Tag Archives: writing

… excerpt from Shapers – sequel to Course of Mirrors …

‘the Seed,’ painting by Silvia Pastore

 ‘Shapers’… the end of chapter 6

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.

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’m grateful for any small support on patreon https://www.patreon.com/posts/its-been-almost-67178389

 

 

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… shades of paranoia …

‘You hit me back first.

My predictions always come true.

Don’t dare to invalidate my reality.’

Nuances of paranoia affect all of us.

We may be well-balanced and trusting

folks, but out bodies still hold the

fears and traumas our parents experienced,

and the generations before them.

When safety fears are triggered, we tend

to slide from anxiety to paranoia.

In today’s culture this has become a normal

disposition, a challenge to be alert and patient

with the love and hate conflicts inside us.

Yet when fear splits the heart from the head

our bodies go numb to feelings, and empathy.

the spiritual potential of our being is arrested, and

one’s world turns into a hostile and lonely place to be.

Collective paranoia spreads like a virus,

flowing into already anxious minds,

feeding on irrational fears of danger

and the need to blame somebody.

When public figures act out their paranoia,

they become super-spreaders of fear.

Does this virus have a remedy? Depth Analysis?     

Listening to Bach? Wilderness retreats?

The occasional pinch of hemp oil, known

to free blocked wires in the brain that

channel superior cosmic insights?

Sadly, when magnified fear has eroded trust

in fellow humans and silenced the whispers

of affection from our hearts, truth is walled in,

and seeds of hope fall on barren ground.

While paranoia can carry a kernel of truth,

suspicious hunches are easily twisted and

inflated to surreal proportion. I grade my own

paranoia from anxious overload – to irrelevant –

to useful. The latter protects me from harm.

There is a Sufi saying …

Trust in God but tie your camel at night.

Night also holds the hidden content of our neglected

unconscious, where fears and desires entwine

as archetypal forces that can take us over when

entitlement and apathy have made us careless.

Clearly, our inner narrative needs witnessing with

constant re-adjustment, so we  remain grounded and

balanced in human values – among them – integrity,

humility, friendship, humour, and reverence for life.

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… how past and future flipped their meaning …

Painting by Theodor Severin Kittelsen

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.

My week living in a cave on the island of Elba

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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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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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… ‘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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… 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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… 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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… 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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… Morocco adventure, fourth part …

31st Dec 2007 … The dogs must have eaten something unsavoury during their beach run. Ulla worries. Ali is unwell, though recovers during the afternoon. After fresh prepared fish meal for lunch, I consult the I Ging. It’s tempting to veer decades back into the past, a time I consulted the oracle daily during my solo trips through Italy in my VW Bus. Such free strands of associations would easily make a novel of this report.

Anyway, the I Ging brings up ‘determination. What the heck for?’ Not having to make decisions is a fascinating experience for me, if slightly unsettling. I reckon Ulla’s moods slow my futile attempt at reducing ruminating thoughts, like I puzzle over how frequently she marks events in a negative frame. ‘I knew it was going to be a bad day,’ that sort. I made the decision (ha ha, I made a decision after all)  to trust in her powerful guardian angel. The sharp way she sums up the occasional unpleasant person we meet, I fully admit, creates an instant emotional clearance, which I like, as long as an analysis of my congruence follows. I was born that way, and too easily succumbed to my mother tabooing cuss words from my vocabulary. Further, with vital exception in cases of injustice, or when pushed too far by idiots, which sparks pure anger in me, I tend to neutralise my attitude when negative reactions towards people perk up. That is to say I trained myself stepping into other people’s shoes, even when they pinch. I fully own the torture of this tricky ideology. I’d not recommend the style. Phew, that was a droll effort at self-observation.

1st January 2008 … Last night was a non-event, though a hilarious late TV show diverted me away from sulking. We wait ages for a camel dish. I’m unsure about eating the mutton of such useful and loyal creatures. The dish tastes fine, but scenes I witnessed of how animals are treated before slaughter always trouble me. Just then Ulla storms off in disgust as a truck with cramped chicken cages arrives at the restaurant. She eventually returns. Our waiter friend packs up the content of her plate for us to take along. On way back to Bou Jerif we almost turn around when another troupe of four-wheel drivers showers us with clouds of dust. Short of time, we call the fort and order a tent for me. All turns out well. I get a tower room for the price of a tent. And the manic French group leaves shortly, for whatever reason.

2nd to 3d January 2008 … After a walk following a parched river bed with patches of blooming desert, we return to an Oasis below Bou Jerif. Later Ulla takes the van to the fort to recharge batteries, while I have a hot shower, and read. Tomorrow we’ll head up the Atlantic coast.

4th – 5th   January … We get meat for the dogs in Goulimine and drive on to Sidni Ifni for a late lunch at Suerto Lorca. My choice is octopus. I’ve run out of colour film and have been using a spare black and white film for a while. We plan to shop in Tiznit. I access my email to check whether Julio has answered my query re: a room at his Marrakech Riad, Dar Pangal for the day before my flight back to London. No luck so far. Off to Tiznit. After I rent a room for the night, we have lunch and go shopping. Ulla strikes a bargain for a beautiful hand-embroidered Kaftan, intended for cushions. She frowns when the trader asks her to smile. A deal that is not sealed with smiles seems to signal disapproval here. The trader relents, is forgiving, ‘Inshallah.’

Near Agadir we stop for the night at a place called Paradise de Nomade. I’m impressed by the fresh sheets in my Berber tent. And the massive boulders in the dry riverbed nearby are an epic sight. Unfortunately the night turns noisy from 11:30 pm onwards. Four wheel drivers arrive, dogs bark, music, jolly talking … until 3 am.

Next morning we hear the sudden influx was due to a desert rally being called off at short notice, because four French tourists were murdered in Mauretania. The locals, it was said, asked the party for some money and were refused, so they killed them. Sadly, past political grievances, lack of deep listening, arrogance, and the refusal of dialogue can have terrible consequences. Morocco has a complex history and a hard won independence.

6th Jan … Images along the road to Essaouira, and some reflective thoughts … As the light, colours, food, scents, the warmth and hospitality of ordinary people in Morocco grow on me, I ponder on how outer impressions oscillate with my inner pilgrimage. Sound plays a powerful role in stirring the unconscious. The tunes I hum unawares, I realise, include folk themes, lyrics from German romantic poets set to music by Schubert, even Kurt Weil songs; melancholic echoes from childhood and teen days. Yet even then I probed the meaning of home, of belonging. Being a stranger seemed more exciting. There is a kind of accord with other strangers around the world, due to a gap in narratives, demanding keen attention, shaking up perceptions and allowing for the unfamiliar to astonish.

On this stretch of road, the predominant sound, whenever Ulla stops the engine, is the rhythmic surf of the Atlantic, Sea of the Atlas, into which many rivers flow, and which, through a narrow strait, connects to my beloved Mediterranean. The high and low tides of this expansive body of salt water, dividing Europe from North America, and Africa from South America, make up the drone to dreams criss-crossing cultures from East to West, with ancient legends adding a shimmer to images that present themselves each day. To these inter penetrating worlds a constant wind adds turbulence, creative chaos.

Approaching Essaouira, we’re both a bit tense. Neither of us slept well at Paradis de Nomade. We search a hotel for me, after Ulla missed the earmarked camping place. She has the beach in mind, to give Ali and Leila their deserved run. Her stress and impatience adding to mine, I accept a hotel at the outskirts of Essaouira. The receptionist makes to pretence about relishing my embarrassment when I mistake E120 for 120 Dirham. A shock, considering my dwindling finances, but I can’t just walk out and sit on the curb. Overcoming the inner struggle, I decide to switch attitude, enjoy a hot shower and have sublimely quiet night.

7th of Jan 2008 … I find my kind of place, affordable and relaxed, in the Medina of Essaouira. At Hotel Souiri my inner harmony is restored. Ulla and I meet at 2 pm for a meal of irresistible fresh-smoked sardines at the harbour. The dogs enjoy a walk along the fortress walls, but are less pleased when we trundle through narrow streets in search for bargains. We both find items after appropriate spans of haggling. I buy a carpet runner to cheer up my kitchen at home. The labyrinth Medina has a lively and friendly atmosphere, and a well sustained patina of hippy charm, inviting a longer stay, but not this time, since I must catch a plane in two days.

Ulla offers to drive me to Marrakech.  In hindsight, I should’ve made the decision to refuse and organised a bus. Marrakech does not welcome dogs, which traditionalists consider unclean in Morocco. We were rejected at the outside table of a restaurant at central market place, Jemaa el-Fnaa,  even while sitting on the fringe, because our lovely friends, Ali and Leila were unwelcome. It was a sad downer.

In all, the journey reminded how moving to England in 1978 marked a departure from my crazy life in Germany, with all its professional successes and private failures, opening another crazy section of my life, with equal successes and failures, coinciding with a change of my name. The bridge I crossed then, offered a deep learning, and it allowed me eventually, through another language, to find my way back to writing. But that’s a story in itself.

My friend and travel companion, I must add, while inclined to retreat into her shell, is to my heart an iridescent pearl. I’m grateful she suggested the pilgrimage, and thank her for her companionship during these remarkable weeks.

Note: Please ignore grammar quirks in this spontaneous sharing. Thanks .Also, the underlined blue words in this text open safe links to Wikipedia, and bring up a separate screen.

Blessings for 2021. Wishing you, us, a better year ahead, one that makes pilgrimages possible again.

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