Tag Archives: inspiration

… into the unknown …

The photo below is of my talented and complicated dad as an eight-year-old boy in carnival outfit during 1926. He did

Dad – in 1926

not quite make it to 100 … He died last Friday, 99 years old. I’m glad he went peacefully and without pain.

His parting released me of the anxious waiting for the day when I must sort his things, though I had a taste of this ordeal two years ago when I organised his care.

Even though I was an only child, my dad never supported me financially, not even my education, or the education of his grandson. There’s an endless list of what I could not do right for him.

And I still I loved him, and wished for his approval. What he leaves behind will not ease my situation, but most likely incur expenses I can ill afford. Age is often extended these days, and children tend to experience more and more that a parent’s last resources are eaten up by their care needs.

Even when communication within relationships is loving and open, the other will always remain partly veiled, and a mystery. My dad survived hardships after the First World War, the Spanish Flue, and the Second World War, which traumatised him. He could not quite adjust to the intellectual freedom of my generation. I admired his thirst for knowledge, his fine-mechanic and inventive skills, his achievements as a photographer and painter, and his up-and-go cruising around the world with his second partner after my mum died 30 over years ago.

Earthrise, Dec 1968

Most importantly, my father and my mother  gave me the invaluable adventure of life – an embodied consciousness in this amazing time, when the outer and inner universe so rapidly expanded. For this gift I’m deeply grateful.

Still, I wish I had not allowed my dad to diminish my self-value quite to the extend I did, which came home to me once more in this dream.

Strangely, the week before last I started my very own Patreon site, hoping to spark a little support for my creative output.

I held back with the launch – feeling scared. I’m an introvert after all. But here it is, for my readers to explore.

Go and click on the link, have a look what I made of this platform so far, and bring up the question …

For now, I’ll hang on to my constructive mantra, something I heartily wish for all my readers:

A little more freedom, a little more happiness, and a little more beauty.

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… visability – Italo Calvino – imagination – writing …

A tile made for me by E. Cordier for photos in his studio.

In a previous post I mentioned my erratic filing, which, when working on a writing project, results in phases of strolling through my inner jungle in search of a spot marked for attention, often years back, or wandering through a library in a kind of trance, ignoring categories, with only a vague sense of purpose. On route, I explore seemingly unrelated and often incongruous themes, before a match creates coherence in a new context.

While searching for an invisible gestalt, I tend to reread authors that inspired me. Last week it was Six Memos for the next Millennium, by Italo Calvino (translated by Patrick Creagh.) Like him, I’m all for the shared magical. His Memos are lectures he prepared during 1984 for presentation at Harvard University. It was the year when computers moved into our lives. Maybe he was concerned about Orwell’s dystopian Newspeak being just around the corner. In any case, it made Calvino reflect on a set of literary values. His sudden death meant he never presented these lectures, and only five Memos made it later into print:  Lightness – Quickness – Exactitude – Visibility and Multiplicity … keywords, expanding on ways we perceive.

Though it’s a small volume, the material is too rich and diverse for my humble post. Still, I want to share a few quotes and reflections from re-reading the chapter on visibility. Calvino wrote …

… For successful imagery, writers must do two things: convert the visuals of the mind into words, and at the same time make sure that the words are so well-crafted that when read, the reader can instantly visualise every setting, every character, every chosen detail as if they were looking at it directly, and not at a page. It’s a deliberate process, this transmogrifying from image to text and back to image ….

He describes the progression … something that is painstaking but not necessarily painful, from the moment you grasp the significance of a single image and then associate it with other images, forming a field of analogies, symmetries and confrontations, and then organising this material, which is no longer purely visual but also conceptual, to try and give order and sense to the development of a story. Here the writing, the textual product, becomes increasingly important. From the moment you start putting black onto white what really matters is the written word, first as a search for an equivalent of the visual image, then as a coherent expansion of the initial stylistic direction, so that eventually it is the image that is being pulled along by the text, and not the other way around …

My poems, and certainly my first novel, started with a spark, a solitary image, like a cypher compelling me to uncover its meaning. An unfolding message can be drowned or crowned. Writing (like any creation energised by passion and craft) occasionally achieves such a finely tuned nuance that an invisible quality resonates deeply through the visible.

During my recent reading of Calvino’s chapter on visibility I recalled my entry into black and white photographic processing, which, before digital technology, happened in the darkroom  … to start with, in complete darkness, with the celluloid film being developed in a chemical bath, regularly shaken, like the preparation of a homeopathic tincture, then rinsed and fixed in another bath, rinsed again and dried. Creating prints is the next stage, for which red light is allowed. The negative is placed into the enlarger, from where it is projected through a lens with a sharp beam of measured light onto a light-sensitised sheet beneath. Correct duration of the beam results in a positive print that, at best, develops very slowly in a tray of chemical developer.

Watching the print of a well exposed negative emerge under the red light has always given me enormous pleasure. Like a dream emerging from the unconscious and becoming visible.

The image first appears as a sketch, until grey and dark tones assume saturation, ideally without losing highlights. Once perfection is achieved, the print is shortly rinsed and transported into the fixation bath for a while. Only then is it safe to introduce daylight, for further rinsing and drying of the print on a hot press.

No doubt the experience of a slowly developing image in the darkroom influenced my writing. A sketch to start with, suggesting a mood, a lightness of touch, and, with some stroke of luck, an emerging symbolic element, which black & white photography is particularly well suited for. In short, a feast for the imagination, inviting associations for … poems, stories, and even cosmologies.

Are you a visual writer – in Calvino’s sense? Do you bring vision into focus with your eyes shut? Do you use images to think, and words to imagine what never existed?

Back in 2012 I posted a very short review of Italo Calvino’s Six Memos on Goodreads

related post – imagination …

 

 

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… to ‘grok’ transmissions …

With the vast volume of creative expressions by innovators, scientists, thinkers, writers and artists of any kind in our climate of over-saturated productions – some unique works will flicker shortly and then sink to seeming oblivion, temporarily invisible on the crossroads. Does it matter?

My Sufi friend, Fazal Inayat-Khan, once said, ‘If Einstein had never published his theories, his ideas would still have irrevocably changed the world of science.’

What makes products succeed in the public domain? Is it genius, fame, skill, merit, sponsorship, contacts, money, timing, luck, or the phenomenon of strong desire and expectation? Over years of psychotherapy practice I’ve met people, who, let’s say, were the apple of the eye of a parent, a friend, a teacher, a mentor, or maybe an angel of synchronicity that inspired confidence towards success. While some people may be born with faith in their desire, others, whose confidence was knocked, need a nudge. Expectation feeds success. Expectation is uncanny; it’s like carrying a magnet.

Still, even meteoric success can be short lived. Weighed down with superlative praise, a work can sizzle out and draw ridicule. When a lauded product doesn’t impress me, I ask myself – is this because of my acquired taste, my hugging of precious time, my complex mind, my standards, my arrogance, or my jealousy? A half-truth sneaks through all these questions, embarrassing. Shouldn’t creative people support each other?

Yes and no. Triggers that stimulate us vary. I must catch the tune of an authentic wave that keeps me in the zone. My interest wakes when an unnameable quality shines through a work of art. I call it an internalised idea transformed in the heart. This kind of deep assimilation is often transmitted by poets, like Rilke, Rumi, Neruda, Warsan Shire, to randomly pick only a few artists who reveal multiple layers of meaning.

Equally, the simple words of some prayers and mantras transmit the power of their initially intended blessing. Then again, if a quality is not already dormant in me, I may sense the love tincture, but the symbolic aspect drowns in crackling noises when I can’t fine-tune the relevant radio wave. This is why, when we return at different times during our lives to creative works that intrigued us, we may find the essence of a message and grok how it relates to us with sudden intuitive comprehension.

‘Grok’ is a word coined by Robert A Heinlein in his 1961 novel ‘Stranger in a Strange Land.’ A Martian term for intuitive understanding, though it means much more. The Wikipedia entry for Grog is totally  worth reading.

just a stone

Cloned, copied and reassembled work, in short, quirky experimental materials, often has deeply assimilated qualities, if one can detect the code. In today’s flood-lit cyberspace there is stuff that blinks and chimes, stuff that rings pretentious, and stuff the heart can’t decode, yet.

As for writers who tilled a patch of their inner territory and planted seeds that thrive, it can be a lone satisfaction when no promoter propels readers to seek out the garden so lovely and inspiring to spend time in.

When a few connoisseurs find and grok the hidden place, the pleasure is shared. And that’s not even addressing the mysterious process of any creative work, the reward of which lives on in other time-zones.

To bring back the question – does it matter if creative works don’t appear in the light, are invisible on the public crossroads? The publishing world, for example, geared to profit, accumulates mountains of slush piles, like compost heaps. When you think of it – all manifestations are constantly recycled, small bits, big bits. And yet, I sincerely believe that anything processed and transmitted through the heart’s intelligence leaves a coherent mark and demands eternal resurrection. In other words, the essence of these works will shine on.

This post may be a tad confusing, not telling you anything you don’t already know. But having been immersed in editing ‘Shapers’ and composing a short story for a local competition, and, sigh, fretting over practical issues, like a defunct heating system I have nil resources to fix, nor the nerve to tap into the bureaucratic nightmare of government grants, I wanted to pause and say hello to all creative warriors out there.

In this warm and wet autumn

fresh grass grows, as soft as silk …

 

Talking of growth and beautiful spaces, visit this plot of a friend with a brilliant mind, who inspires by planting riches in a real earth plot in the middle of a roundabout. 

 

 

 

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… rose is a rose is a rose …

 

The rose-phrase is the enduring refrain of Gertrude Stein. In her surreal 1939 children book, ‘The World is Round,’ for example, rows of three words appear throughout. A girl called Rose carves her name round a tree in an endless loop to affirm her existence .

Rose is a rose is a rose – rolls from the tongue much like the prayer beads of a rosary roll through nimble fingers.

You want to stay with the rose, let it take root in your psyche, and from there let roses after roses grow.

By comparison – BrexitisBrexitisBrexit – sounds like the rusty hinges of a rotten door, or the croaking of a parrot with a sore throat. I try to resist the word’s grating in my skull, but it’s difficult to avoid its ugly edges from day to day, in bizarre discord with the rousing refrain of Britannia rules the waves.

There’s repetition and repetition. Applied with intention in literature, music, dance and the visual arts, repetition can strip the familiar to its essence. The arts, at best, alert us to nature’s spellbinding repetitive rhythms. Shield your ears and hear the blood-river rushing through your veins – touch your wrist and sense your heart pump the river round and round. Spirit is seduced into this trance-dance, or it would never get trapped in forms. Repetitive behaviour settles us into mollifying routines and gives us a sense of stability, as well as addictive habits. Beneficial as they can be, customary routines also have a tendency to dumb us down.

In this time of rapid changes, words and images topple over each other’s associations. Type ‘apple’ into a search engine and up pop pages listing Apple Inc., the multinational technology company that has seized the apple, bitten off a chunk of knowledge, like Eve, and deployed it as a metaphor for its corporation – brilliant, and disconcerting. It had trouble finding a title for my novel, where ‘mirror’ was not already owned as a label by tabloids or rock bands.

Most young folk today move along the electric cultural highway in fast gear. Facebook’s Zuckerberg famously said ‘Move fast and break things.’ Maybe he’s a speed-hatched modern-day mystic. I’m reminded of Hazrat Inayat Khan’s profound quote regarding the journey of life – ‘The ideal the means, its breaking is the goal.’

I suffer a long view. My first experience of TV was Queen Elisabeth’s coronation. What unnerves me is the speed of spear-heading elites, leaving ordinary people no breath to digest events, especially as history and the arts are being replaced by computer science in education. With automation the rage, the journey happens in a blur, as do thinking processes. Keywords have become mechanical codes, and shareholders bow to the omnipotent algorithms’ patterns of, let’s say, how existential fears relate to consumer behaviour. We hardly notice our choices being manipulated. How to catch snap assumptions that keep consciousness caged, or one’s imagination buried under debris of glib answers? With traditions and ideologies on trial, how to develop a filter of authenticity to stem the flood of information? Reflective minds are turning cynical. I have that tendency.  Doubt is the new lodestar.

Like never before, we perceive phenomena through multiple eyes, tap into the states of other beings – their joy, their ignorance and excess, their poverty, suffering and distress. We may blank out what upsets, but can’t escape the increasing experience of contradiction, the very function of reality. Greater awareness deeply conflicts us, as much as it inspires creativity. There’s hope. Seeing does not require physical eyes. Collective consciousness will expand, be it through chaos. The least we can do is to still our own mind, which is why I return to the rose.

The genus Rosa, according to fossil evidence, is 35 million years old and begun to be cultivated circa 5000 years ago. Due to its tessellated structure, dome-like shape and its delightful perfume, the rose has become a symbol of the heart, of wholeness, love, beauty and perfection the world over, frequently with mystical connotation, and often highly stylised, as in Islamic art.

When held, thought or spoken of, the rose lingers on and generates a mood. It may appear in different stages of opening or beautiful decay, in a particular colour, light. The name alone conjures up memories of scents, places, relationships, delight or melancholy. What ‘rose’ evokes derives from a time-wrought cypher that evokes all roses that were, are and will be.  Rose is a rose is a rose – depicts a rose, no more, and yet, it kindles all the experiences and ideas humans formed around roses.

While fear of loss and abandonment engenders life, it also draws us towards the mystery of infinite consciousness, the one being with countless names. Various practices, derived from spiritual traditions, can calm a turbulent mind enough for a glimpse of harmony beyond divisions. For a while, at least, we sense the larger presence, the effortless zone, the flow – and given patience, come to realise that consciousness is what we are.

I invite you again to This guided rose journey I shared here three years ago, requires only your imagination.

It is a short imagery, easy to memorise. Enter with eyes closed, and it may work for you as a bridge to the recurring presence of rose – a reminder of continuous becoming and expanding consciousness.

 

 

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… shortest post ever …

Broke and happy … please help the story to spiral out to readers … available  worldwide.

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… letting go of letting go & duende …

An apple doesn’t drop by itself before it’s ripe. And unless fate delivers us a hard blow natural ripeness applies equally to experience. Experts are quick to tell us, or we tell ourselves, to let go of whatever – an attachment, a fear, a grievance, an addiction, a desire, melancholy, sadness, the ego, and so on, while we are enmeshed with our life and its phenomena. The best chance of ripening towards a possible potential lies in keeping one’s balance on the tightrope of contradictions, that is, the fine line between the particle state and the wave state – as in Blake’s ‘Kiss the joy while flies.’

Natural letting go happens every second. We breathe, well, we are breathed, though we mainly notice when the rhythm of our breath is disrupted – through pain, exhaustion, anger, anxiety, anger or sheer exasperation, when anyone uttering, ‘Calm down,’ deserves a punch.

(Thanks Joe Linker for the great doodle)

Emotional balance wavers from day to day, but when self-blame knots up our muscles it makes sense to focus on the body. There are plenty of ways to relax: exercise, sex, music, singing, mantras, doodling, magnesium, weed, pills, wine … or to imagine brilliant light circling through the breath, like the basic drone of a reed harmonium or a tanpura holding up multiple sounds. Everything in nature has an essential frequency, which tends to flush out what obstructs its flow, even if it takes earthquakes, storms and floods. To right imbalances of the planet is beyond individuals, we can however bring a clear intention towards balancing our body’s frequency. Try this:

Inhale through your nose – draw brilliant light from head the chest – counting to 7   

Exhale through your mouth – let the light flow to your feet and out – counting to 11

Imagine the out breath taking along the tensions held in your muscles. A few rounds of this ritual should calm the heartbeat for a while. Being in resonance with your body draws the shy soul closer, bringing a sense of oneness – satiating our thirst for belonging. And it makes us aware that beauty is not in things, but in the soul of things, even the tiniest thing has soul.

Enjoy the circular sound by the wonderful mantra singer Hein Braat.

However, a constant sense of oneness is not what evolution is about. In a time and space structured cosmos we cannot cage harmony. Reality is the result of contradiction.

Our struggle for balance can be intense. But each of us has the chance to live with zest, inspired by the earth spirit and its dark power for spontaneous creation born of sadness and pain. Garcia Frederico-Lorca talked about art being inspired in three ways: by muses of the past, angelic visons of the future, and by duende – inspiration of the present. Duende springs from the core of one’s being in direct confrontation with death. You can read Lorca’s remarkable speech here: ‘Theory and Play of the Duende.’  

… You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves …  from – Mary Oliver, ‘Wild Geese’

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… meetings – poem …

At times, our inner landscapes allow for communing with nature’s elements. Ana has this knack in Course of Mirrors. As long as she remembers to calm her heart, she senses invisible presences, the timeless spirit within things – telling her that nothing dies, only reforms. She also picks up thoughts forms from uncluttered minds, and some animals talk to her.

Aspects of my protagonist’s receptive traits are based on my own experiences, expressed in a poem I composed during the 1970s. The poem, as such, does not feature in the novel but I like to share it here, with minor tweaks insisted upon by my inner editor.

meetings

earth –

you swallow my hand

giving way with fluid grace

to this dream of flesh and bone

yet as I recall the form

you allow me to retrieve it

tree –

circling round and round

spun by the mesh of time

I see your whirling

and sense my turning too

in its mystic trance

snake –

you slither in the spine of waves

and lay a track of fate in sands

entranced I follow

to your cave and become

this rushing in the dark

bird –

your rising pitch one vow

winging yonder blue

towards the break of dawn

above the silver winding stream

your passing leaves no mark

rose –

by the blink of eye you sink

to my core as glowing cipher

allowing for your lush

and fragrant state

to unfurl from the heart

fire –

your white breath burns clean

dark corners in my mind

without a moment’s pause

you blow apart

all apparitions of my art

Update: My first novel can be found on Troubador, on international Amazon sites and Waterstones via searching for the title, Course of Mirrors, or my name, Ashen Venema.                                                                   The e-book is now available. The paperback will be released on 28th of April and can be pre-ordered.

Paperbacks ordered within the UK will come from a stock of copies held by Troubador who distribute via Orca Book Services. Orders from abroad will be print-on-demand- copies, saving expensive postage.

If you enjoy writing reviews, they are easy to post on Troubador. On Amazon sites one has to log in as a customer, and a review entry only appears on the site of the country where it is entered, be it uk, de, fr, com … and so on. With a little effort reviews can be pasted into more than one Amazon site. 

Related posts:

… the magic of remembrance …

… cover reveal for course of mirrors …

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… a little backstory to ‘course of mirrors’ …

When I enter the room Dot is absorbed in reading from a folder among stacks of papers stored in drawers under a bed. ‘Hey,’ she looks up, ‘this is fascinating. It’s got your name on it.’

We were clearing the main house of a workshop venue near London, a magical place I had been associated with for 30 years and which I facilitated during the winding down period of its operation, dealing with the grief of an international community, as well as managing group bookings for the remaining few months, before the estate was sold.

The folder Dot had discovered contained the beginning of a story I had drafted …  and then lost. For two action-filled decades my protagonist had lingered patiently in a corner of my mind. On that momentous spring day of clearing Ana emerged from her hibernation.

Resembling the experience of my own myth, Ana is called to her adventure by a kind of celestial twin, an agent between past and future, between dense and subtle realms.

The novel was completed five years on, much encouraged by E. Zohra Sharp, who offered her generous editing support. I also shared some chapters on the then still existing Harper Collins Authonomy site, where writers could give and receive feedback for work in progress, and have great fun with trolls.

In 2011 another project took priority for a few months, Heart of a Sufi, which involved organising, arranging and co-editing reminiscences about a remarkable teacher who had died in 1990, much too young. He was Fazal Inayat-Khan, aka Frank Kevlin, the grandson of Hazrat Inayat Khan – more here.

The same year, not wanting to become a writing recluse, I started this blog. Through a poet I met online, Course of Mirrors found a small publisher who loved the story, which perked my confidence. Three years passed without action – a long time when you are not getting any younger. During  the long wait, I did however write a time-travelling sequel and started a third book. Not keen to endure more agonising delays, I decided to self-publish.

In charge of the process, I had to make decision after decision, aided by a competent team at Troubador and my proof readers, Zohra and Susanne. There will be an initial print run, enabling bookshops to stock copies. The publishing date for Course of Mirrors is April 28th, but the book information is up and orders can be taken in advance, as paperback, and soon also as e-book.

Through Troubador, where I get the best royalties

Through Amazon …  and through Waterstones

Today the dynamics of spring enchanted. I glimpsed a yellow butterfly. Sunlight, dappled by branches into a gently moving lattice, was playing on a carpet of fresh cut grass, where Robins feasted on worms. The laurel hedge glistened. A few tulips made a pink and white appearance, their leaves folded as if in prayer.

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… I lost an ally, but not her frequency …

Launch of 'Heart of a Sufi.'

2011 launch of ‘Heart of a Sufi’ at a friend’s place.

Before I share the book cover of ‘Course of Mirrors,’ my first novel to be released in spring, I must step back and credit once more a book I co-edited and am proud to have helped produce. ‘Heart of a Sufi’ was published by a group of friends in 2011. A limited print-run of hardbacks sold quickly and recouped our expenses. I wrote about the background to this project in honour of Fazal Inayat-Khan here in March 2013.

 

Joe Linker, a blogger friend, wrote only this week a spot-on review of this unusual book – brilliant, heartfelt thanks. One of our small editorial team, Rahima (Elspeth) Milburn, would have been delighted with the review of this book she endorsed with passion. Sadly she died peacefully shortly before 2017 was rung in.

by-ashen-portrait-of-elspeth-spottiswood-smallerI miss her. She was a deep thinking woman, a painter, psychotherapist and lover of poetry, especially Rumi, whose verses she recited often in her very deep and distinctive voice.  She was an inspiration to many. For over ten year, up to 2004, we run monthly seminars and additional workshops together, on themes like mythology, the power of the imagination, and the significance of dreams. I feel deep gratitude for her supportive friendship and feel strongly that her frequency lives on.

The portrait on the right I did in her studio, around the Millennium.

A group of us, companions on her path, will travel to Cornwall next week to join the large Milburn family and send their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother on her journey. Some of my readers may remember a humorous poem I wrote for Rahima and her family – posted here last October:

Regarding ‘Heart of a Sufi’ … while there are only very few of the beautiful hard copies left, some with Watkins in London, the work is also available as an e-book  with Troubador or Amazon.

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… may grace whirl me …

So insults are spat                                                               

from voices of discontentdancing on my shadow

and righteousness trumps 

on every side of the fence                                  

like bubbles of soap

words dissolve on air

all names sound hollow

 

deep down we know

that truth flows among solids

as a soft wave – rolling

back and forth in time

moved by love that can’t be told

though it turns all worlds

I’ll keep on bridging

realms that mirror each other

and may grace whirl me

on my shadows’ crest – that is

this mystery’s heart dance  …

 

Bridging is also a theme of my first novel, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ whose cover image I’ll reveal in the New Year

 *   *   *   I’m wishing you all many moments of grace in 2017   *   *   *

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