Kintsukuroi

2014 has not been an easy year, and I am thankful that soon I will be done with it, and can begin again. Time to make something better out of what has been broken.

 

Having said that, a few rather lovely things did happen this year; most notably my youngest brother getting married in Portugal, and having three stories accepted and published. Yay!

Yes, three. The third went up on Boxing Day, at Zouch Magazine. It’s a sort of fairy tale, about what happens after the fairy tale ending fails to live up to expectation. Which, really, is rather apposite. Life imitates Art? Art mirrors Life… Anyway, click on this link, and you can read it, if you want to. I do hope that you enjoy it, and that Christmas has been kind to you.

 

 

 

 

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It only hurts when I move.

Christmas, frankly, has been a bit rubbish so far. Starting Christmas Eve on a sleep deficit that would run into the small hours of Christmas morning (44 hours in total before my body and mind gave up fighting), before retiring early to bed after Christmas dinner – which I cooked (it was delicious, of course). Nearly three days later, somewhat less germ ridden, and bored with being in bed, I got up, and sping! My back went. 

Marvellous, isn’t it?

Still, I have managed to cook and eat some bubble and squeak, so Christmas IS now properly happening. (Finally!) It will probably be another two days before I need to eat again, so that’s a mercy. In the meantime, as painkillers aren’t really doing much of anything, I am cheerfully taking gin. We’ll see what happens when I try to get out of this chair.

 

It would be nice to start the New Year with some seasonal magic, so fingers crossed…

Voyage and Return

You may have noticed – or you may not, and indeed, why should you? – that it’s been a while since I posted anything here. And there have been good reasons for that. Perhaps too many. But the summer was hot, and I was quiet. Books were read, stories drafted, thoughts were thought, and mostly not acted upon. Autumn was harder, but with more of the same. And I got older. And I cut my hair. That last thing is a thing I am incredibly happy about. I know it’s only hair, but still… it’s been more than a decade since I last had such short hair, and it makes me feel sassy, and sophisticated, and possibly other things beginning with s (stylish? silly? saucy? serene?).

Around the same time I discovered a little snippet in the wilds of the internet – oh all right, it was Facebook – a quotation from Carl Gustav Jung:

I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.

It isn’t a cure, it isn’t even a complete answer – to a question that is both unaskable and unanswerable – but it HELPS. So I’m choosing. I don’t pretend to have reached any particular destination on my personal voyage in order to begin the return journey. This is just a way station.

In the meantime, there is Christmas to prepare for, and satsumas to eat (the one I’m eating right now is a bit of a disappointment; too watery and not sharp enough. Perhaps the next one will be better), and words to write and edit, and I still haven’t written the Christmas cards. But my hair looks fabulous.

Dr Johnson

Dr Johnson’s dictum that if one is tired of London, one is tired of life, always springs to mind whenever I visit the city of my birth. It is an exhausting place, but I never tire of it; there is simply too much to see, and to do. And it always gives me something new to think about, especially when I get to visit without my daughter in tow. But of course, it is wonderful to be able to show the city to her, and see it afresh through her eyes, and remember how I too was taken around town as a child. And she will do the same with her children, one day. And so it goes.

But this weekend is about being the me who is not the mother. And today I have had the pleasure of going to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy, the hottest ticket in town this spring. I must confess to feeling indescribably smug as I walked past the hideously long queue, my ticket nonchalant in my fingertips… And the crowds inside were a fearful crush. But it was worth it. I was occasionally treated to a prolonged view of the side of a random stranger’s head, and there were of course, the usual personal space invaders (not to mention the chap who apparently came only for as prolonged a view of my cleavage as he could get away with. A charming smile and a flicked V-sign told him he’d been rumbled), and the ones who came, not to admire, or even appreciate the paintings, the sketches, the films, but rather to make loud display of their indifference. A good exhibition is worth the crush not only for the art, but for the opportunity of people-watching en masse. Call me cynical? That’s fine by me.

The landscapes were quite beautiful; the same lane, the same trees, visited and revisited through each seasonal change. The fall of light, the depth of shadows as they alter according to the time of day as well as the year’s progression; the changing tones of green, and the changing colours of the wildflowers of each season, all recorded and presented in the artist’s fearless way. The films made using 9 cameras mounted together on a grill and attached to a Land Rover were quite strangely powerful, particularly the winter films. The bare trees, the brilliant cold clear cleanness of the snow, and the pale blue blazing sky above, had a magic quite separate from the verdant glamour of the other seasons. And more than any other image, it made me long to be able to walk into it, and keep on walking. And that feeling was worth the crush alone.

Tomorrow I may possibly venture north of the city, to Highgate Cemetary. We’ll see…

White Midnight

It is almost a quarter to two in the morning, and I’m sitting at my desk with a cup of peppermint tea, and the fire blazing merrily. I am very aware of my ears.

I am aware of my ears because they are still cold. It is snowing in my part of the Cotswolds, and I have been out for a midnight walk.

There is something peacefully exhilarating about wandering out into the darkness, leaving the lights of the little town behind me. For in the snow of course, the darkness is never quite complete (and I take a torch with me). All is cold and clear and calm, beneath a heavily blank sky. The only sounds are the wind in the trees, the crystalline stutter of falling snow, and the brook deep in the valley below. And my footsteps, crunching in the crisp blue-white blanket. When I turn to look back the way I have come, my footprints stride back beyond the bend in the road, already blurred by the fresh fallings, and crossed here and there by the tracks of a fox following the line of the road before he skulks down into the fields.

I stay beside the road, for the undulating valley is treacherous when you can’t see clearly how to place your feet, and I am known for being clumsy. I have no wish to be stranded in the freezing shadows with a sprained ankle. It is enough to share the valley with the fox, and the trees, and the few sleeping houses. It is enough to pause beside the blanketed camber of a dry stone wall, and stare across to the rising slope, the outlines of fields and trees marked black against the wide white covering. I stop often to stare, to drink it all in. I am well wrapped against the cold, and the wet, and my long coat swirls with the wind, and billows behind me with a pleasing sense of drama. (I know.) I am sure footed in my sturdy boots, and stride in a comfortable rhythm.

I walk, and I walk, and I stop, and I stare. The cold pushes thin fingers past my coat collar turned up to half cover my face, and the steady breeze blows through me. I feel as clear as glass, and wildly happy.

I walk to the next village. It isn’t far, but it’s far enough.

Returning, the path always seems shorter. Walking back towards the lights, away from the small freedom of being alone in the darkness, it is tempting to take a slower pace, to stand and stare some more. But my returning stride matches my outward bound pace, as I can tell by the faint indents where my feet trod before. The cold is penetrating deeper beneath my layers of warmth,  searching for my skin. Snowflakes are catching in my lashes, and matting on my shoulders. And my ears, I am very aware of my ears, even beneath the woollen protection of my hat.

If the snow lasts – and if it deepens – then I will venture out at midnight again.

So that was November…

It’s been a long 30 days and nights. Some of them have been quiet, some of them have been odd. Some have been really rather wonderful, in unexpected ways. Some have been productive, and some have been sad. And then there have been nights in Paris, and nights of partying too.

NaNoWriMo I have had to let fall by the wayside this year. There has simply been too much going on, in my head and in my world, and too many nights have been taken up with other things, largely of a celebratory nature. I managed to scrape together more than 38000 words, which isn’t too shabby. Plenty of material to be mined at a later date for any small gems that might therein be lurking. Or not. We’ll see…

In the middle of the month I went to Paris, for the first time. It certainly will not be the last! This just happened to coincide with my 40th birthday, a coincidence charmingly contrived by my husband. Being 40 is actually ok (much less traumatic than 30!) and Paris… oh but I fell head over heels in love with Paris. In fact I should very much like to run away there, and sooner rather than later… The weekend after my Parisian adventure, there was a sort of gathering chez moi, involving much chat, laughter, and booze. Friends whom I had not seen in an age came and made merry with me, and things did get a bit silly. There was also much worshipping of shoes

But then there was the sad news that Anne McCaffrey had died. She was my gateway into Science Fiction, as Tolkien was my gateway into epic Fantasy. I first read Dragonsong when I was 8 or 9 years old, and that was it; I was in thrall to the idea of a world where love could bind people and dragons into a bond so deep that only death could sever it (the fire lizards were also particularly appealing). From Pern to her other novels – Restoree, and The Ship Who Sang in particular – these were a formative part of my reading experience, and my emotional development in the transition from little girl to early adolescence. I wrote to Anne when I was 14, I think, asking her all sorts of questions – I cannot remember them now – and she wrote back. We developed a small correspondence; she was incredibly generous in that way, and it is my lasting regret that her letters disappeared somewhere during the peregrinations of my early twenties. I cried, bitterly, over her death. She was a wise and warm human being, and she is missed.

And now it is December, and beyond knowing that for the first time in years I am not going to be called upon to provide a huge lunch on the 25th, I really haven’t begun to get organised yet. Time to start making lists then. And a Master List.

Why writing about love is not always easy.

Valentine’s Day. A named date to conjure with. A day that used, in my adolescent years, to fill me with a heightened sense of the drama of my loneliness (yes, I know…). When I was growing up it wasn’t remotely cool to admit to liking a girl who wore glasses, so if anyone did like me, I remained unaware of it. Not even a mystery Valentine to show for it; suppose someone found out and laughed at them? Or suppose <dramatic pause> no one liked me, and I was doomed to live out my lonely days, forever alone? Oh the pathos. Quelle dommage. I got a boyfriend when I was 17. I got contact lenses briefly when I was 19. It didn’t take many years to learn that Valentine’s Day was an anticlimactic damp squib. I blame the boy that I was with. Yes, that’s it; it’s all his fault that my expectations of the hope of high romance were dashed. Our first year together he gave me a single red rose. It was beautiful, and I treasured it until it disintegrated. The following year, he gave me a plastic one with the suggestion that I should get this out to display each and every February. I didn’t show it – though I really should have – but my heart began to break in earnest from that day onwards. But that’s enough of that. It was a lifetime ago, and everything is quite different now, including me – although I do still wear glasses.

My point – if I have one – is that writing about love is potentially tricky. How to draw the line between fervent feelings and hyperbole, without tumbling over the tipping point from the sublime to the ridiculous? I take my hat off to those novelists – romantic or otherwise – who have so succesfully anatomised the experience of falling in love, being in love, and loving; those moments of identification, simple, yet oddly profound, because of the resonance of recognition, ‘I too have felt this way‘. Because writing about love is a delicate thing. Love is like a butterfly, the song that accompanied Rhea’s tribulations in her Cheltenham suburb, is spot on in its lilting bitter poignance. But beware, over do it and the poignant becomes the merely maudlin.

Sometimes, I think I can do it. Sometimes I know that I can’t.  Sometimes, when the word mist descends, and my fingers fly over the keyboard while my muse is soaring and diving in my head, I’m fooled into thinking that I’m getting away with it.

And then the rereading, of words that sometimes point in the right direction, but mostly of words that trip down the path of the saccharine, the outright embarrassing, the laughter-inducing cringe, and the harmlessly anodyne. Thank goodness I know enough of myself to appreciate that the romance novel is not my genre, but mostly, thank goodness for editing!

So I hope you all have a lovely Valentine’s Day, whether in love or out of it; that strange celebration of affection that grew out of a poem for a young king’s betrothal. Chaucer, and the court he occasionally served, cannot have foreseen the panoply of ribbons and flowers and chocolates and cardboard that are supposedly necessary to gild those favoured in love. Tragically (indulging in a little harmless hyperbole) I have already given up chocolate until Easter, well in advance of Lent. And right now I’d cheerfully commit a small misdemeanor for a large bag of Maltesers…

NB: My husband is quite lovely, and so Valentine’s Day has been reclaimed as something quietly special, between the two of us.