Impact

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Impact

This photo comes up from nowhere, springs into your half-awake mind, diminishes your reality. W5: who, what, why, when where? But there is no who, save the person bearing witness to this moment in time, and you, the double witness who also contemplates and is therefore complicit.

Do you recognize this scene? Is this a moment in your life? Are you the one who struck the match and lit the flames in the lower corners? And are they even flames? Or are they moments of glory, flashes of fireworks, the world coming alive in a moment of combustion when light and dark are mingled until, fiat lux / let there be light, and the world is reborn, light and form, drawn from darkness, and earth and sea divided into separate realms. In principium erat verbum / in the beginning was the word and the world was born / reborn in this verbal-visual instant between sleeping and awakening, when dreams gain substance and ideas take on form and shape and grow in the observer’s mind until creation sparks into life.

Who now knows what will be, what might be? We see. We bear witness. We paint, draw verbal pictures, take snapshots, unfold our souls, placing them on paper and canvas capturing them by camera in snapshots … but What’s it all about, Alfie? Do you remember the film? The suspension in space, the knowledge that all is absurd, that this is a jigsaw puzzle of the worst kind, with no solution, no answer, and every path bifurcating before us, and each of us wandering in a maze, a labyrinth, with an entrance, but no exit.

Do you think up or down, when you’re floating in a space without gravity, where nothing is substantial and all the rules you ever learned no longer hold? The roller-coaster rolls on and you hang on, and sometimes the sun comes up and sometimes the sun goes down, and is that the first light of morning or is it the last light of day, and how can you be sure?

And where is it anyway? Have you ever been there? And if I told you where it was , what time of day it was, or what time of night, would you believe me? And if not, why not? And who and what am I? And why do you trust what I say? And why would you trust me, when you have never met me, and you do not even know who I am, or where I am, or what I am, and even I do not really know who I am or why I am, and why does any of this matter?

It matters because we need faith, we need substance, we need hope, we need to believe in something other than ourselves and beyond ourselves. We still want to wake in the morning and see the dawn. We want to grasp it in our hands, not just in our minds, and know that there is light beyond this darkness, there is hope beyond this gloom, there are better things ahead. See that forgotten candle? Pick it up. Take that match. Strike it against the box. Now light that candle. Take it out. Show it to other people. Encourage them to light their own candles.

Sometimes we need to enlighten the world, to turn it round, to reject it as it seems to be and to recreate it in our own image.  But take care: the image of the candle is not that of the laser beam or the searchlight. One by one, the small people, we must join together, and like tiny stars and light up the firmament. I cannot do it alone. But together, you, and you, and you, and you, if you walk with me, we can do our best. And that is the best we can do, in this, as Voltaire’s Candide once called it, the best of all worlds and the only one we have.

 

Haircut

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Haircut

A new barber’s shop, all male, cutting and shaving, a sea change from the usual unisex, all women, we do it all for you, either of you, your choice. A Muhammad Ali barber shop: ‘we are the greatest’.

“Do I need an appointment?” I ask.

“Sure do,” the boy behind the counter replies. “We’re the hottest thing in town. Let’s see: I can fit you in tomorrow,” he checks the computer screen, scrolls up and down. ”2:35.”

“Nothing else?” I ask.

“Three vacancies next week … let me see …”

“Book me in,” I said.

“Good choice, my man, good choice,” he held out his hand and I shook it.

So here I am, balancing on my cane, hoping I can make it from welcome desk to chair. They greet me warmly. Tell me my guy’s waiting. It won’t be a moment. Here he is. He announces my name with a query in his voice. I nod my head in agreement and mouth his name.

Houston Control: we have lift off.

He accompanies me to my chair. Helps me settle in.

“What can I do for you?”

“Cut my hair?”

He examines me carefully, checks me out in the mirror, runs his hand over my head.

“Would you like to do a Number Two?”

Where I come from, a Number One is a golden shower, a pee-pee, and a Number Two is …

“Not in this chair,” I say.

“Excuse me?”

“A number Two? I don’t know what you are talking about.”

He points to the chart on the wall where nine different men are posing in black and white photographs with nine different haircuts.

“Oh,” I stammer. “Do you think that would suit me?”

“It’s your choice, my friend.”

“Go for it,” I say, my heart filled with misgivings.

Sox

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Sox

My birthday parcel arrived this morning. No, it’s not my birthday. That was last month. Is the glass half full or half empty? Well, if it’s half empty, my birthday parcel arrived two weeks late. BUT, if the glass is half full, then it arrived fifty weeks earlier. It was packed with goodies, like sox that have upon them an elephant bearing a pint of beer in its trunk: irresistible, as the sender said. I also have a green pair with a parallel theme. I wanted to wear one of each pair, in an orange-green mis-match, but a certain someone would not let me have anything to do with that. Ah, the voice of sartorial authority. “Orange and green / should not be seen / without a color / in between.” White, perhaps, as in the Irish flag, except white is apparently not a color.

I used to get lots of sox for my birthday, but suddenly they went out of fashion along with ties and hankies. I got some of my daughter’s banana bread too. She makes a delicious fruity bread loaf and I am always thrilled to get one or two of them. They are wonderful for breakfast with a thin layer of butter and a cup of tea or coffee. I am not meant to drink the coffee but a cup every now and then doesn’t appear to affect me. And I make my own, so it’s always fresh and doesn’t sit around for hours waiting to gobble up the inside of some poor unsuspecting victim.

Vis brevis, ars longa: I have on my wall a painting, given me by a former student of mine who didn’t want to write an essay. She painted a painting instead and explained it to the class in the language she was learning. She left our university and attended an art and architecture program and she went with my blessing. Look around the walls of my house: I have several paintings, at least three by former students. However, not a single essay has been nailed to the walls in memory of academic excellence. Now there’s a meaning in there somewhere. If only I could find it.

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One of my other presents was a painting by the budding artist in our family, Finley, age four. I unwrapped that and put it straight up on the wall so that it could represent the glories of morning sunshine and bright early life. I guess it will outlive me both me and my sox. Here are two photos: one of the wall with two other artifacts and the other of the painting itself. AS Picasso once said (more or less) “I spent most of my life re-learning how to see and paint like a child.”

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Ooh! That’s me in the mirror. That artifact is a souvenir of the Glass Wheat Field that I brought back from Regina the last time I visited there. I forgot it had a little reflecting mirror that multiplied the central image and look, there I am: I’ve accidentally done a selfie. Wow: now I am cool and with it. It must have been a birthday gift from the gods: deus ex machina, the machina in this case being the camera. Here’s the other painting, in all its glory, courtesy of the artist, and my birthday parcel. Oh to be young again, to think, and see, and paint again, like Picasso … or a child.

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Friends

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Friends

When good friends get together they can talk and walk and hug and hold and discuss so many awkward and difficult things, like how the body fills with spirit and the reader can be swept away in the magic of voice and how time and space can be suspended in the majestic act of creation that spins a web of forgetfulness around us and makes us forget who and what we are as we forge new worlds and the duende (Lorca’s dark earth spirit of love, want, and creation) holds us captive and drives us onward and inwards until we give birth to that which was waiting to be born, even though we never knew that the seed had even been planted, and “What is this?” we ask as we survey the new born entity fresh on the page, held in the hands, suddenly full of life and breathing on its own, a thing of beauty in its own right, that made complete sense as we struggled to hold it as it grew and transformed and transitioned from internally ours to externally and eternally theirs, a product of mind and body now belonging no longer to us but to the world beyond us, and we long to know its fate, to watch it as it walks along its path, its destiny now in its own hands, and “What is it?” people ask as we stand still and know not what to tell them, or else they say “Nice”, sigh, and go back to their two-thumbed clicking and their imaged devices, bereft of the imagination to see and explore that which has just been placed before them, this babe in swaddling clothes, this new creation, “Here, have some,” they say, thrusting our way the chips on which they are munching, or the curly French Fries they are crunching, or the pistachios, or whatever, and their coffee cools on the table, and their eyes are locked on the text that moves between their fingers across the electronic page, and this is life, as they know it, this shifting screen of shadows, this black and white stage that moves across the wall of the man-cave, woman-cave, in which they have immersed themselves, their noses close to that shifting screen, their minds elsewhere, trapped in the instantaneous insanity of the hyper-cyber-space that inhabits the void behind their eyes and between their ears, as they try to judge the price of everything never understanding the value of anything, let alone what we have created, and “Take away his grant,” “Let her wither on the vine,” “They’ll soon forget to be creative when we chain them up face to face with harsh reality,” and was that what they said to Goya, to El Greco, to Leonardo, and what exactly did they say to Lorca, before they shot him dead and rolled him into that common grave along with all the other murdered men and women, teachers and artists, poets and thinkers, and we, poor parents, holding our precious precocities in their swaddling clothes and wondering why we ever set out on this adventure, and why we are creators in the first place and “Watch out, here it comes again!” the tsunami, the tidal wave that sweeps us away and drives us into the black holes of our inner lives where a dark sun shines and shadows dance and lead us on and on until we have caught our dreams, squeezed them dry of their nothingness, and turned them into the weavings of an actuality stuffed full with new life, a new reality, a new creation, something that is truly ours, yet outside ourselves, and we gaze at it for a moment then position it in its cradle of reeds, place it in the river, push it out into midstream and eyes fill with tears and heart with hope as we watch it float away to make its own life, sink or swim, on this sea of sorrows, where someone, downstream, may bend to the waters and say “Holy Moses: what on earth is this?” or “How are we going to judge and assess it?”

Take These Chains

 

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The Great Chain of Being … Happy

The Great Chain of Being, a concept applied to Medieval Literature by Arthur Lovejoy, suggested that all beings are related in hierarchical structures that link them from top to bottom in an ordered chain. I have always liked that idea and see myself as one among many voices, past, present, and hopefully future that feel and write about the joys of living on this wonderful planet that we inhabit. This thought immediately poses the question: do we write from joy or sorrow? Obviously, it depends upon the individual. Equally obviously, we can write from joy at one stage of our career and from sorrow in another stage.

Antonio Machado phrased it this way: En el corazón tenía / la espina de una pasión. / Logré arrancármela un día: / ya no siento el corazón. I felt in my heart a thorn of passion. One day I managed to pluck it out. Now I no longer feel my heart. Machado is a seemingly simple poet, but that simplicity is oh-so difficult to translate and imitate. So: what happens if we write from that interior passion and then, one day, we wake up and the passion has gone? Good question. Some people stop writing. Others take to drawing. Others take photographs. In my case, I have sat in a south facing window just gazing at the sunshine reflected off the snow and pottering through my favorite poets.

Francisco de Aldana is one of my favorites and I am drawn to reflect on these lines: Hallo, en fin, que ser muerto en la memoria / del mundo es lo mejor que en él se asconde, / pues es la paga dél muerte y olvido. I finally discover that to be dead in the world’s memory is best of all, since the world’s wages are death and forgetfulness. While these words will seem gloomy to some, to me they express the joys of retirement, the wonders of just sitting and looking out of the window, the escape from the necessity to produce, to achieve, to be ambitious, to grow a career, to drive myself on and on. “What is this life if, full of care, / we have no time to stand and stare?” Words of wisdom from the Welsh poet, W. H. Davies.

When I sit and stare, I also think, observe, and remember. And I see things I have never seen before: how light changes the world, how sunshine falls on the petals of flowers, how texture is changed by changing light, how light slips through the fingers like water or sand. The end result is an inner peace that accepts things for what they are and the world for what it is.

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In my privileged case, and I realize just how lucky I am and how fortunate I have been, I have grown to appreciate the tiny things, the small achievements. And small things now satisfy me: the completion of a crossword puzzle or a jigsaw, the nature of light, the beauty of an orange, peeled and tasted, its life blood still fresh upon my fingers and gracing the air, words prancing in lines and chains across a page, the dance of shadow on wall.

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New Year in Island View

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Happy New Year to all my readers and fellow bloggers, from Island View, New Brunswick. As you can see, not an island in sight, just trees and snow. And it’s still coming down.

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Here’s one of the bird feeders, aka the squirrel diner. It comes into its own in summer when we can get to it more easily. The crows love to perch om  this one, too. A family of five, soon, I suspect, to expand, has taken over the garden.

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It’s hard to believe that these are color photos, not black and white ones. Not even a cardinal to lighten them on a day like this. We have a pair living near us and they have been in to visit, as have the deer. Wonderful to see against the snow. But not today, though.

 

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Now this is how to do black and white, with just a little bit of color. This comes from my very creative friend, the line painter Geoff Slater and is part of one of his drawing exhibitions. I wish I could draw like that. I also wish I had a pair of cardinals in my bird feeder.

And I wish …… for peace and love and joy and health and happiness for all my friends in this new year that has now so proudly entered.

Nativity

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Nativity

We keep this beautiful, hand-carved nativity scene on the sideboard all year round. It is tiny, approximately 2″ x 2″ and came from Central Europe, possibly Hungary, where a friend was travelling in the mid-seventies. He brought it back for us as a gift and we revisit it every Christmas, moving it into a more central place of honor and beauty by the Advent calendars and the Christmas scenes.

It will soon be time to remove most of these Christmas adornments. Some will stay up longer though and this is one of the pieces that will remain in sight to delight us all year round.

 

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This is another piece that will stay with us. It shows our photo of Tigger being visited by Kiki the Cat and several little puppies. Tigger gazes at them from his Royal Portrait, making them all feel welcome and protected as he endows them with the seasonal spirits that will extend well into the New Year.