Category Archives: Blog

… 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

… musings on order and chaos …

As an example, not a general theory, a parent who habitually keeps everything organised, clean and in place, may feel displeasure when their child does not follow this model. Sensing displeasure, the child may feel restrained and controlled, and possibly develop a reaction via contrary behaviour. Of course, reactions to initial conditions are way more complex. But both, excessive order and excessive chaos in the early environment set a tone.

My early impressions were in the middle, yet plenty of condensed experiences pull me into repetitive behaviour. But people for whom, let’s say, the organised model felt intolerable, meeting an adult partner who likes order, even in a mild way, easily hooks into their initial reaction. The desire for order is stability, beauty, keeping the wild and unpredictable at bay, and also serves as a buffer against anxiety. But someone who felt restricted by order may easily feel controlled. In this two-way process, any projection also frames the projector, and various complex relationships are such defined, with children, partners, work colleagues, mentors, groups, and even political parties. The irony is that instead of choosing a partner or group where this conflict does not arise, we often unconsciously attract an early model we disliked, maybe because of its familiarity, maybe because of the implied challenge. I assume it’s a psychological trick allowing for lessons in tolerance and, hopefully in time, a reframing of one’s life story.

While periods of stability are necessary, it is from chaos that creativity is born and new forms emerge, which is why some artists embrace chaos, allowing for the spontaneous discovery of new patterns and hidden harmonies.

To voluntary endure the dissonance between order and chaos is a spiritual quest towards an attitude of transcendence.

In this sense, and with the emphasis on becoming, my Sufi teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan, who was also a musician and poet, used to orchestrate chaos in workshops for his students to great effect. He trained us well for the turbulent cultural changes that are now upon us, a global rite of passage we best consciously engage with. Faith in the unknown tends to signal our guiding spirit to open unsuspected doors towards a deeper resonance with the collective psyche.

“Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man.’ — Fyodor Dostoevsky

‘The Gods envy the perfection of man, because perfection has no need of the Gods. But since no one is perfect, we need the Gods.’ … Carl Jung, Liber Novus, page 244

‘The ideal is the means; its breaking is the goal.’ Hazrat Inayat Khan

Ever since I came upon James Gleick’s book ‘Chaos,’ the William Heinemann Ltd 1988 edition, I was fascinated by the concept which has radically changed scientific enquiries, as well as giving new meaning to my practice of transpersonal therapy.

James Gleick’s book also contains the amazing Mandelbrot set. Here a short introduction …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3orIIcKD8p4

James Gleick’s newest publication is on ‘Information.’

Phew … here I’m challenged … a new wordpress format with its insistence on ‘blocks,’ disallows me the use of the classic editor. It’s a headache to create a post.

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… families appear throughout life …

To fill in the distorted or simply incomplete gestalt gathered from early caregivers, we find ourselves during our lifetime in families of various constellations … in groupings of friends, educational settings, teams working towards a project, callings, interest groups, animal care, subcultures, political, vocational and spiritual clusters. In these groups we slot into roles we project, or are projected onto us with qualities others are drawn to engage with, for whatever reason, often to explore a hidden part inside, mother, father, sister, brother, child, lover, hidden in the light or hidden in the dark. Much of this search now happens virtually, through screens, though it can’t replace the actual physical resonance a gestalt needs.

Family can also mean a collection of symbolically meaningful objects, toys, letters, books, art, tools, stones. I collect stones and endow them with memories. My ex-husband extended his loving father role to string instruments. (I wrote about his loss in my previous post.)

In the 1969 movie Alice’s Restaurant … with Arlo Guthrie, Pat Quinn & James Broderick, you can do anything you want. Alice tries to satisfy the motherly expectations of an eccentric hippie group, a powerful dream, which ends when she marries. The last image in the film shows her standing alone in front of the old church her husband plans on selling, to create a more ideal community in the countryside, though Alice’s hippie children have grown and left.  In the poignant last image of the film Alice stands alone, waking from a dream, debts paid and debts made. Psychotherapy can accelerate this archetypal demand for clarity and cohesion of one’s myth, but soul-making must continue for consciousness to expand.

At stages in our life we fit, or are fitted, into a network of psychological potential. These are intense phases. Yet irrespective of time gone since people parted ways,  families dispersed, places were lost … when a former close friend dies, insight descends, rises, arrives from the past, from the future and from spheres unknown. Memories will shift their meaning. Slowly our sense of self is re-aligned. We capture a condensation of what was symbolically exchanged, essence is revealed.

In this gentle way we unravel the knots of entangled bonds. I’m wary of this advice … let it go!  Grieving for a loss needs to ripen. While unripe apples fall from trees all the time, it is a sad waste to rip them from branches, we deprive our selves of what a ripe apple is for, to be eaten and digested for nourishment.

My lover, mourner and philosopher could have pulled this theme in ten different directions. I kept it short and leave associations to you.

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… so now I am dead …

This is an imagined monologue of my ex-husband, Soren (Shamshir) Venema, who died in his sleep last week, a short stretch off his 69th birthday. This morning I sensed a faint sound seeking a body. It took a while to clear. The slow translating voice is of course my own. I better post this before I overthink it

So now I’m dead. Nxt birthday cancelled. I hear yur whispers … yu may hear mine and womder if I fund whut I ws seekn or whut looked for me. Won’t reveal my heart’s desire. Yu must fund yus yuself.

This life was a strange dream with others who wer seekin und hiding.

Yu know em by somthing in the eyes. Afar away up or down look. A longin.

We bump into each other in our blind search. They call it love, a deep term that teared at me. The way I saw it …. at random junctions we hold hands and travel together for a while, deeply connected, but lightly bonded.

My juggling across the deep psychic sea gathered an emotional gravity in others. I still puzzle about the phenomenon. While hidden connections pulled, I wanted em kept safe deep down, not intrude with a flashlight. I trusted the lot, like seeds trust dirt and earth and listen to the music of light.

Marvels happen. A son was called and came. He gave me joy with his joy. Witnessing my child grow fanned some scary heat in the heart.

The mother was a hermit, like me, though a bit over-responsible for the deep stuff, her own and others’, and heck, mine too. I couldn’t help putting up a little fence, which annoyed and upset her. Then again, we both sensed each other’s truth from that dark realm where wishes are embodied, where deep connections attract each other into nets of meaning, though I was never tempted by meaning and order. It seemed a little dull to me.

My friends were gold. And my little sister was a treasure I protected.

I had talents, far too many, confusing, so I wandered as hermit.

My longin ws for a hidden tune. As a writer searches among words, so I searched among sounds, high, low, deep, warm, sharp, strong, or soft breaths quivering in bodies of all forms and ages. A tight string or a tight skin over a hollowed body … they hold echoes from many worlds.

Now I’m hailed as an expert about string instruments, and considered as some kind of genius. An image in the Dutch Parool shows I developed a tower above my brow. That’s where half cooked wisdom lingered and intrigued, deep sounds too, dear and familiar sounds, best shareable through sound alone. Long sensitive fingers help.

Correction: This writer’s sincere apology, the image is actually of Nico Dijkshoorn, a Dutch journalist, the one who wrote a good article about Soren. Uncanny likeness of features and expression.

So let’s say this life was full of sounds, which helped me pitch my instrument to the empty void where my sought tune is hiding. An if ya are tuned too, we’ll swing and sing and dance together. May it bring yu to yur heart’s desire.

In the media they say my collections of guitars are children left in the house without father.

Well, that’s company for my son now.

*   *   *

Only last week, Soren shared, unusually, a dream about a friend and mentor of ours, Abdul Aziz Said, who recently died. I wrote about him here in Nov 2015.

In the dream Abdul Aziz  Said played a mouth harp, and Soren played on a rare flute. He was sad about having forgotten the tune. I hope he’s now found it.

Press this link to a recent poignant documentary about Soren on yourtube … Living treasure.

Every day I ask
What is this Soul
That looks out through my eyes –
I did not arrive here alone
and will not depart alone.
Whoever brought me here
Will have to take me home …       Rumi

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… to shift my thoughts, I read poems by Wislawa Szymborska …

One book of poems I have always at my bedside, for when I need to shift my thoughts, is Wislawa Szymborka’s New and Collected poems 1957 -1997, translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavenagh, published by Faber and Faber 1999

She lived from July 2, 1923–February 1, 2012

Apologies for not having the photographers’ names for the two images of her that are spanning decades.

I like the humour, the ironic style, the contradictions running through the poems like a clear spring.

I thought I share a poem in full, since I posted a fragment on Twitter the other day. And also because I remember the protagonist in my novel, Course Mirrors,’ is in search of The Real.

THE REAL WORLD

The real world doesn’t take flight
the way dreams do.
No muffled voice, no doorbell
can dispel it,
no shriek, no crash
can cut it short.

Images in dream
are hazy and ambiguous,
and can generally be explained
in many different ways.
Reality means reality:
that’s tougher nut to crack.

Dreams have keys.
The real world opens on its own
and can’t be shut.
Report cards and stars
pour from it,
butterflies and flatiron warmers
shower down,
headless caps
and shards of clouds.
Together they form a rebus
that can’t be solved.

Without us dreams couldn’t exist.
The one on whom the real world depends
is still unknown,
and the products of his insomnia
are available to anyone
who wakes up.

Dreams aren’t crazy—
it’s the real world that’s insane,
if only in the stubbornness
with which it sticks
to the current of events.

In dreams our recently deceased
are still alive,
in perfect health, no less,
and restored to the full bloom of youth.
The real world lays the corpse
in front of us.
The real world doesn’t blink an eye.

Dreams are featherweights,
and memory can shake them off with ease.
The real world doesn’t have to fear forgetfulness.
It’s a tough customer.
It sits on our shoulders,
weighs on our hearts,
tumbles to our feet.

There’s no escaping it,
it tags along each time we flee.
And there’s no stop
along our escape route
where reality isn’t expecting us.

Wislawa Szymborska 

Her Nobel Prize speech inspires … if you are shy to call yourself a poet, follow this link and soak it up.

Poets, not being profitable, get little screen-time. Wislawa Szymborska says … ‘Their work is hopelessly unphotogenic. Someone sits at a table or lies on a sofa while staring motionless at a wall or ceiling. Once in a while this person writes down seven lines only to cross out one of them fifteen minutes later, and then another hour passes, during which nothing happens … Who could stand to watch this kind of thing?’

‘I’ve mentioned inspiration. Contemporary poets answer evasively when asked what it is, and if it actually exists. It’s not that they’ve never known the blessing of this inner impulse. It’s just not easy to explain something to someone else that you don’t understand yourself.’

‘Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous “I don’t know.’

Her words bring to mind a Rumi quote: ‘Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.’ 

Follow this link to Brainpickings and find a number of write ups about Wislawa Szymborska

Brainpicking’s Bulgarian creator, Maria Popova honours language, and somehow manages to bring context and coherence to the irrational and the imagination. Her curiosity is unlimited. She writes about my favourite people in the world. Among them are poets like Wislawa Szymborska.

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