Flowing forward: Looking back. (Blog cascade)

Flowing Forward, Looking Back.- A refreshing interruption.

Gathering in, flowing on.
Gathering in, flowing on.

I was introduced to this touch-tag relay by Ashen Venema, whose blog and website is Course of Mirrors where she posts serene and stimulating reflections on what catches her thoughts. In that sense her title is apt (although it is also the title of her novel soon to be published). She is a flashing mirror that concentrates light on an area and helps it catch fire. I never fail to draw something new and quietly inspiring from her occasional posts and beautiful photographs.

I have always avoided blog tours partly because just thinking about waving myself or my book through a daily marathon is exhausting, and its self importance seems inescapable. (Guest posts are different; they seem a kind of marriage of interests.) But I can do it once (and willingly) when writing binds me to others and paying it forward prevails rather than self-promotion. An opportunity to highlight the generous community of writing friends was much more attractive-so this blog baton now falls to me, en passant.

 

What am I working on?

Right now I work to distract myself from the tarnish of achievement, much more aware of the tarnish than the achievement. Involution- the book just published, has written my life, gone through a series of incarnations, until it cried ‘Enough already’ and forced me to be reconciled both to my inadequacy for the task, and to the compromises that reconciliation required. It forced nose-to-grindstone and whole nights of sleepless note-making (and moments of wondrous uncorrected flow),until it was finally finished. Five years it took to refresh historic research and write; but since publishing I have been beached, like a cuttlefish, empty of inspiration.

To find a structure to the day I am digging out former short stories of both African, and European encounters (Minding the Gap between Old and New World attitudes) and writing blog posts that reveal my restless examination of why the bleedin book chose me ( when there were so many others, better equipped). I am searching through the equivalent of the sock-drawer for answers. The prosaic socks are like fragments of clothes, once loved; my grandparents and their grand disdain for the ordinary; my children and the education they afforded me (instead of the other way round); the country that first nurtured independence and bloody-minded refusal to accept given answers; and above it all, the wonder of the English language in which to convey all this.

My life was written by a book, and nothing in that life was irrelevant. When I have finished sorting I might find an answer, and from that answer new inspiration. Meanwhile this naked life is all relevant to the book’s domination of its author! Those of you who have ventured into the African Quilt posts (below) may have wondered why they were written- blame the hair-shirt itch of the book and pinning its provenance.

How does it (the book or the writing in general) differ from other works?

I think this fence is best taken at a gallop. The history of science written as poetry? Creative non-fiction? I don’t think I need define how this book differs. The ‘why’ is perhaps more interesting. First because the real subject is what lies behind the scaffolding of science—the cathedral of consciousness. Close-knit prose weighted with the necessary evidence would have obscured that subject. Economy: the science is familiar, but used as evidence for a different hypothesis- that science itself has been the recovery of that cathedral, memory through inspiration.  Also, addressed to those willing to embrace subjective experience- unlikely to be scientists in the main. Finally, because I have lived with this book for so long and our marriage needed spicing up; the moment I wrote poetically it flowed, impressionistic, broad-brush, and I could tuck the necessary evidence in left brain endnotes. I hoped to entertain; a few readers are beginning to appreciate that. It is not as ‘worthy’ as it may look!

 I must now confess to a phobia: I hate being bored by the prosaic or predictable, and the idea of boring other people, and that includes readers. This phobia is now taking the form of searching for a new economy that will not mean minimalism. The richness of language is my greatest joy, using it like a human hand, a tool to shape any kind of construction, hopefully without leaving any traces of effort. Recently that has meant narrative poetry, economical words to tell tall tales. Involution is a poetic journey through Western scientific history, and another work, A Shadow in Yucatán is a simple (and tragic) story, mythical in its echoes , that recaptures not only what happened to the main character, Stephanie, but what happened to the glory of the sixties in which she lived, betrayed by indifference to its promises. Her story was a kind of magnifying fractal of her (and my most fondly remembered) age.

All my work is about eccentrics, or mavericks, individuals rejected, but in their own ways, heroic, courageous outcasts. I seek to sketch them in universal terms, so that what remains (I hope) is the familiarity of recognition, not of their circumstances but their resilience in which the unique calls out and reflects the hunger for meaning ( and meeting). The individual is the face in the fractured mirror, finding itself.

My writing process?

This is much more difficult to answer. I can tell more about what it isn’t than what it is. I have an idea, it might take shape in a dream, in which a whole story is encapsulated, atmospherically. Sometimes there are small details to launch a story, often no more than a smear of sympathy for something not yet formed.

It feels like a current persuading me to swim, so I wade out.

What then happens is the current gathers strength, and tows me into a tide. On a good day, and sometimes for whole weeks, I dive and surf that tide, and follow characters that swim with me, and signal for attention. Sometimes they simply wade out and dry their hair, and the story is done, or they are no longer important and it continues with others. Always the characters take hold of the story, and gain weight, and speak in ways over which I have little influence. Mostly I like them, a lot, but even when I cannot, I come to understand them, and their inhibitions, and if they are smaller people than the ones I like, I try to offer them chances to grow. When they resist it gets explosive, and as surprising as shouting in a cricket pavilion: it should not happen, but it does. Those who read ‘how to write’ books will know this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. I have to be ‘grabbed’ I cannot contrive.

I cannot plan their adventures; they always have ideas of their own. One I am working on at the moment started with a man shaving in a shack in a wood in Vermont. That was very inconsiderate of him, since I have never been to Vermont.

Why do I write what I do?

Involution excepted ( that grabbed me by the collar) I have never thought this through exactly. I think what and how I write is distilled from the things I love, language, people, individuality, and how they reflect the natural world. I like to expose their life, like hatching out ducklings, and watch them waddle and then swim, some better than others.

None of this leads to any continuity, or building a career, because nothing I write follows upon anything else. A reader who might be engaged with one work, will not necessarily read another. Genre and ‘career’ do not find purchase, unfortunately.

This is an obvious disability in a writer, and suggests indifference to readers, but this is rather like suggesting that a cook who has perfected a good lasagne should cook only lasagne, or merely introduce sun-dried tomatoes or anchovies. I suppose everything I write is a form of exploration, of myself and what I feel about what’s happening on the page, and the changing skies of vision. I hope to offer that vision to a reader, as I would meet each person at a party, to present an aspect that might interest them. Different stories wear different clothes, changing language, altered mood. I have never been able to do anything twice.

I am reminded of an interaction; I was once in full spate talking to someone I had only just met. A third person entered the room and said ‘This sounds interesting, what were you talking about?’ Silence followed. He looked at me.

‘Ask her’ I suggested ‘she was listening’.

If you are doing the talking (as a writer) it is only the listener (the reader) that knows what you were talking about and if it met their interests enough to linger or disagree.

That’s enough about me.

My introduced baton followers are:-

Loretta Proctor

 

Loretta Proctor who first offered me sage advice on the perilous slopes of self-publishing, and continues to reassure me. She has boldly published several novels, blogs, tours and talks without a petticoat of doubt ever showing. We are also linked by a shared genetic connection to Elizabeth Barrett Browning- on opposites sides of her fierce parental forge. I think Loretta got the gentler side (farming and dairies), whereas mine was that slave driver from whom EBB fled at dawn.

Loretta is an Anglo-Greek, born in Cairo, Egypt.  Her dual nationality led her to question the theme of belonging to two different and diverse cultures.  From this quest came her first published novel: The Long Shadow, set in WW1 Greece, in which the ‘hero’ is also Anglo Greek and makes an odyssey to discover himself.  This book is now also being published in Greece and will be out in November 2014.  She has since written three more books, the latest, Dying Phoenix a sequel to The Long Shadow.  She loves nature and spiritual poetry, art and beautiful gardens. Her blog (Books and Other Things) and all her books can be found here.

 

Joanna Sormunen I encountered more recently and so much enjoy her courage and passion for the work she does, and the enthusiasm for the landscape and people so far from her home. Her recipes (Finnish tiger cake!) show that longing is present, however. Food always remembers.

JOanna Sormunen

 

Joanna Sormunen is a Finn living in Ecuador. She writes a blog called Ecuador Joannan silmin – Ecuador in my eyes, while writing her novel and searching a publisher for it. She is a ‘psycho-pedagogist’, or a special education teacher, and works for the Finnish Free Evangelical Church in their mission with Kichwa indigenous people in Ecuador’s Amazonian region. She is fascinated by their culture and Ecuador in general and wants to document it all in her blog and in her photography.

 

Susan Scott, a fellow South African who walks the very streets and beaches I long for, has been like finding an old friend that seems familiar. She lives where I can imaginatively call in for a coffee under a Jacaranda and holidays where I can hardly bear to imagine, so hard do the waves crash upon the rocks of nostalgia. Through that familiarity her blog and mine are almost twins, comforting twins who remember the same things, slightly differently, and not a few years apart! Her recent A-Z challenge for posts shared with another Jungian friend are all pithy reflections on a variety of topics.Susan Scott photo_dulce

She offers a verbal ‘selfie’:
‘I’ve lived in Johannesburg South Africa for the last 35 years or so. Is it home? – a question I always ask myself. For most of my life I’ve had a fascination with psyche and soul, consciousness and unconsciousness, dreams as treasure house. The opposites are ever present in life and impact negatively upon us when e.g. we are too fixed on an extreme of the pole. The necessary paradox of them, and their drive towards a closer relationship between non-exclusionary opposites is what is inter alia of interest to me.

I’ve been blogging for the last 3 years, tentatively at first and now more regularly. More recently I took part in the April 2014 A-Z Blog challenge (and last year); this year with Dr. Susan Schwartz, Jungian Analyst in Phoenix Az. We used this year’s challenge to write on ‘Aging & Becoming’. Each letter of the alphabet from A-Z for each day during April except for Sundays, was represented. ‘A’ for Attitude, ‘B’ for Body, ‘D’ for Death  etc right through to ‘Z’ for Zero. Our posts were psychological, as have been most of my posts in times past. The 2 Susans are currently writing a book on ‘Aging & Becoming’ and it is by no means a ‘how to’ book. It is a psychological look at Aging – and Becoming.

(Links to the 2014 A-Z blog challenge can be viewed under ‘categories’ further down on right hand side bar.)

I love hiking and walking and the sense of my body inhabiting different spaces in different scapes. I love being at the sea, the bush, the mountains and here at home feeling a part of it all. I read voraciously, one of life’s greatest pleasures. I have two beloved adult sons each self-employed in the arts and loving every moment of it. The younger is a  musician, the elder an animator. My hard working husband is a medical specialist.

I refer you all to an informal guide to both South African life and Jungian ideas through her Garden of Eden Blog  and to her book In praise of Lilith and other stories’

 

The Clamour of the Daimon- Motherhood

The Clamour of the Daimon- On Being a Mother

(Quilting Daughters)

Russian Fish Pie for supper!
Russian Fish Pie for supper!

The child is father to the man, each ensures
The safeguards to their hungers…
The correction of residual crimes…
Denial of appetites outgrown…
The shaping of their talents
Offers incense to the brazier burning
On the altar of mankind.

(Involution-An Odyssey…)

Blogs are supposed to have a focus. Mine, seemingly wide-ranging, is all allied to the book, Involution. A Book about Everything that needed all my living to supply its vocabulary and much of that living was motherhood. In this, like all mothers, I had to feel my way, and thereby come to encounter my daimon’s determination to wrest control.

My last post focused on my mother, and on being a single daughter, an only child.

As a perceptive comment to that post noted, everything recorded presupposed the book recently published; the early and necessary independence, into which a whirlwind experience threw everything into the air, rearranging all the components of life and leaving little but a bloody minded opposition to coercion or conformity. In every way I had to start afresh. In relation to motherhood one central pinion anchored resolve, the perception of what failing her daimon had led to in my mother, bitter regret. My inopportune arrival blighted my mother’s life, neither her fault, nor mine; a fact nevertheless.

Being inopportune, always too early, has been a constant. This book was conceived forty five years ago, forty years too early for its acceptance.  A better acquaintance with my daimon probably needed the necessary dislocation provided by time’s brake. It and I had an argument to undergo first. James Hillman’s extraordinarily powerful book ‘The Soul’s Code’ has helped put it all into perspective. Character finds wider cracks through which to enter as we age. The daimon or occupying genius (the active element of Soul) in each of us struggles against the distractions of middle age and of parenthood. It snakes its way through impediments and often disappears, reduced to a few remembered dreams, the inexplicable impulse, or sudden blinding shafts of recognition.

Between the book’s early failure (with two small daughters in tow) and its recent incarnation more motherhood intervened. That also required the mastery of house building, mixing mortar, carpentry, drains and daily doing at its most basic. I had flown too close to the sun, melted my wings, and fallen, badly burnt: the discipline of motherhood would re-connect me to ordinary life. It was the re-education necessary to render the sun a softer and more benign presence threaded on quiet days, sliced and apportioned by welcome oblivious nights of exhausted sleep.

Stone Crop, dereliction and one cold tap
Stone Crop, dereliction and one cold tap

 

Father doing Time. One day a garden.
Father doing Time. One day a garden.

 

 

 

 

 

The re-education also introduced a new realm of experience that would prove to be necessary to extend my vocabulary into architecture, design, music, the hunger for time to read and on being servant to necessity. The last was probably the most important.

In talking about my mother, I reverted to memories, and she, now safely dead, would be unable to correct them or to argue and be unlikely to feel aggrieved.  I feel I can count on her sympathy. Not so with my still very alive daughters. They would be mortified to be identified, and they have daimons of their own, refusing to be pinned, so I must confine their existence to what they did for me.

That seems sufficient, because I intend to examine the effect of both my childhood and theirs on the conceiving of a book. It is creativity at its broadest that draws upon everything, emotional and psychological, academic and philosophical, each intricately facets of the same enquiry. Who am I? Why am I here? Why did I come through that portal (my mother) or give birth to that child?

What shall I do with all this experience before I depart?

My own mother’s tight-lipped stoicism, which made my very existence a burden, had led me to take a vow at about sixteen. If I ever had children they would know, because I would share with them, all things: anger, impulse, confusion, and impetuous affection. Words would not be withheld. I would never have them say, as I had, ‘I would rather you beat me than stay silent, why won’t you tell me where or in what I have failed?’

If I had children I would also have more than one; they would have each other: An insurance against my own shortcomings.

I struggled to unite my four daughters in what I believed was a single family. Therein lay my failure to understand that unity requires the consent of all, to each. Much later I had to accept that I had two families, severed by the father of the first, whose refusal to include the second split us, as though with an axe. The father of the second family accepted all, in an almost saintly indifference to distinctions between his and another man’s children.

Daughters Part One

My first marriage had yielded two daughters, so different from one another they initiated the most essential lesson

Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

(Kahlil Gibran- The Prophet)

The first at ten months walked away, escaped any lap, shunned hugs and kisses, threw herself into deep water, climbed up dangerous heights. She needed nothing from me, except the freedom to be left alone and watched from a distant eye. She asked for very little, gave very little. As an ingénue mother I mistook this for precocious advanced development; hurrah for independence!  Her sister was the exact opposite, needing a great deal of affection, constant reassurances and encouragement. Honing maternal skills required flexible adjustments between these extremes, one impervious, one hypersensitive, one over confident, one with only tentative questions.

The second, faced with living on a building site developed obsessional cleaning instincts and domestic virtues that manifested before she was ten, binging home the bacon for Thursday night suppers on her bicycle after ‘cookery’. She created order where none seemed to exist. Her sister, immune to labour, simply disappeared into a caravan where she painted her nails and revised for examinations in which she was determine to excel, and if possible exceed. Her fierce competitive instincts were equal to anything, from scrabble to chemistry.  It took her no time to persuade her father that her academic record would be much assisted by boarding away, away from the cold tap and the portaloo amidst the nettles. He obliged with alacrity. My vow needed pruning. Neither was like me, nor sought what I understood.

The refuge from labour.
The refuge from labour.

With both the vow was inappropriate. That is the hell of motherhood, you only have one to sample from, and without siblings you start completely un-apprenticed, learning only from sometimes serious mistakes. My mother was not ‘typical’. No mother is. She had taught me by default; I had been peripheral to her life, my children would be central and know always that they were. Pendulums are never a reliable pointer, but the circularity of existence is invariably reduced to the swing between extremes.

My oldest daughters did not want to know anything about me, but I had set a course of candour (hatched from my childhood of silence) and took much too long to realise its penalties. I lost both of them; not immediately, but later, when all that candour backfired and I was so very clear as target. Their father stripped me of them utterly, knowing how central they had been in every aspect of creative life. He waited until late adolescence with all its insecurity and resentment made them vulnerable to persuasion.  His revenge was served very cold, and wrapped with foreign travel and few returns.

They left, one for university in Africa, the other for training college in Switzerland and never looked back. I had served my purpose, with all the tedium of schooling, housing, homework and transport. Holidays had been treats with him, in exotic surroundings like Costa Rica, Kalahari or Galapagos. Half of my family were always severed from the other half, by money and partisan affection. While the older two were camping on beaches, or on film locations the second family stayed home and played with the dog or tolerated a Yucca plant as perennial pricking wicket.

Overwhelmed by labour and literally putting a roof over heads I failed to see this divide widening. The experience which had set in train both my divorce from him and the book took many years to develop its consequences, to alienate my children from me and from each other. I had complimented myself on a successful and benign divorce, (he and his new wife stayed with us occasionally) but instead merely provided labour and education, enabling him and his wife to live well under canvas, or in remote places without available schools, until his daughters were old enough to leave me without proving an imposition.

Self deception took a long detour, through illusion and dogged determination, but even this provided its salutary lesson; that one daimon (mine to foster unity) is powerless against another that preferred disunity, and could exploit every argument to make its case. The devil has all the best tunes, for sure.

 

But I had been offered a second chance ( to be continued).

 

Today: Guest of Mary Gottschalk on Secrets (and Lies)

Chez Mary:- She writes…

My blog this week offers a very different perspective on secrets. My guest, Philippa Rees, offers the view that some secrets are well-kept and may be a source of strength.

Marna 001Philippa’s Story

Secrets are of many kinds, some buried beneath a significant event, some like fungi that spore underground and mushroom when the light is right to poison the unwary. On the surface my family seemed to have no secrets. That was the doing of ‘Marna’, my galleon grandmother, whose high disdain and certainty of her natural superiority sailed the high seas of our misfortunes, trimming her sails to every wind, and charting our independent course of proud poverty.

It was only after her death that I learned her secret, which explained everything.

To read more go here

KILL OR CURE? Selling Your Heart.

This Monday morning I received this link from a blog I follow (Christian Mihai) which confirmed what the weekend just passed had demanded. It is Scott Fitzgerald’s response to a script he had been sent and every aspiring writer should frame and hang it on a wall, and bow to it daily.

My ‘kill or cure’ weekend had hooked my agreement to talk (! Oh God… Talk?) to two groups, one wanting (I thought) breezy entertainment, tailored to the clock for fifteen minutes which would tell a story ( Where does mine begin or end?!) and the other to a deep-time exploring group of close friends that had never included me, for whom I was slotted in after tea which might give me time to drive from Hertfordshire to some ancient Manor near Oxford.

For weeks I had been in a spiraling panic but knowing that if I chickened out, I would never face the world again.Yet since writing ‘THE book’ I had lost all orientation and hardly knew which way was North. Sequencing and retention both evaporated, how to shape a narrative? For the first, (the 5×15 launch of the Fireside Festival) I realised I had to grasp the scorpion, and simply run with a two part story that has part been told in this blog before…The Bride and the Philosopher...and its sequel not yet recounted…The Plumber Peddling Resurrection” in which the deepest trauma underlying the book’s hand upon my collar for the whole of life rested. It involved sex, marital infidelity and the suspension of all disbelief about roughly everything…but the audience came wuth…as they say in my home; Sou’Thefrica.

In the event the story gripped, and overtime was universally demanded to ‘finish the story’.I will probably never be invited back to 5×15 (they do have a few rules and why shouldn’t they ?) but for me the heart I offered was returned unscathed and fuller than before. People trusted are usually trustworthy. I was in danger of forgetting that.

The second talk was much more of deeper and more harrowing truths I myself had not re-visited for years, until faced with this eager and attentive audience. The script prepared was discarded and I simply spoke of what I needed to say. Not to them but to myself. If you are a writer there is no place to hide. Until yesterday I had hidden behind a book.

What happened? When I have absorbed what happened I will return to tell you. Right now it feels like fearlessness, sobriety, calmness and a whole new landscape that rests in trust. Most critically I now know I can do it again, with greater discernment, ease, humour and enjoyment. That’s quite enough to be getting on with, it feels worth sharing.