Aliens

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Aliens

“I’ve got photos,” I said.

“Fake,” they replied.
“Doctored in photo shop.”

“I’ve got witnesses.”

“Bribed,
and equally deluded.”

“I’ve got letters.”
‘Forged,
handwriting and words.”

“Look,” I pointed.
“They’re out there now.
Looking at you through the window,
dancing, changing color, waving.”

“I can’t see them,” one said.
The others all shook their heads.

And now, they’re going to take me away.
There’s nothing left to say.

 

Writers’ Block

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Writer’s Block
(For Kentucky Blue Angel)

This is a golden oldie that I am re-posting. Today, several people talked to me abut writers’ block. Here are my thoughts on the topic.

Every day, well, almost every day, I meet people who tell me that they cannot write anymore. They have abandoned their current project. They sit in their work space and stare at blank screens or empty walls. They have come face to face with the dreaded Writer’s Block.

While some consider Writer’s Block to be an actual illness, others flaunt it like a flag or a badge of honor:

“Don’t touch me — I’ve got Writer’s Block: I wouldn’t want you to catch it.”

“I’m having a bad week: I’ve got Writer’s Block.”

“Sorry, I can’t make the writer’s meeting, I’ve got Writer’s Block.”

According to Wikipedia, “Writer’s block is a condition, primarily associated with writing, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work or experiences a creative slowdown. The condition ranges in difficulty from coming up with original ideas to being unable to produce a work for years. Throughout history, writer’s block has been a documented problem.”

We have probably all experienced the sensation of being unable to write, unable to think, unable to continue. As an academic, I found that something similar happens frequently in examinations with young students whose minds suddenly go blank when faced by a white page and an awkward question. This form of Writer’s Block comes at the most unfortunate times. Students need to be switched on just when their minds switch off. And something similar happens to writers.

Examination Block can be overcome. In many cases careful preparation for an exam will reduce or eliminate examination block. These preparations may well include correct note-taking and relevant revision procedures. There should be no last minute all-night study the night before the exam and a good night’s sleep, proper food, and water are essentials. Appropriate physical exercises before the exam starts are also useful as these make the heart beat and the blood flow. All these things prepare both body and mind and free the student for that most important task: the struggle with the blank page and the awkward question.

Will a similar set of preparations work for those who suffer from Writer’s Block?

In order to answer this question, I would rather take a different approach. Instead of seeing Writer’s Block as a physical / mental presence that stops us writing, why not look at it as an absence that can be overcome? What can we call that absence? Personally, I look upon it as an absence of creativity. If the creativity isn’t there, then writing creatively won’t happen. So what do we do?

Let us define creativity. For me, creativity is the expression of the creative principle that dwells within all of us. It is there, within us. We may suppress it or we may let it be suppressed. We may ignore it or we may deny it: but it is still there. It is always there. Sometimes it is beaten out of us; or we think it is. But it is still there, beneath the surface, waiting to be called on. The Roman poets spoke of it as Deus est in nobis … the god that dwells within us.

Creativity, for me, is like a river that vanishes underground and then reappears: it will be back.

The most important thing in my opinion is what you do when you’re not writing, what you do when you’re faced with that wall of blackness, what you do when you stare at that blank screen and nothing makes your fingers dance on the key board.

Here’s what I do. I make up my mind not to force myself to be creative. Forget about writing. Do something else. Ignore all idea of Writer’s Block, or the End of the World, or the Imminent Disaster of not being able to write. It may take a mental effort, but forget about it.

Now do something else, something positive. Different people respond to different stimuli. Here’s what I do.

(1) I read books
I read other people in their creative moments. I love reading people who write in other languages that I speak and read, because my own mind tries to recreate their images, their stories. This re-creation is a form of creation in itself. New words, new ideas, new combinations, rise to the surface of the mind, like bubbles on a river.

(2) I color and draw
As any who have seen my drawings know, I cannot draw. However, I can take a line for a walk. And that’s what I do. Then I color the spaces I create. My friends thought I was wasting my time and I believed them until I read one of Matisse’s sayings: “My ambition: to liberate color, to make it serve both as form and content.” Voilà: I have my raison d’être. Nature abhors a vacuum. When you create a space, color and meaning rush in.

(3) I take photos
The capturing of a moment: a sunset, a new bird at the feeder, deer wandering through the garden, a black bear visiting, rain on a spider web, sunlight through a prism, a cat made out of cherry stones … the re-creation of the moment is the creation of the memory. More bubbles flow on the surface of the stream.

(4) I go for a walk, look at nature and the world around me, people too
It is incredibly important to do this. A visit to the local coffee shop, a walk around the super-market or corner store, a seat in the park on a sunny day … just be yourself, believe in your existence, watch things as they happen, relax, look and listen, empty yourself, let the world flow back in … look at the ducks on the lake or the goldfish in the tank … more bubbles on the water, more ideas floating down the stream …

(5) I listen to music
De gustibus non disputandum … we can’t argue about taste. Where music goes, each person must make their own choices. The music I like fills my mind, relaxes me, flows out when it ends, takes my mind for a walk and leaves … a vacuum … into which dreams and colors, words and ideas, build like clouds …

(6) I cook
Cooking has always relaxed me. Sometimes the repeating of an old recipe helps clear my mind. Sometimes I have a need to invent something new. Hands and mind occupied, the secret, sacred underground river of creativity flows on …

(7) I sew
Last summer, an unexpected event led me to join a quilting group … oh what fun … a man quilting among a dozen women … I learned so many things … so many different ways of looking at the world … so many concepts that I would never have dreamed of on my own … Sewing runs in the family: I still have my grandfather’s sewing kit … darning and sewing needles that served him for two years before the mast … that darned his socks as he survived in the trenches of the First World War … it bears his name and I use it with pride … and what memories arise in my mind as I choose the needle … his needle … the one that will lead me into the next adventure, be it quilt, button or patch …

(8) I keep a journal
… and come hell or high water, I write in it every day and have done so since 1985. That’s 31 years during which I have scarcely missed a day. The writing maybe banal, it may be nothing but a note on the weather or a comment on a sporting event … but it’s there … a vital challenge to the idea that Writer’s Block can take me over and stop me writing. This journal is 95% drivel … maybe more … but bobbing along the stream of words are ideas, verses, rhyme schemes, choruses, stories, flashes of inspiration, jokes, memories, magic moments, falling stars, … the secret is to catch these falling stars, to recognize these rough diamonds and to return to them and polish when the moment is ripe … and it will be, sooner or later … for bubbles are buoyant and will lift you to the stars.

(9) Free Writing and the Creation of Metaphors
I also use the journal for free writing and automatic writing. These techniques, drawn from the Surrealists, allow the mind to wander at random. While wandering, the mind creates an interior monologue or a stream of consciousness that in fact turns up a series of delightful metaphors that can be polished and re-used at will. When I use this style of writing, I am reminded of Dalí’s saying (again and as always, from memory): “I don’t know what it means, but I know it means something.” My own theory of metaphor is that the metaphor is defined by two (sometimes more) points and rather than settling on one or the other (as in a simile), the mind moves and flickers sub-consciously between the two extremes so that meaning is sensed, but rarely can be grasped or stated in definitive terms. Thus, the marvelous line from André Breton, quoted by Mr. Cake,  “The wolves are clothed in mirrors of snow” has, according to my theory of metaphor, four defining points, namely, wolves … clothed … mirrors … snow. All four of these defining points creates an image, a very personal image, in the reader’s mind. The mind moves quickly between each defining point and meaning is lost in the rapid shift from image to image. Quite simply, “the hand cannot grasp it, nor the mind exceed it.” This means we have to return, as readers, to the unconscious level where the metaphors were first created. Then: “when we no longer seek it, it is with us.” This same analytical exercise can be performed for each line of Breton’s poem. When we indulge in free writing, much of what we write can be abandoned. The secret is to recognize and rescue the little gems we so often find.

(10) I believe
Through all this runs a thread of belief … belief that the black cloud of despair will not win. The Writer’s Block will go. Creativity will never be not lost. It is there, beneath the surface, always ready to be contacted, waiting to rise and take you over again. And all too soon and quite unexpectedly, one form of creativity slips into another and the creative writing (it never really went away because of the journal) comes back.

Writer’s Block: it does exist. It’s how we deal with it that’s important. Creativity rules: forget Writer’s Block and let creativity and the multiple ways back to creativity grow and flow. Sooner or later the clouds will lift, the sun will return, the block will unblock and the words will flow again.

Remember the words on the Roman sundial: Horas non numero nisi serenas … I count only the happy hours. And remember: the clouds will lift, the sun will return.

Trust me.
And believe.

Angel

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Angel

I thought for a moment that, yes,
I was an angel and I was dancing
on a pinhead with so many other
angels, and all of us butterflies
spreading our wings with their peacock
eyes radiant with joy and tears spark
-ling in time to the music that wanders
up and down and around with inscrutable
figures held spell bound in a magic moment
… and I still feel that pulsing in my head,
that swept up, heart stopping sensation
when the heavens opened and the eternal
choir raised us up from the earth, all
earthbound connections severed and all
of us held safe in an Almighty hand.

Comment: an old poem this, from 2015, when I was in Moncton at the Auberge Monsignor Henri Cormier. It was not the easiest of times. However, there was music and dancing every week. The band would start playing, and the room would slowly fill with  men and women. The bravest would dance first and then, slowly, others would join in, all our woes forgotten in an up lifting moment of movement. The ladies: high necklines, head scarves; the gentlemen: some moving slowly, all doing their best.

For a while, I felt warm and safe, protected somehow in a fantasy world where, just for one evening a week, all troubles were forgotten and we could all be normal again in spite of our suffering. That moment together with the warmth and comforting friendship of my fellow sufferers still stays with me.

Springle Dance

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Springle Dance

I guess the title comes from Tolkien where the Hobbits begin an energetic dance at Bilbo’s Party. Or something like that. Mine is a Fall Girl Dance. The hand on the right points to the poor misshapen heart as it moves between fall leaves and colorful dancing sprites and spirits that help it on its way. Where is it going? Who knows where the autumn leaves go once they leave the tree? The bodies fall to the ground, obviously. We rake them into dry, crisp piles and our children and grand-children dive into those leaf-piles, scattering them everywhere so we have to rake them up again. Think of them, the children, as forming leaf angels, a bit like snow angels, but, like the broken heart, a great deal more fragmented.

Try as I might with camera and photo shop, the colors are never quite what they were when I splashed them haphazardly, like September rain and wind-blown leaves, across the page. But life is like that: memories are discolored and distorted, old photos turn sepia, old folk turn white and grey and wrinkled and fragile, like withered leaves from the tree of life. And this is life, real life. We live it every day. Each dream, a flower, each moment a leaf, and every moment the only one we ever truly experience.

So savor those moments, both the good and the bad. They are yours and nobody else’s. Your like is what happens to you. Sometimes it is bitter with salt and vinegar and lemon juice. Sometimes it is toxic and poisonous. But it is yours. It is your chalice to drain as you stand in the garden, feeling betrayed. Like it or not, this is you. Then there are the dream moments: sugar and spice and everything nice. On those days, when the sun shines, it’s away with slugs and snails, and puppy-dog tails and hello hollow world, I see you for what you are and I welcome you for what you are. And yes, you can meet with triumph and disaster, and you can treat those two impostors just the same. You are more powerful than the forces around you. Centre yourself. Find yourself. Heal your broken heart as it wanders among the springle dancers sent to bring you peace and comfort.

Look for your self. Find your self. Be your self. You and your self are stronger than any woes that may beset you. Seek the light … and you will find it.

Beach Heat

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Beach Heat

This is the beach at Goran Haven, with Clare, on the sands, trying not to lose her engagement ring. It’s still with us, in spite of having left it in a washroom on the 401. When one of the support columns of the solitaire broke, we found the stone lying on the floor of the car … that was another close call. As for the poem, well, I suppose it is one of mine.

The enlightened may recognize its structure as belonging to The Book of Good Love / El Libro de Buen Amor, written in the 14th Century (1330-1343, according to some, though it may be a little later, 1347?), by Juan Ruiz, El Arcipreste de Hita. This early verse imitates the rhythms and sequences of Juan Ruiz’s poem: In praise of small women. Not that Clare is small: she is taller than me, and always has been. She is also younger than me and hasn’t manage to catch me up yet. She is cleverer too, but don’t ever tell her that I told you that. Life might become unbearable. Not admitting that little secret is what keeps me going.

I take it you can read my handwriting. If not, ask politely, and I will add a typed version that is more understandable. Ask nicely, mind! None of that “yore ‘andritin’ is atrooshus’ stuff, sort of, loike.”

PS: I didn’t have a very good camera in those days. As for my current cameras: wow! How the world has changed. As we have changed with it.

PPS: Indeed I have received comments, not very complimentary, on my handwriting. Oh dear. Don’t worry I can’t always decipher it myself, even with my glasses on. Thank you all my friends and anonymous correspondents. So, here comes the translation into print.

A diamond shines brightly
for all men to see
the best sweetness comes
from the wee honeybee

There is nothing so hot
as the female desire
like the cool of the beach
it burns you with fire

 

Angels

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Angels

So easy to believe in them when you see them dance, at midnight, when stars sparkle and the world seems dark. They light up everything you know, turn your world inside out, make you believe in things you never thought you would believe in.

So many people can no longer see them. For all too many, the angels have fled, have abandoned the world, leaving it in darkness. Where are they, where have they gone? They are still here, my friends, they are still with us. It’s a question of vision and belief, above all, belief.

So, what is holding you back? Why can’t you see them when they are there, before your eyes, dancing on moonbeams, sunbeams, fluttering before you, begging you to believe, to open your eyes, to seize them as they flit to and fro. Look at them, gathered on that pinhead, on the button of your blouse. They love you, they want you, they need you … and you need them, you know you do.

So hold out your hands, open your heart, let the sun shine in, let moonlight bless and caress you, and may all your dreams be filled, not with shadows, but with the bright light of angels.

 

 

Bubbles

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Bubbles

Count them. Each day she was here, a bubble. Little did I know as I saw them floating in the sun across the porch against a background of leafy trees that they would so soon burst and vanish, one by one.

Lost now, her voice, gone her footsteps from the stairs, no more the scrape of her chair as she climbs up beside me, calling my name. When I wake in the morning, I wait for her joyful call. How she loved to bounce on my bed. Knees up, but no Mother Brown this, just my grand-daughter, four years old.

And now she is gone.