… boy …

Relating to my last post, ‘girl.’.

The birth of our son was like a fairy tale. My husband and I had arrived in Somerset UK from Amsterdam two months before my delivery was due. This happened because my Dutch parent’s in law had bought a cottage for their retirement, allowing us to initially live for low rent in exchange for me taking care of a well-stocked acre of garden. We had many friends in England, so we welcomed the prospect.

I went to the local GP expressing my wish to have a home-birth. ‘We don’t do these anymore,’ he said. I scored a point by pointing out that home-births were very normal in Holland. To discourage me further the GP said, ‘Our midwife retires soon, and I’m not sure if we’ll have a new one in time.’ My husband stood behind me like a sentinel, giving me confidence.  ‘Well, you better make sure then,’ I replied.

‘And, of course, with you living in the hills, we can’t forecast the weather conditions,’ the GP continued, in case of an emergency …’ I cut him short. ‘There’s a level area in our garden where a helicopter could land, oh, and our farming neighbours have a tractor.’ This point scoring went on for a while. Eventually, the GP said, ‘Well, let’s see how it goes,’ ending the discussion.

On our way out of his office a door opened in the hall. A motherly woman emerged. ‘I overheard you want a home-birth,’ she said. ‘Don’t worry; I’ll still be around in January. I’ll be there for you.’ Wow!

As it happened, on Epiphany day the hills and streets surrounding our Somerset hamlet were magically blanketed in ice and snow. Still, the midwife duly arrived with the help of a police Landover. She entertained me with humorous stories and made me take a warm bath. Her last delivery before her retirement went well. She called my little one her ‘Snow Baby,’ and sent him annual birthday cards until she died a few years ago. Bless her. Maybe because I trusted my child’s spirit, he turned out to love life.

Relating to my last post, called ‘girl,’ this post came about, not just because it’s my son’s birthday tomorrow, but because I recalled my father’s jubilant shout through the telephone my husband made after our son’s birth, ‘Ein Junge!’ (A boy.)

The tradition to value boys over girls goes deep, so deep that it only now comes to a head with the climate crisis inching upon us, a crisis due to centuries of patriarchal male attitudes towards the feminine, which, basically, the ever life-and-death-giving earth stands for. At the same time there has been a momentous increase in the questioning of gender roles, in a psychological sense. There’s definitely a connection. The relationship between the sexes not only produces more life, one is also given the opportunity to acquire the psychological qualities of the other. This psychological exchange happens equally between same-sex partners, in that it is the feminine and the masculine principles that seek union between culturally polarized receptive and active energies.

Hurts to our feelings, hurts that trample on our inner psychological truths can be traumatic, but also very subtle, generating unique life choices that deal with put-downs obliquely yet often, thankfully, creatively. Forgiveness is a slow process, if it happens at all during a lifetime. Yet it is one of the marvels of the psyche that consciousness expands through the projection of our unconscious biases and complexes, which we only slowly become aware of.

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girl

GIRL

down generations

she  crosses bridges and streams

her body is smart

though prying mind-trolls

punish her rebel with glee

not the ordered son

yet loved by the mother bee

her spirit endures

This ceramic bee shone from a box of knickknacks among items my dad left.

. I liked the ornament as a child and can still see the bright wings mirrored in the surface of a lacquered sideboard. The bee was my mother’s and sums her up, always on the move, hardworking, generous and caring, though struggling with the emotional complexity of my father. His mother warned her … he’s a closed cupboard, meaning he didn’t trust people with his inner life. I had intuitive access to this cupboard, as daughters do, but the content was so fiercely protected, even my most gentle enquiries were repelled to the day my dad died, last spring.

Then again, had he not hidden his hoard of secrets, his girl may not have sneaked through the doors of the imagination, become a seeker, an explorer, a poet, a storyteller, a writer in search of words for what intuition reveals. Where invisibles exist they act like the fungi that entangles and interconnects what is unseen, unless brought to light. I write for a small audience – lovers of the imagination, lovers of myth, and lovers of poetry – you will appreciate my book, Course of Mirrors, and its sequel to come, which turns into SF.

In last month’s post, complementing an image found on twitter, of a screaming new-born, is an image of my mother holding me close as an infant. She died 35 years ago around this time, but still visits and protects me during nights; such is the vivacious spirit of the mother bee. Apart from my parents, I’ve lost many dear ones these last decades. While every loss refills the loss jar to its brim, a crescent (presence) still abides.

Each that we lose takes part of us;
A crescent still abides,
Which like the moon, some turbid night,
Is summoned by the tides. – Emily Dickinson

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… this image of a newborn is a poem …

The instinctual reaction of the new born after being separated from the dark, warm womb is to find a position in this vast, bright space. When boundaries dissolve we are challenged to a total reorientation, and something or someone to welcome, hold and protect us. Here the infant thrust into the light grasps the nearest thing, the doctor’s face-mask.

What impresses me is the sheer life force in that tiny fist.

My welcome happened, though delayed; since fate had it that the midwife decided to let me cry for many hours, determining my mother should rest after a long delivery. The midwife convinced my mother that it would be good for my voice. Once I was taken to the breast I drunk myself stupid. This early condensed experience triggered shifting periods of failures and triumphs, insufficiency and sufficiency as a pattern in my life. The birth process is given scarce attention, though Stanislaw Grof has given us plenty to think about… https://courseofmirrors.com/2015/05/22/a-cartography-of-the-psyche/

The image of the newborn that I consider a poem was posted by an Italian Twitter friend. We don’t know the photographer who caught this poignant moment, though I’d like to give credit if she/he is found or comes forward.

And I’m curious to know what the image/poem of the newborn invokes in you, my readers …

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My promised essay ‘The Body Electric’

Tomila, Museo del Oro, Santafe de Bogota

I wrote the above essay in 1997, inspired by my readings during a vocational film degree, which helped me to catch up on cultural history. The file was idling away in a Clarisworks format on an old floppy disk. A friend (thank you Ian) managed to transfer the text into a Word document. Cleaning the formatting distortions suffered in the process took a while, but was worth the effort, since I wanted to share this theme of exploring Human Identity in the Digital Age with my readers in a PDF file.  A short overview of this essay can be found in my archived posts, listed under January 2018. But here is the full work, including its bibliography. The chapters are headed: Vanishing Time, Vanishing Space, Vanishing Body, Eyes that would Fix and Control us as Objects, Seeing through the Simulacra, and, A Palace of Mirrors. Throughout, I evoke scenes from the SF film Bladerunner.

I’m interested to know your thoughts on the yet unfolding theme of identity in our age.

The title of the essay was inspired by a wonderful Walt Whitman poem called ‘Sing the Body Electric.’ 

A poem by a former Sufi teacher and friend, Fazal Inayat-Khan, conveys a similar vibrant spirit:

A QALANDAR … a human being in the making …

Adam/man, Minerva/woman – a human being in the making – functioning in the world on the stage of life – playing the script of destiny with the delight of indifference and the carelessness of full satisfaction. A being knowing all there is to be known by it, yet ever learning; ready to feel all there is to be sensed by it, yet ever discovering new depth of emotions; capable of expressing its deepest and truest inspirations, yet ever expanding its consciousness; sensitive enough to give and receive love in all its forms and levels of becoming.

The full poem is printed in ‘Heart of a Sufi,’ a book I co-edited with two friends (see my book page.)

Here the last paragraph of QALANDAR …

A Qalandar is simple as a child, wise as an old woman, unfathomable as an old man. He belongs to the moment, she responds to every need. He speaks all languages; she performs all roles. They are one …

                                                                              Fazal Inayat-Khan, 18th of June 1972

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… my spot in the sun, maybe a last hot day this year …

Reading Elif Shafak’s ‘The Islands of Missing Trees,’ sent by a friend.

It’s an apple, not a fig tree, but the voice Elif gives to the fig tree in her story would be true for my apple tree, which now rains fruit. The way she puts it …

… to sit under its branches is like a place that makes one forget, even if for just a few hours, the world outside and its immoderate sorrows …

I know, not many of us have a spot to sit alone or with friends to enjoy peace and forget about the troubles in the world for a while. But I thought I share my blessings. And yet …

‘We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.’ – William James

Right now thunder growls nearby and a few raindrops drum on the skylight.

Sorry for the duplicated tags. Can’t delete them, and finally, after an hour, I lost patience.

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… ‘Spanish Dancer,’ by the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. My English translation …

Last month I shared my translation of one of R M Rilke’s Sonnets. Following on, I dug up the poem ‘Spanish Dancer,’ by Rilke, thinking that after our dark moon phase, we could do well with connecting to the Carmen spirit so powerfully expressed in the flamenco dance. When translating poems from German I mainly disregard form & rhyme, instead I try and lift the feeling and essence I experience while reading.

The wonderful image is from a 2014 photo exhibition I saw in Amsterdam. So sorry, I don’t have the photographer’s name.

SPANISH DANCER

As a match, struck by the hand, white,

before turning to flame, breaks out

into flickering tongues, so within

the circle of close onlookers begins,

quickening, bright and hot, her spiral

dance to flicker and catch.

And suddenly it is flame, fully flame.

With one glance she ignites her hair

and in an instant swirls with daring skill

her entire dress into this ardent blaze

from which, like startled serpents, her

naked arms dart alive, rattling.

And then: as if the fire might relent, 

she gathers it all in and casts it off,

imperious, with a gesture of contempt,

and sees: there, raging on the ground

it lies flaring on and will not submit.

But victorious, assured, with a sweet,

hailing smile she raises her face

and stamps the blaze, with small, firm feet.

Spanische Tanzerin, Rainer Maria Rilke, Neue Gedichte, 1907

Translation: Ashen Venema

Spanische Tänzerin

Wie in der Hand ein Schwefelzündholz, weiß,
eh es zur Flamme kommt, nach allen Seiten
zuckende Zungen streckt -: beginnt im Kreis
naher Beschauer hastig, hell und heiß
ihr runder Tanz sich zuckend auszubreiten.

Und plötzlich ist er Flamme, ganz und gar.

Mit einem: Blick entzündet sie ihr Haar
und dreht auf einmal mit gewagter Kunst
ihr ganzes Kleid in diese Feuersbrunst,
aus welcher sich, wie Schlangen die erschrecken,
die nackten Arme wach und klappernd strecken.

Und dann: als würde ihr das Feuer knapp,
nimmt sie es ganz zusamm und wirft es ab
sehr herrisch, mit hochmütiger Gebärde
und schaut: da liegt es rasend auf der Erde
und flammt noch immer und ergiebt sich nicht -.
Doch sieghaft, sicher und mit einem süßen
grüßenden Lächeln hebt sie ihr Gesicht
Und stampft es aus mit kleinen festen Füßen.

Aus: Neue Gedichte (1907)

Also, seven years ago I shared here my English translation of Goethe’s Zauberlehring, an ever relevant theme, now more so than ever. https://courseofmirrors.com/2014/10/09/the-sorcerers-apprentice/

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… without sleep & dreams we’d go mad …

Sonnets to Orpheus    

                Part II

          10

All we gained is threatened by the machine

As it assumes possession rather than obeys the mind,

Ignoring the hesitant gesture of a radiant hand

It wilfully forges ahead, cutting sharp into stone.

Nor does it ever slow down enough for us to win distance,

Yet oiled by itself remains in the silent halls of fact.

It circles in living and claims to know best about living,

And with equal resolve creates, destroys, indifferent to all.

Yet our being remains spun in the mysteries of birthing,

Origins from enchanted wells, a play of pristine powers,

To behold only with eyes closed, and in adoration.

Words still softly dissolve before the unspeakable state,

While the most resonant stones give form to ever new sounds,

Gathering music into the divine unmade.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Translated by Ashen Venema

A friend called earlier, lovingly concerned, wondering why I hadn’t posted anything this month. I don’t plan posts ahead, but asking myself – what lingers in my mind – this poem by R M Rilke asked for attention. I used it to upfront a film degree dissertation (as a mature student) during the mid-90s … ‘Body Electric,’ An Exploration of Human Identity in the Digital Age. Once I discover how to transfer Mac Claris Work from floppy discs into a Word doc. or PDF, I’ll share the dissertation and other articles with my readers.

I like translating poems from German into English, poems by R M Rilke, W Goethe, H Hesse. It’s an adventure to find the right word and phrase. Maybe I should share such translations more often. The title of this post … without sleep and dreams we’d go mad … relates to the above Rilke’s poem, since the internet with its avalanche of information can assume a machine-like relentlessness, and yet, we can’t do without it, which makes me grateful for being able to sleep, so my psyche can assimilate new information during dreams.

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… among anxieties, a few duende events …

Beginning of June, I had a first visit from my son after nine months not seeing him in person due to the corona lock down, though he lives only an hour away in London. Of late, he is also consumed by the costly bureaucratic process of sorting his late father’s estate in Holland. Over the two days of his presence, his pragmatic, hands-on approach accomplished many tasks in house and garden that were beginning to overwhelm me. Working together in perfect flow and harmony, the accumulated weight on my shoulders vanished as if by magic.

The weekend after, I enjoyed a first small gathering of friends in my garden since two years. By luck, it happened to be on one of those rare warm evenings when it was possible to sit comfortably outside until midnight, among lanterns and candlelight. We relaxed into long-missed story times, and the evening was altogether bliss.

Earlier in June, I experienced many sleepless nights, since I was suddenly urged to apply for the UK settlement scheme, or lose all rights, despite the fact that I had leave to remain here indefinitely since the 1980s, in fact, been living, working and studying here for many decades. I needed support from the citizen advice bureau, since I’m irrationally scared of online forms, and the process was indeed complex (I feel deep gratitude for the volunteers at the CAB.)

I only have a simple emergency mobile, but nowadays it is assumed that everyone owns the newest gadgets and is a techno whiz kid. Anyway, it seems my application was successful. We’ll see if border guards let me back into the UK after a trip abroad in times to come, in whatever future that might happen. I do miss seeing my friends in Europe.

The next challenges lie ahead. For the first time in years my car has not passed the MOT (annual motor test) and will need expensive repairs. Dentist work ahead, computer is due for a clean-up, and I need to safe money for the annual hedge trimming that requires wielding machines on high ladders. While I work hard on clearing and grass cutting, enjoying the physical activity, I’ve decided, wisely, not doing heavy machines on high ladders anymore.
But heck, the peonies have survived the rain so far and the blues are coming. I dare hope more duende events are waiting, and wish them for my readers, too.

I wrote something about duende four years ago, with a link to Garcia Lorca’s wonderful article on duende. Goethe called it the mysterious force that everyone feels but no philosopher has explained.


Still struggling here with the new wordpress format, though I discovered the Toggle blog inserter under the + sign. Now I must find out how to wrap text around smaller images 🙂

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… out of the house to paint, for sanity …

Painting of Kynance Cove, Lizard UK – Ashen Venema

How did this come about? My son was adamant I had to get out of the house and meet people again. So he signed me up for a day’s local multi-media painting course. After endless months of social exile due to the pandemic lock-downs, this was a momentous adventure. The tutor, Julie Collins, does lovely watercolours. The spaciousness of her work appealed to me.

Photo of Kynance Cove by Ashen Venema

I enjoyed painting Kynance Cove from a photograph of mine, taken years ago, when a group of Sufi friends visited the Lizard peninsular in Cornwall UK. The arranged visit was in honour of Sitara, a dear old friend and teacher, who fondly remembered her childhood holidays at the Lizard.

Given that thousand-and-one things interest me, since I’ve been working on my novels I closed many doors, in an attempt not to spread my energy too thin. I usually paint an image maybe once a year, but never had any input regarding painting skills. The above image was created with water colour pencils. I stopped before I could mess it up. I like the unfinished feel of it

My next painting project will probably be leaning on a photo of my little soul dance on a beach during the 1980s. A style may emerge or not, depending how much time I’ll devote to practicing with watercolour, which I came to like for its fluidity. I discovered, not for the first time, that painting, well any art, is immersive, like writing … a way to forget oneself. What keeps calling me is ‘collage,’ maybe with incorporated Haiku, since Haiku seem to come of their own accord. The idea is to collect them into a chapbook. So, who knows what will happen.

First I have to overcome an existential problem. Earlier this month a UK Government letter threatened me to apply for settlement, a scheme that’s been going for a while, which I thought did not apply to me, since I have documented leave to remain indefinitely in the UK since the 1980s, despite my Dutch passport. After endless futile attempts to contact a suggested helpline, I nearly knocked down the local citizen’s advice office to get an appointment for help with the application, since online forms terrify me. So wish me luck.

Still struggling with the new wordpress format, SIGH.

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… inner radio channels …

Some mornings I wake to a cacophony of inner voices. I call them inner radio channels. From my introvert abode, I let the din be and digest impressions, images, readings, dreams and ideas in slow motion, waiting for my mind to clear towards a reflective theme for the day. A trick of light or a robin coming close might mute the noise. Watching the information flow by, my mind’s digestive system tries to keeps a fragile balance, often via leaps of the imagination that defy logic but help me bypass the mood of futility that circles the worldwide wide web these days.

The lockdown phenomenon of this pandemic has brought my sense of time circling like a lullaby round my heart. Lacking the animated exchanges and stimulations during physical meeting with friends, I rely on what I read, dream or observe in nature to feed my dialogues with life. Beyond repetitive daily tasks my memory travels inside, back and forth recent decades, re-examining relationships with people and places I lost.

Many of you may have a similar experience, and many of you, like me, may have put projects on hold.  After my diary from last year yawned at me with blank pages, I didn’t bother getting another for this year, though I friend gifted me a wall calendar to keep track of days. What can we do unless abide in humility, hopefully to receive insights into what this pause in activities has to teach us, what we can be grateful for, and what fresh opportunities lie ahead?

Incidentally, a third novel I started some years ago, Mesa, deals with the theme of time slowing down. I must have felt it coming. Presently I am procrastinating with the final edit of Shapers, the sequel to Course of Mirrors. In the sequel, as well as well as in the threequel, the familiar characters of Course of Mirrors move into the far future. I wish I had the motivation to seek a publisher for these next two novels. I will however do my utmost to make them available as e-books.

Recently I posed a question to my twitter friends, where I am @mushkilgusha, I asked:

‘What is the most mysterious object in our world?’

A fascinating thread ensued; veering into the abstract, until an intuitive woman provided a satisfactory answer. As a reward, a paperback copy of ‘Course of Mirrors’ is in the post.

In 2018 I wrote a fable relating to the above question. It’s a wonderful read, especially today https://courseofmirrors.com/2018/10/02/the-mysterious-object-a-fable/

Meanwhile I’m still struggling with this new word press format.

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April 27, 2021 · 2:08 pm