Tuesday 22 December 2009

Solstice dreaming

Lie still, lie still while the stiff bone-tiredness spends itself in sleep,
while the snow floats by, the solstice passes and a new space opens,
 slippy sugar frosting
over a muffled, breathy hole in time.
Drop down, drop down and dream towards the coming year.

Thursday 17 December 2009

Inspired by...

these  (currently on show in a fabulous exhibition at the British Library).

He captured something subtle, dreamy and essential, I think, that modern photographic technology has got us nowhere closer to. 

Tuesday 15 December 2009


So tired recently. Work is so tedious and relentless and endless, and, when I’m this tired, so close to overwhelming. Lately I can scarcely muster the energy to get myself home at the end of the day and get myself into bed when I get there, and then the effort of doing so leaves me too tense to sleep. I’ve read the first two books I want to review for the Women Unbound challenge (I still read, however tired I am, because it keeps me from falling asleep on the bus-ride to and from work), and not been able to summon even a few sentences about them - unsurprising, when I’m so tired I’ve sometimes found myself unable in conversation to string a coherent sentence together. I’ve been cancelling almost all social engagements. Sometimes this is a misplaced impulse and it’s only company and exchange and focusing on others that would give me more energy, but this time I think it was right - when I’m meditating most days, as I have been again in recent months, I’m less cut off from my feelings and know better what I need.

After this has gone on for a few weeks, I start thinking about giving up on the blog. If I can’t do this regularly, if I don’t practice enough to feel the words expand and flow, what, I find myself thinking, just what is the point? Why bother to go back to it at all? I’ve returned repeatedly to what I found myself writing recently about my Dad. Sometimes you idly put into words a knowledge so taken for granted that you’ve never bothered to articulate it, and it lingers and resonates and you realise you’ve verbalised something very important that you need to keep before you all the time.

I keep returning to the imagined figure of a father who sometimes painted pictures or sometimes scribbled things down in a notebook and how utterly different this person would have been from the father I knew. It wouldn’t have mattered if he did these things often or rarely, impressively well or not really very well at all. If he’d done them at all, of course I can’t be sure that he would have been a different person inside, but he certainly would have seemed to me a different person. I never encountered his inner voice, and neither as far as I know, by the time I knew him, did anyone else. I have no idea if he still had one, or if his head was a silent, echoing place with no stream of thought, the only impetus for words and actions a long-established, blindly followed routine. I suspect there must have been some words in there, at least from time to time. But as far as I was concerned there might as well not have been. His only reality for me was the one painted by my mother’s many, many words on the subject of his inadequacy and the unhappiness and disappointment it caused her.

This is so awful. This is what was worst about his life. Not his lack of friends. Not the fact that he worked at boring, junior jobs far below his ability. Not the unhappiness of his marriage or his lack of engagement as a father. Not the way he gave up the creative pursuits, the political activism, all the things he once did outside work. Not even his habitual grumpy silence, occasionally interrupted by a small outburst of not very convincing belligerence. These are all sad. But even sadder that I never heard a word from that inner voice. This is what shows me the extent to which he’d given up.

I know now, have long known - though I was middle-aged before it hit me – how much I resemble him. I keenly recognise the strain of weakness, the impulse to warmth and kindness often hidden, overwhelmed by apathy, the sinning by omission which can harm others (as his silence harmed me) just as much as active and intentional cruelty. These are the aspects of my character I struggle against. I know I’m lucky that life has brought me cultural, political and spiritual experiences and interests that go deep and sustain me in something more than apathy, however pointless the daily round is feeling just now. Sometimes I feel like I’m losing the battle – well, don’t we all sometimes feel like we’re losing whatever our deepest personal battle happens to be? But mostly, I’m fortunate enough to be able to pinpoint what will make the difference: I must not let my inner voice go silent. Writing and taking photos really is a way to save my own life. It’s not about quality, or audience, or even regularity. As long as I just do it, here or elsewhere, when I can, that is enough to stop me dying inside. Quite a thought.

Friday 11 December 2009


I know how he feels.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

My haiku tree

outside my front door
winter surprises again
with a froth of lace

Monday 7 December 2009

Saturday 5 December 2009

Women Unbound

The Women Unbound blog challenge only came to my attention at the end of November, so I thought at first that I was too late. But the challenge turns out to be to read and review a number of books about women's lives by the end of November 2010, not all within the month of November 2009! So I think I can manage that. In fact I hope to manage the broadest challenge option of reading and reviewing eight books, including at least three non-fiction.

The first book I'm reading for this is a novel, Clara by Janice Galloway.

But the challenge begins with a meme
. It's a long time since anyone has asked me these questions, but they're certainly not out of date.  I haven't yet read anyone else's answers, which I look forward to doing later, because I wanted mine to be spontaneuos and heartfelt, not provoked or influenced by the emphases of others.

1. What does feminism mean to you? Does it have to do with the work sphere? The social sphere? How you dress? How you act?

Feminism means to me the belief in women's right to agency. In the right of women, just like men (and although, just like men, we will often of course be the objects of other people's love, desire, rage, distaste, indifference, more and less successful attempts to control) to be the agents of our own lives and identitities.

It has to do with the work sphere, the social sphere, with every sphere of life.

It's not to do with how I dress, but with having a choice about how I dress.

It's not to do with how I act, but with the right to act.

2. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

I've considered myself a feminist for thirty years and more. It's a basic - perhaps the most basic - tenet of my personal belief system, of the way I define myself. I was young and I was there in the Women's Liberation Movement of the 1970s. I was passionately part of it, tossed and torn and thrilled and damaged by its intellectual and social challenges. It was all tied up with who I grew up to be. My perspectives and conclusions evolved and moved on somewhat. I learned slowly and with difficulty to distinguish between the pain and rage that was caused by social structures and the pain and rage that came from my own family, my own psyche, between the responsibility of individual women and men and the reward and blame they did not deserve. But although the 1970s came and went, although by now I've lived long enough to taste the impermanence of everything, I can't imagine ever being less of a feminist.

3. What do you consider the biggest obstacle women face in the world today? Has that obstacle changed over time, or does it basically remain the same?

The biggest obstacle we face is the weight of history. Our age of terrifying flux, of globalisation, individualisation, the fragmentation of family, society and nations, which has brought so much that frightens and dismays me, has also been the age of unprecedented opportunities for individual change and emancipation. And so women's long-term struggles for legal and economic independence have finally met with some success, at least for the most privileged women in the richest societies. But the weight of history, the weight of all the ages, of shared, entrenched cultural assumptions, of our own subconscious, our own  neurones, twisted and formed in the first months and years of life by the touch and the gaze of our mothers, whose own neurones, twisted and formed in the first months and years of their lives... the weight of all this is so great, so resilient. As so much implodes around us, people, people's minds, remain slow to change. As so much implodes around us, some things, as always happens in turbulent, violent times, take a frightening turn for the worse, like the terrible new waves (probably not unprecedented, but unprecedented in recent lifetimes) of sexual violence against women as a weapon of war.  We're not unbound yet, and I don't think we will be in my lifetime.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

My belief, as a feminist, in the right to be myself, so that, as a buddhist, I can seek freedom by ceasing to fixate so rigidly on that self: this is the conundrum at the heart of my consciousness. It's a privilege, of course, to have the time and opportunity to sit with this conundrum. And even then, it's only the very tiny, tentative beginning of a path to freedom. 

Yup. Yikes

Tuesday 1 December 2009

There is a crack in everything

Taking photographs every day, as my NaBloPoMo project, on my normal trajectories to and from work and so on, mostly not going anywhere special, has had a lot to do, I think, with looking for the cracks and looking through them. Here are my November daily photos all together. An oddish array of images: without the camera, I doubt I'd have remembered, or even noticed, most of them.