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.

 

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?”

Birthday

 

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What a gift for my birthday: sunshine and light among water, glass, and flowers. It’s hard to believe sometimes that light and angle make such a difference. Who would believe, for example, that these are the same flowers taken from a different angle in a later light?

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What is it about birthdays? They are the same length as any other day, 24 hours. And yet, like milestones along the roadside, they mark our passage down the long journey of life. Miles, kilometers: my father could never make up his mind. When driving from Wales to Spain, he loved the miles, because they were fewer in number, yet he also loved the kilometers because, although there were more of them, they passed by more quickly.

Long journeys those: crossing the channel by ferry, then down the various routes nationales from the channel down to the Spanish border where we entered into Franco’s Spain, a very different world. Tricornios, the Guardia Civil, checking everything and everybody. We soon learned to carry an extra packet of cigarettes, some chocolate bars, something small that could be handed over or ‘confiscated’.

So what is it about birthdays, those milestones that mark our ways and our days? And where am I now on my life’s journey? Two years older than my mother, when she passed. Two years younger than my father. I look over my shoulder and see behind me the shadow of a bearded man, with a scythe, walking after me. He stoops at Lords cricket ground and, at six thirty, on the dot, he removes the bails from the stumps to signal the end of the day’s play.

Shadows are lengthening. I check my watch. The days are closing in. The umpires pass the stones they carry from hand to hand. One more over of seam, two or three more overs of spin? I adjust my stance at the crease, back away from the wicket and, like Sir Donald Bradman, I ask the umpire to give me a new guard …

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… I take it, scratch my marks in the crease, and look around me … shadows and the fielders are closing in.

Light

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Light

We are so lucky, those of us blessed with sight, doubly lucky if we have the time to stop and stare and look around us to see light falling on objects or filtering through plants and flowers. Last fall we placed two unused mint cuttings in water glasses in the kitchen window and the clippings rooted and grew. Almost by chance, I caught their beauty, leaves translucent, the window filled with sunshine, as I was walking by. A macrocosm, this picture province in which I live; a microcosm, my house where light falls on objects and transforms them.

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Here are our mini carnation pinks. We were given them on December 21, 2018, by Gwn and Victor, and still they thrive. We lost some, just a few, and to the rest we added a new bunch. Here are the smaller heads, nipped off and placed on the table in single rose glasses. The light from the window flows through flowers, water, and glasses to create a flow of warmth and joy. Sometimes, we travel the world in search of beauty, only to return, disappointed, and discover it at home.

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Last, but by no means least, I looked up from my journal and saw the light catching the leaves of this houseplant, given to me in 2010 by Barry and Susan. Plants and flowers survive in our house, thanks to the magical skills of my beloved. I try to preserve their beauty in image and word. The ephemeral, caught for a moment in the camera’s eye, and preserved, if not for eternity, at least for a little while longer.

I sometimes wonder if the souls that thrive and perish in these plants think like the indigenous in the Oaxaca Valley that life should be lived and not petrified in pictures. Maybe they don’t want me to trap the consummate  beauty of light falling on their leaves since their capture on film in still life and inanimate form prevents their migration from one plane of existence to another. Who knows? I don’t. Maybe one day I will find out. But in the meantime I will continue to celebrate the innate glories of light on leaf and to share them with you.

Death’s Angel

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Death’s Angel, also known as the Angel of Death, or the Black Angel, is probably the most important figure that we will meet, face to face, here, in the evening of our lives. He appeared at my bedside the other night, and spoke to me. Bright moon. The Angel stood there, haloed, blazing in a spotlight of glory.

“Everything you have, I own,” he announced, taking my hand. “Your house, your wife, your children, your cat, your dog, your car, your books, your flowers, your garden, they are all mine. And one day I will return and take you  from them.”

Cold, the moonlight. Frigid, that waking from my dreams. My hand burned with his fire, yet I shivered.

“When will you call for me?” I asked?

“Soon,” he said. “Very soon. And remember: it will always be much sooner than you think.”

“What can I do?”

“Nothing. I will lend you all these things that you think you own, for a  little while longer, but you must never forget that I am lending them to you. You do not possess them. They are only borrowed.”

“And then?”

“And then they will be mine As you will be mine.”

“There must be something I can do to …”

“There is always something. Embrace me now. Hold me. Breathe in my breath. Know me for who and what I am.”

I did as he asked and his warmth filled me. I looked into his eyes and no longer knew fear.

“There is no past,” he said. “No future. All that you own is this precious moment, the magic of the now, this breath you inhale, this air you release. That is what you own. Understand that, and let everything else go. Live in the moment, for the joy of the day. Seize each second, as you live it. Enjoy it, for that alone is yours. Knowledge, foreknowledge, and understanding: these are my greatest gift to you.”

Then, for a moment, I knew and  came to terms with the gifts he gave me.

“Sleep now,” he said. “But remember, I will be back.”

I fell asleep and dreamed of the man who met Death in Cairo. Death looked surprised to see him. “What are you doing here?” he asked. Fear filled the man. He ran, packed his bags, left Cairo with its vision of Death, and traveled as swiftly as he could to Baghdad. where he met again there with Death, who welcomed him.

“Why were you so surprised to see me in Cairo?” the man asked.

“Because we had a meeting here in Baghdad, tonight,” Death replied. “And I didn’t know if you’d show up.”

When I awoke, a joyous sun illuminated the world. What I had heard and seen rang out with splendor of church bells calling across green fields and leafy woods on a summer morning. I also knew that what the Angel told me, was not for me alone. It was for everyone I knew. A message, not of sorrow, but of joy, not of despair, but of hope.

This wine I sip, this bread I break, this ray of sunshine, this raindrop glistening, that nervous deer peering shyly from the woods, that chickadee feeding, those crows that bring the world back to life with their daily chorus, each is instant of life held, for the briefest of moments, and then released.

My greatest joy, gained from reading Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements,  is to pass his wisdom on to you who read my words, for this message will change your life, as Don Miguel Ruiz’s message has changed mine.

Carpe diem: seize the moment. Deus est in nobis: it is the world soul alive and living within us, unique to each of us. While it is with us, our joy will live forever, and, even though we perish, that joy once shared will never die.

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Safety Blankets

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Serendipity, really, that the links below should appear so close together. First, Meg Sorick’s post on drawing toys  and childhood memories. Some of us can draw (well done, Meg, congratulations). Others can’t, and must take a line for a walk, or must color or crayon or live with their black and white memories. Yet we never forget these early comforters, these early friends.

Traumatic, sometimes, the separation of us from our childhood beloveds and then the substitution of wool and cotton, of Teddy and struggle from the flesh and blood that never quite fulfilled the hollowness within us.

“Grow up,” the grown ups said. And offered us a world of cynicism and misery.

I remember when I asked the priest (I was about 4 years old at the time) if I would see my dead dog when I got to heaven.  He told me that dogs didn’t have souls and I’d never see him him again. Tough luck. I was lucky. The dog wasn’t. Apparently that particular priest had never heard of the Rainbow Bridge.

‘You must grow up,’ he said.

“If that’s your reality,’ I said, echoing the words of Atahualpa, ruler of the Incas,  “I don’t want to go to your heaven, and I don’t want to grow up. Ever.”

“So what will you do, who will you be?”

“I’ll be Peter Pan,” I said. I think I was four, but I might have been five.

At an international conference, a few years ago, while I was still recognized, before the age of 65, as a real, productive human being, a young lady, hearing my strange, outlandish accent, asked me “Where did you grow up?” “I don’t think I have,” I replied.

Why do we have to grow up? Picasso said that he had spent most of his adult life learning to see the world once more through the eyes of a child. And why ever not? Metaphors, beliefs, myths, acceptance, understanding, friendship, openness, willingness to learn  … things that are gradually worn away as hierarchy, authority, obedience, socialization are taught to us by those who think know best.

Are these the ones who also brought us so many things that are wrong with our world? The inability to think for ourselves, fear of authority, the need to fit in and be accepted, fear of the mob, the crowd, of those who believe in what they are told to believe. The fear of the other. The need to destroy that which we don’t understand.

Advertisements? I love them and sing them all day long. Tee-shirts with slogans? Wonderful. I wear them and show them proudly to my friends. Sound bytes? I never question them and I circulate them to my friends. For ‘whether I think for myself or no, I’m sure is only touch and go’. You may or may not recognize the poet, but I do. I was born less than a mile down the road  from him. You’ve probably never heard of him, but I have.

Accept my poet-neighbor and reject what modern society throws at me? It’s a difficult choice, isn’t it? How do we choose and why? What do we think and why do we think it? Or do we just follow the mob, the herd instinct, the sheep?

“If there were five sheep in the field, and one got out, how many would be left? Mary.”

“None, miss.”

“What do you mean, none? What’s one from five, Mary.”

Mary was the local farmer’s daughter. She didn’t think like that.

“No, miss,” said Mary. ” Sheep don’t think like that. If one got out the field, the rest would follow. There’d be none left.”

Terrible mathematics. Wonderful sheep psychology. A young creative mind thrown on the rubbish heap of ‘true’ knowledge at five years of age. Dismissed as an ignorant fool. What a pity.

And what’s wrong with Teddy Bears and childhood toys? I love them. I still have my daughter’s Paddington Bear beside my bed. Yellow Sou’wester, yellow welligogs, for those who know what they are. Here’s Meg Sorick’s take on my folly:

https://megsorick.com/2018/12/09/the-year-of-drawing-adventurously-week-49-toys/

Who is Meg Sorick? In my own mind, she is a bright, intelligent human being, who looks upon our ageing and cynical world with childhood in her mind, and intelligence in her paint-brush and her pen.

As for the real world? What’s it all about, Alfie, Bertie, Cecily, Dewi?

Living in my own world, with a creative Joey in my Kangaroo pouch, not really Roger the Ripper Roo, I honestly don’t know. A Marsupalian view of the universe? Why ever not? If you can believe in the koala, and the marsupials, and the kookaburra, and the platypus duck, you can believe in anything. Read the linked article below about childhood teddies … if you dare … I did … many won’t.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/dec/12/still-have-childhood-teddy-psychological-power-toys-we-keep

 

 

Rejection

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“Oh no, another rejection!”

“And rejection equals dejection, or doesn’t it?”

“Only if you let it get you down. I wait until I am in a foul mood and ready to tear things to pieces because my mean streak is surfacing. Then I go to my rejections pile, re-read the rejection letters, then read again the pieces that have been rejected.”

“Why on earth would you do that?”

“Above all to work out why the work was rejected. What did the editors see that I didn’t? When I write, I wear rose-tinted glasses and all my little babies are the prettiest, the strongest, the fairest in the land, especially when I give them the ‘mirror, mirror on the wall’ test.”

“I’ve never heard of that.”

“It’s simple: you look in the mirror and ask ‘Who’s the fairest writer of all?’ and the mirror answers ‘Why, you are, of course.’ If you believe that, and as writers, we often do, then rejection becomes a hard realistic rock, shattering both Ego and Id. The immediate response is to deny the editor’s taste and judgement. It is amazing how many stupid, dumb, and uncultured editors there are out there. They hate us and don’t understand us.”

“That’s true.”

“No it isn’t. The fault, dear Brutus, lies in ourselves, not in our editors, that we are not great writers. Understand that, and you have a chance to succeed and to improve. Re-reading allows me to try and understand what went wrong, why the mirror lied, how the rose-tinted glasses distorted the actuality of the written page. Understand the other and how the other perceives what and how you write and maybe, just maybe, you can condition yourself to improve. Many budding writers are dropped on stony ground and fall by the wayside. Others land in the desert and their things of beauty bloom where nobody sees them. Some fall on seemingly fertile ground and earn an immediate immortality that fades in a season when the fad wears off. A few writers, an occasional few, go back to the drawing board and water their flowers with the sweat of their brow. Eventually, if they are lucky, their work may be accepted.”

“You always preach the bus story, Julius.”

“Of course I do. Get off the bus early, and you’ll never finish your journey. Remember Sir Walter Raleigh: ‘it’s not the beginning, but the continuing of the same until it be thoroughly finished that yieldeth the true glory.’ He didn’t sail the Golden Hind around the word by setting up house in Cadiz and living in luxury on a beach in the south of Spain. He continued on and on, always forward, until he arrived back in his home port.”

“So we must just keep going, then?”

“Of course. But never blindly. Take criticism to heart, remembering that it comes from another’s heart. Learn from your mistakes. Correct them when you find them. Never give up.”

“You’re always happy, Julius. I bet you never get rejected.”

“Oh I do, Brutus, I do. And each rejection is a dagger to the heart. But I keep going. For example, last week I received my fifteenth consecutive rejection. So much work, so much genius, and all denied.”

“But you’re still smiling.”

“Indeed I am. I have just received my second acceptance in two days. I no longer feel betrayed by my editors.”

“I’ll never betray you, Julius.”

“You will, Brutus, you will. Never fear, et tu, Brute.”