Tag Archives: short story

… Others – by Mulla – Allum …

Another story of Allum, my inversion of the famous Mulla from the East – whose voice occasionally comes through the white noise surrounding our planet.

17th century miniature - Tokapi Palace

      17th cent. miniature – Tokapi Palac  

                                                      *    *    *

An aspiring novelist confesses to Allum, ‘I fear some members of our writing group withhold honest feedback. I wonder if you’re one of those who think my writing’s rubbish, and a waste of time.’

Allum ponders the question and sighs. ‘That’s complicated.’

‘I value your opinion. I really want to know.’

Allum strokes his beard. ‘Some people fantasise about what other people think of them and cause themselves no end of confusion. Some intuit correctly and dwell in purgatory. Then there are those who take other people’s opinions on the chin and apply what’s useful.’

The neighbour is not going to be side-tracked. ‘You haven’t told me if you think my writing is rubbish?’

Mulla shrugs his shoulders. ‘As I said, it’s complicated. Take your pick.’

*     *      *

oh that serious writer

He, he, that serious young writer …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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… oh my sweet, crushed angel …

Maybe I was inspired by a  dream last night, but for some reason the painting of Tobias and the Angel, its story, and this poem by Hafiz waltzed into my space this morning .

Tobias and the Angel - Andrea del Verrrocchio’s workshop

Tobias and the Angel – Andrea del Verrrocchio’s workshop

   My Sweet, Crushed Angel

You have not danced so badly, my dear,
Trying to hold hands with the Beautiful One.

You have waltzed with great style,
My sweet, crushed angel,
To have ever neared God’s Heart at all.

Our Partner is notoriously difficult to follow,
And even His best musicians are not always easy
To hear.

So what if the music has stopped for a while.

So what
If the price of admission to the Divine
Is out of reach tonight.

So what, my dear,
If you do not have the ante to gamble for Real Love.

The mind and body are famous
For holding the heart ransom,
But Hafiz knows the Beloved’s eternal habits.

Have patience,
For He will not be able to resist your longing
For long.

You have not danced so badly, my dear,
Trying to kiss the Beautiful One.

You have actually waltzed with tremendous style,
O my sweet,
Oh my sweet, crushed angel.

From ‘I Heard God Laughing’ – Renderings of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hafez

http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/learning/teachers-and-schools/teaching-english-and-drama/out-of-art/stories-for-use-in-class/tobias-and-the-angel   – the story of the Tobias and the Angel.

And I just re-found this lovely post about the ‘Tobias and the Angel’ painting …. posted some time ago by Katia  https://scribedoll.wordpress.com/2011/08/21/odds-ends-trust/

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… other worlds … 

Writers that inspire and make me think are like a family of heart and mind. Luis Borges belongs. His imaginary worlds shine from beyond time and space, and delight with paradox.

‘The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of any indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries, with vast air shafts between … The Library is a sphere whose exact centre is any one of its hexagons and whose circumference is inaccessible … For every sensible line of straightforward statement, there are leagues of senseless cacophonies, verbal jumbles and incoherences … it suffices that a book be possible for it to exist …’   The Library of Babel, by Jorge Luis Borges

Between each breath, comma, pause, number, node, and each period, we string symbols towards stories. Some make sense to some, others make sense to none, and yet others inspire more stories. Ideas that resonate have an ongoing life, they tag on each other.

In his extensive readings, Borges must have come upon the ‘many worlds’ theme recorded in various cultures over the centuries, long before quantum physics was challenged to struggle with this probability.

Theodor Kittelsen 1857 - 1914

Theodor Kittelsen 1857 – 1914

Even as a child I experienced shifts in reality, vivid moments that expanded my imagination and have come to play a part in my novels. Since nothing about particle behaviour under observation is certain, everyone of us is abundantly free to speculate about memory, time, and parallel worlds. Though dreamlike, these other dimensions leave signs, like unseen winds show in swaying branches, jittering leaves, and rippling waters that gather momentum to become waves upon waves.

The general definition of wave is a disturbance travelling from one location to another through whatever medium or vacuum presents itself. Do bits of information travel with resonating particles? Is the medium itself the message transmitting pattern recognition? After all, even far galaxies mirror the branching of trees and leaves on earth, or, for that matter, the neuron system in our bodies. Everything scales up or down ad infinitum. Here’s how Jonathan Swift put it in 1773

The vermin only teaze and pinch                                                                                                                                               Their foes superior by an inch.                                                                                                                                                    So, naturalists observe, a flea                                                                                                                                                    Has smaller fleas that on him prey                                                                                                                                              And these have smaller still to bite ‘em,                                                                                                                                      And so proceed ad infinitum.

It seems incomprehensible that parallel worlds could exist and influence our reality and vice versa. How could there be many collective and personal histories? How could there be other versions of us and everything? How would it work?

Given the fickleness of our feelings and thoughts, strange dreams, synchronicities, and the constant dissolution of ordered energy fields, we are exposed to streams of oscillating and interrelating signals, unless we fine-tune through the white noise, or completely relax. Occasionally we have a sensation of order, like a blossom unfolding. All is right and beautiful – we don’t feel separate, but in symphony with all dimensions, here and now.

At other times, when under pressure, and crucified having to make a decision, we sample memories, search pasts, postulate futures, until we surrender to a compromise, or the universe decides for us, or  … a resonance occurs.

‘All time is contained in now.’ – Meister Eckhart

A sudden resonance, if deep, could explain many paranormal phenomena that vex and hex people, especially scientists. Mystics are fond of saying the ‘self’ is an illusion, trapped in the body, though which self is a matter of perspective.  Since quantum physics, particles stopped being things in themselves, but function as waves also.  This is where it gets slippery, because no explanation has come forward for the wave-function- collapse when the measuring of the particle is attempted.

Time is nature’s way of stopping everything from happening at once.’

Graffiti in a Texas Washroom

The ‘many worlds’ concept gets round this problem by suggesting myriad of copies of our reality, where everything conceivable can happen. As a writer, this is my license to create. The invented characters in my novels happen to me. They are tangible, psychologically coherent, yet also suspended between worlds, like, I think, we all are.

‘… the library is infinite and cyclical … If an eternal traveller were to cross it in any direction, after centuries he would see that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder (which, such repeated, would be an order: the Order). My solitude is gladdened by the elegant hope.’ Jorge Luis Borges

Here the Wikipedia entry on The Library of Babel.

The image is by Theodor Kittelsen, master of vision, trolls and wit.

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… the ones who walk away …

Ursula Le Guin’s short metafiction, ‘The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas,’ first published in 1973, had its 40th anniversary last year. My first reading, when Google and book review sites were non-existent, left a deep impression. This week’s re-reading, once, twice, three times – the story deserves it – made me curious as to what other readers might have made of it. Obsessing in a web-crawl I came upon predominantly moral interpretations, which I distinctly remember resisting, though these associations are understandable. The way our systems deal with the unadjusted tends to appease the troubled conscience for the rest of us normal citizens.

For me, there were deeper complexities in this brilliant piece of writing. I decided to share my thoughts and tempt those of you who don’t know the story to read it and derive their own insights. I’ll use spoilers, so if you want to read the story first, here is a link: http://genius.com/Ursula-k-le-guin-the-ones-who-walk-away-from-omelas-annotated

… With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city of Omelas, bright-towered by the sea …  

Childhood, Thomas Cole, 1842

Childhood, Thomas Cole, 1842

We are shown a charming city where order and harmony reign, a city well-protected in a bay, resembling a womb. Reality is suspended. There’s a sense of timelessness. It is a civilised place, decorous, joyful, without hierarchy. No king, no swords, no slaves … no power games. Utopia comes to mind, the idea of eternal life – the eternal innocent child.

No science has yet dispelled the vision of a haven without strive, where everyone is happy. In the wake of traumatising wars and unspeakable atrocities, there are always attempt to re-create places like Omelas, attempts to soften the reality of birth and death, the extremes of joy and pain, nature, the cosmos our life depends on and which we try to fathom. But since our spiritual lore cautions that life is an illusion – an ornament that covers ultimate truth we can’t perceive with our senses, we get anxious when life becomes too comfortable.

The narrating voice, anticipating our scepticism, invites us to fill in the sketches of this perfect democracy. We are told, ‘They were not simple folks, you see, though they were happy.’ After all, Omelas may strike some as goody-goody. Smiles, bells, parades, horses, bleh. ‘If so please add an orgy.’ More delightful pleasures are suggested – celebrating life, with one significant addition, ‘One thing I know there is none of in Omelas is guilt.’

In contrast, the voice notes the bad habit of a different place, where pedants and sophisticates consider happiness as something rather stupid. ‘Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting … the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.’ The voice insists that the citizens of Omelas were mature, intelligent, passionate people whose lives were not wretched.

The Festival of Summer has begun. ‘Do you believe?’ the narrator asks. ‘Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? NO? Then let me describe one more thing.’

And there it is, the secret lurking out of sight, a child, kept in the darkness of a tiny cellar room, with only a faint ray of hope based on a dull memory. The child is not driven out of the city, like the traditional scapegoat, but contained below ground; there to absorb everyone’s fear of reality and its cruel justice, embodying, maybe, submerged histories, rather like the depths of the iceberg below water keeps its peak afloat in the light.

… They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it; others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on the child’s abominable misery …

Terms are clear, should this child be freed, the beauty would wither and be destroyed. The pragmatic solution seems such: One punished and suffering child is meant to redeem the rest from coming to terms with their inherited sins and traumas.

To leave this comfortable enclave of Omelas means leaving security and loved ones behind. It requires crossing mountains, stepping into the unknown, with no charm against collective guilt.

Omelas’ citizens are free to look at the unacceptable child. While reactions, those of young ones mainly, vary from disgust to outrage, most accept the necessity of this child’s sacrifice, though some fall quiet and leave Omelas in the middle of night, alone.

For me the child is there to serve cohesion, symbolizing a lid on the unconscious, primitive, wild aspects of the psyche. Isn’t dis-ease a loss of order and rhythm? If you judge this pragmatism harshly, consider the purpose of trip-switches in an electricity-wired house. Or, consider how people under social or dictatorial pressure may choose to safeguard the lives of their loved ones at the cost of betraying their knowing heart.

Le Guin does not condone staying or leaving Omelas, she provides no answers. I am one of those who walked away, many times, always at a cost, because I preferred guilt to shame. C G Jung developed the concept of individuation, hoping for it to expand collective consciousness from the inside out, through the individual, sometimes involving a precarious personal journey, going through a process of separating psychologically from parents, state, authority, to become whole. Like in the Zen story where the seeker eventually returns, better able to serve the community. While a single brain does not survive its limited life-span, the collective memory of matter, and each human experience lives on and is transmitted to every new-born life.

Each one of us carries the traumas of our histories, though not everyone has the opportunity to redeem such wounds, contribute new ideas, or explore different states of being. What drives one to walk away from the familiar – is it inner conflict, allegiance to one’s heart, fear to upset the order, the need for a wider perspective, or simply a calling? We bond to the systems we grow up in, in cases we adjust our behaviour in order to emotionally survive, along with the implicit bargain to keep quiet about the shit, our shit, others’ shit, and how we deal with all the shit.

There are those who leave a comfortable place and those who stay. Maybe a balance between conservative forces that protect structures and revolutionary forces that seek change is necessary. Not everyone, for example, can face existential pain and futility without succumbing to psychosis. There is a case for Festivals of Summer, sport, drugs, ecstasy, trance …

Was the power of the imagination born from fear of mortality? Is this why we envisage dystopias or utopias, and, ultimately, scenarios that make us feel in control of our destiny?

What we hide from ourselves and from each other often relates to our most prominent outcast, the neglected inner child, so embarrassing to the adult world. This child in Omelas seems to embody the ongoing ritual of shame for walking from Eden into the dawn of creation, a reality burdened with consciousness, and free will that frequently misses the mark, but, heck, is the very process of becoming human.

My naïve hope is that we can learn to embrace our all too human failures, show patience with our children, stop seeking blame and end scapegoating, yet also acknowledge our individual and collective need for comfortable realities … protecting us … from what?

Here a quote from a former friend and teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan … taken from a lecture on Reality:

‘For the whole collective of the human mind – outside that self-created reality there is a storm. That storm – that wind – that pressure – that influence and space is for our existence and permanency completely annihilating and destructive … our assignment outward is because of a deep decay … Reality is a veil that is spun with the finest and thinnest and strongest silk. It weighs nothing – it covers a little darker area behind – and yet the moment when you reach out with your hand to draw the veil away it will skin your hand till blood is drawn.’ 

To fill this emptiness we assign our meaning outward. Call it the human project. Sorry to trouble you, my friends, but the function of reality is worth contemplating, and, in my view, Ursula Le Guin’s story does just that.

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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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… precious hopes …

The buzz of web-traffic can be exhilarating, a universe of stimulation, stories, advice, facts and know-hows. We put our name out there, mingle with travellers, seek adventure, share our thoughts, fulfil a task, meet like minds, exchange or sell something, and hopefully find synchronicity, resonance – yet at times …

P1090901 - Copy

Nasrudin rode the train to work every day. One day, as usual, the train conductor came and asked him for his ticket. He begun fumbling around in his coat pockets, and his pant pockets, and then in other people’s pockets. He looked in his briefcase, in his bags, and then in other people’s bags.

Finally the train conductor said, ‘Nasrudin, I’m sure you have a ticket. Why don’t you look for it in your breast pocket? That is where most men keep it.’

‘Oh no,’ said Nadrudin, ‘I can’t look there. Why, if it wasn’t there, I would have no hope.’

*     *     *

‘Why, if it wasn’t there, I would have no hope.’ What spooked the legendary fool’s mind that day? What do you make of the story? What does the ticket symbolise/represent for you? A hope can be so deeply meaningful to us that we keep it hidden at times, even from ourselves. Then we look for affirmation elsewhere because we couldn’t stand having our faith dashed.

Yes, I have such days. Where is the ticket to your hopes and dreams to be found? Are you keeping it close to your heart, holding it there, to remind yourself of inspirational instances when grace happened in your life, so when grace visits again you can seize the moment?

pink rose - black&white

*    *    *

I chose the particular version of this wisdom tale from a lovely book edited by Elisa Davy Pearmain, Doorways to the Soul. She calls the story The Lost Ticket. You find a link to Elisa’s website in my blog roll.

A classic collection of wisdom tales I treasure is in Caravan of Dreams, by Idris Shah.

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… Goats are Goats … part 3

What I saw across the road, through the watery gauze of the side window, sent an electrifying jolt through me. Magnified, blazing eyes lanced through mine, saying – you’ll find what you want. For a brief moment he was there, an intense presence, a man dressed in emerald green at the corner of a white-washed house, holding a staff capped with a skull exquisitely carved from ivory. For a brief moment we were one, intimately united in clarity of being, which was how I perceived the finest detail of the staff’s handle across the distance of twenty feet. When I looked again, the figure was gone.

Trust unfurled in fast motion, unlike the everyday subtle intuitions I weighed with reason as counterbalance. My attitude towards the unexplained was respectful but wary. Ellie’s entities were real to her, and felt by those around her. Not that I doubted the forces pushing through envelops of time, only that the deeply personal significance of a supernatural event could be misread and misapplied. Since every cell of my body had grown wings, I was convinced by the message I received, with no need to solve or snub the mystery.

‘The sky’s clearing.’ Ellie said. Brilliant light broke through the clouds. A breeze swept remnants of rain like sparkling trinkets from trees. Dowsed in afternoon light, the village roofs glistened like buffed silver under a giant rainbow. ‘I’m starving,’ Ellie added, at the sight of a grocery shop.

The woman behind the counter smiled at seeing us. ‘You brought the sun!’ She cut us wedges of freshly baked bread and topped them with local cheese. Rarely had bread tasted so delicious. ‘I’ve goats’ milk in the fridge, would you like some?’ Ellie burst into hysterical laughter, which shocked the dear woman.

I grinned, ‘We’d love some.’

‘I fancy it myself,’ the woman said, and filled two glasses to the rim with cool, silky milk. We savoured every sip and wanted more. The sweet, nutty taste so absorbed my attention, I forgot to ask her about goats, which is why I felt my heart wobble when she said, ‘Sadly the source will dry up. My friend, Marte, is getting too frail to milk her doe and I don’t have the space to keep goats.’

This is what goats get up to.

Marte lived in the next village. She had been forewarned and waved at us, stoically forcing her arthritic knees towards the gate. Her goat, Fleck, was white with random patches of brown and gracefully curved horns. ‘A gentle creature,’ Marte said, ‘unless you annoy her.’ She giggled, as if she shared a pun with an inner companion. I had an ear for this kind of banter, having companions of my own. ‘She needs a good home,’ she said. ‘I gladly give her to you, if you take her weaned kid as well.’

Fleck was used to cars from trips to pastures in the hills. She calmly walked the plank into the hatch of my estate. Her adorable kid followed. The goats ogled Marte as she raised her hand in salute with a tear in her eye. Equipped with sacks of grain, lore and advice, we drove home with two new passengers comfortably bedded in straw. Their curiosity was engaging. I fell in love with the pair. And even Ellie, contented after her anxious day, was too protected by bliss to predict the trouble ahead.

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. A wise man does not need advice and a goat won’t take it.      Anon

The End 

@ Ashen Venema July 2012

Don’t miss this wonderful drawing, created especially for this story by Natasha Tonkin, my son’s partner. If the link doesn’t work  you can find the post in the archive under August 2012

https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/the-english-goat/

 

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… Goats are Goats … part 2

Drenched, we stepped into a steaming kitchen. A sizeable family was gathered for a meal. Men had spread their wet jumpers on chairs near the central cooker. In a nook above the table hung a plain crucifix. The matriarch served food. When she saw our bedraggled state, she dropped her ladle to fetch towels. We must have looked like scarecrows.

‘Sit down, have a bite.’ Her husband heaped roast lamb and spuds on large plates for us. A young girl gawked at our exotic outfit.  We were wedged into benches, flanked by men who, while bashful, beamed at the welcome distraction. As to goats – no luck:  ‘Ja Geissen, di hamma ghabt, aber jetzt nimmer. Dass tut mir Leid.’ The woman was genuinely disappointed for us.

Goats, we learned, were not bred anymore in the area. ‘The effort outweighed the reward,’ said an elder, though unlike the farmer earlier in the day, he did not make me feel a fool for wanting a goat. The brothers were curious and showered us with questions about the outside world, we were a novelty. Ellie kept quiet, struggling with her roast leg of lamb, out of politeness. She was undecided about eating meat. Playing the martyr, I thought. A good hour passed with stories in local dialect. I caught the gist and laughed along, while Ellie occasionally managed the ghost of a grin. When the deluge reversed to plain rain, I grasped the moment to thank our hosts.

‘You could ask the cobbler in the village. He’s privy to gossip from round here.’ The elder chuckled. ‘You’ll find him in the village, next to the church.’

Guided by the baroque spire, I found the church and parked the car in the square. Two crows cawed, debating in a spindly tree. ‘A bad omen,’ Ellie said. 

I was gripped by a compulsion to let her hitchhike home. Her foolish superstition annoyed me. ‘All depends what you project onto crows,’ I countered.’

A lean and nifty man, the cobbler stashed not only shoes but secrets, likely for profit. There was punch behind his words, ‘Your best bet is the slaughterhouse,’ he said, ‘they might have an old goat.’

‘I don’t want to go there.’ Ellie wailed. Her moral conflict over eating meat at the farmer’s table left her feeling woozy. And the crows had put fear in her. Wet through once more, we lingered in the car and gazed at the waters dancing on the tarmac. ‘Maybe you should get a sheep,’ Ellie said.

I suffered the humiliation of defeat, while the slaughterhouse loomed as a last resort. My want for a goat prevailed. ‘I’ll enquire, you can stay put,’ I said, and firmly started the engine, heading in the direction the cobbler had indicated. Another black cloud sailed in. The torrent drummed so hard on the windshield, its wipers slowed under duress. Single drops hit the tarmac like missiles, forming a milky mist.

‘Everything’s against us,’ Ellie said. Here we go again, I thought. Yet I had to admit the dead-end. We would have to return down the mountain. The trouble was, when Ellie slipped into a low mood the air surrounding her became heavy. If I stretched my imagination I could see her succumb to a host of dark entities, hear their whispers. I regretted my decision to take Ellie along. We turned a corner, and, without warning, were faced by a stark scene. In the frame of an open industrial unit animal corpses dangled from hooks like pendulums. That instant a cow’s belly was sliced open. Blood and inner organs poured out and splashed into the drains below. Ellie shrieked and paled. Queasy myself, a vivid taste of iron in my mouth, I turned the car and stopped on the main road.

Numbed, we avoided each other’s eyes, the shocking event lingered. Part of life’s food chain, I told myself, and promptly pictured the cling-filmed bloodless meat in supermarkets.

Ellie heaved a breath. Her hands stopped trembling. She shook her head, ‘Nevermore,’ she said. The gravity in her voice, the burning determination in her eyes, hinted at a deep rage, way beyond her revulsion to meat. It seemed to me her nevermore applied to the shadowy entities that plagued her, and a no-meat pledge served to conquer her passivity.

I liked the taste of meat, but would I eat it if I had to kill the animal myself? A challenge! I reasoned with my conscience and came up with a compromise. ‘From now on, I’ll remember to honour a sacrificed life with a thank you,’ I said.

‘That’s a start.’ The sharp tone behind Ellie’s new credo brought an icy draught on the air. To escape the depressing spot, I made snail-speed through the village. The day’s span had narrowed. Overcome by failure, I gazed into the haze for answers.

… a link to part three, the last instalment is at the top of this page …

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. A wise man does not need advice and a goat won’t take it.   Anon

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The illustrations are by Arthur Rackham and Gustave Doré

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… Goats are Goats … part 1

Recently, Jane Alexander, another spiritual warrior, had a blog-post sparking a dialogue that brought up the theme of goats, in the widest sense 🙂 and it reminded me of an episode with goats. So I dug up my notes and wrote a Short Story. Here the first part, one or two more to come … enjoy.

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Friends warned me – goats are trouble, they’re stubborn, they gobble up everything in reach and reach everything, fences are useless – to no avail, my brain cells were committed. The image of a she-goat had acquired deep saturation in my heart and was fixed. At the time, none of our group who had rented the old house was keen on gardening. We were surrounded by weed-smothered acres. I envisaged the jungle cleared and converted into snow-white milk and cheese. A deeper image chimed, of the orphan Heidi sent to live with her grandfather in an alpine hut where she met Peter and his goats. The story had left an indelible impression; especially how the healing of Heidi, Peter and the wholesome milk of his goats worked on Clara, a paralysed girl. Sediments of memory that push up times’ layers and seep into new situations often justify my otherwise irrational actions.

The local farmer told me of a place where they kept goats. ‘A rarity these days,’ he said. I got up at dawn, bemoaning the grey sky. Ellie was awake, eager to join me, a curious act of will for someone who tended to apathy. I had not planned on company, but could hardly refuse since she had already prepared coffee in a Thermos, good strong coffee. We raided the fridge for provisions and folded into my old estate. The destination was a smallholding in a Bavarian hamlet, an hour’s drive away. Ellie was silent. She liked to daydream. When she talked, it was about what she noticed in her immediate vicinity. ‘See the pretty flower box up on that window?  It’s tilting and might fall on someone’s head.’ Or, commenting on a woman who offered directions, ‘She squeaks like a mouse in a trap.’  Her observations tended to ripple the air with uncanny prognostic qualities that made me shiver.

The overgrown dwelling nestled like the green-speckled cap of a giant mushroom in the slope of a hill. Across the black earth in the yard waddled flocks of white geese. I parked the car, which made a couple of birds chase their goslings under the branches of an elm that served as roof for a medley of neglected farming tools and scrap wood. An enchanted world in which a silver-haired woman stood motionless among her goose sentinels. ‘Is she aware of us?’ I wondered.

‘She wouldn’t miss a worm stirring in her yard,’ Ellie said.  Her impression mirrored mine, of the ageless crone being rooted to her environment as through fungal filaments. Stepping from the car was like agitating the boundary to another universe. There was a bout of nervous honking, and a gander hissed as I walked up to the woman. Her kind eyes twinkled, animating a leathery face inscribed with immeasurable knowledge of the elements. She told the tale of her last goat, in slow detail, giving it shape with her bony hands, as if I was a neighbour passing by who deserved the latest instalment.

Back in the car, I took a last glance and wished I had my camera. The woman stood as before, on the same spot. Ellie was humming.

‘What’re you humming?’ I asked.

‘Some tune, can’t recall – this place, you know, could be spirited away any moment.’

‘Good luck then that she gave me another lead,’ I said, ‘a place not far from here.’

The farmer ten miles down the road looked us up and down. Not an inch of ironed cloth on us, my mirror-embroidered vest, the charms dangling from Ellie’s neck – hippies – I heard him judge. ‘Goats, gosh, they’re a luxury. I sell you sheep, less hassle.’

‘Sheep are sheep,’ I said, bluntly. He carefully gauged my sanity and shook his head. The thoughts of a simple soul can be read in capital letters, not flattering, but always enlightening. I made small talk to navigate through our discord.

Eventually he offered a hint. ‘There’s a farm I used to do business with, in the mountains, near the Austrian border.’

This search was going to be a longer than anticipated. We stopped at a river for a picnic. ‘It’s not going to be straightforward, is it?’ Ellie said. ‘I hope we don’t get lost … exciting really’, she added, as if to undo her fretfulness. I never tried to persuade her of anything.

She was a strange one, Ellie, a cautious spectator, longing for others to take charge, which got her into trouble when someone she considered a friend laced her birthday cake with psychedelics. She lost coherence and was sectioned. When our small community heard about her plight, we got her released from the institution and took her in. The trauma had shaken Ellie, but opened her mind, though she swayed from moments of brightness to moments of despair.

‘We can sleep in the car,’ I said. ‘There’re blankets in the hatch.’ Determined, I drove on – into the unknown. Another 30 miles, and my Estate laboured up the steep serpentines of a gorge. The sky drew dark curtains and it began to rain.

Close to our next destination, flashes of lighting zigzagged among the cliffs. The narrow road became a roaring stream. Ellie clasped the crystals she wore for protection round her neck. I could smell her fear and tried to be brave for both of us. ‘I’ll stop at the next layby.’ To my relief, a cluster of farm buildings came into view. Sheep huddled for shelter under a copse.

‘No goats!’ Ellie said. She had a habit of stating the obvious.

‘Goats hate rain,’ I assured her. ‘They’ll be under cover on a day like this.’ Once we reached the farmhouse it poured rivers. I parked and turned off the engine. The mass of water pressing against the windshield was impenetrable, and it didn’t look as if the downpour was about to stop. ‘Let’s run for the porch,’ I said.

…   a link to part two is at the top of this page …

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of men of old; seek goats.  Basho

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The illustration, Goat and Vine, is by A. Rackham

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… I write here …

I write here … was also posted on Third Sunday Carnival – June 2012

http://thirdsundaybc.com/2012/06/

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Images tend to bring us instantaneously closer.  A recent writing workshop given by a friend, made me think how inner and outer spaces affect our writing.  And I was also  inspired by Roz Morris, a generous and effective blogger http://nailyournovel.wordpress.com/page/3/ who featured her writing space in February.

I write through

the heart chamber

and the drone

of its circular charm

I write in earth

branching to the dark solitude

of birthing

the unknown

I write in water

fractals spinning

plankton under stars

coding the cosmos

I write in air

flexed by the wishbone

that loops breath to lift

wings of longing

I write in space

where spirits linger

in the scent-cloud

of a former home

I write in ether

where dreams free

greening visions

and murmur of bloom

I write here

in a room that is everywhere

bridging hearts

with companions like you

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