On balance, apart from the anxieties and frustrations we absorb and project, we also tend to transfer the beauty we hold inside our hearts onto our surroundings, be it what we glance in the growth and decay of nature, in the gracious motions of young and old people, animals, trees we befriend, a patch of thriving vegetables, a forget-me-not perking through a crack in the pavement, a glowing autumn leaf. We delight in the colours and shapes sculpted by the shifting light of the sun into twilight and shadows, even in neglected streets, even in ruins.
Some of us have the use of a garden or a plot of land, which offers shade and, throughout the seasons, brings joys, as well as countless tasks we may honour or ignore.
The random excerpt of Shapers, below, is where I’ve got earlier today while working through a last round of revisions, before proof reading and formatting towards an initial e-book, if I find the funds. From Course of Mirror’s mythic theme, the cast re-appears in a future SF setting, not on other planets, but on earth. The main protagonists, Ana, Cara and Mesa, connect back and forth in time. They are really one and the same, a triple soul. It’s a compelling work of the imagination with strong, memorable characters. Even my son agrees 🙂
* * *
The hall rocked with the rhythm of drums. All eyes were on Zap, who did a thrilling dance with silk ribbons, and at the same time juggled a round of colourful balls. They slid down his back and legs and with a kick of his heel were flipped back into rotation. He spotted Mesa and waved his ribbon, inviting her to join him, which she did, with sudden abandon. Her responsive dance provoked gasps of admiration. Elim stepped up with his violin, improvising melodies to Mesa’s sensual movements. Her waist undulated between the flowing ribbons, while her arms rippled like snakes.
The sight filled Cara with happiness, until she spotted Dillon staring at Mesa with rapture in his eyes. An intense bout of jealousy overtook Cara. Her lover was a pushover for mystery. When the muse grabbed him all else ceased to exist. She invited the pain, almost welcoming the torture of feeling rejected, though reason argued that Dillon’s infatuation would pass, like any storm, eventually. Still, she felt inept. And yet, only an hour ago she herself was irrationally impressed by another man. What was his name? He was not unlike Dillon, yet different, obscure, and more complex. The thought of him made her skin tingle as she ploughed through the crowd in search of Tilly, and the stranger.
Gart had escaped the festivities. Standing at the cliff’s edge, he clutched his flapping cape, while shouting into the storm, into the void. “Talk to me!” A deep rumble shook the ground. “What is it I am? Answer me!” A blinding streak of lightning split the night and dispersed across the fluid orb of black waters. “Who dropped me here? Take me home to my name.” Thunder resounded in his skull, a force surged through him, fused his feet to the rock under him, and roused senses he had no words for. “What’s expected of me? These people here … they sap my strength, and … I glimpsed something I’ve never seen before … forms behind things … behind her.” As if in response, the apparition of a woman, illuminated from within, rose from the waves below him. Gart sunk to his knees. “What are you?”
A name echoed from the cliffs, but was drowned out by another clap of thunder. The spectre of the figure scattered into shards of silver speeding out in all directions, the sea, the sky, across the sweep of rocks called Kerry.
“Aren’t the waves magical?”
Gart turned towards the voice and was confronted by the girl, Mirre, who by casually touching his shoulder at the banquet had made the hall spin. What was it about her? “Stay away from me!”
“Why?” Mirre’s eyes sparkled from under her windblown red curls.
Her candid question annoyed and intrigued Gart.
Mushki, having caught up with Mirre, skidded to a halt. Searching his holdall, he set up a tripod, screwed on a camera and focused the lens towards the flashes at the horizon. “You,” he motioned to Gart, “you obstruct my view.”
“Don’t be rude,” Mirre said. “Here, use my tablet. It records images in three or more dimensions.”
“No thanks. If I keep the shutter of my lens open I get the effect I want,” Mushki said, and readied himself. He was in luck. Another rumble … giant branches of light filled the sky.
Mirre shrugged and fixed her gaze once more on Gart whose looks reminded her of Crim, her favourite author of animations. “Tilly says you’re a Guardian. Their red uniforms are grand, but you’re not wearing one.”
A spasm gripped Gart’s spine. His head throbbed, and the memory of his identity flooded back. His eyes darted from Mirre to the ivy walls of the estate, to the bay where he glimpsed his airbus, and back to the girl. He burned the image of Mirre’s freckled face into his mind, turned on his heels and dashed down a path towards the beach, away from the chaos that had gripped his mind, familiar faces he couldn’t place. His Guardian training should’ve protected him from such emotional turmoil. What was wrong with him?
He now recalled a repeated interference on his console while heading for Rhonda after his spying mission in Sax. Someone called Zap seemed lost in Derrynane. Annoyed, yet curious, he had demanded his craft to find the place. Then the horizon wobbled, and as if taken over by some spook, he nearly crash-landed on this alien stretch of coastline.
With shaking hands Gart pointed the sensor towards the dolphin-shaped airbus glinting in the dusk. The craft responded. The signal light came on. Only a few more steps and he would be able to lift off from this bewildering place. A sense of vertigo made him stop. All sound ceased. For a brief moment he felt as if his body did not belong to him. Into the silence stirred a soft breeze. An invisible hand seized his and led him to where the water lapped at the sands. Before him the air wavered and the shape of an old woman appeared, more ancient than the yew trees on the peninsula. The crone looked at him like a fox, tilting her head. Her voice was firm. “When a heart cracks its myths flow free and the stories of river and sea mingle.”
Gart opened his mouth and closed it again. A melodic tune drifted across the waters.
Twinkle, twinkle, little rat … how I wonder what you’re at …
A subtle fragrance reached his nostrils bringing memories. Years of harsh drilling for leadership had sealed away images of his childhood. An ornamental garden with birdsong and blossom, a nursery filled with flowers, toys, and humour – a woman reading dreamlike stories to him. Children raised as Guardians were not read stories. They were trained from infancy to obey commands. He was different. Phrases he used as triggers to control his army had no effect on him. He tossed his hair back trying to shake off the confusion. The crone watched him. He realised his thoughts were exposed to her ageless knowing.
“You were led here to experience the sweet agony of emotion, what it’s like to be lovesick, and to yearn for a lost place,” said the crone. Her words seeped under his skin.
A gentle wave splashed over his feet. His toes squished in his sandals. Droplets of sweat soaked his brow. What was she talking about? He glanced back at his craft. Would the tide reach it? He must get away.
Heat shot up his spine when Cassia took a step towards him. “Stop your haste. Imagine deeply. What do you desire? Listen to what the sea whispers in your ear. Accept contradictions. They’re indispensable. You were raised to command the Guardians for a purpose.”
His head hurt. His skull seemed too small to accommodate this garbled talk. He blinked as the crone became fuzzy, then transparent, and finally vanished altogether.
Her last words echoed, “A woman needs your help, and you’ll need hers.”
Gart rubbed his eyes, squinting at the shimmering air before him. Some Shapers were known to materialise out of thin air. Was she one of them? Clinging to his wits he rushed to his airbus and fumbled with the console. How can the sea whisper? And how can a heart crack? His curiosity had often led him to unearth illegal information. He knew how to access a glossary of emotional terms outlawed in Rhonda. Agony – another troubling term – sounding like a woman’s name.
* * *
In late May I visited London – for the first time in almost three years. I met with my son, his wife, and her mother from Darwin. We visited the Tate Modern exhibition on ‘Surrealism without Boundaries.’ That’s for another post.
I noticed that since the lockdown of active living was brought in to control the spread of the Corona virus … the isolation from social engagement has affected children and the elderly in different ways.
The middle group, people who kept our social systems functioning, deserve deep gratitude. The work pressure surely involved intense stress and risk-taking.
As for children and young people, bursting with energy and hungry for experiences, I felt for them, being trapped in often cramped homes, while having their future projects halted. No rite of passage events, no opportunity to find their tribe, dreams lost in a distant mist, a mirage on the horizon, where sky and land meet. Recalling my own childhood and youth, I find it hard to imagine the sense of futility and sheer frustration. Some kids will have coped better with this situation than others, not least because there is now the internet, zoom, and generally the disembodied metaverse to engage with, but to what end, when bodies become redundant?
The elderly, to which I belong, for whom work and social engagement may have slowed, and then jolted to a standstill during the past few years, have at least the advantage of a rich and often meaningful past. At best, they can make use of an enforced solitude to regain contact with the unconscious, travel inwards, and use the overview from a distance to lift and re-weave the threats of their lived experience.
From where I observed the young and old sections of society, it seems that past and future flipped their meaning in relation to the expansion of consciousness, and, dare I say it, soul-making, which requires the organic experience. Compared to a bland future, the past holds abundant treasures for the imagination, and an almost luminous creativity.
As long as I remember I felt a desire to deepen my understanding of time and space, nature, human behaviour, the sciences, people’s perception and differences, the collective psyche … to which end I travelled to seek adventures, read countless books and studied many subjects, some of them formally, like philosophy, spiritual traditions, psychology, mythology, art, photography, film and video, each time meeting interesting and inspiring groups and ideas. I was too involved with people to value the poems and stories I wrote, until my introspection flowed into a novel, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ and a soon-to-be sequel, ‘Shapers.’.
I’m presently reading Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible Cities,’ a dreamlike dialogue between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo about imagined or memorised cities. A sentence I came upon yesterday sparked this post …
“You reach a moment in life when, among the people you have known, the dead outnumber the living … “
This does not yet apply, but I get it. During the last three decades I lost over 20 dear friends, including my parents, not taking into account writers and public figures I admired. Grief meanders freely in my mind, is palpable, and unavoidable. Yet, due to their influence, all significant people that died during these last three decades live on in my psyche.
While my physical engagement with people has slowed these last years, time itself has dizzyingly sped ahead, which, for me, is enough reason to resurrect the embodied insights of past decades, if only to defy a sensational but boringly flat metaverse. Young people might of course have a totally different view.
Several themes were on my mind to write about here this month, until this curious thought of a reverse past/future junction came up last night. So I wonder if my reflections resonate with some of my readers, especially those of you in the second half of their lives.
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.
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
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 …
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 …