Tuesday, 30 September 2008


Soothing, nice, ah.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Pretty in pink

In times of stress and haste, the random spots of colour and texture that make up something beautiful take on huge importance. If I'm better than I used to be at noticing, that's a lot to be thankful for.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Not exactly sure...

... which way up I am this week. But, hey, the other way up can be quite compelling.

Oh, look, one year old! I thought then that I wouldn't do this any more, but I lasted about 10 days without a blog, and a year later here I still am. Less idea than ever, really, as time goes on, of why this small form of self-expression means so much. But it does, apparently, it still means a lot to me.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Cat nappe

Only now a few moments to download some photos from last weekend, when I was cat-sitting again. This time also dog-sitting, and what a different creature the cat was, with one member at least of his family in residence, from the needy, sorrowful beast I met before. The dog, though, was missing her people fiercely and not so happy. "I'm not at my best", she whined, declining to pose for a picture.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Thursday, 18 September 2008


Spontaneous art of the building-site hoarding.
No. 2 in an occasional series
No. 1 is here.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

The space inside

Yellow Sunflower and Red Poppies
Emil Nolde, 1920

"I see the burning quality of Nolde's intention... The space inside me enlarges. That rectangle of light and air inside, where thought clarifies and language grows and response is made intelligent, that famous space surrounded by loneliness, anxiety, self-pity, it opens wide as I look at Nolde's flowers.

...That space. It begins in the middle of my forehead and ends in the middle of my groin. it is, variously, as wide as my body, as narrow as a slit in a fortress wall. On days when thought flows freely or better yet clarifies with effort, it expands gloriously. On days when anxiety and self-pity crowd in, it shrinks, how fast it shrinks! When the space is wide and I occupy it fully, I taste the air, feel the light. I breathe evenly and slowly. I am peaceful and excited, beyond influence or threat. Nothing can touch me. I'm safe. I'm free. "
From Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick.
She* it was who sent me to Loren Eiseley. Not surprising she's a fan of his writing. They have in common an incredible ability to convey
what it feels like to be them, and therefore to expand the reader's apprehension of what it feels like to be me (the space inside us also enlarges). Perhaps too great an ability for their own good ("that famous space surrounded by loneliness, anxiety, self-pity"), but my goodness it makes them wonderful writers.

*and Litlove who sent me to Vivian Gornick

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Memories in the body

Which of us doesn't feel a tide of emotion at this season, imprinted
by all those years when we began the new school or college year around now? I walked right back into the concrete realities of it all, of course, coming to work most recently as a university administrator, but in all the years between it never really went away. The memories in the body, re-aroused every September - completely normal, if less than completely explicable.

From the corner of an eye I see myself facing the challenges of my busiest time in a routinely busy job, here in a tired, late-middle aged body, but still besieged by feelings of fear and ineptitude that belong to a four-, an eleven-, an eighteen-year-old. Best, then, to honour those feelings, but briefly;
focus on what I treasure here and now: the feisty Autumn air and low, strong light, the scrummy socks I have to finally finish knitting before it gets cold. If my eyes had been open, at four, eleven or eighteen, to the natural world, or if I'd had an absorbing, soothing creative hobby, I'm sure these would have helped me in demanding times. I'm so very glad to have them now.

Other diversions, too: speaking of knitting, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee describes her feelings on holding her new book for the first time. Just lovely.

And this. Aw.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Not exactly self-improvement

Facing my busiest time of year, I've found myself going where I never go, to those blogs that specialise in tips on managing your life better. Despite deep scepticism, I've found two or three that make me less uncomfortable than most and provide both some well-written and comforting words and a few helpful suggestions.

Extreme selectivity and extreme wariness are in order here, I think. Selectivity both because each of us is different and must know ourselves and find what works for us, and because it's only realistic to try a very few new strategies at a time, especially when you're very busy. Wariness, because, well, self-improvement is an odd concept. Any of my buddhist teachers, and a great many wise psychologists and psychotherapists, would certainly tell you that it's not your self you need to improve. On the contrary, believing that the person you are right now is fundamentally okay and deserves a decent life is the first prerequisite for any kind of progress, any kind of thriving.

Health, mood, habits and approaches, though, can of course be improved. And there are a few sites whose overall ethos I like and whose concrete suggestions include some that resonate. Notably Slow Leadership, Zen Habits and Goodlife Zen. (All of which, incidentally, I like much better than their titles made me think I would).

Friday, 12 September 2008

After hours

after hours
become mysterious

Thursday, 11 September 2008

All the Strange Hours

One day, nothing to read. These bleak occasions in the bookshop always come; they always go. The best book yet is always yet to come. My latest best book yet is Loren Eiseley's memoir, All the Strange Hours. A beautifully, beautifully written book, a dream of a writer, hitherto unknown to me. Yet another example of how, while assiduously importing the worst of US culture, we often remain ignorant of the best.

It's a memoir complete and satisfying in its depth, not its comprehensiveness. Reviewers have made much of his remarkably few words about his wife of many years. Ready to resent this on her behalf, I somehow couldn't, since this is not so much the story of his life as an account of what it felt like to be Loren Eiseley, to be his mother's son, a young man in the Depression, an unlikely scholar and finally an eminent one. A large mind hovers over an aerial map of his memories and homes in on the pressure points, the deep wells and secret ways in.

Such writing. Just, wow.
" I am an evolutionist. I believe my great backyard Sphexes have evolved like other creatures. But watching them in the October light as one circles my head in curiosity, I can only repeat my dictum softly: in the world there is nothing to explain the world. Nothing to explain the necessity of life, nothing to explain the hunger of the elements to become life, nothing to explain why the stolid realm of rock and soil and mineral should diversify itself into beauty, terror, and uncertainty. To bring organic novelty into existence, to create pain, injustice, joy, demands more than we can discern in the nature that we analyse so completely. Worship, then, like the Maya, the unknown zero, the procession of the time-bearing gods. The equation that can explain why a mere Sphex wasp contains in its minute head the ganglionic centers of its prey has still to be written. in the world there is nothing below a certain depth that is truly explanatory. It is as if matter dreamed and muttered in its sleep. But why, and for what reason it dreams, there is no evidence."

" In the animal world lines of definition are not as severely drawn as in the civilized one we inhabit. This bird
[an African Crane in the Philadelphia zoo], under the impulse of spring, made some intricate little steps in my direction and extended its wings. Now I too believe in friendliness and spring festivities. I realised that the bird saw me as a vertical creature of the proper appearance to be a potential mate. To simplify things for her unlettered offspring, nature imparts, as in this case, a recognition of the vertical. After all, what is a face to a creature with a large bill?
... I extended my arms, fluttered and flapped them. After looking carefully up and down the walk to verify that we were alone, I executed what I hoped was the proper enticing shuffle and jigged about in a circle. So did my partner. We did this a couple of times with mounting enthusiasm when I happened to see a park policeman sauntering in our direction. I dropped my arms and came to a direct, meditative halt."

" Everything in the mind is in rat's country. It doesn't die. They are merely carried, these desperate memories, back and forth in the desert of a billion neurons, set down, picked up, and dropped again by mental pack rats. Nothing perishes, it is merely lost till a surgeon's electrode starts the music of an old player piano whose scrolls are dust. Or you yourself do it, tossing in the restless nights, or even in the day on a strange street when a hurdy-gurdy plays. Nothing is lost, but it can never be again as it was. You will only find the bits and cry out because they were yourself."

Tuesday, 9 September 2008


Ida Hammershoi, the artist's wife, amidst the statuary at the Royal Academy in London. Sadly, if not already packed away to make room for the next exhibition she very soon will be. Her face, her hands (below), his seeing of them, have got into my mind and stayed there.

The word muse, as used in modern times, has deeply negative connotations to any feminist, implying as it does a woman as passive, decorative inspiration to a creative man. Surely not so, or not only that, in their case. The portraits are so unconventional, so naked and vulnerable, but not in an objectifying way. So solid, so subtle is her presence. Intelligence and feeling shine from her often tired, sad face.

She, and the things they both lived among, were enough for him because he looked so deeply, saw so much in everything.

(Sorry if you don't like Hammershoi - I'm just a little bit obsessed)

Monday, 8 September 2008

Sheep of consciousness


Work hard and play hard doesn’t seem to work for me I was so damn tired when I finished all my urgent work on Friday I was only good for going home to bed and the next day wasn’t a whole lot better despite being spent with R and R’s friend A at I-knit Day which really was wonderful because Gerard and Craig of I-knit are energetic and innovative but never less than their warm kind selves which is not at all how I was when involved in organising big events so I am full of admiration my favourite was the talk by Jane Sowerby on Victorian lace knitting which reminded me of my grandmother even some of the intricate leafy patterns rose up and met their shadows in my memories from forty-five or fifty years ago a weird and bitter-sweet sensation in complete contrast but just as compelling the strong motifs of Icelandic knitting were like nothing I’d ever seen and Helene Magnusson has done an incredible job for her adopted country in recording and revamping these I’m never sure if humour is going to make me laugh but the Yarn Harlot did a lot as well as offering a timely reminder of knitting as meditation and therapy in hard times which seem to be now so I must do more of it and did do more of it when I got home (having not made it to the bitter end and missed seeing the best knitted alien which I now of course hugely regret) and the next morning when I still felt like shit but got up eventually and went out to see the Hammershoi exhibition again because it was the last day and I’m so glad I did despite the very strange bus journey during which a rather old no really I am rather old so he was a very old Turkish man sat next to me and talked and I probably shouldn’t have enthused so much about Turkey and all things Turkish Orhan Pamuk carpets the Istanbul skyline and so forth because then he started grabbing and kissing all the bits of me he could get at which wasn’t much I can tell you and offering me his heart and regular free holidays in Turkey please let it be his stop soon oh good ouf but the day got better because M from my meditation group was volunteering at the gallery and got me in free and straight away I ran into my good friend D who’d dashed out on impulse on her own too to see it on the last day because I and others had gushed about it to her so we went round together and had tea afterwards and then I found the new Sunday Philosophy Club book in Hatchards nothing better for a tired and jaded mind (the first chapter is here) and took it to bed and rather quickly fell asleep over it.

Friday, 5 September 2008

The painter's parents

Amidst a lot that left me rather cold was Jan de Bray's portrait of his parents, c 1664. So solidly, but delicately, fine. Formal, respectful, but intimate. Exquisitely skilled, but way beyond skill. (Much of his work is exquisitely skilled, but touched me not). Heartstoppingly, this was probably painted either after both their deaths or between that of his mother, Anna Westerbaen, in 1663, and his father's, the painter Salomon De Bray, the following year. They died, along with most of their family, in an outbreak of the plague. They were about my age. And here they are, across the centuries. I was very glad I saw the exhibition, just for this.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Underwater world

Those flickering reflections in the canal continue to ripple across my mind, especially when it's a bit tired. The still, dark water is a perfectly magical mirror, transforming the scrappy hedgerows and shabby industrial buildings that line the banks into something gorgeous and ever-changing. When a rare motor-boat passed, roughening the surface, I stood and waited, full of anticipation, for the delicate pattern of reflections to return. Phantom images, of course, a looking-glass world - touch the surface and they disappear. Thence their charm.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Running on empty again

Succumbing to overwork again. Not even realising it until my eyes start burning and food sits in my stomach undigested. Repeat after me: I will not take on any more extra work for the rest of September.

Scrawled notes proliferate: blogging and writing ideas, inspired not least by
Beth's recent thoughts, which I find both immensely inviting and immensely challenging. Unlike empty bottles, which can be beautiful in themselves, empty pages wait only to be filled. I will, I will find time and space to write as well as work.

Monday, 1 September 2008

The gift of rain

"The one impression that remains now is of rain, falling from a bank of low floating clouds,smearing the landscape into a Chinese brush painting. Sometimes it rained so often I wondered why the colours around me never faded, were never washed away, leaving the world in mouldy hues".

from The Gift of Rain
by Tan Twan Eng

It's pretty damp, too, in the park, the air heavy with water, when I've finished the novel and the rain has briefly stopped and I venture out for a Sunday afternoon walk. Especially around the lake, a sodden, spooky micro-climate chimes with the misty landscape, rich cultural histories and terrible tales of war in Malaya that fill my mind. The Gift of Rain is a fine, deep, reading experience, as compelling as it is troubling.