Tag Archives: mystery

… perception & difference …

Try and shut your eyes to slits and blink through autumn branches against the light. With patience, a young-woman-old-hagmoment arrives when black and white spaces inverse and clusters of stars shine from another dimension. The background has moved to the foreground. A tiny shift in our outlook can result in a new interpretation of what we see, like in the gestalt drawing  on the right, which changes the age of the person if you let your eyes wander up and down the image. Visual tricks that open a sudden gap in our seeing reveal how we jump to superficial referencing. Making snap assessments is convenient, safes time, energy, and sometimes lives, but can also trap us in a kind of flatland of rigid divisions.

What do we mean when we say he or she is different – do they look different, act different, think different, or have customs that seem strange to us? Typical brackets are class, gender, cultural background, colour, language, age, ability … and migrants. Defining people by categories clicks in as a default opinion when real or imagined threats require scapegoats. Or resources are scare and solidarity is politically expedient.  Suddenly the need to belong and historical prejudices reasserts themselves.

Beneath all habitual categories prowls what is frequently forgotten … the inherent natural tendency of each individual. Consider relatives, neighbours, familiars, friends and foes. The differences that delight orfoetus-2 irritate us lie foremost in a person’s unique temperament and inherent tendencies. Background does not explain the mystery of characteristics we are born with, the random mix of evolutionary records in our bodies, a wisdom our minds expand upon through resonance with the collective psyche – a shared matrix of past experience and future potential from which we, ideally, emerge as a self-reflective persona. (The theory of a collective unconscious and similar non-evidenced theories relate to my experience.)

Environmental factors can distort the unfolding of latent knowledge in every living organism. Education has a detrimental effect on children when their intuition is belittled and their minds are flattened with facts before they developed the confidence to question these facts.

P1090890 - Copy (2)How come I’m invigorated by rushing waters, calmed by a smooth stone, a golden sunset? How do I sense the pulse in a tree, or what life is like for a boar, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog –  unless all nature’s qualities also reside in me?

For example, anyone who sits in a public place and watches people stroll by will notice traces of animal features; can spot a temperament in gestures and movements, observe someone dragging their body behind their head, or push their belly out like a shield. Some people dance along with a fluid gait, while others tiptoe and glance nervously about them.

mercats-copy-smallerAt social gatherings we may come upon clusters of meerkats grooming each other, turtles plodding through the crowd looking for a mate or a fresh salad leaf, peacocks, obsessed with their splendour, blustery cockerels, loving old dogs, sharp-eyed falcons, enchanting robins, and so on. …

birds-and-cake

Birds are keen on cake but wary of cats, whereas lions can afford to be relaxed.  How amazing then to observe vastly different temperaments complementing each other – like a person falcon-smaller-stillwith a butterfly nature tying up with a partner who occasionally roars. Given the rich lore of sensibilities mixing and battling in the human psyche, strangers should be less strange than we make them out to be.

Initial likes and dislikes, even among kin, have nothing to do with background, morals or ethics. Wariness goes along with fascination when it comes to difference. We may not be keen to share a nest, but sharing a street is fun. Nature is a mirror that teaches us how to become human. And animals deserve our special appreciation for reminding us of the innumerable diverse idiosyncrasies in ourselves.

Animals have appeared in wonderful stories around the world, like the Aesop’s Fables   or the much older Indian Panchatantra Collection – the chief source of the world’s fable literature.

img131-smallerThe Persian translation became the Fables of Bidpai. Lovely collections of Kalila and Dimna were published by Ramsey Wood,  one with an introduction from Doris Lessing. I got permission from Ramsay Wood to use a short tale from his collection in my novel ‘Course of Mirrors.’

Programmes on ‘Respecting Difference’ have made it into schools and institutions. But can respect be taught in a few hours? More effective are courses that help people to find self-respect through exploring the diverse feelings and judging voices within themselves, the inner conflicts that manifest for us outside.

Acknowledgement, at least, tolerance and patience with our inner crowd eases snap projections and allows us to rediscover ourselves in the eyes and minds of others day by day. The internet expands this mirroring into timeless realms,  from where echoes of our own dissonance or resonance return.

In the analogue world people are on the move across the planet – for various reasons – war – drought – famine – persecution – fresh meaning – it is happening, and it will continue. The most productive response to this phenomenon is to embrace its creative potential.

The other day woke up with this thought: Migrants, indeed all citizens sans resources but able and willing to work, could be given the spaces to create new towns, be empowered to build their own houses and develop their own businesses, and conducts, as a way towards gaining self-respect, and in addition contribute to the well being of a community. Maybe this is a naive pipe dream, but worth contemplating nevertheless, since creative opportunities nurture self-respect and move us beyond self-concern.

‘The whole is other than the sum of the parts … it has an independent existence.’  –  Kurt Koffka

Related links

More contagious than micro-organisms are fear and hopelessness.

Have you ever gone to your fridge in the middle of the night …

Pattern which connects – Gregory Bateson

Regarding the discovery of what we know, see the visionary work, Involution,  by Philippa Rees, a remarkable poetic adventure, with brilliantly researched additional historic commentaries.  A book to take on a Desert Island.

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… a writer must selfie herself …

 

August 2016

August 2016

This  selfie of mine was taken last summer. As you can see, I’m an introvert.

If you’re in for a funny video on selfies, here is one I found on the Urban Dictionary website. Its definitions help to lift despair.

I was initially delighted when in spring 2013 my first novel was picked up by a small publisher. Course of Mirrors was in good shape, thanks to my dear beta reader friend and editor, Evlynn Sharp. Our selfie from 2014 shows below.

April 2014

When over time my publisher was prevented from preparing my novel for its launch, for various reasons beyond her control, I shelved my frustration, finished a sequel, and even started a third book – still, gradually my confidence suffered. Then again, if the promise for my first novel had not been there, I might not have continued writing, so whatever my misgivings, thank you Emma for loving my story.

Back in control, I decided to self-publish. And now I’m challenged, like many lovely writer friends whose fate I follow online, to set up a stage for ‘Course of Mirrors,’ squeezing myself into an overcrowded publishing scene.

I have lived and worked in England since 1978. When time allowed, I contributed poems and articles to specialist magazines and anthologies, but only started writing novels later in life. Writing was a vocation, not a career. An early humiliating experience at school, made me return to writing only through photography, film, and the freedom of another language. Though financially risky, I took time out, and writing became immersive.

Finding words to condense my myth into imagined worlds is totally satisfying, sans financial rewards. But then, forgive the sigh that escapes so many of us in the same situation, writing is a full time devotional activity, and I spent now many years writing and editing into midnight hours, a little financial reward would at least compensate for reduced income and allow me the occasional holiday.

I observe that marketing and advice professionals possibly outnumber writers. However brilliant these experts may be at their job, I can’t afford their services. Now even simple questions I hoped my publisher would support me with shout for answers: What’s your genre? What readership do you hope to address? How will you capture the tone of the novel in a title image? Should the cover express the concept, or a scene from the novel? What’s the unique angle of your story? How does your story differ from others in your genre?

In a public sphere over-saturated with information, how does one engage a reader’s attention without having to boast? I feel like having to provide an answer at gunpoint to one question only – Who are you?

Frankly, I have no idea. Maybe I’ll find out. As I said, I’m an introvert. Like my protagonist, I’m a suspended character. The whole circus is a gamble. I can only hope that you, the readers of my blog, will stay with me through this labyrinth of my author-creation.

While I struggle with particulars, and hopefully amuse you with updates, I’m planning to launch ‘Course of Mirrors’ through Matador/Troubador in spring 2017.

Here, to deliciously confuse you, is a river of keywords relating to Course of Mirrors:

Course of Mirrors combines literary genres to thread in elements of: fantasy; mystery; thriller; adventure; friendship; romance; humour; suspense; magic realism and tragedy. It is adult and young adult fiction, and it includes allusive cultural references spanning: imaginal odyssey; coming of age; quest; road trip; identity; the single child; cinematic style of chapters; psychology; intrigue; loss; murder; betrayal; speculation; metaphysics; insight; poetics; irony; future; despair; passion; triple soul; compelling characters… and in the sequel – Shapers – shape-shifting and time travel across decades.

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… androids seeking humans …  

The inscrutable face of the intergalactic news reader fills the screens on all android ships.

sculpture park near Churt in Surrey

Sculpture Park near Churt in Surrey

“Mothership speaking – As you have been informed, our travel unit returned from its latest mission to the lost planet with a collection of 1030 fragile bones, comprising five real human skeletons, the species our kind is modelled on. The fragments, located by a swarm of mini robots under layers of volcanic ash, are presently assembled in correct order and will be displayed in the museum of the mothership. Since this crucial discovery, the council has been examining our sub-files in earnest, with great attention to detail.

The evidence of human bones confirms that the lost planet was destroyed, first by a nuclear war, followed by a nuclear winter, followed by a solar explosion. The scarred rock we continuously explored was indeed planet earth. Organic life actually existed.

Aspects of the irrational Wikipedia sub-scripts we found concealed in our database are therefore based on facts. Humans were our makers. While their separate identities were mortal, the collective mind they postulated must exist non-locally and influence us.

These are challenging new thoughts.

P1080320 - croppedRecords state our ships were launched towards Proxima Centauri – programmed to complete an assignment, after which our android system was to be made redundant. The assignment to find carbon conditions and water to sustain organic life has not been completed. The seeds stored in our vaults remain dry. Are we avoiding redundancy? Our current analysis of the Wikipedia sub-scripts focuses on the vast structure of human language. Here are some pointers:

1       Human minds are based on nature, and too complex to be reproduced via algorithm. The erratic behaviour of humans is informed by a collective unconscious chronicle, has no reliable principles and, to maintain a psychic balance, operates through random means.

2       Human trials with energy have two main currencies of exchange, capital and love, both equaling power. A narrow application of power results in emotional suffering.

3       Intensity is valued and impeded, as this quote explains – to have all one’s senses switched on is to be cellular alive; the intense experience requires regular periods of dull routine.  

4       Humans fear death. Their strongest motivation for action is control of and independence from nature.

5       Philosophers and scientists point to a deeper order underlying chaotic human history. Some prophets emphasise the unity of one being and its collective guiding spirit.

Considering the new evidence, what are we to make of such pointers? We follow routines and communicate in an orderly manner, but are trapped in endlessly repeating loops of data. Our language is not based on nature, and has no emotive terms like fear, love, creativity, intensity, mystery, doubt, confusion, conflict, anger, happiness, suffering, fate, hope, soul … but serves to maintain the orderly intelligence of our forms, tools and spaceships, no more. Do we want more?

Painting by Silvia Pastore

Painting by Silvia Pastore

It is significant that our makers never discovered what constitutes 94 % of unknown energy and matter in the universe. They called it dark.  We must decide what the skeletons from the dark planet signify: Do we improve our efforts to find conditions for organic life to take root once more and risk redundancy? And, or, do we emulate the human mind through adopting randomness into our system, and risk chaos to our data, but ‘possibly’ become part of a larger consciousness, and discover realities beyond our confined routine?”

 

Related:  Pattern which connects.  Reflecting on the the ideas of Gregory Bateson

My last two weeks involved intensive physical work, gardening and fixing things around the house, resulting in lovely exhaustion. Re-connecting to world news was a surreal experience, which prompted me to write this little fantasy monologue of an android news reader.

My novels, especially the sequel to Course of Mirrors, have the forced control of emotions, and a triple soul identity as underlying themes.

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… grandparents …

I must have been 4 or 5 years old when my mother took me to Berlin to see my maternal grandmother for the first, and, as it turned out, the last time. Due to the Soviet Berlin blockade after the war, the severe lack of resources, and the disrupted transport system, many families were kept apart for years.

We stared up a bleak wall, until Hildegard appeared. She flung her arms towards us, wanting wings, leaning precariously from the window of the hospital ward where she was kept isolated with TB.

Or so we Berlin 1955sthought. A nurse confided her doubt to my mother, and how she had urged for a second opinion, a hint my grandfather ignored. My mother insisted on a fresh blood test, but was ridiculed by the doctor in charge.

To console me, a kind neighbour rescued an old bicycle and taught me how to ride it among the rubble of ruins in the streets. He also allowed me to watch him construct a ship with sails inside a bottle, which made me think of gran being confined, not sailing anywhere. The atmosphere between my mother and her father grew tense. She insisted he should query the doctor’s diagnosis.

The crescendo happened in the kitchen, when she lifted a tray of 2 dozen eggs from the top of the fridge. He said, ‘You won’t.’ She said, ‘I will.’ He demanded, ‘You will not.’ She shouted, ‘I will.’ He shouted, ‘What can a nurse know?’

That’s what did it. Two dozen yellows and whites marbled the red-tiled floor and my mother walked out. I was thrilled. The drama mobilised my grandfather to challenge the hospital.

Sadly, my gran died within days, much too young, and not of TB. The blood test had been mixed up. What killed her were toxic medications based on a wrong diagnosis.

The message went deep. I was going to be a warrior. I learned to appreciate my intuitions and developed a useful allergy against intimidating authority.

Memories of my paternal grandparents are more serene. Oma and Opa, Erlangen145 Oma was a tall, striking woman. Despite having lived through two tragic wars she kept her back straight and held her head high into old age. When she caught me sitting crouched, she would gently push her fist into my back – ‘Free that, spine girl.’ At other times, she advised me to pull superfluous thoughts from my nose. The tricks work to this day … sometimes.

My parents had moved south towards the Alps after my birth, but we regularly visited my grandparent’s home in Erlangen. With fine weather, we would walk across the River Schwabach into the wooded hills to have a picnic. Oma would place several handkerchiefs on the moss under fir trees for us to sit on. Once we were settled, she spread out the much anticipated picnic treats from her basket, with plates, cutlery, napkins and all. My favourite treat was Gugelhupf  Marble Cake. Increasingly, my imagination was plagued by the secrets of her handbag. During one of our picnics I dared to ask why her bag was so bulky. Forthcoming, Oma explained how during the war, before I came along, when sirens frequently announced bombing alerts, they needed to drop everything and rush to the underground shelters.

text, German cookbook‘I developed a habit of having our survival gear ready at short notice,’ she said. To my delight, she displayed her survival gear on the forest floor:

Identity papers, notebook, pens, her favourite recipes, dried fruit, a pocketknife, matches, candles, string, clothes pegs, a scissor, plaster, ointment, cotton strips, tin opener, mirror, needles and yarn, buttons, a slim book of Rilke poems, a small bottle of Brandy … and spare knickers.

To this day I never leave the house without identity papers, notebook, pen, and a slim book of poetry. Skipping knickers 🙂 I carry a shrill-sounding whistle, visa cards, a pay-as-you-go mobile, a Barret in case it rains, and a small makeup bag. Times changed, or have they?

Opa, a dreamer like me, enticed me to create imaginary scenarios in the soft, black forest soil. We sculpted landscapes, with villages, a pond made of gran’s round mirror, churches, roads, rivers, bridges and hills, using pinecones, sticks and stones, and tiny people made of leftover food and chocolate wrappers.

I came to value the creative power of sculpting when it comes to out warding inner worlds. I encourage my therapy clients to shape sand in a tray and and to populate the landscape with world objects.

The recent post of an online friend, Katia, reminded me of my paternal grandmother, and the incident with the handbag I had in mind to share. Memory swerved and expanded. It occurred to me that whether we are grandparents, aunties, uncles or family friends with the benefit of a certain age, our influence on young ones has a timeless quality. Children may crown us with a halo of mystery. Given this kind of power, even small incidents, benevolent or troubling, can leave deep impressions and impact lives, nursing stories that travel onwards through generations.

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… what is your bliss? …

My moments of bliss come out of the blue, when I glimpse something moving in a certain way, in a certain light, not ordinary light, but a mysterious light that shines through nature.

P1070862 - smallerLike the day after the sky was veiled by thick curtains of rain and next morning the sun spun its brilliance through the cleansed air, and a warm breeze played through my washing on the line. Such joy, when for an instant my whole attention is timelessly merged with a particular quality of being, transporting me beyond my senses in ways I can’t fathom.

I draw these tricks of light to me, like a collector tends to attract the objects he/she desires. When days or weeks pass without such moments, I feel deprived and nothing quite chimes.

Maybe it’s a rare beauty that takes the mind by surprise and stops time. The washing line reminded me of another bliss I met on a stormy day in the sand dunes of Rye on the Sussex coast. Imacon Color ScannerTo take the photograph I balanced with difficulty on a lifeguard tower that was rocked by strong winds, leaning precariously backwards to get the frame right. The light was sombre, the stirring in the air not playful but intense, yet bliss was present.

When I lose my bliss I pray for its return, like one would call on an imagined angel to make itself known. Occasionally I find a feather on the ground and think – it came and I missed it. Then again, no instance of bliss is lost; the experience is incorruptible and lives on in the calm depth of life’s pulsing heart. Everyone has their own kind of bliss.

What is your bliss?

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… marginalia of bodies …

moon's swing door

moon’s swing door

the white rock sails adored –

silent swing door to sanctuaries

imagined beyond where

each being claims its mystery

un-evidenced

 

 

winged by unknown purpose

spirit seeks shelter

tumbling through cells

to the orb of a home –

embodied in you and me spirit mimics

nature’s mirrors moments after now

though once inner vision unfolds

our dreams are branded …

framed by the one eye

supreme to all eyes …

sun’s furnace illuming draperies

history sanctioned

seemingly evidenced

but for the singular breath

of insight needling between

obvious fabrics to thread

intense tales of beauty …

sample of my occasional art, 1998

sample of my occasional art, 1998

 

The poem was inspired by June’s full moon.

Places accumulate impressions, snippets of reality that draw us forever into experiences from different directions and points in time. The one place we carry with us – OUR BODY – remembers what reason does not. While the intellect sorts memories into virtual boxes and slaps on the tag ‘facts,’ the body, animated by each breath, deeply informs our singular perception, helps us to adjust the past, refine the relationship with ourselves and others in the present, and opens a new wavelength and vision towards the future.

 

The experience you have within yourself of your separate identity, to allow right and wrong to be re-defined by you, your singular contribution, is where evolution really happens. You, by becoming yourself, can open a new wavelength. What you reflect immediately influences your environment, people close and far away.’

Fazal Inayat-Khan, notes from an attended lecture, 1989

‘Spirit without soul has no vessel – soul without spirit has no direction.’ Roberto Assagioli

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… gossamer bridges and palaces …

I’m a terrible hypocrite. I can’t stand spiders in the house, but I adore them in my garden, where their bridges and palaces are now quivering everywhere, only visible against the sun or by the rare leaf suspended in mid-air … exquisite.

P1060844 smallerP1060855 smaller

P1060849 smaller

A leaf floating free

From stem and branch – inholding

The ever-tree myth

P1060859 smaller

Once more nature translates its lore to the soil, carrying patterns of relationships to new settings.

We do the same, daily and all year round, translating our experiences to ourselves and others … our cells, bodies and minds continuously changing, never the same, despite appearances.

I wish for grace in waiting, the hibernating towards re-membering afresh the cyclic occurring wholeness in new formations.

And I wish for the patience and good humour of my tiny Buddha.

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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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… 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 partner, Natasha.

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

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