - desat

‘Poor chap, either he’s praised to heaven or cursed to hell. Some spiritual experts blame him for everything, and label him the greatest obstacle to higher evolution. It’s evidenced what happens to children we treat like that … we must be gentle with Jego.

His task is the hardest. In time, if we model tolerance and patience, he’ll learn to create more coherent realities.’

Her kind words calm me, and make me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Neti neti – not this, not this – no description suffices – what prevails is supreme consciousness, unidentified and unidentifiable, slipping in and out of embodied existence like a wind of light.

Though it gives us equal joy and pain, do you like your body electric?

birds-1a.jpg

And are you on a warpath with your neurotic ego, or do you exercise patience?

‘There is a strange frenzy in my head, of birds flying, each particle circulating on its own. Is the one I love everywhere?’ 

~ Rumi ~ transl. Coleman Barks.

14 Comments

Filed under Blog

… inner time – writing – rant …

Beyond my window, robins, wrens, blue tits and blackbirds are nest-building, with bursts of passion. Dipping in and out of view, they settle shortly on a deck chair, branch or flowerpot, balancing lavish bouquets of fluff, moss, twigs and leaves, before darting off towards the next promising material. The birds winging through my garden make me happy.

Yesh

My thoughts wing in similar fashion dedicated to another passion, no less preparing for a new round of birth – in my case the writing of the next chapter of a novel. I anticipate with joy each few hours of unstructured time that allows me to visit my garden of recollections, a space where myths re-weave themselves from the fluff, moss, twigs and leaves of memories. Like the visions I brought into this world, ambivalent responses to my existence, altered states, affinity with elements, genetic markers, epigenetic quirks … my bundle of life that fell into a mould and was conditioned by socially convenient patterns of time.

Dividing reality into past, present and future time, measured by clocks and dated events, called facts, is a fairly modern idea that made Science the grail of knowledge. The best of science deepens our understanding of the cosmos and improves the quality of our lives, but its method is limited, not suited to go to court on another reality dimension, inner time, infinite, immeasurable, where our experiences assume meaning. We may walk through life like snapshots of ourselves, collecting capture after capture of evidence for our existence, while longing for a dimension within, the bridge to a spiritual presence hidden between each breath, a truth impossible to evaluate? Some religions banked divine capital in heaven. Science too, in its present phase, projects a kind of heavenly capital, hijacked by corporates selling us the future, a Promised Land of artificial intelligences catering to our every need, uncannily resembling the Matrix or Plato’s cave.

My rhythm of life changed when I dropped out – the second time in my life – taking the financial risk to work from home and make time to write, which I had failed to combine with careers, family and social obligations. The experiences were vital, up to a point. Now I relax about clocks and tend to my inner worlds. I crave unstructured time. Not everyone does.

Recently a friend reflected humorously on her frustration at finding herself with one hour to spare, having miscalculated her travel time. She would have been happy had she brought a book to read. Instead, she endured a dragging hour of unplanned, wasted time. Intrigued, we reflected on this sense of loss when there is unexpectedly nothing in particular to attend to.

Is there merit in unstructured time … what do you think? Is it only for children, is it a luxury, a waste, or an opportunity to shift perspectives, discover your passion, break the mould and loosen up your ideas of reality? I don’t see unstructured time being much encouraged, or its lovely randomness being valued. I was burdened by the message that my imagination is fanciful, a kind of debility. It took me decades to claim the time for my passion, writing …

Little Prince

This seems the place to share a personal rant, blaming no one in particular, since, from where I look the rift between head and heart that is tearing apart the fabric of western societies may yet need to become wider before the peril is addressed. If the media is anything to go by, meaningful purpose, visions, let alone joie de vivre, are overshadowed by collective gloom. Feel free to disagree with my take on this. Straining under the pressure to change, I see our systems are attempting to cement a shaky launch pad towards a logarithmic future, with good intentions, though the consequences are dire. Every aspect of our lives is in danger of becoming: over-calculated, over-regulated, over-efficient, over-specialised, over-mechanised, over-prescriptive, over-secured, over-insured, over-compartmentalised, over-conglomerated, and over-economised.

On a more cheerful note, young people in their 30s, at least the ones I know, are asking sharp questions, and are finding ingenious ways to play with, while not getting sucked mindlessly into programmes that abuse data, spoon feed illusions, appeal to personal anxieties, invade privacy, and insult the intelligence of creative individuals.

Back to the birds winging through my garden …

*     *     *

To see a world in a grain of sand

And Heaven in a wild flower

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour … W. Blake, from Auguries of Innocence

 

12 Comments

Filed under Blog

… snow and silence …

Snow is a miracle that touches a deep silence in me, a silence I cannot speak of well – words seem wanting. And still I try, as many of us continue doing in various ways.

We may share the banter of our lives, our witty observations, our advice, our humour, our existential pain, or we may reach out with a warm hand of reconciliation. I do all these things, at times, but underlying my often competing voices, I tend to channel my experiences into the roaming eye of future becoming. If friends misread me, I like to console myself with this Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote –

Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.’ 

Each one of us has unique perceptions, and there is enormous inspiration and joy in our differences.

P1110081

So much for the still sphere snow touches in me. The other miracle about snow is that it draws my attention to the surreal nature of reality, highly sensuous, yet stripped of  bright colours and removed from habitual seeing – to the bones of shapes, to deeper gestures and essences. For me, a snow-covered scene is a metaphor of restraint that slows down or speeds up time to alien levels of dimension. It occasions one of those time-independent spheres, where I make pattern-connections and create new meaning.

A simple poem follows my thoughts on the miracle of snow.  I tried to limit myself to  5/7/5  Haiku count, and hope it delights:

in silvery vaults

an angel ruffles her wings –

a leisurely shrug –

Grass and snow, low

the sparkle begins –

slipping from her hand as a

powdery shower

of crystalline downs –

feathery light on the silence

hidden between breaths –

fine gauze swirls and drifts

across the tired features

of a dreaming land

to drape every

plane and angular slope in

white geometry

Snow-tracks, 2 low

My appreciation for the geometry of life resonates with my love for black & white photography, see two posts back:

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

There are other pleasures to be had from snow, as my enthusiastic and capable son demonstrated in 1982 Somerset, and as the adorable puppy of a friend of mine discovered in Dorset yesterday.

Yeshen shovelling snow, 82

Susanne's puppy

16 Comments

Filed under Blog

… memory and place …

I never thought I would live in one place for 23 years, and tend a garden. Its visiting creatures provide inspiration and amusement. I cast tendrils of attachment to secret corners, the changing patches of colours and textures. I observe the cherry and apple blossoms turning into carpets on the lawn, the tulips, blue bells and peonies bursting open in spring, wild strawberries, the abundance of clematis, roses and geraniums during summer, or phlox and fruits in autumn. The space is breathed through by the seasons’ moods and muses. On rare and perfect summer days, when the sun plays through the branches, I love spending time in my hammock, reading and editing, or share the space with friends – bliss.

Yet I can count such days on the fingers of my hands. And not just because of the UK weather.

This paradise is surrounded on four sides by hedgerows, has 5 mature fruit trees and a shed and studio smothered by ivy. Those of you who have gardens with sizable plants will understand the dedication it takes to merely keep annual growth under control.

Is the effort worth it?

Twice a year I need assistance. After the heavy rain and excessive growth we had during spring and summer, my neighbour recently helped transporting two transit vans stuffed full with cuttings to the recycling dump. The excess jungle weighs on my mind each year, but once trimmed and sculpted, the cleared shapes feel like newly decorated living rooms. 

What is it about places we care for? How come we spend so much time and energy looking after them? What we experience through our senses can be fleeting, but where repetition is involves, it becomes fixed and saturated in our imagination. There is nothing as deeply impressive as living in one place through cycles of seasons. We call it home.

In these tumultuous times, a great number of people around the world are forced to leave their homes. Either they have no say in the matter, or they must leave for sheer survival, escaping adverse weather conditions or politics that undermine human dignity. But wherever we land, we inherit the history of a room, a house, a plot, a community, and in turn we leave traces, an influence.

The place survives us. Do we bless it?

Do our personal experiences – including those associated with ambivalent feelings about places and people – survive beyond the brain’s switchboard activity that ties associations into a framework of meaning and memory? My intuition tells me yes, there are spaces in many dimension, floating as in a kind of hologram, which can live on through a strong memory laid down in our imagination, like the next chapter of a story.

In the way of habituation, these subtle forms must remain in some way in the collective psyche, accessible to minds and hearts who tune into their feeling pattern. This could happen via a kind of grid of finer matter (see Eccles: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Carew_Eccles) that interact with the denser neural network of our brains.

There are these unanswered questions: is consciousness an emergent phenomenon of matter, or is matter an emergent phenomenon of some finer, spiritual substance?

Either way, if one were to assume that we create the world hereafter by the repetitive strength of our experience, be it with places, people or the passion for a sport, craft, art, music, science,  it bears us well to find something we can love, care for, and empower with our imagination.

12 Comments

Filed under Blog

… here is everywhere …

Nationalism is the pathology of modern developmental history as inevitable as neurosis in the individual.   – Tom Nairn, The Break-Up of Britain

The growth dynamics of nations and those of individuals have striking parallels, especially when it comes to the forming of an identity in relation to the other, and the ongoing struggle to maintain or adjust set habits to changing circumstances. For instance, when religious authority declines, the blame for the ills of a nation can no longer be projected onto the omnipotent godhead. People find themselves challenged to reflect on how they contributed towards the ills and become accountable for their actions.   The psychological development towards spiritual independence and interdependence – for individuals or nation states – is a humbling process in that it confronts us with our failures, imperfections, and the need to learn from our experience and cultivate human qualities.

I’m German-English, my official citizenship is Dutch. Though I live in England, I have felt at home in the Arabian deserts, along the Mediterranean coast, among friends wherever they are. But is there one location from where I look out onto the world, one place that is traditionally called home? To not betray all my loves it would have to be the bridge, in a metaphorical sense. The theme of my first novel starts out with a bridge across opposites. On that bridge my protagonist has an encounter with herself where here becomes everywhere.

I feel like an ancient being torturing language to express the simplicity of experience, digging through layers of false evidence, sifting through sediments of unreliable gossip for grains of truth. Words fall from my pen like dust settling after another hole dug, showing the trifle of an image that needs a night of dreaming to cohere into a sentence, and then more sentences, resonating with a universal narrative, re-arranged in time as if the story is yet to happen.

Germany – Before print was instrumented by Luther’s Reformation, the Latin language represented the voice of divine authority – the father. A lone human hero, Martin Luther (1483-1546), Doctor of Theology, not a prophet, disputed the church’s practice of selling indulgences, which urged him to write his 95 thesis, among them: Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?’ When Luther’s followers printed his 95 theses and displayed them in public places, their controversial contents spread like wildfire. The papal hegemony was rattled. Convinced that salvation was not gained by merit but by the grace of God alone, Luther went into hiding and translated the bible into the most spoken vernacular. Time seemed to call for a voice like his. In some historic records he is accused of hiding under the mantle of the princes rather than siding with the folk, of not grasping the opportunity towards the forming of a German nation. Luther’s theme of grace was limited. When his efforts of converting the Jews failed, his loathsome sentiments incited their persecution. Yet he was seen as encapsulating the struggle of the German people for an identity while living under the shadow of the slain father, the Roman Empire, which compelled the German psyche to emulate its glory.

A.J.P. Taylor writes in The Course of German History: ‘Since Charlemagne founded the Reich in 800, more political energy went into maintaining German states independent of the Reich, or even hostile to it, than into the Reich itself.’ By the fifteenth century, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nations was divided against itself. Through the intense struggle for wholeness emerged some of the world’s finest philosophers, scientists, writers, musicians and mystics, as well as the most ignorant and corrupted leaders.

Walter Benjamin had a vision of Hope and Despair, inspired by a painting:

A Klee drawing named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating.  His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread.  This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet.  The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.  But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them.  The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.    

                   – Walter Benjamin, Ninth Thesis on the Philosophy of History

The extremes of enlightened spirituality and regressive brutality happen wherever human fallibility seeks to reconcile itself with the divine ideal. A geographically hemmed in Germany was not relaxed about its identity, which was further knocked by the Versailles Peace Treaty. Debates about the effects of the treaty are ongoing. Germany was blamed for the First World War and had vindictive reparations imposed that aided hyperinflation. The crushed self-respect of its people called in a saviour, who tragically sublimated his oppressed childhood with vastly inflated ideals.

Sanity might have prevailed in the darkest hour had Germany given more value to its folk tales. They leave nothing of human nature untold. The secret mysteries of the heart are found in mythical tales all over the world, and while set in local landscapes, their themes are similarly transcending race. These coded treasures are basically the stuff of all yearning for the home or source, a human phenomenon riddled with the tensions of fixation and avoidance.

A hint of the tenacity available to the German people can be found in the tales collected by the Brothers Grimm when storytelling was still practised with the potency of embodied memory. Children growing up with the characters, animals and landscapes of these stories are absorbing timeless themes through symbols and metaphors. Censors protested, and still do, that these themes are cruel and unfit for the innocent child.

The Grimm brothers comment in the introduction to the second, updated 1819 edition of their collection: ‘The right usage discovers nothing bad is in these tales, but as a beautiful word has it – a testimony in our heart. Children point without fear into the stars while others, as popular belief has it, would insult the angels.’

Was the melancholy that gripped so many German people their nemesis or their salvation? Tales that contain symbols of mythic time need to be deciphered again and again within a temporal context. Yet because the emotive power of symbols defies rationality, the sentiments evoked are always in danger of being abused by myopic national concerns. When a nation loses balance by being overly defended or irrationally unleashed, differences of religion, race or politics are thought to explain the matter – yet we all know there is no pure race.

England, like Germany, struggled through internal conflicts but achieved a sense of unity by conquering the world. Felling forests to build boats which sailed under the banner of the Royal Navy, explorers and missionaries spreading across the waters formed a Colonial Empire that brought great wealth and influence. The Commonwealth still lingers like a halo and gives Britain a sense of sovereign pride. Cultural Imperialism, natural to nations with access to the sea, had created the other at a safe distance rather than at home. Yet spoils of victory, too, come at a cost.

When the flagship of King Henry VIII was lifted from the depth of the Solent Estuary into the twentieth century on 11 Oct 1982, the Mary Rose flared back into view and boosted national confidence, adding a powerful impetus to Mrs Thatcher’s resolution to win back the Falklands. It worked – just. Yet now it seems conflicting images of the past, informed by freed-up information providing more and more varied perspectives, are testing every nation’s conscience.

In the twenty-first century, with migration being a global reality, nations are obliged to open their doors to the other. Given changing policies, foreign individuals are often able to acquire legal membership. Since the Schengen agreement, European borders, apart from Britain’s, can be crossed freely, though the agreement is regularly challenged by exceptional circumstances. http://www.migrationinformation.org/Feature/display.cfm?ID=859 

Migrants – who are we?  If there are tendrils resembling roots, they connect to the deep impressions left by parental figures and childhood landscapes, and to the layers of national symbolic themes, ancient, historic and contemporary. Social and ethnic codes ricochet among children in every school-playground, even between neighbours like Germany and Britain. We use icons to sum each other up. At times they move us to tears, at times to laughter, often they serve humorous self-reflection, but mostly they envelope us in a ritualistic trance:

Bratwurst with Sauerkraut, Fish & Chips, Schubert and Kurt Weil songs, God save the Queen, the first four notes of Beethoven’s 5th symphony, a blinking eye of Shakespeare in a hologram,   Goethe’s Faust, the Thatched Cottage, das Edelweiss, The Royal Jewels, der Adler, Jack and Jill, King Ludwig’s Castles, Stonehenge, Rapunzel, Big Ben, Karl Valentin, Spike Mulligan, Lorelei, or the Mary Rose:

In order to preserve them, we gave the Mary Rose Trust a chemical solution called polyethylene glycol. Once these items (such as wooden bowl and leather shoes) have been soaked in this solution, they undergo a freeze-drying process that will preserve them for posterity … ‘You can be sure of Shell.’     (Shell advertisement  1985)

Patrick Wright in his book ‘On Living in the Old Country,’ recounts the findings of a young journalist, Charles Moore. He was commissioned in 1982, after Lord Scarman’s report on the Brixton disorders, to interview the really oppressed people in the area, defined as the elderly white people of Lambeth. The findings expose a national sentiment which, in essence, could equally apply to other nations and individuals: it remembers the state of grace and laments the fall which is said to occur when ‘the blacks’ and the welfare state arrive:

In the beginning there was order, friendliness, dignity, sharing and mutual respect: ‘Everyone mucked in and was properly neighbourly.’

A betrayal of the idea of paradise – in the absence of divine certainty someone or something other needs to become bad, in order to preserve the good.

Seeking fault with the other is meant to shield paradise. An oversight – truth stagnates in the fenced gardens of eternity. Enduring human vitality flows from change and is born of vulnerability. The trance of blame sucks us into its gravitational slow time. Unawares, we perpetuate the shielding in the collective psyche, leaving it for the next generation to absolve.

Recorded history is like a rope broken in many places and knotted together again and again. In the light of new truths these knots are strained and made brittle until they snap. Tribes, nations and ideas are strung along this rope. But new concepts of time are changing our perceptions; many individuals struggle to free themselves of knotted history. The desire to make things solid is an automatic reaction to the fear of losing the familiar we nurture – people, environments, passions and beliefs we bond with, that are mirroring us and allow us to discover ourselves. The problem is not loss, but the manner in which we deal with loss, as if it is destroying our identity. Inevitably, if not death, someone or something will be the agent of change in our lives.  Something dear is wrenched from us, a way of life is gone, those around us and the rest of the world may care for a moment, but our identity, the sum of all our embodied experiences, is ours to keep or lose. The valid anger in the face of change is not lifted by words of wisdom, only plastered up. The heart has to suffer and soften before the conscious decision of an individual can unplug resentment and embrace the enduring presence that truly connects us within. Only individuals can release blame and lift the veil of ignorance.

Dich im Unendlichen zu finden, must du unterscheiden und dann verbinden.

To find yourself in the infinite, you must first distinguish then combine.

–  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A truly global citizenship must be composed of enough individuals brave enough to explore their own psyche, brave enough to think for themselves and realise that our collective identity unfolds beyond the existence of individual transitory lifespans. We know that, given respect, tolerance and stimulation, a child will engage with life creatively and trusts in the future. Applying this insight to how we educate our children nourishes the collective intelligence of humanity.

The German filmmaker Edgar Reitz has with great sensitivity restored a balanced meaning of the German Heimat in his TV series of the same name, spanning from 1919 to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The series follows three ordinary families and comprises 52 hours of film. The yearning to belong, so distorted by the idealism of the Third Reich, is shown in localised context and conveys the human aspects of the war story. The impetus for the creation of this document was an American Holocaust series on TV in 1978. Reitz was horrified that German intellectuals seemed to accept the sentimental spin as treatment for national guilt.

The knots in the rope of time we constructed are brittle with guilt, the burdening guilt of not loving humanity enough to fully take on its pain, the way Christ did. He said, ‘Thy will be done.’ Does such surrender of will, even if taken symbolically, really release us of using our own will to effect change?    The concept of surrender is more subtle than giving up the power to will. I see surrender as an alignment of our conscious will to the dynamic flow of change, the universal will, enabling evolution to happen and work freely through us, so that here is everywhere. In instances when this shift happens inside, we are.

*    *     *

References other than mentioned in the text:

The Angel of History: Walter Benjamin’s Vision of Hope and Despair – by Raymond Barglow, published in ‘Tikkun Magazine,’ November 1998

Recently 500 more tales, collected by a contemporary of the Grimm Brothers, were uncovered:

http://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/books/2012/mar/05/five-hundred-fairytales-discovered-germany

 

4 Comments

Filed under Blog

update on the drama in my garden …

If you read my June 3d entry here you will remember my crime.

The grey and fluffy young blackbird I toppled from her nest and managed to bring home again, is now out and about. The little one is so-so at locating worms but not a great flyer, yet.  And she comes very close to my door, peeking in from time to time, remembering, not doubt, my pitiful attempts to feed it grubs. And here is why I think I traumatised the little one. She is now capricious about food.

Shiny, black dad does his utter best to introduce Morello cherries to his offspring. An acquired taste, a little tart, I admit, but considered a great delicacy among blackbirds. The tree provides me with wonderful jam each year and I always leave plenty of fruit for birds.

Picture the teen fluffing about on the head of my little stone Buddha waiting for her dad. There he comes, with a bright-red cherry in his beak, already de-stoned. The young one takes one taste and spits it out. Dad picks up the morsel and tries again, repeat. This goes on for several rounds until the cycle is broken by the firm consistency of dad and the cherry is swallowed.

Watching the scene every morning on top of my stone Buddha’s head cracks me up; it’s so entertaining I keep forgetting to fetch my camera – maybe next time.

Later addition …

Just got this delightful drawing as an early birthday present from my son’s partner, Tasha. It encapsulates my little friend’s bliss, which is worms after all.

7 Comments

Filed under Blog