Thursday, 29 December 2016

Marley's Chains

The moment has come, as it always does: the time to stand still, to take stock. The pause, the intake of breath, hold, then release, a moment so brief and yet...that instant can contain a lot: The beat of a heart, the blink of an eye, the throb of a pulse, nerve or muscle.
The tick of the second hand on a wall or mantel clock, and the strike of an unearthly hour when everyone, regardless of age, should ideally be in bed.
The BOOM of the sea as waves crash against weathered rocks or its shush -shush as it caresses the caramelised sand as if it were a silk sheet and the sand a person.
The whistle and POP! of fireworks going off with their streaks and wheels of colour, with oohs and aahs from the crowd as they watch.
Moments that can be pretty or beautiful but never both. Instants that can be monotonous or irksome but never concurrently. Moments that don't overlap, they just become something else. Instants that don't last and yet, don't entirely fade.
The anticipatory moment is often one that stays, the feeling of waiting remembered and not the actual waited-for, longed-for moment. Or the completely unexpected instant when suddenly everything becomes glittery yet sharp. And then there are those instants you'd rather forget but don't because, rather bizarrely, you've made a memory of them and so, they're forever fixed in that one frame of time, ready to be recalled, unbidden or at your bidding. Nobody really wants those, unless for some reason you need to feel. Something. Anything. And those ill-remembered instants bring release like cutting a vein. Whoa, there's anger; here comes tears; is that a flash of a fear?
In a fast paced world moments move so fast. Quicker than is good for your digestion. Decisions, in comparison, can seem slow, so that the moment is swallowed, gone, by the time a decision has been made. You've moved on, other moments have been created, your head space has changed.
You might say 'Life is...' moment to moment. A sequence of them, that unfurls, which appears scripted or random, because what appears is like genetics coding or some sort of computer programming; it could even be a musical score: the same grouped moments repeat, pause for a beat, repeat again, then there's a new, unrelated bar, and then a string of familiar moments which are somehow still different. There's lots of shuffling and reshuffling as if this code is being written as it's played. Each action, reaction accounted for; each happening internalised, then retained or dismissed. It's fascinating, this never-ending slip of paper, the width of which is the same as a till roll, of printed code that goes wherever you go, increasing in length like Marley's chains.
But the moments that stop, like when your heart skips a beat when you sneeze, are precious, similar to a gem that refracts light in a multitude of coloured spots and rays, or akin to something that's quaint, something that's usually only glimpsed on rare occasions and is discussed more than seen, but when actually viewed up close and not in a image on screen or in a photograph, then... Then time transfixes itself as if it were an old locomotive huffing-huffing into a station, its fuel spent and needing to take on more water, its passengers spilling out onto the platform, and that's when it happens – when the engine's puffing and panting and desperately trying not to die – time ceases for the merest interlude. The passengers almost hold their breath too. It's nothing, no time at all, and yet more than enough.
The person it's occurring to is hypnotised, and everything, everybody around them seems to travel at a reduced speed, as if they were in a zone where there were signs telling them to do so, and yet the enchanted is in a world of their own where things seem to have a magic cotton-wool quality. Soft and slightly muffled. Just as if old Marley might put in an appearance himself with his rattling chains.

Picture credit: Time Transfixed, 1938, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Seizers

Can all acts in life be summarised succinctly as theft? Not just acts of crime, including murder since it steals life, but even adultery?
The theft of someone else's partner, though not usually achieved through kidnapping but conducted on a mutual basis, could be considered by the injured party a form of thievery, which once unearthed might cause the relationship to irretrievably break down, and which is then aggravated further if the new squeeze moves in: takes over what was your position as if the vacancy, naturally without your consent or knowledge, had been advertised and filled. Tempers flare, suspicions rise. Anger and jealously reigns, reigns big time.
If there's kids it's more complicated. There's this person who's not you with your ex-partner in your ex-property and acting as a parent would in a 'guardian' capacity and around them far more often than you are in spite of access arrangements, which if you feel this situation has been 'done to you', it must be weird – almost a looking in at your old life, feeling that it's been snatched away and you've been forced to make a new one. You can't rectify what you're seeing, and even if at some point in the future you do reconcile, time will have passed, aged, and yet not erased the hurt.
But then what I'm doing is conjecturing. I have no idea, really. It's never happened to me, but then I have issues with intimacy, coupled with the fact that, in truth, I'm a solitary being. Sure, I know of failed relationships and the acrimony and tensions that can follow, but relationships fall apart for many reasons, with adultery cited rather less than you think, but if you really ruminate on it, long and hard, 'theft' is likely to be involved, somewhere, when it comes to the split, as in the dividing of finances and property accumulated in the years together. What each partner thinks is rightfully theirs, due to either the investment of time or money, or both. And that's before the thorny issue of alimony, which if kids are not a factor either because there are none or because they've grown, can be an even bigger thorn so that the wronged partner, the one that didn't walk out, can feel more wronged, more stolen from, and that can be a hell of a knot to untangle. I sure wouldn't want to be a mediator, in this life or any other.
But as I said, I'm inexpert when it comes to such matters and so I take a pragmatic view, because what interests me rather more is the puzzle of human behaviour: why we do what we do, why we respond differently to a set of circumstances, and why, if our reactions are questioned, we find they lead to a source: some kind of experience so deeply embedded that we imagine our actions are independent when in fact they're not, though that's not, I hasten to add, an excuse, yet recognising such conditioning helps us understand more – about ourselves, about our nearest and dearest, about external others we have dealings with – and how these reactions don't have to be primed like a detonator or an alarm clock.
At the same time it's important to note that whilst there are a range of emotions, we each demonstrate and employ these to varying degrees. If 'Thou shalt not judge' were a commandment, and successfully kept, would that prevent presumptions and accusations from being not just thought but flung? 'Thou shalt not steal' has not had the desired effect.
Theft is a motivator which if applied on broader terms to the acquisition of human beings alongside material items and status symbols can feed personalities that, above all else, like to crush and win; those who are comfortable selling ideas to get what they want. However, at the opposite end of this scale is a self-fulfilled prophecy: Suicide, where someone has intentionally robbed themselves, and in-between there's far, far pettier crimes: 'borrowed' office stationery, and even birds who steal knickers off washing lines for their nests.
Is that what it, this life and the next (if you are that way inclined), is all about? Always wanting something you haven't got and are unlikely to get unless you resort to a form of theft.

Picture credit: The Lovers II, 1928, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Blood-red

Imagine entering a house and finding it eerily quiet, seemingly deserted by its inhabitants, and so you visit each room until you walk into a scene of such bloodiness that you have to quickly turn your back and leave. You might start to shake and even feel the urge to vomit; you might struggle for breath or howl from the shock or with grief, and yet a small part of you might disbelieve your eyes and bodily reactions until you confront the same scene again. You might experience none of those things, except for the shock and disbelief which may not come then but later. When you're some place else.
Why should you (why would you want to?) imagine such circumstances? Because it happens. Because it could happen. It's not out of the question. Something seems suspicious and so you take a look; something occurs that's unusual or out-of-the-ordinary that makes you think 'what's going on there?'; you have a feeling that all is not right as a person didn't show or stick to their normal routine; or you were meant to be there at that time and so it was you, who honouring the arrangement, had to raise the alarm.
The alarm raised, how do you feel? The process unfolding as it does in such cases (I imagine) with cops, forensics and emergency services; photographs, finger-printing, identification of the body (or bodies), the bagging of evidence and the site secured; then the interviewing of potential witnesses or suspects, the coroner's report, and the clean-up operation.
You, the discoverer, are out of this picture but not yet out of it. Fingers of suspicion may be pointed. Questions will be asked over and over. Statement given gone through again, maybe weeks, months, years after the incident if the killer has still not been caught. Shock-waves will continue to run through the community: they were such a nice family, and characters, of the murdered or of those suspected, will be dissected, because until the killer is found nobody is safe from being judged, nor feels safe in their own back yard.
An act of murder, single or multiple, has consequences, particularly if there's no rational or logical explanation, or none that's immediately apparent to those known to or by the victim(s) and the officers investigating the crime. So a piecemeal approach ensues, and is painstakingly done, when people, those related and unrelated to the incident, just want answers. Any answers, even if later on these could be proved wrong.
Now imagine the evidence gathered suggested these murders, which for the sake of argument are multiple and that of a family, were premeditated: a senseless but plotted crime, which hints the killer might have been known, for if there's no obvious motive, such as burglary, what else is there but a score to be settled, some wrong the killer felt the need to redress which to their mind demanded the whole family was systematically wiped out. The same cord-tied hands and feet and taped mouths, the same death by the same weapon. A clean sweep with no survivors. No eye witnesses. Yet if all known persons who might have held a grudge are dismissed, or there's no real vendettas to speak of because, after all, they were such an up-standing family, pillars of the community and the like, then what?
Would you want to believe it was a cold-blooded affair, that the killer(s) had no link to the victims? Because somehow it seems more rational, at least to the human psyche, if they were known. And yet if those persons were from outside, then it proves you live in a tight-knit community which has got to be a good thing, right? But then if you never find out who and why, won't there always be a level of mistrust and rumouring? How does a community repair and rebuild itself with that as its foundation?
This particular scenario, since it's imaginary, is resolved, resolved in that the killers, who were not known, are eventually caught and confess, but what they confess to is far more chilling: a remorselessness. A brutal crime motivated by lack of feeling, in its execution and its aftermath. How do you forgive an emotionless state when, like the blood spilled, it dominates the space (or cell) it's contained in?

Picture credit: The Tomb of the Wrestlers, 1960, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Lion's View

Lion's View, such a unusual name for a hospital, although on second thoughts perhaps not seeing as its patients are thought to be lunatics, babblers, of a nervous disposition, mentally deranged. But then I don't know New Orleans, or even if this Garden District still exists, so perhaps it's not weird at all. Perhaps it's very much, or was at one time, in keeping with the area, or perhaps it's all fictional, and I, like a crackpot, have fallen for it, as I so often do for Tennessee's works. The playwright, not the American state, which I've come to mid-way in life.
Suddenly Last Summer is one of his stranger plays; a touch, some might say, semi-autobiographical if you choose to draw comparisons to Catharine (and yes, it is with a middle 'a') and his sister, Rose. I don't know – writers use and write out theirs or others experiences, not always truthfully but slanted, which, in my view, is more cathartic than say talking in circles with a psychologist. Cut out the middle man or woman and let the mind take its own journey. However, that opinion in itself could be wrong. No, not wrong, just not the accepted persuasion backed by experts.
Hell, I don't know what the broadly-held sentiment might be by those in the profession, other than treatment is still referred to as 'Therapy', and that it does now include 'the Arts': those creative pursuits we should do more of apparently, which makes perfect sense to me as one so inclined but may not to others who aren't. But what we can say is that times have moved on and people suffering mental health difficulties, for however long, are treated with more sympathy today. At least, I very much hope so, because although others will say there's still a way to go, we have come a way. And if you don't believe me, History! History! by which I mean: Research it!
I digress. Sort of.
Back to Sugar. Well, to be more precise, Dr Sugar, or if you prefer Dr Cukrowicz, as though the play is far from a saccharin affair, he's certainly the sweetener. The cube that makes the Polio vaccine palatable. I don't know why I said that! for the play has nothing whatsoever to do with Polio - see how the mind at times takes over – although perhaps there is a tenuous connection for, after all, he sweetens the bitterness the main players feel towards, sometimes each other but more often, Catharine. None of them like her 'story', which she continues to stick to in spite of her supposedly recuperating stay at St Mary's, for differing but nonetheless deplorable reasons: Aunt Violet fears it tarnishes the image of her late son, Sebastian, and wants it cut out, right out of Catharine's brain, whereas Mrs Holly and Catharine's brother, George, are more concerned that if Catharine pursues this course the money they are due to come into will be contested.
Truth is a bitter pill and even more so if the circumstances of it are grisly. Unsweetened, it's hard to swallow, particularly if it confirms something unspeakable about another to persons within and outside the family, or implicates the actions of others on their behalf. Even the Doctor, in this instance, is unable to sugar-coat it; in fact, he doesn't attempt to, he just wants to get to the bottom of the mystery – the cause of this young woman's mental instability - and when he does, he believes her, or at least believes in the possibility that what she says could, in part if not all, be true.
The truth scares and it threatens, as in it could be information that could be used against you, that others don't want to hear and won't unless they're forced to listen by a neutral protector. That's what I like to think is meant by 'Lion's View', for if you disassociate it from its hospital setting then those two words could be said to give a different connotation, one that's not entirely unconnected but which instead suggests an impartial guardian who helps to minimise, if not heal, psychological scars.

Picture credit: Le Mal du Pays (Homesickness), 1940, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Lilliputian

The building seems so small, almost as if it would fit neatly into a snow globe or one of those miniature Christmas villages you see on display in garden centres. When did it shrink? No, it can't have done for adults still work there and none of them, those you've seen entering, are of diminutive height.
Is it your eyesight? Quite possibly. But how could that be? Could macular degeneration cause solid items to appear to a different scale to what they are? All these questions you silently put to yourself as you continue to stare at the main entrance of this toy building, and wonder how the hell you get inside. You'll need to get closer to understand its mechanisation. Perhaps there'll be a little loop-and-hook on its side which if unfastened will open up the whole front, or perhaps as you walk forwards you'll minify and the building instead will seem huge.
The longer you stand here, considering other possible explanations, the more fearful and uncomprehending you get, so that the only course is either to retreat or advance like a toy soldier: unwilling to play yet has to obey his owner's commands. Still, you delay the moment of attack, taking deep breaths and trying to calm that nervous feeling. You didn't have to come, after all. Nor are you expected so nobody would know if you turned round and retraced your steps, with a lighter heart and a much eased stomach, homewards.
What if you held an imaginary pencil or fine paintbrush up as an artist does to measure the perspective? You try it, as you've seen it done, with one eye squinted, and when that corresponds to your view as it's currently appearing to you, you repeat the exercise with the other eye as if you were sitting in the chair at the optician's. And like there when the red and green looks much the same so does this building when sliced in half and looked at through a filmy scarf, which now it's served a purpose, a very different one to the one it's accustomed to, gets draped around your milky throat again.
Is it probable there will not be a deciding factor? It would be so easy, too easy, to stop here, squinting as if the sun were in your eyes and thus preventing you from moving, with some assurance, forwards. What if, however, someone took your arm? To be kind. And tried, with good intentions as they had indeed got the impression you were blinded, to cajole you through the gate, up the path and through the main door, past Reception, and into the Great Hall in some kind of shuffling gait as if you were tied together in a three-legged race which only one of you was desperate to win. But then I guess you could say if this were to happen that the decision would have been, quite obviously, made for you.
This is not going to happen. And so you continue to stand, turning your head and feet in order to appreciate the building's petiteness from different degrees as if you were a human sundial, and still the building appears as a little house on a Monopoly board, three of them in a row like when a player is flush and buys up everything he lands upon or puts a property anywhere he owns, and yes, they do, to you at rate, look as though they could be flung back in their box at a moment's notice. Therefore, it would be reasonable to assume that large hands, from above, could appear to peel up the ground on which they stand to shake it clear of anything that has no business to be there as if it were a picnic blanket messy with crumbs, before folding it, corner to corner, and storing it in a cupboard where it belongs and where it can be retrieved from on a rainy day or in picnicking weather.
The Lilliputians have no idea they're in danger, or that you're imagining it for them. Or even that you harbour an irrational terror of small things, particularly insects: moths, beetles, earwigs, spiders etcetera, though not for some reason ladybirds, but in general anything that flies or crawls or can disguise itself as a pencil shaving, and to which now must be added tiny people.
Nobody tells you of this, of these perspective changes; that as you grow taller things will seem smaller, or that as you grey your stature too will, in time, diminish.

Picture credit: The Toy Shop, 1962, Peter Blake

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Far From Dawn

A car door slams like the sound of a hand slapping a cheek, not playfully but hard; a laugh suggestive of glass being dropped in a bottle bank follows. Then, there's small, quick footfalls with heels that clack accompanied by softer lengthier strides and a hand jangling loose change in a trouser pocket. Stop-start, more breaking glass, a shushed chant, faces and bodies possibly pressed together as in prayer, start again, now a little unsteady, and jangle. A rustle as a gentler, yet urgent hand rummages in an over-the-shoulder handbag, the almost undetectable scrunch of tissues and a low mutter like a breeze blowing leaves where are they? where are they? A clink of glass, smothered, maybe by a mouth, perhaps by a cotton handkerchief. An audible snapped but unmeant: Stop that will ya. Aha, here they are! A jingle like the bell on a cat's collar, then the scratch and scrape of metal on metal which goes on far longer than it would in wakeful hours.
Finally, an incisive click, then a creak as presumably the now unlocked door swings inwards to allow the mash of lips and intermingled feet to stumble over each other into the vestibule, where bodies and elbows, once admitted, push the door closed with a resounding thud, which further disturbs and pollutes the still atmosphere.
A dog barks its irritation, a bathroom light gets switched on, and a bedroom net curtain is twitched, then quickly let go when there's nothing to see but a yellow light shining like a beacon in the darkness. The light goes out, not long afterwards, like an eyelid preparing to return to sleep and a underfed fox decides it's now safe to scramble over a fence, its claws clinging and digging into the wooden slats until its skinny body can be carried over, and then slinks to a verge where there's bushes. There, it sits, unblinkingly, surveying this slumbering terrain it claims as its own, until a noise startles it and it darts across the street, round the corner and into the next road.
The dissonance being the starting cough of a motorcycle engine, which now putt-putts and warms as its owner zips up their leathers and squeezes their crash helmet on; its fastener fumbled with as if its brand new or not yet adjusted to, and its purchase is regretted. Where is he, the rider, going at this ungodly hour, and why? To work perhaps, or perhaps he's an insomniac and so at this late-early hour goes for a drive. He climbs astride, revs the engine and accelerates to the top of the street and turns right, which will lead him, if he chooses to follow it, past a primary school and to a main junction where either direction will take him through a parade of sleeping shops before an overpopulated town is in sight, and where the beam of his headlight will seem far less bright against the still-sullen night.
Unlike the disruption of half an hour ago, nobody has stirred. The gunning of this motorcycle they contend with so regularly it washes over them, so that even those that have been up on other nights, possibly for a glass of water or to nurse a baby, have failed to register its low-throated rumble, though if it they stepped for a moment outside they'd instantly be aware of the heavy fragrance of petrol in the stale-not-yet-freshened air.
But they don't for the thought doesn't occur. They stay inside, woolly-headed, and stand at a counter or sit in a chair in the silvery light that sneaks in through windows that are either too small or too picturesque to be veiled. The luminosity that intrudes, whether it's from a street lamp or the moon, touches their features as the sun might at the height of day. Skin is made radiant and hair tinted gold as the glass of water is drunk or the baby is winded and lovingly, with a tired mother's care, placed back in its crib. Thus bathed, their world seems becalmed and they soothed.
The full moon on this night casts this ethereal light, so heavy that it hangs like a plump fruit at risk of falling to the ground and being bruised, and to which there must come a camouflaged point where it gets plucked out of the sky for at times only a peeled segment remains.

Picture credit: The White Page, 1967, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Like a Bicycle

The best way to 'disappear' is to stay in as much as possible because then when you go out (as much as for the novelty as for the fresh air) it's easier to cope with the interactions you usually avoid. You might even be able to raise a smile or if called upon raise an interesting topic of conversation, or even, as the English do very often, remark on the weather. And of course there's always the standard formalities: How are you? No, how are you? and so on until it's been asked a sufficient number of times that someone has to give the required answer of Good or Fine. Veer from that response and people are dumbfounded, but stick to the script and it's useful. Nothing is given away that you don't want another to know and after you can go serenely on your way feeling a little lighter or at least pleased that you were polite and didn't dodge the encounter. It might be dialogue of no consequence, but it's still dialogue.
Of course, there are other ways you could 'disappear', which I should mention is in inverted commas because it's not really possible is it, not in the era of tracking devices, though if you don't have an online profile then technically your existence could be said to be null-and-void. But even then, someone somewhere would know where you were, just perhaps not what you were doing precisely unless you were one of those people to set a watch by.
Am I one of those? More or less. More or less. I have 'routines' (again with the inverted commas!) which if done differently or missed sends my heart into palpitations and my head and stomach into a spin, similar to that of a washing cycle. Why? I don't know. But the jitters come if I'm delayed or been unable that day to follow through, in spite of being aware my reasoning is faulty. Routines, those I set I myself and not set by others, are an anchor, very much like your first bike with stabilisers attached, which though I remember flying, the wind in my hair, when removed, I've never been quite ready for that same adventure, metaphorically speaking, in my adult years. Oh yes, there were attempts, but those extra stabilising cogs if they were ever off were never off for very long. Riding a bike, as I did manage that, in fact, gave me more freedom, albeit only in places which were cycle friendly i.e. no cars. For otherwise, minus the exhilaration of powering uphill and then whizzing down, your feet relaxed on the pedals as the bike gathers speed, what's the point?
I have at times tried (and failed) to apply that attitude to life but the same reasoning that works with a bike can't be applied here. That light pressure on the brakes doesn't cause life to respond in the same way. It's much easier to spiral out of control. All control. On a road that leads you don't know where in a place that's peopled and trafficked. And that's scary. Or it can be, excruciatingly so, for wallflower folk.
Routines, however, whilst safe and grounding, can in time become dictatorial whether they're new, in development stages, or more established. Something you HAVE to do that is non-adaptive to the events that surround you, even though life is essentially not like that and humans have, up until relatively recently, been designed to accommodate change. Why 'up until relatively recently'? Because I think our wiring, which until more recent times has been geared towards 'survival', is in a process of disarrangement, with rearranging yet to come. Primitive 'survival' has no relevance because the threats – to freedom, to security - just aren't the same; our existence threatened more often and easily by those we cannot see so keen have we been to partake in this New World. Our collusion is also, at times, blinding.
A few people then escape to Control, a private land where restrictions are placed in a bid to go off grid because frankly these days it's impossible to run: to run out on virtual reality in its entirety and all its messy configurations, where persons are not valued less but differently. For those who appreciate privacy and old-fashioned engagement this is just another social qualm to outmanoeuvre, and unfortunately it's not, as those of us dealing with this situation know only too well, like learning to ride a bike: the training wheels rarely, if ever, as I mentioned previously, get taken off altogether.

Picture credit: Balance Bike, The Guardian

Thursday, 10 November 2016

On a String

We all wish for success, happiness and good fortune don't we? Or at least one of the three if scoring a hat-trick is out, and if not for ourselves then for others, offspring, friends, cousins. Some of us are gracious enough to wish it for the whole of humanity. I'm not that gracious or ambitious as little old me (how much difference can one person make?) believes the world's violent pulsations will never be stilled. There will always be a battle of wills between peoples – those with power and those without – and that tide cannot, I think, be completely silenced or comforted. We've come too far, we're going too fast, like a full moon seeming to keep pace with a moving car. How could it possibly? And yet it's there, alongside you, like a balloon being pulled on a string.
Everything becomes a movement; everything is in motion. There's always now two camps, and a few divided stragglers in-between. Take a view that's not of the majority or that goes against an opposing faction and you'll be shouted down, and that's when you're allowed to voice it for if you are you'll be booed, jeered, and quite possibly directly insulted. What is seen on screens is taken as the general consensus or gradually becomes such as more are programmed to its stance, so that those who think otherwise, who think for themselves, are ostracised. A small pocket whose views are not considered and do not in the long-term matter, and who are themselves considered strange. And this is the freedom we all speak of? How is this learning from History? History with a capital 'H' that tells of a world with dictators. Now, there's not just one, but a unified front: Believe in Fear.
The world spins....and we spin with it as it continues to speed up. Walls come down as they did in Berlin and new ones get built up. Transparency, for these walls we cannot see, being as they are like sheets of non-reflective glass, and yet if we looked we'd see it's all a mirror. A great, huge mirror where we react as other countries react in the exact same manner. The landmarks are lit, the flowers are laid, the messages are written and there's an outpouring of emotion which is portrayed as the national feeling. Perhaps it is or it isn't. Yet this Mexican wave, this fever that spreads, rapidly, through communities is virulent and homogenising. When did capturing something become the prevailing thought? An event, a mood, a person. What is this sweeping grief, and retaliatory or congratulatory behaviour? We, a global WE, stand as one.
Do we? Really? Because less publicly most communities, primarily developed ones, are narcissistic. The individuals comprising them inward looking as in 'Look what I did!' or 'Look at us coming together!'
Aren't we just doing what's required of us and duping ourselves? Behaving as we think we ought, showing the emotions we think we should show. To be in, rather than out. Part of the far left gang and not the right. A decent human being with pro tendencies because, of course, it wouldn't be proper to demonstrate your disaffectedness even if that's how you felt. Not alone. Others of this vein might follow suit or withdraw, and like you refuse to bow to the pressure of societal commercialism.
In reverse (that of provocation) the same is also true: people so inclined go with the mass view, get whipped up into verbal assaults or physical statements, or whatever the then conduct is. The moment unfolds and they don't think twice before exercising their mouths or using their fists.
And this is what we call Democracy.
What would I wish for? Not success or happiness or even good fortune, just the right to think and live as I choose, whether that's quietly and disengaged, or lively and involved. But what I'd really like is for the world to slow down its running, to bob sedately along, instead of being pulled.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

A Little Silver Slipper of a Moon

I'm surprised by the details I continue to recall from my American odyssey, particularly now we're in autumn and I've raced on (at my own reading speed) to other countries, to other eras, to other mundane life situations or complications of youth and adulthood involving other protagonists, but then perhaps I shouldn't even claim these callbacks as entirely my own because most of the time I don't try, they come unbidden and out of keeping with whatever I might be doing at the time or if there is a link it's tenuous, not something that anyone else would make, let alone comprehend unless explained, hence the surprise.
And then there's the element of surprise when I do try, only to find the detail I want has gone AWOL; the character having told their part of the story has gone walkabout or the name of the town, now its existence is neither here or there, has vanished, so that I go around with a pinched expression as if I'm controlling a mechanical arm in a concentrated bid to win a toy. I mentally scan, grab the first letter of the mislaid word, and then cast about for its other fellow letters or associations. Yesterday the letter in play was 'W': Wing, Wing, I'm sure it's Wing-something. Wingfield! Is Wingfield a surname? No, that can't be right, it seems an uncommon sort of name. The doubts creeping in and indeed persisting until I succumbed to Google and confirmed my grey matter had triumphed; the irony not lost that I should trust and seek reassurance from a search engine in the belief that it will, in all likelihood, lie to me less and cast far less uncertainties than my own circuitous memory, which I think must be an irregularity like a mole or a birthmark, for surely I should have more faith in my own learned knowledge and not have to check it against some outside resource which may or may not be accurate. Indeed, both are error-prone and yet one relies more heavily on the technology-devised brain to give not just clues but concrete facts.
Still, yesterday I evened up that imbalance though heaven knows I've forgotten the score. And then, once reassured in my faculty's retentiveness of useless yet interesting data, I remembered more without looking, which pleased me no end, since even if this proves to be nothing more than a memory exercise it should starve off dementia, as all it needs is a little prod. Doctors should take heed of that when they ask you questions which have answers you never cared for then or now. Why the hell would you take the trouble to retain anything if it held no interest for you? And yes, that might include the name of the current Prime Minister! I'd rather hang onto the things I've loved, either by name or image, and not strain to remember those that matter to me personally very little.
In an earlier paragraph, I mentioned that my mind is circuitous (I did, didn't I?!) Well, anyhow, it is and that I've just proved by the removal of myself from the beaten track to wander with you in the bush for a while, but now, after several rotations and a few puzzled compass gazes, I spy the natural path once more and really think we should return for nightfall is not far off. I've heard there are bears, and grateful though I am for your company I would not make a happy camper, although I did take the precaution of bringing a bell should a bear emergency arise, which I admit to originally thinking was some kind of folkloric legend. Perhaps now would be the best time to unpack it from my knapsack but it does rather make one feel like a school mistress in a yard instructing her charges to stop play immediately and line up. What if I rung it and then looked behind to find a line of bears?
A silly scenario, but then stranger things have happened and been reported. And nothing in my imagination is out of bounds, I'm freer there than I am anywhere, though I draw the line at making such things materialise, but should it happen, well, I'm not to blame. The circumstances happened to be right and I was just there. If this was a play, I might employ a screen to project my mental images at infrequent intervals, like how they used to do in Charlie Chaplin films, except these wouldn't state but highlight pictorially what's coming next. Screen: A little silver slipper of a moon under which a young girl and an older woman stand, because I'm about to rejoin the Wingfield clan on my armchair travels.

Picture credit: Maggie Cain and Joanne Dubach in Mary-Arrchie's Theatre Co's production of The Glass Menagerie. Photo by Emily Schwartz (Chicago Theatre)

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Shootin' th' Breeze

Towards the end of May, the week before the Bank Holiday, I was in the Mississippi Delta. I'd never been there before, in Western Tennessee or on a twenty-eight thousand acre cotton plantation, but it was a special occasion: a sixty-fifth birthday, not that the family members knew I was coming because I hadn't had an invite to R.S.V.P to, I just rocked up and hoped a) they wouldn't send me away, or b) I would melt into the background; and melt I did because it was a sultry evening though I don't know if that's usual for the weather there, but even so they were too busy trying to outdo one another with quips and snipes to pay any attention to a perspiring newcomer.
The screamin' tribe of five however did seem aware of my presence though none of them remarked aloud upon it, just gave me sidelong looks or shot a Bang Bang in my direction as they raced in and out on their fat little bodies. And as they ran amongst adult legs, dodging and barging into everybody or shooting them dead with a cap pistol, I walked the upstairs gallery, thinking that was by far the best place to stay inconspicuous, and it would have been except it saw more action than I had anticipated, and so I had to resort to sticking to walls and listening in at doors; in fact, I caught one or two of the family doing the same. Me, I understood, but spying on your own kind is a low-level thing to do, unless it's a prank and not some one-upmanship business. In this instance, it was the latter, but hell, I'm no judge and jury, I didn't know and still don't know these people.
Huh? Didn't know them? That's right. I heard about this party on the grapevine. I was no relation, close or distant, nor did I have anything even resembling a passing acquaintance with any member. It was pure chance that they were mentioned, just one of those bizarre coincidences, a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend thing, and I just thought why not pay them a visit, I'm due a little R&R. It seems a crazy way to have behaved now I think about it but back in May my head was all over the shop. I have periods like that, where every thought feels like a sudden moment of clarity. You know, the perfect idea or plan which must be acted on before there's a time lapse. This particular itch had to be scratched then and there, though I did suffer some in regard to locating their exact whereabouts. There wasn't an awful lot to go on if I'm honest in spite of them being kingpins, and it was only through many false turns and strokes of luck that I found my way there, but that's a whole other story, one which would end in: the right circumstances come about when they're ready.
Their name, which has at one time or another been on most people's lips, is Pollitt, not that I'd heard of it until I was told, but then I choose to be ignorant until I'm interested if you know what I mean. The party, if you can call it that, was already in full swing when a servant let me in; both sons home with their significant others, one successfully drowning his brain in alcohol, the other more tense and righteous, whilst their wives constantly baited each other and tried to be sweet to their parents-in-law. Mae, the eldest brother's wife, was not only clearly pregnant, but rather cloying in her attempts to be winsome, the preferred daughter-in-law, whereas the one called Maggie was simply catty and delicious, rather like an overripe cherry: more than a little tart, yet nonetheless irresistible. She held your attention alright, not for her looks, though she had those in plenty, but for her sarcastic wit. And yet, in my enjoyment of her caustic dialogue, that was when it clicked I'd done a very stupid thing and crashed a private gathering rather than a massive shindig.
I don't know why I hadn't clocked this fact sooner...possibly their din confused my adrenalin-flooded brain and before I could attune to the matter I got too hooked on the family dynamics, so that when I did finally realise I was embarrassed but too far gone to leave. It was later on that I overhead Big Daddy say to Brick, his youngest son, that 'the human animal is a selfish beast', and that, I thought to myself at the time, was a wise and needle-like observation, for wasn't I there for my own amusement? Whereas now I'm just shootin' th' breeze.

Picture credit: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Triad Stage

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The No-Verandah Room

For the last six months I've travelled the States in book form; fictional form, not encyclopedic tourist guide whose recommendations and maps are not, as they intimate, user friendly. No, my approach was more haphazard but perhaps less lost, unlike the protagonists I read of who were frequently more lost than I. And most of them were male. The females where they featured seemed, if unsure of themselves, to latch on futilely and quicker to something, some spark or gem, whereas the male, however aged, tended towards the farcical.
Disillusionments with the white picket fence life was a common theme, as was escapism; and as they made their escape, I from the comfort of a unrealised verandah went with them, a cocktail in hand. The truth, if it has to be told, is that although I may occasionally sit next to a large window overlooking a pub garden and tarmacked car park, I sit enclosed as if I were the ice cube in my imagined drink, but why deprive you of the fantasy?
Warning: I am as notional as the novelised characters I attract. And I do attract them: they find me, like an all-night café that suddenly leers at you alongside a dirt track, almost as if it were a shimmering mirage, only it doesn't disappear when you swerve, reverse, double back and park with the old Dodges, Chevrolets and Ford trucks, step out and walk in to its wipe-down, cosy interior. And in there, characters corner me, whether I seat myself at the counter or in a red leatherette booth, and beguile me with their tales, however lunatic or soul searching, as I nurse a coffee and a piece of pie which to my inattentive eye the solicitous waitress keeps replenishing until the character sitting across or next to me heaves him or herself up and throws a few folded bills down and with a cursory nod to the waitress, but without so much of a backwards glance to me, exits. Then I, like him or her, after passing a paper napkin over my mouth, take my leave, to continue my journey elsewhere.
And so it goes on...except throughout I've never left my home town, or on some days even my apartment. I have two, maybe three, active parallel universes. I make believe as I prepare to read that I sidle gracefully through an open door onto a verandah, as if I was attending a glamorous party thrown by Fitzgerald's Gatsby and had come up here for a different view of the proceedings, and yet when I commence reading another projection of myself is transported to 1950s and 60s America, to small towns, to bustling cities, to picture shows, to all night cafés, roadside diners, hotel bars and restaurants, and it's there, regardless of the novel's actual setting, that its characters choose to accost me, usually after they've ordered a cheeseburger or an egg and sausage breakfast. The Jazz starlet's gone and I'm more bubblegum poppin' with a small town attitude, used to roughnecks and cowboys; occasionally though the Jazz starlet will disrupt the flow and will look up from the book before her, which she now sees is not a cigarette holder, and gazes into the middle distance to watch a picture show of that future America, not realising this is where a part of her has travelled to, and wonder at her sense of deja vu. Whereas the modern original will never see either of those bygone eras, except in her conjured imaginings, and who, in reality, is standing by a closed window, novel in hand, and most probably subconsciously untying, retying and tightening the belt of her dressing gown, which you should know is her autumn-winter attire and her take on the 1940s housecoat.
The American Dream, but not the America of now. Her person retrogressive in taste and entertainment. Someone who wants the big open road and yet her country of birth being in comparison a very small island cannot tick that box, and neither can America as it is now, for the power of uninhabited nostalgia is stronger than modernity. And so she (and I am that she of whom I've been latterly talking for it's easier in the third person to explain) turns to American-set novels and American novelists, to drink it in, and let the current world she lives in slip away. Goes on the road from a room which has large windows but no verandah.

Picture credit: Woman on the Verandah, 1924, Edvard Munch

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Wisecracks

My judgement is shot, it really is, despite all my hours of pensiveness; I'd even go so far as to say it's shady. I don't trust it and it sure as hell doesn't trust me. I size her up (for if I am a she so must be it) and refer to her as a 'wiseguy', resisting the urge to say it in a terrible American Mafioso accent. Though she really is cracked, I tell you, absolutely dotty, with a brazen mouth and swollen-headed. I don't know where she gets it from or what, if anything, made her that way or if she was just born like it. You wouldn't think I had a fruitcake like her in me to look at me, but the brain's a funny thing, it conceals and lies even to the body it's occupying until those angels and devils, at least inwardly, want to be revealed, tired of you thinking it was you or asking all the goddam time who said that? You are not as funny or as smart as you imagine.
But whoa, what a ride when one of them does!
Sleep, what's that?! Mind running in goddam circles, nitpicking at everything and having to break off from whatever you're in the middle of to make goddam lists of things to do and ideas; scrubbing yourself in the shower and finding you're reciting what seems like the perfect prose for that piece you're working on which didn't occur when you wanted it to when you had a notepad and pen handy or a keyboard in front of you, so you recite it over and over like a goddam parrot, only to find that when you come to review the in-progress piece it doesn't work. Or your mind seeming inclined towards one course of action, then later the same day or the next dubious about taking that step, which makes you wonder why you were so wired about it before, or not as the case may be 'cos it works in reverse too.
Man, what a rush, but not when it plummets. That's a bum deal.
The ol' lady is full of wisecracks, but then she's lived a long time, longer than me and not just with me for I think she moonlights, and was probably even around in the days of Fitzgerald, Capote and Salinger, or p'raps she just has a thing for American novelists and their habitual expressions for boy, when she's in one of her moods does she like to goddam and Chrissakes a lot, which then drop into my thoughts as if it were natural that they should do so and not put there. She's a crafty one, making out that she's my buddy and all when she's more like a goddam principal or a Miss Hannigan.
I can't imagine that she was ever a doll for her Americanisms and all are too masculine, calling me ol' sport when she wants to get me on side and a phony when I won't play. I used to tell her without me there wouldn't be these shadow punches, but once when I did she socked me one, so I stopped. Boy, did I have a headache after that, and even had to take to the sack for a couple of days. It was summer and then she tends to go all Miss Hannigan on me and drinks Tom Collins like bathwater. She sure ain't an easy lady to please, but she's kinda fun. Kooky, you know.
As for the schoolmarm persona, she's no fun at all and sort of deaf. She talks over me and don't listen, saying I know, dear, and boy, can she be strict after she's done telling me I do everything backasswards, Miss Hannigan's word not hers for my dumb-ass behaviour. I bet she did used to work in or run a high school or something, not that that prevents her from being insulting and somewhat crass, especially if Miss Hannigan keeps butting in. A Hannigan Hangover, I call it, which often gives me a dose of the grippe, 'cos boy, do they conflict. It's a real pain in the ass. The schoolmarm tho' is not as cruel and asks me questions and all, 'cept she has no interest in answers, providin' or hearin' them, 'cos she just wants me to say yes, ma'am, no, ma'am, rather than Miss Hannigan's goddam or Chrissakes. I'm fond of her tho' 'cos I save much more dough when she's around. She keeps me straight.
Most of the time tho' I walk in goddam circles or sit on a park bench 'cos their wisecracks pull me in too many directions and scrambles my thinkin'... that's where I'm sitting now on a park seat watchin' this kid chase pigeons.

Picture credit: Angels and Devils, Circle Limit IV, M. C. Escher

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Carousel

If a bystander saw a young girl on a fairground carousel who was evidently considering leaping off during its languorous rotations, he might try to prevent her from doing so, but if that girl was a grown woman that same bystander might think she was crazy, high on drugs or alcohol or just plain crazy, and look away, uncaring whether she went ahead or waited like the other patrons for the ride to come to a natural halt to alight more gracefully. Or, whichever he'd taken her for – girl or woman - he might bear witness static and silently, recording the split-second decision on his phone for his own voyeuristic pleasure, only realising the perilous conditions belatedly which would be too late had the girl-woman leapt as it was no longer happening in real-time. And so his reactions too would be second-hand for in the first instance he hadn't had any.
None whatsoever. And whether he then does on a second viewing, removed as he is now from the scene, is purely conjectural for perhaps he's as calm as he was then or perhaps the crude cinematic effect thrills, rather than chills, him and so he uploads it on social media. A bold move that claims he was there with the footage to prove it. There as a witness, a spectator, involved, but can he claim to be that? For he wasn't, not really, not with every fibre of his being for his emotions went untouched; the incident studied after like a museum exhibit or confiscated propaganda that his brain at the time failed to register, which even in the aftermath continues to deny him access to its own unedited material, for the uploaded phone version, devoid as it is of his own moral or empathic engagement, is now his truth.
This variant goes viral. The global community watches, re-watches and posts comments about the footage itself as well as the eyewitness that took it, and this, in a matter of hours, becomes a stream of conversation, its many threads stretching out to calculable others in unpronounceable continents and even farther-flung countries. And yet on the surface, it flows ever downwards with profile pictures which underneath or next to it might have one word exclamation, exclamation, or a fuller remark in reference to the footage or in reply to a previous post.
It's a virtual world with sci-fi qualities where everything is unimpeachably shared, and shared, and shared, a bit like a sleeper that transverses long distances and stops at few stations in order to carry gossip from the cities to the less populated towns and remoter villages, and which only runs out of steam when everything that could possibly be said has been said and the furtherest corners have been reached. Then it slows, terminates at the last station or leisurely chugs back to its starting point and entertains those that missed it the first time.
Amidst this opining, the bystander would have been lauded and criticised; been interviewed sympathetically and challenged; been held responsible for his actions – his lack of intervention and his instinctive reflex to stand and record which some take issue with and others ignore because they can't be sure that if they were in that situation they wouldn't do the same: reach for the phone like a cowboy in a modern Western, which they argue does less harm than pulling the trigger on a gun, although others proclaim such images mentally stain those who were there and those who were not; and as this debate wages the capturer usually vanishes.
Quite simply, the furore dies and the matter is forgot. The argument does not conclude or come to an overall consensus. The incident, which could have gone largely unseen, has touched lives unasked because in this rising tide of global culture there is no self-censorship.
The upshot being that a bystander's reactions are not often determined by the will of the individual but by the carousel already in motion.

Picture credit:
Fairground Carousel, St Giles Fair, Oxford, 1895, Henry Taunt

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Therapy

Some words like types of food shouldn't go together but somehow do. Some people you wouldn't think to put together but they somehow work.
Some words share the same letters, yet have different meanings. Some people carry the same genes, yet express these differently.
Some words get mixed up, confused for or with another, so that what they impart is different to what was meant. Some people are confused and don't know how best to convey their emotional state.
Some words are interchangeable, are dissimilar in sound and look, yet defined similarly. Some people are replaceable, are distinct in appearance and demeanour, yet possess the same desirable skills.
Some words shout, some are quiet, some are neither one or the other, some can be both. Some people are aggressive, some are passive, most are a combination of both.
But whilst words can be classified into neutral, positive, or negative, people are not so easily categorised under headings.
The bounds, as laid down in speech, thought or writing, are mitigated when divisions are crossed which nobody thought could or should be crossed to broker new territory. And then there's human error where those unnaturally brought together have a strange allure, almost as if appointed yet were waiting for someone to stumble upon them, and if they hadn't they would never have been discovered.
Although materialised, a few go unnoticed by unsharpened eyes and it takes another sharpened pair to notice. Some eyes see but don't realize the beauty and only want to correct the error; some eyes see and realise the error is an improvement because it alters their thinking. Other eyes see what others have seen but failed to mention, and for them it's a revelation as if these faults were put there to tell them something, which others that came before also thought but which leaves both feeling pleased as if they've realised something that others haven't: they're in ownership of some knowledge that others are ignorant of.
Humans delight in one-upmanship and recognising themselves in another, even fictional beings who demonstrate how they do and how they could live in the world. And as they identify with them they identify with the writer that created this fictionalised person and bombard him or her with crazed letters, become ardent fans of that one novel, and with time possibly extend this to further works. Still, that life-changing novel will be vividly remembered and revisited because of the protagonist and the way in which the writer animated him or her; readers choosing to forget the fact that the character may have been drawn from real life, manipulated but not strictly speaking imagined, because to do that would dismiss the notion that the author speaks for them and has somehow entered their soul.
Through the novel, the writer has stretched out his hands and voiced what is never expressed. The language used and the voice in which it's said achingly familiar, so that what the character does could be true of us if the same situations arose. And that over-identification is a frontier the writer has no control over, though some writers might claim this also occurs with the persons they bring into being.
It's a fine line, like one drawn with a stick in the sand. Because writing is for many a form of therapy. Experimental as in taking an idea or theory and testing it on paper to see what happens; exploratory as in foraging thoughts and memories of different selves and expressing them in a style that's natural or foreign. Things are worked out, absolved. The unknown quantity is in fact the faceless readers and their reactions because in publishing your own, often disguised, psychoanalysing you unleash a brand of pain on the world, to which there are no guarantees others will pick a safe route through the mire which once held you down but now holds them in its sway.
Therapy has no answers, just realisations.

Picture credit: Corbusier Chair and Rug, 1969, David Hockney

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Disciplinarian

Science, these days, tells us the brain is malleable, which puts me squarely in the minority camp because mine doesn't seem to have any plastic qualities. It hates change of any sort: big leaps into the unknown, the medium-sized still daunting but not so terrifying, the small stepping stone blips and the microscopic which nobody else appears to bat an eye at.
Most people remain untroubled whilst I spot all the intricacies; my brain busily computing what this means and what I will have to do to make it sit easily with me. There are instances where I cannot and so then the idea gets dropped regardless of whether I think I should or could take myself out of my comfort zone. Other times I just need a bit of familiarity or some sort of reassuring presence whether that be a person or a landmark. And then there are occasions when the rug gets pulled out from under me. It hasn't you understand, at least not in the context that phrase is generally used, but a triviality can upset my carefully thought-out day and the frustration will stay. And stay, carry on into the next twenty-four hours.
You can't be like that, people say, but I am, I tell them. I'm a fixed human being.
Though to be honest, I don't attempt to explain that to many. It's not something you can anyway as to those who conduct their lives flexibly it sounds ridiculous. No, my immoveable preferences are as unmentionable as undergarments used to be. The only person they're able to accommodate is me and they don't even do that sometimes. The fabric holding me in often seeming too tight, too well-fitting, so snug it digs into my lean flesh and leaves dents, ridges and grid patterns. There's no extra room to comfortably slouch and release the tension.
I think I hide it well, not the uprightness but the constant nipping unless it gives me a pinched expression I'm unaware of, along with my so-I've-been-told tendency to frown and draw my shoulders inwards when encumbered. I'm oblivious to these specialities which I'm guessing aren't admired as you might a person's dimples or unconscious gestures, rather a fault to be corrected.
No, such attributes are distancing: keeps me quarantined and holds others away, just how I like it. Is that true? Well, there might be some truth in that but there are other contributing factors which have absolutely nothing to do with my in-elasticity. Factors I was born with and those I gathered to shape my now faceted personality, which I hasten to add is not peculiar to me nor to a subdivision of beings like me. We're in this together, it's just the majority learn to adapt better. Use this happen-stance of nature and nurture to their advantage.
And those that don't are at a disadvantage. Fluidness is valued, whereas an entrenched position depreciates your worth, regardless of what other merchantable traits you might own.
Stubbornness is my ruination, except I dispute its implied deliberateness, as do others who place themselves in this stationary category. It's not premeditated, as in to be purposely unhelpful or unwilling, it's a automated response whereby doing anything contradictory to it goes against every fibre of our being, everything that the wires in our brains and nerves in our bodies are telling us to do, even if a very small part wants to, at times, disagree. To challenge it results in a struggle; a struggle which I'm always surprised others can't see as it manifests at large, annihilating anything in its path until an executable solution or compromise is found, and then, only then, can any normality, as we know it, resume. Equilibrium returns until the next time, which in my case comes all too soon.
There's so much that has the potential to perplex me, particularly social events and occasions where I have to present and represent myself. The thorny issues that circulate then are paramount, even weeks before attendance, and then if I go my attention once there is distracted. More attentive to my internalising and the environment than to those I'm sharing it with. It takes an incredible amount of concentrated focus to keep myself in the room, with whomever I'm with. The eyes glaze, the energies flag, and most, if not all, cognitive sense departs. I have no idea of what my companion is speaking or of what I'm saying in reply.
I take the only course that's wise: retreat and repent my uncultured mores.

Picture credit: For instance now, there's the King's Messenger,  from Illustrations To Through the Looking Glass, 1970, Peter Blake

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Girl Reading Letter

I've done it now and it cannot be undone.
Moments ago I feverishly broke the seal with trembling hands and read the note intended for Aunt and the letter concealed within for Louisa, my fair cousin who set tongues wagging barely two months past.
Oh, if I hadn't recognised Mr. Davis' hand! For in that instant I acted with no thought, though I had the presence of mind to read it by the window in the parlour where the light is better. And it contained such impassioned words I've never seen, only heard from Louisa's lips. After, I re-read it then crushed his anointed letter to my chest and kissed those inked-smudged words as if I was the addressed: My Sweet Girl.
If she wasn't named as christened, I could be she. The one he missed, the one he longed to have by his side, even though she had caused sorrow by refusing him and consenting to their separation. A love match that couldn't be for he had no fortune and neither did she.
Star-crossed. And the stuff that dreams are made of to a thirteen year old girl. How could I not read?! For the forbiddingness of it was part of the intrigue. I was in raptures until I realised the enormity of what I'd done. And that what I was experiencing was a lie. I was not Louisa and I had trespassed, almost knowingly for my subconscious must have known when I snatched the letter from the salver. I had had my suspicions it had not ended for Louisa has been pensive, and unusually dismissive of mine and Mabel's enactments of Shakespeare's comedies, whereas previously she would have gotten involved, as did Mr. Davis when he was a friend of the house.
The spirit has gone out of her since his departure. Now I know why: she's waiting for a reply, as well as answers to questions she would have put for she always asks a great many, and is never satisfied. Her remarks in return can be biting! More so lately when she stirs herself to respond, which since her hopes have been dashed can take a while. Her attention fixed inwards or on a spot which nobody understands why it's so interesting.
But for all that I'm jealous. Jealous of what she had and what she lost. Even her abandonment and her pitiable state seems romantic to a young girl. She has someone to swoon and cry over. Oh, if that were me! To be lovesick! She doesn't play the part as I would to the outward eye, though I am surprised by this revelation of her clandestine nature. I didn't think she had it in her, for she made no attempt to hide her growing attachment when no engagement had been declared. And then when it was and the match was disapproved, she discredited her lover dutifully and without much emotion.
I underestimated, as did others, the strength of her feelings which the letter in my hand testifies to, though these moods have been more evident lately, and yet my compassion remains displaced: all for Mr. Davis and none for her. She does not deserve him! He has been treated cruelly in this affair. How can he still correspond? And how many weeks has this arrangement gone on and at who’s instigation? Louisa's, I wager.
I love my cousin, but the confusion she wreaks!
This won't end well, with or without my meddling. Do I confess to my aunt, or do I elicit the help of the kitchen maid? There must be some way to disguise my nosey act...but then the secret would be out. But oh, the burning guilt if I do not tell a soul. I will surely be discovered! Unless I destroy these crumpled, tear-stained pages...
Hark, is that the footsteps of my aunt I hear? The same impulse, as before, now overtakes me and makes me tear the precious letter into pieces to fling, like a bird released, through the open window, to flutter in the breeze.
Be gone! My Sweet Girl. My Dearest John.

Picture credit: Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window by Johannes Vermeer

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Lady with Pen and Paper

My Dearest John,
So it begins.
Another day, another new week. Another beginning over. The old banished and the new begun like a resolution repeatedly broken then remade, even rephrased, so that it's more suited to my present mood which might suddenly change from stinging words and sulky states to benevolent smiles.
Oh, John. Is this my life from now on?
Ever-watchful, ever-wondering. Why could I not...? Why did I not...? As another week disappears and all, no matter what occurs, remains unchanged in spite of my fluctuations of temper.
At least dear, I can write to you. You, who I think understands me, possibly even more than I do myself. You, who allows me to pour out my uncensored thoughts and grievances and does not console nor rebuke. You, who answers with honesty. What did I ever do to deserve your steadfast friendship?
I wish I'd looked after it better.
Have I lost it forever?
Don't desert me now, dearest, let me write even if you cannot or choose not to acknowledge my letters henceforth. This silence of yours pains me, with the distance between us with you in Florence strengthening your resolve and this enforced separation, but return my letters unread and it will be as if you're taken a dagger to my heart. Read and peace will rest upon my soul.
Since you took your leave I wonder what sights your eyes have seen and are at present seeing, and how I could have been sharing these with you if I'd had the courage to defy propriety. But I couldn't – you must see that? My mother wouldn't have stood for that, nor yours for that matter.
I wish to know so many things of your life there...and if you plan to stay and how long for...Am I never to set eyes on you, be in the same room with you again? Is this to be our only connexion? No, I made a promise never to mention it and I must not go back on my word, though my days are not the same without you in them. And never shall be again.
Speak of happier tidings, that's what you said in our last but one conversation before the bitter recriminations between our families. How can I? When that was said in a very different context to where we stand now.
Are you well? Does your life seem full whilst mine is empty? Oh, I do not wish any remembrance of me to be burdensome. Forget me! Write and tell me you have done so and I will stop. For until then I will carry you with me and try to store up news to amuse rather than continue these pleads. Know, however, I will never consider another as long as there's breath in my body, but you should be free.
So it begins.
You are free and I am not. Live for me and I will live through my memories and imaginings. That's all I ask. And only if it's your dearest wish should you help to furnish these. If you cannot forget, can you forgive, and do this for me? One letter from you would settle this affair and ease my suffering.
Write care of my maiden aunt, my mother's sister whom you met in Brighton, as she, and only she, sympathises with our ill-starred attachment. And only she will be complicit in this secrecy.
Eternally Yours,
Louisa.
 
Picture credit: Woman in Yellow, AKA A Lady Writing, c.1668, Johannes Vermeer