Dreamers

Dreamers

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” Oscar Wilde.

“The dreamers by day are dangerous people, for they are the ones who make their dreams come true.” T. E. Lawrence.

Two interesting and contrasting quotes on dreamers. They seem to contradict each other – but do they? How do we dream? What do we dream of when we dream? What does the word ‘dream’ really mean? How can it change, that meaning when a person announces in a sharp, sarcastic voice: “In your dreams.”? Were the Everly Brothers right when they sang their version of dream, dream, dream?

There is no right and wrong with dreams. Some dreams come at night. They rise from deep within our resting – restless minds, asking questions, answering questions, doubling down on what we did, or didn’t do. Some dreams are obsessive and occur again and again. These are individual to each sleeper and cannot be interpreted, en masse, by a dictionary of dreams. Other night dreams creep in through the bedroom window. These may not be our dreams – they may be the dreams of other people, come to disturb us as we sleep. These can be dangerous dreams, disturbing moments, and that’s why the indigenous have created dream-catchers that will snare those dreams and prevent them from entering.

Other dreams come by day. Day-dreaming is a rite of passage for many young children, trapped in boring school rooms with an ageing teacher droning on and on. “Knowledge is that which passes from my notes to your notes without going through anyone’s head.” I woke up enough from my day dream during that particular first-year lecture to note those words in my notebook. They were the only notes I took in that class and I day dreamed my way though a year of that man’s pseudo-lectures.

But the dreams we dream by day – yes, they can indeed be dangerous – because we can make them happen. One person dreams of being a doctor and, against all the odds, that person becomes one. Another visualizes – another form of day-dreaming – breaking a world record. And does so – such people fulfill their day-dream. Some, like Don Quixote, dream the impossible dream. These are fantasists whose dreams will never come true, for they are based on unrealities, and not founded on the essential truths of real life.

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight.” Much as I love this quote, I am disturbed by the adverb ‘only’. It is so limiting. Dreamers, as I have tried to show, can find their way by day as well. “His punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” This, too, I find enigmatic and disturbing. Why should dreamers be punished when they can also be rewarded? Why is seeing the dawn a punishment? Why is seeing the dawn before the rest of the world a sort of double punishment? And why does the dawn punish people? In order to answer that question, we must define the dawn! Maybe we’ll do that in another post.

A book is a book is a book

A book is a book is a book

“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” Oscar Wilde

A good friend of mine once told me that her creative writing writing prof in the MFA program told the class: “We are not writers. We are re-writers.” Our mission in life, then, is not just to rewrite, but to think and to revise. The art of writing lies in analysis, research, thought, and thinking carefully about (a) what we are about to write and (b) what we have just written. As a great Spanish writer once said “I write as I speak and when writing I count my syllables.”

So can the same principle be applied to reading? In my undergraduate poetry courses, one of my wiser profs announced that “It is better to read one poem a hundred times, than a hundred poems once.” Is re-reading better than reading? Good question. But it is what I call a swimming pool question: it has shallow ends and deep ends. Joke – it depends, you see, upon the quality of the material one is reading. For example, does a single reading of the Bible suffice? I read it through, page by page, when I was twelve years old. Was that it? No, I still return to it – the good book – from time to time, selecting, remembering, checking, looking for comfort, advice, or sometimes, pure joy in the sound of the language – King James version, of course.

What other books have I read and re-read? Lazarillo de Tormes, Don Quixote, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The first book in the Harry Potter series – it reminded me of elements of my own childhood, especially the cupboard under the stairs. Been there, done that, got the tee shirt. The Wind in the Willows, Gongora’s Polifemo, Quevedo’s Metaphysical Poems and his Cycle to Lisi. Octavio Paz’s Sunstone / Piedra de Sol, Lorca’s Romancero Gitano, his Poet in New York, and his plays. Platero y yo. Charlotte’s Web. Several of Shakespeare’s plays, including McBeth, Henry V, King Lear, and a couple more. Rudyard Kipling’s Kim and Stalky and Co. Mary Gentle’s Golden Witchbreed. Robert Bly’s Morning Poems, Iron John, The Sibling Society. Unamuno’s The Tragic Sense of Life and his Niebla. Enough, no more. It is not as sweet now as it was before. And there are so many more to which I have returned, again and again.

So, think about all the time wasted on trivial books, books that remained unfinished, books that have never been opened. One person’s vegetarian or vegan’s fare is a carnivore’s poison [sick]. Sometimes a book mirrors our thoughts. Sometimes it challenges us to rethink our lives and our philosophies. Sometimes it comforts us or takes us back into our childhood. And sometimes it just bores us and we cannot finish it.

A rose is a rose is a rose. A book is a book is a book. Or is it? We are not readers – we are re-readers. And if we aren’t, we ought to be. Think about that. Carefully.

Looking at the Stars

Looking at the Stars

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”  Oscar Wilde

Another beautiful quote from Oscar Wilde. I look at the world around me and I see two different spheres – the celestial one where, on a clear night, Orion patrols the winter skies, his faithful dog star at his heels. These are nights of great beauty, fields where mythical animals wander their ways, clothed in sparking suits of light.

Then I open the newspapers, read the news, and wonder what we are all up to. Up to? Down to, rather, for I have that sneaking feeling that so many of us are indeed lying in the gutter, somewhere, thrown out of a moving car, and abandoned, like some dead deer in a roadside ditch. Everywhere, the news is dark and dreary – wars, rumors of war, shootings, beatings, corruption, lies – or terminological inexactitudes, as Winston Churchill called them, the word ‘lies’ not being permitted in the Mother of Parliaments.

The Mother of Parliaments, indeed. And what a non-sensical mess that has become. To repeat the litanies of nonsense spouted in the English Parliament nowadays, I hesitate to call it ‘the British Parliament’, is to risk rusting and ruining my computer keyboard with the salt tears I shed.

So many of them, then, literally lying- the word has multiple meanings – in the gutter. So many of us dragged down with them. But, each night, when the skies are clear and the clouds move away, I find myself, once again, looking up at the stars. Per ardua ad astra – through hardship to the stars.

Breathe deep – keep the faith and believe.

Piled Higher and Deeper

Piled Higher and Deeper

“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.” Oscar Wilde

And those -isms keep piling up. Deconstructionism, expressionism, Marxism, socialism, liberalism, determinism, naturalism, conceptism(o), establishmentarianism, anti-establishmentarianism, dis-establishmentarianism, anti-disestablishmentarianism, culteranism(o), euphemism, malapropism, minimalism, impressionism, cubism, pointillism, – sometimes I am so clever that I don’t understand a word of what I am saying-ism.

But I sound good. I baffle people with my outrageous knowledge and I send them to their dictionaries and their Google to find out what I might actually mean. But all too often, I don’t know what I mean myself.

So – let’s all go on a wild-goose-chase-ism and find the meaning of the meaning of existentialism, or maximism, or good-for-nothing-ism, or piled-higher-and-deeper-ism, or cough it up, it might be a chicken-ism in a trying to escape-ism mode.

Enough, no more. Tis not as sweet now as it was before. – a lovely Shakespearian-ism. So let us shake ourselves, like a Labrador out of the water or a dog with fleas and rid ourselves of one or two of these itchy -isms.

A Very Spanish Omelet

A Very Spanish Omelet

Spanish Omelets – I learned how to cook them in Santander, Spain, when I was attending summer school at the Universidad Internacional Menéndez y Pelayo. No – I didn’t learn at the university. My landlady taught me. She always left me an egg and a potato for supper. The first night she showed me how to cook a tortilla española. She showed me how easy it was – and from then on, she left the ingredients out for me and allowed me to cook the nightly omelet for myself.

Ingredients: splash of olive oil, pinch of salt, 1 potato (peeled, diced, or sliced), 1 egg.

Preparation: heat frying pan, put in the olive oil, let it warm, add the diced potato, add pinch of salt (to taste), fry until golden brown (or to taste) stirring all the while. Beat egg in a bowl. Add beaten egg to fried potatoes to make omelet. Turn omelet over in pan to cook both sides.

Seems simple, eh? But not so fast. Olive oil: I prefer Spanish olive oil, of a good quality. Other national olive oils will serve just as well, but they will change the taste of your omelet. Pinch of salt: now that’s easy. Or is it? I prefer pure sea salt. However, check the chemicals listed on the side of your salt box. Some add iodine, others sugar. No two salts are the same. Your omelet will change taste with the salt you choose. Gets complex, doesn’t it? Nothing complex about a potato, is there? But kind of potato will you use? The Universidad de la Papa in Peru lists approximately 80 different kinds of potato. Each kind will change the taste, and the texture of your omelet. Dicing or slicing? The cut of the potato will also change the taste of the omelet. When we took omelets to the beach in Spain, we always knew who had made the omelet according to the way in which the potato was sliced. Thin slices or squarish chunks? Regular cut or cut in irregular fashion? Sliced then chopped smaller? And as to the potato prior to frying, par-boiled or uncooked? Both ways lend a different texture to your omelet. De gustibus non est disputandum – there is no arguing about taste. There is nothing as simple as an egg – really? White shell or brown? Pale yolk or dark? Free range or battery hen? Fresh or, well, just hw fresh are some fresh eggs – “Eggs from Australia, fresh as the morning” -? Guess what – you omelet will change in taste, texture, and color according to the type of eggs that you use and the chicken that laid them. I wrote Add beaten egg to fried potatoes to make omelet – very true. But the good cooks that I copy actually add the hot fried potatoes (with as little oil on them as possible) to the whipped egg, and allow them to settle and gel together before returning the mixture to the pan. Not so simple then, this omelet cooking. Experiment. Try different methods and different blends of the four basic ingredients. When you find the blend you like best, stick to it.

Cebollista o anti-cebollista – the annual tortilla cooking competition in Galicia permits only four ingredients, as listed above, in their omelet entries. They do not permit the use of onions / cebollas. If you do wish to add an onion to the potato mix as it fries, you may most certainly do so. But the same cautions apply to onions as to potatoes. Be aware of what you are using and how you are using it. And whether you choose to use onions, or not, remember you have chosen a side in an ongoing war – cebollistas contra anticebollistas! Most people are one side or the other, rarely both.

Other things often appear in Spanish Omelets, sometimes under one name, sometimes under another. Next time, if any interest is shown in these recipes of mine, I will elaborate more on The Very Spanish Omelet.

Be Yourself

Be Yourself

“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Oscar Wilde.

One of my favourite authors. A creator of bons mots and a specialist in renewing the meaning of meaning within words. And yes, within the witticism is a pearl of great price. We must indeed be ourselves. But who are we? That is the question. And how do we find ourselves, or know when we are lost, or know when we are found? Alas, all of us must seek those answers for themselves. No one size fits all.

Re-reading Robert Bly’s The Sibling Society, I am struck by his description of a lost generation that looks sideways for knowledge and ignores the long-held traditions of those earlier generations who brought us here and led us to where we are now. Lost people living in a lost world of instantaneous, shallow distractions. Deflect, distract, don’t think, gaze in awe and wonder, and let the show go on.

The Romans, towards the end of their Empire, had words for it too – bread, wine, and circus. Wrap yourself in an invisible cloak of instant pleasures, think no negative thoughts, do nothing, indulge, enjoy, envy, and climb that ladder as fast as you can. Onwards and upwards into the clouds of unknowing and uncaring.

Up there the Wizard of Oz performs his magic, his illusions, his trickery. Only believe and thou shalt see – whatever it is that the Magician wishes to show you. Don’t think. Don’t doubt. Be like someone famous. Copy them. Imitate them. Smoke like them. Drink like them. Be like them. Try to be them. There are some wonderful role models out there. Only believe ….

And forget about the Fall of the Roman Empire, forget about Oscar Wilde, forget about Robert Bly, forget about me. Above all forget these words – “Be yourself. Everybody else is taken.”

Forget them – or carve them into your heart and follow the Delphic Oracle and “Know thyself” or Shakespeare “To thine own self be true”. And remember – you can always make each day a good one. It’s up to you.

First Post of 2023

First Post of 2023

There is nothing to say, except that I have lost my way. Every poem posted to this blog is unavailable for publishing elsewhere. I may not submit them to journals, to editors, to competitions. This is one of the reasons why I have been silent for so long. It’s the same thing with Flash Fiction and stories. ‘Must be unpublished – no social media’. Alas – this blog is ‘social media’. So – I have lost my way, my reason for blogging. What can I blog about?

The weather – we have hardly seen the sun since well before Christmas. Snow, rain, icy rain, ice pellets – ofnadwy a diflas – disgusting weather. The sun shines in my heart. I also have bottled sunshine – sol embotellado – brought in from Spain. But who wants to read wet weather reports, day after day after day? Come to that – who wants to write them?

The news – this is even more depressing than the weather. I sometimes think that the papers deliver as much bad news as possible so we will be happy with the few items that do brighten our lives. Mal de todos, consuelo de tontos – when everybody falls on hard times, only fools take consolation from it.

Politics – spare me from politics and politicians. There is little good to say about any of them. Politicians are treacherous and their policies are worse. I remember the restaurant in Avranches with its sign on the wall – un jour sans vin est un jour sans soleil – a day without wine is a day without sunshine. Well, a day without politicians is a day full of sunshine – no matter what the weather is like outside.

Sports – we are sports-logged. I have never seen so much sport on the TV. Well, to be honest, I haven’t bothered watching it. Event after event, and events running simultaneously all around the world. I am fed up with tennis, soccer, ice hockey, rugby, and all the myriads of championships being played out before us. And the scandals – and the money changing hands – and the grotesqueness of ownership and player trading?

So, what is left to say? I have lost my way and I am trying to find a path through the wilderness of wild words that besiege me. Siege Perilous, indeed. What can I write about? What can I say? Maybe I should start an agony column.

Agony column – send in your questions and maybe, just maybe, I will think about them and comment on them. No. That won’t work. I already have too much on my plate. “Don’t tell me your troubles, I’ve got troubles of my own. Leave me alone, go on home, tell them to a friend, I’ve got troubles of my own.”

The sun – maybe, when the sun returns from his winter vacation, I will actually find something to write about. Maybe not.

Birthday – meanwhile, it’s my birthday I remember my grandfather reciting to me in the kitchen back home in Wales. “Today it is my birthday and I have ten thousand pounds to give away.” He would pause for a moment and then continue: “On second thoughts, I think it best to lock them back in my old oak chest.”

Poems – so the poems will stay in my old oak chest until I publish them properly. Flash Fiction and Short Stories too. In the meantime, any suggestions for this blog will be welcomed with open arms. Including folding it, shutting it down. Maybe it has served its turn and become, like me, out of date and obsolete.

Warm in the Kitchen

Warm in the Kitchen

This early morning, the only warm place in the house is the kitchen, close to the fire, with all the doors closed. The black-out curtains from the Second World War are still in place and hang languidly over ill-fitting windows that let cold air into the house. They must be pulled back in preparation for that first glimpse of day-light. Your elders move in and out, letting in the cold air as they open and close the doors at either end of the warm space where the fire is just taking hold.

Your grandfather banked it overnight with black sea-coal and then he raked the fine, grey ash, with its still smouldering lumps of charcoal, into a warm mound, ready for paper, kindling, coal, and the match. He has also placed a newspaper over the fireplace to create a draft. If the fire doesn’t catch soon, he will throw some sugar onto the embers to aid the blaze. The fire will suddenly flare into life and the room will be quickly warmed. In the meantime, the kitchen, though warmer than anywhere else in the house, is still slightly chilly because the damp night cold has invaded and made everything wet and slick.

It’s great when you’re at your grandparents’ house, but when we are back in ours, my father and mother always leave early, to go to work.

When I was younger, they had to feed me, but I soon learned to make my own breakfast from whatever I found in the fridge. Now I can use a frying pan. I fry bacon first, and then, when I have plenty of bacon fat, I fry bread, eggs, sausage, black pudding, kidneys, tomatoes, mushrooms, and anything else I can find, including laver bread.*

Before I know it, I have become a latch-key kid and, when I am hungry at home, I fry myself an all-day breakfast: eggy-bread or fried egg-with-its-hat on doused in HP sauce for lunch, all washed down with tea to which I add condensed milk and sugar.

But this morning, they have made breakfast for me: porridge. “Porridge, porridge, skinny and brown, / waiting for breakfast when I come down.” And I hate porridge, especially burnt porridge, with a passion, and yes, they’ve burned the porridge again. I hold a cup of hot tea in my hands. I breathe in the steam and it loosens up my chest. The china cup warms my fingers. I prod at the porridge, feed some to the canine mouth that dwells unseen beneath the table, and stuff myself full of toast. Whatever I eat, when the food is inside me, I feel much, much warmer and now I am ready for the rest of the day.

*Laverbread Bara lawr in Welsh: edible Gower sea-weed, a delicacy often called Welsh Caviar.

A Winter Awakening

A Winter Awakening            

You hate the Christmas holidays. You always have and I expect you always will. Broken promises litter the ground like so many new year’s resolutions, made and then set aside in a jumble of wrapping paper, party hats, and empty, smelly beer bottles. So vicious, these early morning calls, your father pinching your ear or tugging your hair, then stripping back the clothes and leaving you lying there, the cold air invading your bed, shocking your toes, tweaking the small hairs on arms and legs.

You reach out to the bedside chair, grab your shirt, socks, and pants and stuff them between your legs where it’s still nice and warm.  Then you pull the bedclothes up to your chin and your day clothes lie between your thighs, a teddy bear bundle gradually warming you up again. You wriggle down into the bed, and try to go back to sleep, but it doesn’t work.  A great shout from downstairs: “Breakfast is ready!”

Now comes the tricky bit: staying under the covers, wriggling out of your pyjamas, putting on your shirt, your pants and your socks while still staying warm beneath the blankets. Then, a porpoise breaking the surface, you burst out of bed, pull on your trousers and a sweater, and you run downstairs to the kitchen the warmest room in the house, where breakfast is waiting.

No Turkey, No Presents, No Tree

No Turkey, No Presents, No Tree.

And that’s how it is this year. Partly by choice. We decided against the stress of a turkey. Is it cleaned out correctly? Is it stuffed properly? Will we put bacon on top? Is it cooked to perfection? What about the trimmings? Stuffing (inside and out)? Bread sauce? Cranberry sauce? And the vegetables? And the Christmas Pudding? Will it be ready on time? Does it look nice? Have we laid the table properly? There are only two of us now. How much turkey can two people eat anyway? So we’ll have none of that this year. No stress. No cooking. No washing up. No leftovers. No turkey. The poem – The Twelve Days of Turkey – makes this clear.

As for the presents, well, that’s a sad story. We don’t really need anything. The house looks like a cross between a junk-shop and a museum gone mad. As Dylan Thomas said of Swansea Museum: it looks like a museum that belongs in a museum. And that’s what the inside of our house is beginning to look like. A crazy place inhabited by two crazy people and a crazy cat. Well, the cat would have loved some wrapping paper to play in, if it were a normal cat, but it’s not. So even the wrapping paper won’t be missed. No presents means no disappointment and that means that the Poem of Lower Christmas Expectations does not have to be written.

As for the tree, well, we don’t have a living tree, chopped down, and fed water daily, so that it can sprinkle its needles steadily over the carpet before it’s time to go. And the, on the way out, it drops the lot. Then we must vacuum clean, Hoover, Dyson, brush up, do the necessary, whatever it is, to make the place clean again. And oh, that cold January air when we open the sliding door to force the tree out. Force it out indeed – after 12 or so days inside, it doesn’t want to go out in the cold and freeze. And neither do we.

So, it’s a minimal Christmas. Three LED trees from past years. Clare’s Auntie’s artificial tree from her old shop in Cheap Street, Frome. Some strings of lights. Everything inside the house and nothing outside. And inside we have warmth, light, a fire in the stove, and for dinner, a tourtière, Acadian, all nicely spiced. With a selection of trimmings, to be determined later. Bread sauce and cranberry sauce probably. Oh yes, and we have a variety of puddings that can steam while we are eating. A minimal Christmas, then. No high expectations. The Christmas Mangers from Mexico and Spain all in place. And Christmas music, also from Mexico, on the disco and ready to go.

And yes, this will be the best Christmas ever. Because it is taking place within our hearts. And all best wishes for a wonderful day and an even better year to follow, to all of you, too.