Monthly Archives: February 2012

… the cast in the shadows …

Perhaps all the dragons of our lives
are princesses who are only waiting to
see us once, beautiful and brave.
Perhaps everything terrible is in
Its deepest being something
that needs our love.                — Rainer Maria Rilke

Last week I volunteered a short session in the context of a variety of monthly events organised by a group of friends under the umbrella of Archventures.

… the cast in the shadows …  …

We have inside us a cast of players for every imaginable scene. Occasionally banned and hidden characters pop up. Excluded from our script, they emerge inadvertently through surprise encounters, act irrational and appear cartoon-like. Unacknowledged, a wild player roams in the unconscious unconnected, until an emotional trigger hits a sensitive node. We are not amused when an unsophisticated trait breaks to the surface with behaviour that will embarrass and shame us, belying our self-image.

We learn as children to shield ourselves from rejection and injustice. Our strategies are endless and contrary …  like being compliant and withholding or defensive and angry. Think of a natural and well-meaning quality persons in your early environment disapproved of in the name of moral perfection. Your trust may have been betrayed, manipulated and taken advantage of. We adjust as best we can. Rules are needed for societies to function.

We spend our life until we’re twenty deciding what parts of ourselves to put in the bag, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to get them out again. – Bly

In relation to our genuine nature, the sacrifices we make in order to belong can be as disproportionate as the sacrifices we make to defy authority. Feelings we edit out of our lives gather a strange luminosity and succumb to an archetypal force beyond our command. Yet a closer look at the rawness and imperfections of disowned players may surprise. They invariably hold a gift, often the very essence of our creativity.

A way to re-own the locked up energy is to honour our battle scars and weaknesses. We don’t have to agree with inner and outer adversaries, only accept their existence in us. This acceptance opens the heart to tolerance, rapport, understanding, empathy – and insight.

‘Our friends show us what we can do – our enemies teach us what we must do.’ – Goethe

We make room for imperfection … 25th Feb 2012

What is uplifting about our monthly Archventures gatherings are the hugs … yup … never underestimate the invigorating power of hugs. What I also appreciate – and this applies to many groups whose core members meet regularly – is that we form a different entity each time, enriched by everyone’s fresh constellation of experience and insight. Newcomers feel welcome and at ease in this irreverent group that does not follow any one creed, ideology or person.

The most powerful player this afternoon was the seven-year-old son of a participant. The boy was fascinated by the boxes of miniature world-objects I had brought along.

He outplayed us all, instantly creating a legion of his world.

The young will be forever potent in their ability to play and invent …

We adults shared unique and moving stories about early misdeeds, raising questions to be explored individually. (The photo is of a  different occasion)

Some shadows we drag along are not of our own making, a dilemma that also applies to families and nations.

‘The best political, social, and spiritual work we can do is to withdraw the projection of our shadow onto others.’  ― C. G. Jung

Understanding the origins of shadow-projections softens the compelling affect they have in defining us, and our reactions to being fitted into a frame. Observing politics, it is obvious that negotiations are not enough to solve longstanding conflicts. It takes the awareness and inner work of individuals to let go of resentment, release the spark of creativity that enables lateral thinking, and the flow of compassion tied up in the entanglement of righteousness.

And there remains the unknowable, luminous black hole, and a sixth sense of something that evades us. What is mysterious, not accessible emotionally or through analysis, drives us on to dig deeper, expand our consciousness, and re-discover the link to our innermost self.

‘We are born at a given moment, in a given place, and like vintage years of wine, we have the qualities of the year and of the season in which we are born.’ ― C. G. Jung

With only three hours’ time available, the session at least inspired us to remember what is in our power to do. There remains the ever impelling potential of greater intensity and more poise between safety and risk on the tightrope of our life.

Our dear friend Rahima outlined the shadow theme as C. G. Jung defined it. If you have not heard of the term ‘shadow’ in this context you might want to investigate:

And in relation to the activity of writing – here a dream image in the eye of its beholder

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


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… lap of fate … part five

This is the fifth and final part of a short story inspired during a recent visit to Spain. If you enjoyed the read, and are so inspired, please leave me some much needed feedback in the comment section. I’m happy to return the favour, and will soon do reviews again. If you have come here for the first time, you might want to scroll down the home page to get to ‘part one’ of the short story, posted on April 30th. Thanks you dear readers who followed the evolving narrative, and those of you who left comments and/or pressed the ‘like’ button.

I’m still learning how to operate this site, but this is post no 80 since I started this blog last April … hurrah! And I have another reason to celebrate. A dear friend helped me today clean up the first three chapters of my novel, Course of Mirrors, a final leap towards sending out queries. No more excuses.

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Here then the final instalment of … Lap of Fate

… The weight of my revelation receded like a wave sucked back into the sea. Confused by the señora’s flat response, I latched onto the distraction of soft paws resounding from the spiral stairs. Abu, the dog, poked his head through the opening to sample the mood. Neck tilted, he sneaked towards me and pushed his wet snout into my lap. Touched by his show of affection, I stroked his pelt, at which he burst into a whirling dance, trying to catch his own tail. Abu’s antics dispersed the static air around my chest. I cried and laughed in one.

The senora’s worried face softened to a smile. ‘What a pretty dog.’

Straightening her back, she regarded me as if seeing me for the first time. ‘My dear child,’ she said. ‘You released a ghost I created. Antonio may or may not have believed my story. The truth is, I miscarried at four months, there was no Juanita, but I had so strongly wanted her to exist in the world, like a fresh and blameless me, I made her up.’

I flinched, recalling my own painful miscarriage, when a river of hormones came to a drastic halt and left a dark hole in my body, like a consuming abyss. I had other children, who thrived. Though my past held secrets, it never detained me from living, unlike the señora, whose child was held captive in the tabernacle of this studio.

‘Antonio cherished me. He was intuitive. He sought to restore my creative spirit by painting me expectant.’ Her shoulders dropped. ‘He died. I was desolate and clung to my old story, imagining Juanita out there in the world having a better chance at life. I must have dreamed you into being.’

The synchronicity of our longing astounded. ‘When I learned of my adoption, I started daydreaming too, convinced my birthmother was out there somewhere regretting her decision to abandon me. I imagined her looking for me, wanting me back.’

Her eyes shone as she took my hands. ‘Does it matter – mi angel?’ she said. ‘All children, born from mind or body, are wanted by life. They deserve to be loved.’

A car horn sounded.

‘Oh dear, we must apologise to the agent,’ she said.

I begged her to stay on, offering a lift to her hotel later in the day. The senora accepted, which freed the agent to drive back to town. His wide grin showed he was happy my break-in had been absolved, and I had made friends with his client.

Alma was her name. Alma Ruiz Gonzales. First, we opened all shutters of the studio to let the sun in and more – a peculiar hint from heaven. Light coming from a far window hit a round mirror standing at an angle on the wall. The reflection in the glass rebounded to cast a circular sunspot on one of the paintings, framing the cardinal with the girl sitting on his lap.

Alma shrieked – with excitement, struck by a sudden idea. With her dazzling crown of hair she looked like a crazed woman as she rummaged in a toolbox. In triumph, she held up a Stanley knife. I thought for a moment she was going to lash out and slash the painting. Instead she found a sharp pen, marked the lit area on the canvas, cautiously inserted the knife, and began to cut with small sawing movements round the curved line. It may have been poor eyesight, but it seemed as if  she put her ear to the cleaving sound of the blade. Her lean and leathery hands nudged along with amazing precision, until the severed circular shape could be lifted from the canvas. Her dedication was riveting. Moving on to the second painting, of the cardinal with the snake in his lap, she cleanly sliced out another circle. Both canvases now had a hole large enough to crawl through, edged only by the backdrop of lavish chandeliers, a facet of the cardinal’s scarlet skull-cap and his polished shoes.

‘Why waste good frames?’ she said.

I shook with laughter, bringing Alma to the edge of hysterics. She slumped on a chair to clutch her belly. Our unrestrained mirth thoroughly cleared the air of any lingering ghosts.

I suggested we eat something. Alma opened the backdoor to an enclosed courtyard adjoining the semi. She wiped clean a bench and table, while I fed Abu more of my chocolate and prepared a snack for Alma and me. We had our meal in the yard and chatted about mundane things, like the weather, and neighbours.

I poured us some Merlot. During an isle of silence, the chime bells in a nearby branch moved to a breeze. The melodious ring unsealed more tragedy. Alma shared she had given birth to an actual child, from Antonio, a son, who was stillborn.

‘It’s odd, but at the time I thought of the cardinal’s fixation on me,’ she said, ‘it could have been him … trying to return. Maybe his soul feared I would make his life a misery.’

Mother, Son and a not-so Holy Ghost, I thought. There is no end to the novel ways we make sense of what happens to us. And until we mourn our losses and move on, the meaning we give to what life throws at us could be right, or wrong.

After our meal we went to work. During sunset, the art world was impiously deprived.  The cut-out centrepieces of two magnificent paintings, depicting a cardinal’s obsession, were released into the ether. The fire was moderate, and held in check by a bed of stones. Leaning on her cane, Alma watched the flames lick at the snake and gnaw at the flawed beatitude of her abuser. ‘May his soul find peace,’ she said.

The historic aura of the paintings mingled with the cooling air in the hills of Granada and rearranged the past. Brilliant purple, white and scarlet paint simmered and charred, turning canvas into a crumbly leaden tablet with white markings that looked very much like a snake eating its own tail.

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… lap of fate … part four

The fourth sequence …  not the last yet … if you like to read the whole story so far, scroll down the page to part one.

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Silence contains an ocean of possibilities. The silence between us churned with muffled presences pushing up for light and air. Breaking into the old woman’s secret tabernacle had been wrong, and yet, curiously apt. I felt the same inevitability when I saw the house for the first time. Words buzzed in my mind, vying for attention, wanting out. I took a risk. ‘They’re masterful paintings,’ I said, ‘and deeply stirring.’

She faced me, the stranger mirroring her grief. And, as if she craved the occasion to share this burden of her conflict, tears came, unchecked. I helped her to a chair.

‘Esta bien?’ the agent called from the bottom of the stairs, probing, to allay his unease.

‘Toda esta bien,’ she sobbed, ‘espere en el coche.’ She sent the man to wait in his car, and added, to my amazement, ‘Dejame en paz con mi angel ingles.’ I had been called many things before, but never an angel. She pointed to the cardinal. ‘Los Rojos … fue asesinado.’ There was no anger in her voice, only sadness. From what I had read of events during the Spanish Civil War, and the Red Terror, the cardinal must have died a terrible death.

I pulled up a chair and gently touched her back, picking up a dull quiver, as from the neglected body of a guitar that lacks timbre. I had met women and men trying to come to terms with incestuous compulsions, victims and perpetrators, yearning for spiritual love. Some never strike the right note to connect heaven and earth, like the cardinal, a child-man, who sought innocence and destroyed it.

‘I was a daughter to him. He spoiled me.’

‘You speak English!’

‘I went to live in London when I came of age.’ Sensing my tolerance, she said, almost inaudible, ‘I worked there for many years … in a nightclub … until I met my love, Antonio.’

‘The painter!’

‘Yes.’ She reached across the table for an object wrapped in black silk and unpeeled a small canvas. Her fingertips traced over painted brows before she handed me the mediocre portrait of a sombre man, whose eyes were nevertheless genial, even humorous. ‘Not a good likeness, I can’t paint well,’ she said. ‘I only copy surfaces. He was the artist. He perceived through the heart.’

‘You caught his spirit,’ I said. ‘As for his brilliant art, you allowed him to see your truth, in that place where betrayed hearts waver in a limbo of doubt.’

‘Yes, you understand. His seeing helped me endure the contradictions. Still …’ she looked through fresh tears towards the painting of herself in the shadow, ‘… the past ensnares.’

On impulse, I held the candle to the woman’s naked image among snakes and noticed what I had missed, the slight bulge of her belly.

‘I told Antonio of my years in London. How I got myself pregnant and gave birth between the pews of a church. How I couldn’t care for the girl and never heard what happened after I left her on a bench,  clean, wrapped up warm, with a name written on her belly, Juanita. Later, there was nothing about the event in the news. Nothing, as if she never existed.’

In my ears rung the refrain – she never existed. Thoughts raced. I had been abandoned, and was adopted. My mother found me in a chapel near Basing. No other woman ever claimed me.

She sensed my distress and misread its source. ‘St Patrick’s Church was a safe place. There was no 0ne I could trust. My work in London was illegal.’

A nauseating sensation of floating made me clasp the frame of my chair. St Patrick was mother’s favourite saint. My parents moved from Soho to Hampshire when I came into their lives. Before I knew of my adoption, father once remarked about a streak of Spanish blood in his family, to justify my dark hair.

The woman looked forlorn, gazing inward. ‘It’s a dream I must let go,’ she said.

Palms sweating, I likened myself to the woman before me, her intense blue eyes, and the shape of her forehead, elongated fingers … ‘What year was it?’ The question burst out involuntarily. Embarrassed, I added, ‘Sorry, it’s none of my business. I shouldn’t pry.’

She absorbed herself in the layers of cracked paint coating the floorboards. ‘I think it was the year this man, Armstrong, stepped on the moon with the wrong foot.’

‘The wrong foot?’

‘The left foot! It was on TV…’ She looked up. ‘Or maybe it was the year before.’

Hysterical – comedy and tragedy blurred. She couldn’t even remember the year.

‘Why do you ask?’

A genuine concern in her voice made me respond, ‘I was adopted in 1967.’ Wasted words, she had not heard me. Lost in a faraway place, she said, ‘So long ago.’

My anguish finally caught her attention. She pressed my hand. ‘What’s wrong dear?’

I had started this madness with my fixation on the hacienda. I raised the stakes with my blind bet on the semi. And now I pledged my heart on a wild speculation over my birth. The senora’s recall was nebulous, as through a misted glass. My hope was based on nothing but fuzzy coincidences. And the dots I was joining up might yield no more than bizarre scribbles, but it was too late to quit. The dim studio space with its little stray light and the lone flame of a candle had become a womb. I wanted the shutters open. As my chest tightened with apprehension, I jumped to my feet and walked round my chair. Catching my breath, I braved the truth. I faced the old lady and filled in my fantasy:

‘Imagine a woman after a string of miscarriages. She finds Juanita in St Patrick’s Church and thinks her favourite saint granted her prayers. She whisks the infant off to a chapel in Hampshire to blur the trail in case the birth-mother has regrets … I was adopted and called Jane. My birth certificate shows 10 July 1967.’

The senora swallowed her breath. ‘A mi Dios …’

Her exclamation was one of mild surprise. Nothing. No heart-rocking epiphany, no jubilant outburst, no falling into each other’s arms. No … something was terribly wrong …

On more instalment at …


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… lap of fate … part three

Anticipated by some, here is another instalment of Lap of Fate The short story is under construction and open to changes. I am grateful, well, hungry for feedback. Thanks.

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I recited a short prayer and pushed the wall section until the opening was big enough to step through. The staircase! … I rushed to get a candle. Bracing myself, I climbed up the spiral, shielding the wavering candle-flame with my hand. Sunlight needled through the shutters and revealed a lofty space with a further staircase leading to galleried sections under the roof.

I noticed a scattering of shrivelled oil-paints tubes, brushes in jars and an array of structures. Three easels held frames shrouded by dust-sheets. I removed the first covering. An exquisite oil painting of a beautiful woman standing naked and serene, eyes closed, in a pit of snakes –  so lifelike I expected them to slip from the canvas and drop to the floor.

Absurd, how slithery creatures scare and repulse me. My feet itched to run. Instead, I warmed to the composed calm of the woman and had the sensation of a déjà vu that felt strangely like coming home.

Feeling brave, I pulled away the cloth from the second frame. Clergy never appealed to me, though this seated, scarlet-clad cardinal beguiled me with a beatific smile … until I noticed his hands caressing a snake coiled in his lap.

I drew back, not from the snake, whose singularity had a stylised quality,  but from the allusion that piety and sexuality might energise each other, and the underlying desire for unity could be seen to satisfy the same end. An idea my adopted mother might have called blasphemous. The painting would cause a scandal in this still deeply-religious country. I stretched my imagination towards a symbolic interpretation, the lore of circular time, but dismissed it as an excuse to silence lingering doubts. I began to grasp the ambiguity behind keeping this space in darkness. Yet there was a sincerity. The depiction of sexuality, intimacy, devotion and parody showed no attempt to glorify or vilify.

Contents aside, I was awed by the genius of the artist and anticipated another masterpiece, being fairly snug about my capacity for tolerance. The third painting made me flinch – the same clergyman in the same chair, rapt by the same exalted smile. His frock parted, he held a young girl to his lap. What made the image truly disturbing were the hands of the man, fine hands, bunching the girl’s lifted nightdress round her waist ….

Abu was barking outside. I had been too captivated to hear the car. ‘Oh Madre de dios … me ayude!’ A woman sounded hysterical as she dragged herself up the narrow stairway, causing the metal structure to judder with the clanging prod of her cane.

‘La senora!’ called the familiar voice of the agent, anxious for his client.

‘Su estancia alli abajo, el Sr Lopez Diaz.’ The harsh command warned him to stay out of this.

I stuck my candle to the last easel and faced the inevitable showdown. A shock of white hair surfaced from the stair-hole. Fragile, much older than I had expected, she gave the impression of a china doll, dressed with meticulous care. Her gaunt body was dominated by intense blue eyes. Like mine – a fleeting thought. She was the woman in the first painting, and the girl whose trust and dependency for love was exploited by the cardinal. I reached out – afraid she might fall, but remained rooted to the spot, petrified. The exposed paintings seemed to claim her, pull at her with invisible tentacles. Finally she gasped for breath and shuffled to a table for support. She shot me an anxious glance, weighed my reaction to the appalling image, and stepped towards it, leaning forward on her cane. I sensed a struggle, as if she tried to borrow my eyes, while hers misted, veiling infinite sadness.

Candlelight caught on the cardinal’s scarlet skull-cap, the pale legs of the girl, and the angelic face, raised adoringly towards her abuser’s smile …

Continued at …


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… lap of fate … part two

The second part of the short story inspired by a recent visit to Spain. As events unfold, I may insert subtle alterations to earlier instalments.

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That moment my mobile played its carefree tune. Here comes the sun … I knew it would be the agent, having second thoughts about allowing a single, middle-aged woman to camp in a deserted house. I fumbled in my bag on the floor for the phone. ‘Hello. Yes, yes, gracias. I’m fine. Chimney … flue is clear, all cosy with the fire. And the night sky is magnificent … no, no, I’ve everything I need … yes, todo está bien. Thanks again. Bye, bye.’

The super-dry logs had burned to embers and a threat lurked in the far corner. I conjured up creatures coiled to jump at me any moment. Snakes! Oh no, big mistake, don’t think of snakes. I lay motionless. Blinking, to keep my eyes open, I stared across and beyond the floor to where I thought the thing was hiding. I saw a glitter there. I felt observed.

A growl – or was it a lament? My heart thumped in my throat as I reached into my bag for the tobacco-pouch. I flicked my lighter, lit a candle and held it up.  Curled on the heap of rags to where I had brushed the scraps earlier was a dog, a slight, elegant creature with short pale pelt. Its wild, not fearful, but contesting this-is-my-territory look fixed on me. Cornered dogs were dangerous, though this one chose the risk. To confront a human intruder takes courage. Water, food, some gesture was needed to befriend the animal.

In slow motion I shifted my feet to the ground, unscrewed the bottle of water next to my bed and walked towards the stone-ledge round the chimney where I had dumped my cooking gear. I lit a candle and poured water into a bowl. My movements were tracked for the slightest sign of mismatch. I set the bowl down in the middle of the room and retreated to my bed. Exhausted from the effort, I rolled myself a cigarette.

The dog didn’t stir. ‘Come on, the water is for you.’ Ears perked, that was all. Our eyes locked in combat – a staring test. ‘What do you want?’ I got up and broke off a piece from my bread, added a chunk of goat’s cheese and placed the morsels next to the water. Back under my blankets I prepared myself for a long wait.

From outside came a bark. My visitor growled.  Company was unwelcome. There must be an opening for animals to slip in to the house. Tomorrow I would camp upstairs and close the door on me. Tomorrow was a long way off. My thoughts drifted to Cora, the puppy that had been given to me for my tenth’s birthday, a spaniel. Neighbours adopted her when my father died and we moved into an apartment. Cora liked chocolate.

A slight thud – snakelike, the dog slid along the floor towards the offerings. Outside another bark broke the silence. My friend tensed but kept quiet. Did I think  – my friend? After careful sniffing he daintily consumed the meal, and, without giving me another glance, bounced from the room and disappeared. The presence of a dog that had eaten my food was oddly reassuring. I blew out the candle and fell asleep.

A chorus of birds signalled sunrise. I glanced to the corner of the room now empty of last night’s visitor. The rags turned out to be a frayed woollen cape and shreds of trousers splattered with oil paint, bringing the mysterious artist to mind. With an urgent need to freshen up and explore I skipped breakfast and made for the stream. The clear water purled through my hands like liquid gems. I splashed my face and would take a dip later on. Looking back at the house it appeared seamless, as one, but for the bleak air surrounding the semi.

There are instances when man-made laws ask for transgression. My state-of-the art Swiss army knife had a screwdriver. I detached the padlock from one of the spider-webbed shutters. Peering into the twilight, there were rattan chairs, a round table, dated kitchen facilities and an ornate spiral staircase near the partition wall, against which was an empty shelf.

A snarling – my friend. ‘What’s the matter with you?’ I screwed the padlock back into position. To pacify the dog, I surrendered a bite of my treasured dark chocolate and made sure all food was out of reach on the chimney mantle. While he devoured the treat, I moved across the hall into the rooms adjoining the semi and noticed a shelf looking similar to the one on the other side. My new friend had sneaked up and was yapping. His puzzling behaviour and the coincident of fixed shelves on both sides of the wall in the same position sparked an idea. In the past, my shots in the dark had been rewarding, giving me a certain confidence in areas of the immeasurable.

The sound of a rough engine labouring up the hill distracted my musings. Annoyed, I went to check on the intrusion – a banged-up jeep. The local farmer wanted to know what was going on. In my broken Spanish I said I was planning to buy the property and had been allowed to stay here. The furrow between his brows deepened. He waved an arm, ‘Asustado,’ he said.

‘Un momento!’ I ran to fetch my dictionary.

‘Frecuentado por fantasmas,’ he emphasized on my return.

‘Yo no creo en fantasmas,’ I said, standing my ground.

He shook his head and forcefully reversed the car. I caught ‘turista estupido’ before the jeep vanished in a plume of dust.  So the place was spooked, or neighbours wanted me to believe so. Not that I disrespected ghosts. They gave an edge to my goal, is how I saw it.

The dog re-appeared. ‘You must be the guardian of this place,’ I said. He wagged his tail. Finally – an acknowledgement of my presence – and acceptance. I smiled and went to boil water for a much desired cup of coffee. ‘I’ll call you Abu,’ I said, rolling a cigarette, at which he wagged his tail with even more enthusiasm. There was text on my mobile, a message from the agent. ‘Owner expected today. She not sell semi yet but reduce price.’

My mind quickened. She needed the money. I would tackle the ghosts and buy the entire house. Back at the partition wall, I scanned every inch of the shelf and discovered a hook behind a plank. I pulled. Nothing happened. I pulled again and pushed at the same time – the whole shelving creaked and shifted. Abu’s frantic bark made me twinge. His pelt of hair stood on ends.  He tucked in his tail and sprinted off as if chased by an abysmal force …

Continued at  …


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