It is a still morning. I’ve seen a pair of female blackbirds meet on the top of the telephone pole, and fly off together into the still moonlit, blue morning. A neighbour is up – I can hear the runoff water from their shower. The last of the Monoprix decaf is brewing in the cafetiere. I’ve slept fitfully after a few too many glasses of wine (Montepulciano and then Sauvignon, both vegan). My friend Chris is up early too, and we’re playing chess online. The window has been open all night and the air is clear and fresh and welcome, after the thunder-pressure. Misha, my cat, is sitting in the front room on the window sill, peacefully looking out through the smallest, cat’s-eye slit in the curtain, the neighbourhood snoopy that she is. I brush her. She pushes back at me. I leave her to get the coffee and open my laptop, only five hours after going to bed and committing myself to ten days without turning it on. But this is not work, today, and I have no fear of obligations. There is still doubt about if I am doing the right thing or not. But there is more love, and love wins out.
My mouth feels itchy and blotchy on the teeth, as I didn’t brush last night—the electric toothbrush K gave me is still in the wicker drawer in the bathroom. All night I have been thinking, sometimes dreaming, of the things that I cried about last night. My father, missing, and what I am still missing, that person to encourage, care for, teach me about life and growing up. And what he is missing: a son to help him continue to find a way to live into old age, a son to be proud of. And the other thing I was weeping about: the pigs in the trucks on their way to the meat-packers, boiling over in the 45 degree heatwave because pigs have no way to sweat to cool them down, so they are dying in agony in the heat; and the love and grace of the people from Toronto Pig Save and the other city Pig Saves who meet them at the traffic lights on the way to feed them water and watermelon to relieve them in their agony.
As it says on the Free from Harm website, the first and last act of mercy and kindness they will ever receive. The mercy and kindness I’ve been unable to show my father. The image of that cow in Farm Sanctuary’s video, newly born, literally seconds born, being dragged by the leg by a farmer away from its mother, the mother cow who ran after it, her young, her newborn, but who could not stop the farmer taking that cow and putting her into servitude, chained into a narrow milking cell for the rest of its life. The image of my father, homeless, bring dragged out of the shop doorway, a gutter. Continue reading
So now I wish I had not become so frustrated with all the tourists taking photographs of the Chagall artworks in the Musee de Luxembourg, and joined in. I am trying to find, online, the particular piece of his work that I stopped in front of and willed a more soulful engagement with the experience than the one I was having. There was Chagall’s blending of strong motifs in a sort of astrological chart of colour around the piece. In the middle, a face—I think Jesus. But always in the piece other faces, less apparent, purposefully faint. Acrobatic divers, hanging in the air as if it were some enchanted blender. Red horses with human hands. Chickens, houses on fire. A depth to the artwork that, if it were not already so strongly suggested, made me think of the dreamwork and all its picture puzzlement as a clue to some unthought known, a simple but forgotten truth. But I can’t find the exact picture. Not online. A handful of those tourists have got the picture, no doubt, on their hard drives. But I didn’t take any photos. Instead, I stood in front of that picture and switched off my social self for a few moments, and let the art do its work.
I wish I could see it now. There are others I can find that appealed to me—that spoke to me. One was this one: Continue reading
I started out on 21 Soul to look at the relationship between my soul, self and my writing (hence the blog title). But my writing always comes back to love. That’s no bad thing. I’ve spent the last hour writing about a breaking sadness that has come into my life in the last few days. But I need some time to figure out if/when/what to post about that. I’ve written it all down, but I have to think about it some more. But, while writing it, or thinking about it, and about people, about love, I found out something else tonight—something to explore in a longer post—that the novel I’m working on (nearly finished!) is attempting, in a very social way, to explore soul questions, which are well summed up by David Whyte writing about crisis, when he says:
The wave form that catches a maturing human being from the inside is the inescapable nature of their own flaws and weaknesses, their self-deceptions and their attempts to create false names and stories to place on themselves and the world; the felt need to control the narrative of the story around them with no regard to outside revelation. The immense wave on the outside is the invitation to give that self up, to be borne off by the wave and be renamed and re ordered by the powerful flow.
This is exactly what my characters in my novel do, and are caught in. Right down to the creation of false names, and the reordering of themselves in a powerful flow of the outside world. And all of a sudden tonight I was able to see, for the first time, my novel as one step in a lifelong and important process of moving towards exploring this in both myself and in the world, through writing. It feels incredibly exciting but also empowering to know that, to feel that my writing explores these things, has enough integrity and honesty to explore these things.
I was worried about the belief that I had spent six years writing something that was too light, too immaterial to matter. A Woody Allen pastiche on the 1930s issues. But now I am reading it through for a final time, and also reading other heartfelt and soulful things (thanks to the friend who puts me onto these David Whyte quotes!) I can see that, yes, the subject matter of my novel is not something I would choose again… but the themes I care about are there, and they come through. That my writing has integrity. Integrity! That makes me feel good, purposeful. That I have something to say, and am learning an artistic craft to find ways to articulate those things.
I feel anger in the face. It feels like a setting stone, very hard, very unmovable. It’s just below the skin, but it’s visible, like a face through a net curtain at the window. Below that, there’s frustration, and below that, fear. Fear, but not in being afraid of being hurt. When hurt happens, it never feels quite as bad as you expect (except if what hurts, you never expected). Rather, fear of being unable to change, fulfil potential, learn. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear that I don’t have the strength, that the life I want (‘want’—the certainty I want to be attached to, I suppose) is always just out of reach.
Yesterday (Tuesday) morning, I felt bereft.
Sunday had been a great day—running, socialising, drinking, not really caring. As Pema Chodron might have noted, if she had seen me, I was blunting the edge of the difficulties I was feeling with easiness, alcohol, escape.
Then Monday was hung-over, a day of little achievement, except a good hour or so at the allotment and a bit of editing on the novel (so, some achievement) and then in the evening leaving drinks for a good friend, at a performance of her boyfriend’s short play. Another friend was there. I felt out of place because of her—hardened, uncomfortable—even if I was able to chat, be friendly, ‘normal’. An explanation follows. That night, they carried on for drinks, I went home. It’s easy.
Then the next (Tuesday) morning I felt stiff (from the running, and the alcohol) but also hardened by an anger directed towards this person and the feelings she stirs up in me. I was doing my usual morning writing, putting down on paper why I felt so tired, figuring it out, admitting that it was not the day of drinking or the PhD or anything else that was leaving me weary. It was the incredibly draining anger I was feeling—targeted at her, I first thought—leaving me weary, and all of the concomitant acts that such anger/fear leads to, such as overworking, not listening to the body, drinking too much—although this is very rare these days—ruminating endlessly on bitter tastes. I was writing about this and trying to find a better way to live a life with less of this draining energy, of what to do about this person, of committing to a writerly life, when this popped out of me: Continue reading
It came to me as my mind wandered in the middle of a sun salutation this morning, a question: if you build up the other selves, will they give you perspective on the dramas of the social self for what they are? Which is: small, unimportant, impermanent?
I saw a flash of an image: three bars on a chart. Then, a revision: perhaps more ecologically, as three large rocks or even mountains, moving and changing shape. And I’ve spent most of the time building up and investing in the social self. When the social self is the peak from which we mostly view our world and the one from which we survey the other selves, or the things important to the other selves, then of course we’ll always have a more social perspective. So if we naturally build up the other selves, if we practice soulful or ecological habits, then we will have a perspective on our entire world viewable from a different place, as well as what will seem a smaller social self. Rather than (as I wrote in an earlier post) having the percentages of experience as soul: 5%, social: 85%, ecological: 10%, it could be 40%/20%/40%. How would that feel/look? Continue reading
The first time I came to love the early morning was on a sleepover at yours, which I did too little, now I realise, and we got up and it was the warmest summer day and we walked in the dusty peace of the suburbs down to the local butchers and bought fresh half-a-dozen local eggs and Cumberland sausage. We went back again with the papers for Nan, I remember she read the Mirror during the week and the People on Sunday, and sometimes she would eat toast before she began on the sherry and sit in the quiet and matted dark of the front room. We whittled away in the kitchen, you telling me of your childhood on the Norfolk broads where you’d learnt to be a wheelwright and you and your girl at the time cycled all over until her father got a job in Birmingham before the war, and you never saw her again, which was, I suppose, lucky for my mother, me and especially my sister, who came to need you more than I did, I guess. But you still loved your Colman’s mustard with your sausages, even for breakfast, while I preferred the bramble jelly, it was the perfect breakfast (before I knew about the pigs, of course), it is still the perfect breakfast, still the way you make poached eggs the apex of geometry, the hours we played cribbage with Swan’s matches counting our scores, 15-2, 15-4, the means by which you never burdened your pain on any other, even on the day you died, cracking jokes about the verbosity of Auntie M (the little quack, quack sign of your hand such an effort to make, but you made it) and it took all the composure you taught me to read the Rudyard Kipling at your service. And for days and weeks after owls came into my life: owl trinkets, owls on ties, the snowy, tawny and swivelling eyes, the wise old creature you were, transmigrated into this symbol, sitting watch all night over me; welcoming me back to the morning.
Every time I hear Portishead’s ‘Waterfall’ this is where it takes me, back to your room. I can’t remember how we met or how we got talking. I’ve a faint idea it was somewhere I didn’t usually go—you weren’t the usual person I met—and somehow the lack of sleep and the haze of the end of things and the music and the atmosphere you cultivated in your open plan studio made it one of the most magical mornings I’ve woken to. Although I don’t think we went to sleep, and I think, but am not sure, you ended up being a Radio 1 Wales DJ, is that you I sometimes hear about doing the breakfast show? I wonder if, when you play that song on your show (now you’ve moved to the evening), you think of that morning too, what I meant to you, what we spoke about, nothing of which I can remember now, I only remember the softness of the white sheets, the yellow hidden light coming in through the curtains, that we didn’t undress, that you made scrambled eggs, and your questions made me realise I’d never asked anything honest of myself, not really, and yet that I needed to be home and gone in two hours and I hadn’t even packed, that for the first time there really did not feel like a world outside. Continue reading