Friday, 30 November 2007

So much for...

...National Blog Posting Month. I missed a day. There was a good reason for that, a shock of devastation that left me not just without words but in a place where words - since words could change nothing - were beside the point.

More to the point, my hope that a daily discipline and achievable aim would foster thought and words, from day to day, proved mostly unfounded. I came face to face with the giant hamster-wheel of drudgery and emptiness standing full in the centre of my mind, with even less space around it than I'd thought there was. However, there was some space,and a trickle of words from time to time, and the other thing I came face to face with was the continuing, increasing fierceness of my need for words and need to pursue this however blocked I feel, however little the result.

Making a space every day to try and write: certainly good. Forcing a result every day and defining lack of words as failure: not good. Beth's lovely recent piece about the need for space between words, for words to take the time they need to germinate and grow, rang many bells, as did her words yesterday, contemplating writing and blogging as practice, part of life, an expression and a deepening of personal experience, as something completely worth pursuing to no end beyond itself. Yes! However hard it is, however tiny the result, I feel that too.

How very few words it takes in the end, when there has been inner void and silence for days, to bring relief, exhilaration and a renewed sense of centreing and presence. However few and difficult the words, it is worth going on.

The search for words, then, is to be taken seriously. The form, the blog, is contingent. I see with amusement that some of the little NaBloPoMo logos I attached to each day's post in November until I missed a day and knew I'd blown it have evanesced, leaving unaccountable spaces! I had simply cut and pasted them in - not, I suppose, what I was meant to do with them. Never mind.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

The sense of being somewhere

Reading Other Colours, Orhan Pamuk's book of essays, many of them very personal, recently published in an English translation by his wonderful and now regular translator, Maureen Freely, I'm struck over and over by how much this is a man and a body of work in a specific context. Cosmopolitan as he is, with his fluent English and
westernised education and deep knowledge of European philosophy and literature; towering, eccentric mind, one of a kind, as his is, it is a mind so formed in large ways and small - and well aware of it - by the city of Istanbul. I wonder, oh I wonder, what that is like. And I long for it so, feel so deeply the lack of identification with a place.

I was talking yesterday with a friend about what's there when there's no one with us, nothing going on; about the need to face up to life in this moment when there's nothing to soften it or distract from it. I can't but think, though, that if you have a relationship with the place where you live, a sense of the place there with you, that must help. I've been feeling better about London recently, less constantly abraded by it, less angry and rejecting and wishing to be elsewhere. But it's a cessation of pain only; I can't imagine it ever being a positive relationship. London is too huge, too diffuse, but at the same time too much of it cloned with other 'global cities', and too relentlessly speedy for me ever to feel that being here is being somewhere. I know, I know that familiarity and identification are not only positives. That sinking sense of 'oh again, again!' that I all too often get when I walk into the office in the morning and do all the same look-around-put-down-switch-on actions in the same inexorable order as every day: since London doesn't feel like a place and I don't feel embedded in it, I'm perhaps spared that same sinking feeling on a wider scale.

But still, there is this nostalgia for a place, a home, that never was.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Found photos

Taken last Summer and forgotten because I returned from the short holiday with other things uppermost in my mind. The pleasingly eroded shapes of Scots Pine trees on the sand-dunes at Formby Point coastal nature reserve near Liverpool. Squeezed, half-starved and stripped half-bare by the wind and the shifting sands, they're kind of sad, but their frozen-in-movement forms have a tough, compelling weirdness.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007


better a little bigger - click on picture to enlarge

Oh dear, having vowed that I would not post any more of these for a few days, I am desperate - and I particularly like this one!

The innocent and impersonal pleasure to be had from creating repetitive patterns is really basic and important, isn't it? Little has equalled the particular childhood joy of cutting out and unfolding snowflakes or rows of paper dolls. Or the spirograph - who else remembers when these first became popular kids' toys? Little, at least, until this!

Recapturing this kind of pleasure is a special delight. I've known people whose particular brand of self-absorbed neurosis clearly made such a blessed temporary ego-bypass and instant entry into 'flow' impossible for them, and am hugely grateful that my own admittedly huge ego and admittedly huge neuroses don't seem to intrude here.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Odd view

but somehow pleasing.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Full colour, November

This was yesterday. Today was, at least briefly, brighter.

Appropriately, or perhaps inappropriately, enough, yesterday I also started reading Orhan Pamuk's
Other Colours. Perhaps these collected short pieces of a wonderful writer will help to unblock my own words. Or perhaps they'll have the opposite effect - why bother? In general, though, good writing, especially good writing about being a writer - as much of this is, directly or indirectly - fills me with joy in the act and its possibilities.

I attack the new shiny hardback, pen in hand. I'll mark the best bits (sorry, yes, I'm someone who does this). Fifty pages in, I've marked only one sentence. Not because little is outstanding. Because all of it is.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Stillness... transience

Int én bec
ro léc feit
do rinn guip
fo-ceird fáid
ós Loch Laíg
Ion do chraíb
- 9th century Irish

The small bird
let a chirp
from its beak:
I heard
woodnotes, whingold, sudden:
the Lagan blackbird.

The economy of means, the sense of a huge encircling stillness, of swiftness and transience all at once, these qualities recall equally the traditional haiku and the 20th century imagist poem...

Seamus Heaney in today's Guardian on the relationship between Irish, English and Japanese poetry.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Just one more

but of course it won't be just one more... The photo is of this staircase.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Rainy pavement patchwork

click on photo to enlarge

The best thing about little minds is that
very little things please them.

A not-so-little thank-you to Lucy for pointing out that you can make photo-collages in Picasa.
I fear this was the first of many, many hours of fun.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Café lights

Lately, there are no words. If I had some I might lose myself in them, wander off into another state of mind. But I have none, and am stuck and sinking in a cold, barren place. Taking photos, such as these, which I like very much, helps a little. I was here. I looked around me and touched things with my mind, and my mind smiled. It still had no words. But the light, that strong light bursting through the high windows and the heavy glass doors! Willing it to stream into my mind and knock the stiff, cramped words from their perch in a dark corner.

I’ve been feeling a bit envious this morning. Not good!

A little concerned about a friend who’d been out of touch for a while, since she’s not been well in recent months, I emailed her: are you okay? It turns out that she’s engrossed in NaNoWriMo, which I’d told her about, and has written 40,000 words already! I’m so happy for her: she’s written a novel, but hadn’t been writing lately and was heard to murmur sadly that she didn’t know any more if she was a writer. So this is just fantastic.

Of course I enjoy inspiring and supporting others. But of course I aspire to more than that too. And since, while my friend has been writing her novel, I’ve heaved out on some days no more than a sentence or two, and on other days no words at all to go with a photo, and missed one day completely, thus failing already to blog every day in November - I also feel disappointed and, yes, just a little envious! Hmmph. We all know this can be either a source of bitterness or a spur to new energy.

From Whiskey River today:
There are always moments when one feels empty and estranged. Such moments are most desirable, for it means the soul has cast its moorings and is sailing for distant places. This is detachment - when the old is over and the new has not yet come. If you are afraid the state may be distressing, there is really nothing to be afraid of. Remember: What ever you come across - go beyond.
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

Monday, 19 November 2007


... I'd not been late, if rain had not been bucketing from the skies, if the bus had not pulled away as I reached the bus-stop, I'd not have been standing forlornly in the empty street when arrows of unexpected sunshine pierced my umbrella, making me look up ...

How often do you see two?

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Glass ceiling

Looking up or looking down?: the National Portrait Gallery Café.

Saturday, 17 November 2007


Autumn has cartwheeled
into Winter: emotions
turn somersaults too.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Crescent moon, Trafalgar Square

Five hundred years apart

Today I went to see two very, very different exhibitions, on show next door to one another at the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery - and came upon the same face in both.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Looking closely, stepping back

Continuing the metaphor from the other day.

Wanting to get up close, see into the heart, know deeply.

But needing, too, to step back, look around and see things in a wider perspective.

As a short-sighted introvert, I know which view I gravitate to first!

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Too late for Halloween...

... or to cavort with their fellows at the Halloween Festival of the Trees: spotted leering and waving just the other day, as the last of the leaves fell and laid them bare.

Meanwhile, spotted in the blogosphere, which always provides delight and diversion when I'm not up to writing anything myself:
  • Two memorable posts on Remembrance Day, by Andy and Hg.
  • And Ernesto at Never Neutral wrote a truly stunning essay on life, art, globalisation and, er, everything.
What would I do without you?

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

From both sides now

Whenever I photograph the Millenium Bridge, it comes out prettty, but flat and unsubtle of light and colour. Clearly neither I nor the camera are up to this.

Never mind. My point, anyway, was a metaphorical one: something about looking around and moving around in life and holding all its aspects in view - the difference between facing up to something and getting stuck in it.

"... I've looked at life from both sides now
from up and and down and still somehow ..."

Monday, 12 November 2007

So, well

I'm terribly sad about something terribly sad, and it's not mine to write about, and I don't feel like writing about anything else. So this 'every day in November' lark seems to have gone by the board. Not sure if it's just a blip (the sadness isn't) or a need to descend into a deeper silence.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Leaping tree

Trees leap. Life moves on. Things change. And Blogger doesn't always work, which is why the badge is under the damn photo not above it!

I remember - I'm sure no one else does - that one of the first things I blogged about was the local pharmacist calling me Jean. It made me feel odd, somehow defined by chronic illness. Strangely, really, as I hate being called anything else and my instinct is always to use first names. Ms Morris? Who's that? Too much like Ms Mouse! But he's much younger than me, and everyone calls him Mr Patel. It felt wrong: 'ça cloche', as the French untranslateably say.

I froze him out, and he never did it again. Until today, when I went for the nty-nth time to collect my migraine medication (for which I daily thank god, or whoever), and the shop, exceptionally, was empty. Since the first time I mentioned it, the pharmacist's shop has been refurbished, extended, sells all manner of lovely homeopathic and organic everything from shampoo to handcream to insect repellant, as well as holding the repeat prescription franchise from most of the local doctors' surgeries. An exemplary independent business holding its own in the age of globalisation. But today, Saturday, at 12.15 pm, it was empty. The pharmacist emerged from behind the partition to serve me himself and said: hello Jean. Hello, I said. How are you? My goodness, how rare to see the shop empty! Ow, he said, do not tempt fate! That's what you get for having such a lovely shop, I said. It's lovely. Really. You sell such great stuff. He smiled and we were equal. I was not patronised. The shop is lovely. Two and a half years seems a long time. Sometimes.

Friday, 9 November 2007

The Curse of Gemini

I redesigned my blog banner yesterday. Twenty times, perhaps. Do not presume that minimal design means minimal effort. Oh, no. Then I put it back the way it was before. Then looked at a friend's redesign in progress, came back and tried again. Left the new one up. But I might not leave it for long.

My head was buzzing, not just with this: with the integrated blog and website I want to build, all the different sections, what they'll say; not to mention three different major life/work transformations I could aim for in the next couple of years. Great stuff, you might think. The trouble is, I'll have changed my mind by next week. The Curse of Gemini - changeable, divided, to put it brutally: fickle!

I don't believe in astrology. No. I think the interesting astrologers are those who use it as a hook for subtle description and analysis of character traits. If you identify with something attributed to your sign, of course you'll remember it, and forget the stuff that means nothing. However, I'm certainly in some ways the 'typical Gemini': twin - if not multiple - personalities, divided against myself, in/out, this today, that tomorrow. It's a curse. Aaargh!

Thursday, 8 November 2007


I’m not all that keen on memes usually, but this one, from Udge, is just lovely:

The first three people to comment here and then post the same message on their blogs will receive a small (real, not virtual) present from me!

Isn’t that great? As Pronoia absolutely delightfully said, it’s the opposite of Amway.

STOP PRESS. And here's another BIG lovely present. One of the amazing, unbelievable things the blogosphere has brought me is the friendship of Natalie d'Arbeloff. That Natalie's a uniquely talented artist, writer and thinker is not news. The news is that some very clever and prominent women have just given her a well-deserved accolade. Read about it on her blog.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Browsing under M

Something satisfying about these. If I went back and lurked in the same place until someone went right through the print catalogue, I could make a flipbook... of a flipbook.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Under the bell

Last night was the last in a short course of Buddhist meditation classes I've been taking. Ten years now that I've had a meditation practice, on and off, more on than off, and fairly seriously. Still, I appreciate meeting new (and old) teachers and sitting in a room with others, new and old to the practice, many experiencing something that will change them as it has changed and continues to change me... oh those tiny, gradual changes in perception and response that make a huge, huge difference to everything.

This course was excellent, a strong impetus to fresh approaches and recommitment. I was drawn to it by the name of one of the teachers, John Teasdale. Now a teacher in the Insight meditation tradition, as a research psychologist in Oxford, London and Cambridge, he has been one of the UK pioneers of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy.

MBCT, which takes the precious philosophy and techniques of Buddhist mindfulness training, in secular form, into the mainstream health service, has recently been hitting the headlines with the publication of a wonderful book, The Mindful Way Through Depression, of which John is a co-author with Zindel Segal, Mark Williams
and Jon Kabat-Zinn, but was already the subject of respected research studies (many cited here) and beginning to find a place in the National Health Service. There is far, far to go, but this seems like a real, small hope for our sick minds and sick society. Little of late has made me happier.

We split into small groups last night to discuss our practice. "I think I know you! Aren't you Jean?": a woman I met 12 or 13 years ago, perhaps the very first to speak of me of Buddhist practice, a good while before I tried it for myself. Long lost sight of, she had moved away and has only recently returned to live near me. We will meet, perhaps try to start a local sitting group! In the great amorphous city, the crossing and re-crossing of paths with like-minded people feels very precious.

Before leaving, we sat for one last time. The power of silence and forty intent minds in this beautiful space. The exquisite medieval church of St Ethelburga was destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1993 and rebuilt as an interfaith centre for peace and reconciliation.

At 9 pm, in the middle of London, the bell chimes right above our heads.

Monday, 5 November 2007

My own private...

... sketchcrawl. Even if you haven't a clue, it's a nice thing to do, makes you look differently, spot the main lines and the small things that sparkle. The sky was extra blue behind the white house, the leaves were red, red, the flowers were purple and floated on the air, the water rippled and the feet were silhouetted in the strong sunlight under the table.