Thursday, 17 August 2017

In its Own Way, Right

The face appeared one fine November morning, and gazed at itself as if it had awoken from one hundred years of slumber. The person it belonged to saw and realised the importance of the moment and yet couldn't exclaim because they were sat in a hairdresser's chair, and the stylist was conversing about this and that over her newly washed hair.
At some point between being reclined over a basin and led to a cushioned seat in front of a wall mirror, a metamorphosis or a split had occurred, and with no contortions or twitches, facial or bodily. Was it when the protein boost treatment, that she hadn't requested but later paid for, was applied? For after that, after her hair had been towel-dried, her expression seemed different, wide-eyed, and yet more imp-like than child.
The separation occurring in two shakes of a lamb's tail; quicker than milk and cream, or oil from nut butter. The real face behind the usual mask rose to the surface and, rather than peeking shyly out, brazenly took control. The mask subsided, almost as if not doing so wasn't a choice, as if some agreement, long ago, had been struck, and the moment had to be when she was unawares, so that she would finally see herself, fleetingly, as others see her: the glowing skin, the mischief in the eyes.
The surprise, that made her wide-eyed, would be enough to awaken that slumberous knowledge, even if it at times it fell into a doze, because the coma, at least, would be broken.
But the quiet containment that she wasn't a horror, that at times she 'had something' came much later when the transfiguration to her of her features was less potent, still there yet shared with the usual mask.
And what that 'something' was she couldn't declare to herself in the mirror then, or even when the face chooses to show itself now. Yes, there are words to describe the pallor, the effect, the expression, and yet they only half-explain the realisation of that instant when it happens and the beat it lasts for. The more accurate terms come to the brain when they're not needed and then don't stay or reappear when they are, and so if I was to say that the 'something' was cherubic or a prettiness that had crept over the features that wouldn't be it. It was that and more and something other.
A relaxation in the brow and around the mouth, a devil-may-care look in the eyes. A simpleness that for the most part wasn't present, that the usual mask for no apparent reason often disguised, and yet the face, in its place, wasn't pure innocence either; it seemed, in fact, more mischievous than sensitive or naïve. A puckish expression which having tired of its underground chambers had returned to stake its renewed interest in life-participation on a casual basis, perhaps, in time, working itself up to a job share.
But although this mirrored revelation was caught, the circumstances were far from ideal, for at the height of its reveal, the conversation, already engaged in, was in a two-way flow, which was also in competition with the background: pop music and other stilted conversations going on around as other customers too had their hair shampooed and snipped. The person in the chair had to be sly to not appear narcissistic, particularly since that wasn't who she was at all, and yet this fresh perspective was fascinating, like a view she never expected to see from her apartment but somehow suddenly could.
She wanted to stare, to inch the chair closer to the mirror and examine every pore; touch this fine-looking skin and make sure it belonged to her and not some mirage that would vanish in a pool of illuminated glass, and yet because she was not alone she was prevented, as were her hands which, beneath the black gown, were forced to cling to her thighs. So, all she had were her eyes, which seemed unable to tell whether it was a trick of the light or the simple fact that she was farther away from her reflection. The mirror image had everything and did everything she did: the same shapes, the same contours, the same gestures, and yet was not what she usually saw when she appraised herself before she walked out the door.
The face she glimpsed, and would continue to recognise, was attractive enough, and in its own way, right.

Picture credit: Not to be Reproduced, 1937, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Disorganised Notes from the Oubliette

My body clock has gone a little awry and consequently my mind is screwed. It's been darting here and there and everywhere like a dragonfly all day. What about this? Should I do that? Why am I thinking of him or her? I need to go there; I need to do that. What possessed me to respond like that? as if the person I was talking to was an irritating bluebottle or had caught me in a unscrupulous act when it wasn't like that, I was unprepared for that kind of chat that's all. Why? Why? Why? can't I be this or that, laid-back and not so nervy, lively and not so drab. Plain, plain, plain with nothing of interest to say for myself or that I think will be of interest to that particular person. So contained I feel as though I'm turning to stone as I sit or stand.
I am stone with my mind flitting like this through my recent and archived history. Everybody knows you can't undo stuff that's done so why think of it? People, including the merest of acquaintances, ask me questions I hesitate to answer so that my mind scrabbles around in the few milliseconds it's allowed, which makes my answers when given sound weightless. Insubstantial bubbles of air with faint words suspended inside that will drift away with the lightest of breezes. My internal workings cobbling something together which when stuttered or said with a falsetto laugh comes across exactly how I didn't want it to: phoney and furtive.
I have nothing to hide, literally nothing, and yet now it seems I do. A secret life. Mysterious ways. Possibly even a double – one that wears glasses, and one that is bare-faced and sparkly eyed; one that is serious and one that can hold witty conversations, so that if by chance I encounter an unobservant friend, they never know which they'll get.
Some people aren't you know, observant that is. They don't notice small details or perhaps see past them. My point is some places and some acquaintances only know one version of me and not the other, so that if one day I'm the other, the version they don't know, I'm almost embarrassed to appear that way before them, and therefore would do anything to avoid that encounter. Anything, such as ducking behind shelves or suddenly disappearing into a shop or down an alleyway. Maybe that's why in my passport photo I look like a Russian spy.
And yes, you might very well ask why? Why this weirdness? All I have to say in reply is: comfortableness. I'm aware of certain people's preconceptions: if I look a certain way they'll judge me a certain way or behave towards me differently, and worse might draw attention to the fact I have glasses today or are without them. I'm a shrinking violet that's what it is, who accepts compliments graciously but never believes them, and a boring person to boot. Grey like Norman Major, who apart from once being described as such was also once the Prime Minister, and once lived a few roads away from my primary school, and so actually I don't really mind the comparison. I'm the one making it after all.
Still, it's a relief when acquaintances are used to both. It's just with some that transition won't come, so there's always that element of ambush or that sinking feeling when you know you've be spotted. The conversation done and the getaway achieved, you then rehash it and reprimand yourself for not doing it better, or more convincingly. How lovely to see you etcetera. Next time, next time, yet you know if it happens again, when it happens again, it will be exactly the same, though once you'd warmed up you guess it went okay. Room for improvement, hopefully in a room you don't wish to escape from or in one where you've already figured out where the exits are. How daft to judge a conversation on that score?
What must they have thought? Skittish creature. Yes, and more I'm sure. And yet there are times I blame them for putting me in that awkward position, because it ruffles my feathers and they remain ruffled long after, not that they would know that of course. I'd like to think I'd approach them but would I? Maybe if it was a day on which I wanted to be seen and wanted to converse, although even so, I just don't know what truths I might then blurt. 

Picture credit: The Soothsayer's Recompense, 1913, Giorgio de Chirico

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Petition

Last October, a novel came into my hands that reaffirmed what I already knew: that answers can change to questions asked again. Again as in some months, even years on, from when the subject was first broached. If you ask again and again and the answer's always the same then you know not to ask again don't you, but if you just accept the first given answer and let the matter drop, then surely as the asker you're doing the answerer a disservice, unless your position as the asker too has somewhat changed. Your feelings are no longer the same or your situation has altered and therefore whatever it was you were originally offering is not available, not on those same terms, which means if you asked again the question put would be different and the answer just as uncertain.
Answerers, if the question's unexpected, can be too hasty in their response, give their initial reaction to a proposal when it might not be what they actually meant, as by doing so they lessen the time they might spend deciding with their stomach a-flutter, their mind in knots, as well as the time the asker is kept waiting.
Whereas no response is either a open door or a door the asker will choose to close because it's unfair. Their life in limbo, always hopeful that one day their appeal will be accepted, until the day they become aware of their own stagnancy and realise they've been taken advantage of, forever kept in reserve.
Some answerers, however, do give the question the time it deserves. They might pause whilst delivering their response, have a affectation that buys them thirty seconds such as removing spectacles, if they have them, and cleaning the lenses, or pinching the bridge of their nose as if a headache beckons, which in turn enables their brain to formulate a reply which would be right at the time of asking. But that's not to say that the answer given would be the same if the same question was asked in an altogether different moment.
Then, there's how it's asked – with what words and in what tone, which should be considered if the question is being asked again and if you believe the answerer, if it's the same answerer, remembers the situation in which the original was proposed. Though if it has been forgotten, then it could work in the asker's favour, but it's dangerous to assume that's the case because in such circumstances the answerer may recall yet imply, for their own purposes, otherwise.
Nothing asked twice or thrice is ever the same, though it can take on a robotic quality as if the asker knows, before it's even been asked, what answer to expect since it's been asked that many times, so that if a different answer happened to be given they might on that one-off occasion miss it.
There are some answerers, however, who refuse to entertain the same question however it's asked, believing that to do so shows a weakness in their character, even if at the repeat performance they felt differently. And there are askers too whom on being rejected once wouldn't dare to enquire again, even if the opportunity was undoubtedly there or their feelings remain unaltered.
Everything has to, in a way, be perfect for it to come together. The question needs to be put favourably to receive a favourable response, and for that the mood needs to be spot-on, and that's not something you can ever, truly, be an accurate judge of. For it's not just the mood of the answerer the asker has to be ascertain along with their own, but also that of the environment where the question will be placed, and will be forever fixed in both their minds if the question popped or answer given is poorly managed in their opinion.
The moment has to be right, for when it's not (for either party) then it either passes with no action taken or someone winds up dejected, which may in future prevent them effectuating the same scenario again or behaving differently. It's always risky even if each are sure of how they'll ask should the chance arise or how they'll respond should they be asked, because anything might occur to throw that pre-thought off course.
People change, as do the answers given.

Picture credit: Cartomancy, 2004, Frances Broomfield

Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Hour of the Oyster*

The other night, whilst reading in bed, I looked at my left hand and thought I'll never get to wear a ring on my fourth finger. I don't know why it suddenly occurred, or re-occurred, to me then but it did, nor why my eyes this time welled. It must have been the lateness of the hour when thoughts are more intriguing or poignant.
The book was laid down flat on my lap and the matter considered. Why was it bothering me now, when the reason was more choice than circumstantial? And when I've never hankered after any of that? That being the shared life, the shared space, the belonging to another, or the big white wedding: the frothy dress, flowers, church.
Okay, so you don't have to do it that way, but some people live for that day: walking down an aisle towards their intended with friends and relatives looking on. Frankly, the whole idea of that she-bang makes me want to run. But the big day is really a minor concern because afterwards, when the knot's been tied, there's the whole living together, which the majority of couples today will have been doing beforehand anyway, but then it gets real. More real. You can't just walk away when you've had enough, well you could, but legally you'd still be bound to each other, and undoing that is no picnic, not so much for the paperwork involved but in the untangling of yourselves emotionally speaking. And I'm not sure that is ever achieved, in spite of the ex you eventually put in front of wife or husband.
Marriage is tough, even in the best of examples where illness and death parts the union, because in those bridged years there's been struggles within and struggles without; there's been learning when to support and when to be supported; there's been knowing when to give space and when to give undivided attention; there's been forgiveness; there's been compromises, and, of course, there's been love. Love of some description, though it may not have been the highly romanticised version that we see everyday in films and on billboards or read about in novels. Love, whatever its form, changes, and that's their success story: the fact that they've let it.
And so, it begs the question: can you ever truly know someone outside of wedlock? And if you commit, do you spend your whole life together trying?
Surely, even within a marriage there's a part of you held back. Just for you. But then perhaps that's where my thinking is wrong. All barriers have to be broken down and none kept, for what's the point otherwise. Isn't that a prerequisite of marriage and in general coupling: to give all of yourself to another?
It's on and at this point my head goes into its usual spin. For aren't you then just Mr and Mrs and not individually Jane and John, or Jane and Janet, or John and James. Joined together, like conjoined twins, as symbolised by the exchange of rings. Individual thinking must diminish – from now on you must think as a pair.
You have to admit there is an element of that; you can't continue to be what you were. And for a person who likes their own company, more than the permanent presence of others, that prospect, imagined or actual, is naturally scary. It's not a simple diagnosis of fear or selfishness; for some people being alone and having time alone can be as vital as life-giving water. Without it they shrivel inside, until it manifests on the outside, giving them a pained expression as if all the nerves running the length of their bodies are being pinched. Their malaise reached a critical level: is the relationship worth it?
Ask yourself, could you go through life with that degree of tenseness? For at its heart that is what it is: an inability to relax and an wanting to please, not just themselves but someone else all the time. There has to be a loser and usually it's the one whose most concerned about the loss, potentially, of their identity and how they've thus far navigated life.
I'm not equal to that task, of having what others prize, for in those circumstances I'm far more likely to choose the oyster over the pearl.

*Title in reference to 'the hour of the pearl' as coined by John Steinbeck in Cannery Row.

Picture credit: Oysters, Edouard Manet

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Glass Tears

Whenever I see rain on glass I think of tears.
The droplets appear as if formed by a pipette and placed on a slide for a research scientist to magnify under a microscope.
*
Whenever I see traces of tears on a human face I think of those painted on clowns.
A couple of droplets, outlined in black and drawn below each sorrowful eye for the whole world to see, as if sadness is a stain they alone must carry.
*
Whenever I see a clown I'm reminded of one that was held in a mirror.
Her face a sad white mask that glumly stared out at me and never let me see the whole of my reflection.
*
Whenever I see a mirror, I think of shining water.
Its surface so calm that nothing, not even a light breeze, could disturb its tranquillity.
*
Whenever I see a body of shining water, I think of a longboat.
Drifting gently, in which sits an unaccompanied lady with golden hair. Her mind in turmoil but her exterior, like the lake, unruffled.
*
Whenever I see a boat, any boat, I think of the sea.
Choppy, crashing waves, incoming and outgoing tides, salty air, and seagulls that wheel and scream overhead.
*
Whenever I see the sea stretching ahead of me, I think of and look for distant lands.
I search the horizon for anything that could be land or people as if only I might spy what others before me have missed.
*
If I have the good fortune to spy and then travel to distant lands, then I think of home.
Of everything that awaits my return, yet continues to exist as I exist in places foreign to me.
*
When I see home, a watery film forms over my eyes and threatens to spill.
And this makes me think of a pot of flowering tea, which makes me think of the old apple tree in the far corner of the garden where there once was a swing with a red seat.
*
When I remember the swing, my mind sees a man with a green watering can in a different garden, which also had a small paddling pool and a slide.
*
When I think of the man with the watering can, I see a pale orange car with black leather seats, and remember how these would burn the backs of my thighs.
*
When I remember my red-marked thighs, I see childhood summers: cotton dresses and white ankle socks and shoes with buckles; long days of made-up play and family gatherings which were full of colour and filled with food.
*
Whenever I reminisce about those summers, I also think of their endings.
The hugged goodbyes, not wanting to let go but knowing I had to for another school year beckoned.
*
Whenever I visualise endings, I think of beginnings.
New life, like the arrival of Spring and cherry blossom, and gold bands on fingers.

Picture credit: The Flowering Apple Tree, 1912, Piet Mondrian

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Warfare in Mind

Life is tired and needs a jolt, my life not life in general. A war's been waging internally, killing off people and places, which although immensely satisfying does not alter the day-to-day. Nor, however, do I wish to unleash the unkindness I harbour within, and I couldn't do it anyway for outwardly I'm passive. Rigid in body, yet sheepish in manner. A fully paid-up people-pleaser might be more exact, though the teeth might be gritted or the face a frown. A plastered mask of seriousness or a deer-in-headlights, not that I have any notion of what my face is actually expressing, which does catch me out when people comment because it's not necessarily how or what I feel at that precise time, and so then I worriedly think to myself: am I worried? and make a plausible excuse or swat their observation away with a: Me, no! Everything's just dandy.
People who appear placid always say it's fine. To everything that's asked of them: to any question, to any task or inconvenience. Because they want to help and be seen to be helpful, though at times they might inwardly seethe. Yet when they begin to say NO, oh, the guilt. And the anxiousness that results from refusing or feigning ignorance of something, all because the thanks that might come can come too late when the person who always says, no, feels compelled to say YES has long felt taken for granted. So this adopted stance is really in their best interests, yet their body visibly squirms like a worm cut and cut again when they very reluctantly give a shaky or too forceful NO.
But before then, before they've reached this no-going-back-point, which is like the flick of a switch blade, they've experienced their own viciousness turned in on themselves and also on figural others, all imagination based of course, but nonetheless violent. It might be healthy in the sense that no blood is shed externally or offence given, and that the fantasies lived out in the mind save the conflicted person, yet that same struggle continues to exist everyday. At a lower basement or underground level, like a camp fire that's constantly fed to keep it burning which might suddenly sputter and cause a spark or two to fly, which might then descend onto a bare leg or arm or the rump of a horse, so that the person tending it might pick a fight with his fellow travellers or the untethered horse might bolt, or if tethered rear up.
Actions – reactions – karma, isn't that said to be the cycle? All actions have consequences or something. What you sow you reap, what you reap you sow. I never was very good at parroting or paraphrasing doctrines, so that's as close as I'll get to putting it down in a such way that I hope makes some marginal sense. Do you grasp my meaning? Because I really can't think how else to put it, whereas if I was musing about it on a calmer day I might be more pedantic.
Thus endeth the lesson on a word with intellectual leanings, so the brain's not altogether fried in the hell consuming it inside which is something I suppose. Though it is flecked with black crows behaving like vultures dismembering slain bodies, whilst the horse I sit upon tramples them further underfoot. Horses usually step over such obstacles, but this black beauty's been trained otherwise and stifles their last grunts, cries and breaths with a solidly placed hoof. Well, it's my imagination isn't it? I don't wish to hear the suffering: drawn-out sighs that culminate in groans or chest rattles. The sounds of battle are more frightful, for me, than bloodied sights, for when my wrath has been spent I feel pity, and dying, gurgling sounds means I've gone too far, punished too much.
I aim to be cruel but kind with the sword I wield, but fury, if not managed, knows no bounds, even in a imaginative, and therefore presumed safe, landscape. My strokes are often not as clean or as deadly as they could be. My knife thrusts not deep enough, and so ensues a prolonged death amongst a mangle of inexpertly butchered bodies, which in guilt I'll set a flaming torch to later so that it burns as if it were a communal funeral pyre, sending my unladylike play up in a dark column of smoke with a rancid smell of fat and singed hair.

Picture credit: War, 1894, Henri Rousseau

Thursday, 6 July 2017

A Soured Case

The days and nights have begun to run into each other, a continuous week-long loop, which nothing seems to relieve.
My internal mood: grouchy, which I occasionally allow to break through to the surface, particularly during my alone moments, though it also occurs to a lesser degree when outside surrounded by seemingly busier people.
Who are these busy people? Those giving the distinct impression they are leading important, time-poor, possibly more fulfilling lives with partners, children, ageing parents, colleagues, pets etcetera, depending on them and so everything has to be done at a pace that is just short of breath, just short of running.
But there are those, two or possibly three generations above me, who find this bustling presence of others, huffing and puffing, annoying. True, they can irritate too with their dithering and aisle blocking, which makes puffers lose their patience and shove their way to wherever they want to get to with no 'Excuse me' or any sort of rushed apology for they just don't have the breath, the time, or the patience, so that those purpose-driven to go out to break up their day are driven indoors to escape these hordes to listen instead to the tick-tick of their living room clock.
Each group will stop, somewhat, sometime after the clock has struck noon. The lunch routine, whatever that is, kicking in, as if indeed something has prodded their bellies into action, then followed by those afternoon hours that usually lag until dinner. All in that interim feel sleepy, regardless of where they might be sitting; some starve it off with caffeine or sugar, others let it gradually take them. A few hours lost is neither here or there, and those that can be lost might as well be pleasantly spent.
The caffeine and sugar-fuelled tap keys, try to focus on the screen that blinks before them as if willing them to surrender. Their working pace a little slowed now the morning rush is over and lunch has come and gone. Yet whilst on this downward slope to the home bell, the one that chimes in everyone's head as they near the point of their departure, their flagging energies suddenly revive. Two hours left. One hour left. Half an hour. Fifteen minutes. The brain circuitry lights up, activity surges in coordinated strategies from the head to the mouth and fingers. Phone calls and e-mails are rapidly fired off, the machine the intermediary in this system of work-in, work-out. Desks tidied, programs shut down, bags packed, coats gathered. A last minute check for keys, Oyster cards and travel tickets, then a quick walk to the car or a jog to the station.
Homeward-bound. Squashed with others on a bus, tube or train, MOVE DOWN, MOVE DOWN, as more push on, force the doors just as they close, or dispiritedly chase after the bus as it pulls away from the kerb and then mutter obscenities as they trudge back to the shelter. Motorists, bumper to bumper, enviously note each cyclist that whizzes by and curses them, as if they were sticking pins in dolls, and then tries to edge ahead or change lanes in the false notion that it will get them to their destination faster, which might not be home but the gym.
The gym where again they will run, only stationary, or step up a hill, or attempt to ski a couple of inches above a carpeted floor. Maybe they'll swim where at least real water's involved, or take part in a sweat-inducing or stretching class where the mind has to engage somewhat so as to scrutinise the placement of the instructor's arms and feet or pedal furiously to the frenzied beats, before towelling the equipment and/or themselves, showering and finally freeing the pangs of hunger they held at bay.
Once home, these divergent groups again conjoin, though one is heading towards bed, rather than dinner, microwave or take-out, in front of another, possibly larger, flickering screen. The same nightly routine, but one set slightly in front and one behind, still on differing time. Each wanting the fast or slow rhythm the other has got, yet one will pretend they don't want to be young again and the other won't admit they want to be old.

Picture credit: Sour Grapes, 1910, William Heath Robinson

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Around the Corner

I'm halfway through next year. Living it in advance in a manner of speaking. And, just to bemuse you, I'm talking in my present, your past. Actually, when I next read this, it will be mine too. Confused?
I'm in the beginnings of autumn, you, if I've timed this right, should be in the last week of June 2017, not that I can tell you what state I or the world, economically, politically, environmentally, will be in, but wait, even if I did so it would be too late, after the date, at the time of your reading.
It's not impossible to write about summer, the one gone or the one to come, but right now, my now, I've got the urge to prepare for hibernation. To gather my stores for the winter. To conserve energy, including that used in thought, until the advent of spring. The spring you're passing through.
I'm not a winter person, in spite of it being the season in which I was born, although as a child I think I might have been. Looking back it mostly seems like going through motions, those moments that most children in Europe at some point have of ice and snow. Watching flakes fall and settle; tobogganing down a thick snow-covered slope in a park; building a snowman, and throwing snowballs. Perhaps I was lucky to have experienced frost and not the tropics with its heat, monsoon rains, hurricanes and biting insects.
Then, cold never used to be painful, not as I remember it anyhow, or maybe the stinging cold in itself was a joy. Now, it's a trial to welcome these months when the ground hardens and a bitter northerly wind blows. I begin rubbing my hands and my ears sing, yes sing, in a high pitched whine long before the switch is felt by others, or complained of. A draught settles in my bones and there's a ghost at my feet, blowing cold air on my toes like an electric fan, even with socks and bed coverings.
Summers, too, are different. Different to what they were. Unless it's my perception that's changed. Certainly the way my body copes has altered. I get prickly heat and I've grown to dislike humidity and brilliant sunlight. My eyes are easily dazzled by the light the sun casts and my body is more sensitive to the powerful rays it exudes, and yet it's so nice to be warmed. To be tenderised after winter; for goose-flesh to be banished and to have hands that I or others don't recoil from.
We never like what we're given, or fully realise that we're only given what we can handle. For nothing ever seems that way when you're in it, unprepared for its coming, unless you thrive on circumstances being thrown at you from every direction. Afterwards, you might acknowledge you rose to the challenge, though it might have weaken you, bewildered you, had you run around in a panic or wander in a daze, but not before or during. There are very few made of such stern stuff, visible on the surface and beneath.
Weathering the seasons is much the same. It's unsettling, it brings turmoil like life does. But we adjust. We recover. Return to discarded habits as we do to suitable clothing for the season. It's what our Empire's built on: industry and consumerism. Trade. Store cupboard staples and bolts of cloth; exotic fruits and vegetables; spices and rum.
The world has its own schedule. History too has its periods, some unpredictable, some almost fated to happen, and yet we would like to erase these as we would like to do away with weather patterns. We want consistency, transparency and less unethical practices. We want a more temperate climate. However, there's always a price to pay, something to offset the perceived benefits. In everything: people, history, industry, weather, there's good and bad. Light and shade. They reside together, you can't have one without the other, not entirely. A world in which there's the sun but no moon. A world where ice doesn't exist, anywhere, though that world, some would say, is getting closer to fruition. A world in which items are given for free and nobody pays. Somebody always does.
Yet without these phases we'd be poorer because if nothing has a value there's nothing to appreciate.

Picture credit: Around the Corner, Andrew Wyeth

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Elemental Spells

The well has dried up. Again. There's been wind and rain, but not the right type. The wind sweeping the rain so that it falls across and fails to saturate the land or increase the levels of rivers.
The rivers that used to brim, that were in danger of overflowing, trickle like picturesque streams, creating new paths through the visible mud and stones. Fish, insect and plant life struggle to survive in their much-reduced home.
The sail of a ship atop the swelled seas is filled, pushed onwards towards its destination. The faces of the men on board wet with sea spray and further stung by fine sheets of rain; yet in a back garden, in the heart of leafy England, the pail when lowered comes up empty.
A pebble is thrown down and is heard to smack the bottom, its slap against brick echoing up... up...up; a hollow sound like when you cup your hands around your mouth and call for help. A hopeful gesture that brings to mind being surrounded by hills or mountains or being lost in the thickest part of a forest. The ears strained for a different reply to that of the original sound: water...water...water. But it doesn't come, nor was it, in truthfulness, expected.
Everywhere bone-dry.
The ground hard, the grass yellowed and brittle. Flowers bloom, then wither. Birds sing but stay hidden in the trees, in the little shade they offer. Their leaves shaken free easily, by a light breeze or a creature's touch. New buds of life untethered by any rain that descends from sunny, cloudy or darkened skies.
The weather unusually mild, yet not spiritless nor merciful. The days long, the hours warm, some red-hot. The earth scorched, a fire underfoot, burning deep in its bowels.
The sun's rays hitting towers built of glass so that the light is harsh and strong. Diamond-like cities rise through the haze and from a distance appear to shimmer. Are they real or not? Are they lands that time forgot, ghosts resurrected?
There is the din of working people, spirits or not, coming from these centres of business, and aside from lighter clothing and a few mopped foreheads here and there they seem untroubled by either the heat or the glare. The work cycle – to and from – never stops, the same flow of work changes hands, from department A to department B, to C and D, and even E, where there is a need for a fifth level of scrutiny. Office workers cool, if not calm; flustered by papers and electronic Pings! New e-mail in. The phones ring and ring, and ring.
In the suburbs, life is quiet. Deathly quiet as if there's been an mass exodus, which there has but to indoor shade, temporarily made during daylight hours. Nobody fled with their arms and legs pumping or in a current of marching, though their hearts for a time beat irregularly until the dust of this new living settled. Residents confine themselves to their bought or rented spaces, blinding its eyes to keep the heat out, as outside surfaces underneath a fierce sun bubble like a malodorous witch's brew.
They wear little. They lay down. They perspire freely, adding to the odours of a sweltering earth, and sleep as if ill with a raging fever. Their dreams troubled and hard to break away from, causing them to toss and turn and cry aloud, or make incoherent speeches as if conversing with something or someone.
Everything, everyone gone underground. Though only a few creatures actually burrow to a lower place, to where the walls are damp and softer.
Everything above ferments, turns ripe and sticky. Heavy, near to bursting, and scents the air with its intoxicating sweetness. Begs to be relieved of its burden though there's no-one and nothing to sense its day-long petition.
Every being in suburbia awakens when the sun's gone down and the moon is lighting its own path, traversing soil as well as sand and water.
This is a world, a strange world, full of contradictions and opposites, as if someone somewhere is playing a game with a magic wand or dagger and casting elemental spells.

Picture credit: The Magic Circle, 1886, John William Waterhouse (Tate Britain)

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Resourceless

A woman of unclassifiable age lives alone, completely alone, in a tenanted building. A building buzzing with human life in all three cores, on each of its floors behind numbered closed doors that open onto corridors that lead to a communal lift and stairs. She never sees anyone, well, maybe in passing, but those chance encounters are so insignificant they're not worth mentioning, not even memorising as those faces barely glimpsed are never seen twice.
It's only when the postman, correction: post person, knocks she gets to interact, briefly,with anyone, and even then she might open the door and find it's someone else. A different person, very different in height and features to the man or woman she expected, in that unmistakeable uniform delivering whatever it is that couldn't have been pushed through the slot of her ground zero postbox, the one that has a Royal Mail sticker requesting that any Signed For items are returned to the local depot if she's not home. Why she wonders do these post men and woman change so often, almost as often as the inhabitants? Are these particular flats really that bad? Or do they get bored of trudging up, down and along these floors, and just shoving mail into grey metal boxes? Perhaps they too occasionally thirst for human connection, of the back-in-the-day sort.
That's how we talk of the past now, isn't it? Use phrases like this to make us or it seem hip and happenin'.
But then that bubble of thought bursts and she thinks she could be wrong, no, is wrong to assume and thrust her own perceptions onto to others, those she only knows in a fleeting form, as perhaps they too would rather spend the day glued to their phones like all the rest, the other office or home employed worker bees, instead of having to watch where they put their booted feet or wheel and secure their trolleys in all weathers. Such a job is thankless and undervalued these days, she thinks. The role changed, so changed by the mail that's no longer sent through these once depended upon channels.
But then, so is everything else: altered, almost dramatically like a stage set with too many props so that the audience's imagination is rendered redundant, from the world she entered and grew to like. She rages, inwardly and outwardly, about this often, mourns its passing yet delays the funereal ceremony, her own personal goodbye, for of course, others said their adieus whilst she was content to hang on, has been hanging on for years, though the rope she dangles from has become a thread. A strong thread, but a thread nonetheless.
Others gave the era a pat on the back and that was it. Over. A job well done. Now, however, she's heard, you can't even do that, pat someone on the back for that action might be misconstrued. Every day she wonders what this world, this supposedly improved and improving world, is coming to? Is it the End? Then she sighs, Ahhh, wouldn't that be a blessing, before in thought she adds, for someone like me.
Someone who doesn't like being pushed into changes, full stop, but particularly when many don't seem to bring any benefits, other than making us more estranged; estranged from others as much if not more than from ourselves. And she doesn't believe that many, if any, recent developments save time or make life easier as each new device seems to be a further indulgence for the gratification now, less physically active society. She gets a little high-brow up in her flat looking down over humanity as if the people she sees are part of a social experiment and she an anthropologist. Aloof, yet not apart from the impeding disaster she thinks will one day befall: a mass disintegration, where people are forced into a situation where technology has no answers and neither do they.
And yet she knows she's hopeless at what is termed normal, responsible living. Clueless too (at her age!) though she gets by providing nothing unfavourable occurs. She is no better off then from her elevated view, and is definitely, through stubbornness, less modernly informed, as well as almost entirely lost when it comes to such matters that would once have been labelled 'Male'. Independent, as all women claim they want to be, and yet resourceless.

Picture credit: The Castle of the Pyrenees, 1959, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Talking to Paper

There's something about paper, a smooth white or creamy sheet or leaf of paper, lined or unlined, loose or bound. Blank and waiting to be indelibly marked in some way, although an unwritten upon sheet in itself is pure perfection, so that when written upon it's somehow spoiled, at least to the eye of its scribbler, unless they are proud of their penmanship.
I can't say, being one of these scribblers, that I am, nor why I have often been compelled to write as if to a friend, to unburden myself to a book. A sort of journal where everything set down is for my eyes only and never, or hardly ever, reread by those same eyes. I'm not sure that if I did I'd recognise the hand that wrote those entries.
And I also mean that figuratively, for my writing too, as with my personal views, seems to change constantly. Sometimes I admire it, thinking it's so-so, not so bad; sometimes I think the words look like an infestation of caterpillars inching across each page, which I observe with an interested eye as if I were an entomologist except that I don't have a fondness for bugs, as anyone who knows me would tell you, and so this comparison is far from complimentary. Then, it disgusts me, my handwriting, though legible, for its shaping lacks beauty, as caterpillars do before they transmogrify, although then nature is at fault whereas here the fault is of my own design.
The hand that wields the pen, tightly or loosely, moves left to right like a typewriter arm, Ding!, attempting to convey thoughts, feelings and events: recent or historic, and not just personal but global events. The words formed in a rapid or more considered way, dependent on the mood behind the urge. The hand also crossing out which the mind gets annoyed about, as well as missed or misspelled words when the thinking is quicker than the scribbling pen. The narrative flow broken as the mind worries instead over such errors and the overall look of the entry. Tear it out and start again! No, fight the compulsion! Is this the result of perfectionist tendencies or the computer age?
There's Tippex, yes, but it gets crusty and in a cream book stands out so that your eye, if you glance through or if it falls open to that page, is instantly drawn to what you wanted to hide. To disguise, to tidy up, neaten. Should I count the ways I could put it? and ensure, therefore, that you don't have to work to get my meaning.
A typed or printed word can be taken back or corrected, a handwritten word stays, remains on the now spoiled page even if crossed through or painted over. The evidence there like forensic material, especially if the ink fades. The deficient penmanship I can forgive, but not the errors. They're like blemishes which to you are in plain sight, their concealments botched, but which by others go unnoticed.
What others? when I'm writing for me, and only me. Enough with the explaining! And using allusions to make it relevant.
Sometimes I think talking to paper gives me more dilemmas than it resolves. I guess what I'm doing right now is the modern equivalent, except I can edit and revise, and you'll be none the wiser. Though it doesn't mean I'll be happier or even satisfied with the end result. Still, I'd much rather talk, as I am here, to a blank document or to paper than form attachments of the face-to-face kind. Because, it's not the same. You can't say what you would confide to paper, even a email or letter is similar in that you reveal more, though at times you might regret such open foolishness.
The voice committed to paper is just different, not necessarily more honest or intentionally dishonest, and often confused and definitely critical, yet it's true at the time of writing and that quality is laid bare, in real and fictional accounts. For my attraction to this mode of talk also extends to others self-explorations and recordings, be they emotive, matter-of-fact or fabricated. My introduction with Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole spiralled out of all control to get me here: a mid-thirties-something woman with a storage box full of journals and letters, and a penchant for other people's published diaries.

Picture credit: Still Life with Book, Papers and Inkwell, 1876, Francois Bonvin

Thursday, 1 June 2017

The Crumpled Ball

I've hit upon an idea. A very good idea, which is not entirely mine but borrowed. Martin Creed, a conceptual artist, was the first to accomplish something of the kind in '94, however, I think, having come late to Work 88, there were flaws in his design.
Marginal flaws you understand, possibly to my eyes and way of thinking alone. Minimalism was perhaps part of the concept, whereas I felt it lacked a deeper layer. A layer of intrigue. A layer that begged to be opened on receipt, thereby destroying the art yet keeping the concept very much alive and intact.
The Work, in the hands of a buyer, being changed back to its original form: an A4 piece of paper, except now noticeably marked like an aged person's skin. The wrinkles and crinkles unable to be smoothed out and its sheen distinctly faded so that it appears more dulled than pristine white. Prematurely aged and wasted. And not even used.
Are people who have invested as tempted to undo as I would be? Had I seen it, known about it, wanted it at the time of its creation and so purchased for a small fee one of its limited number, then curiosity would definitely get the better of me because I wouldn't be satisfied that a ball was it, even if it was a perfect sphere. I would assume that it concealed and something more would be revealed at its heart. Perhaps that's what you're led to think and if so, then the object as art has done its job. Could the concept be about willpower and temptation? And even gratification – who can delay it and who cannot - and would any actual buyers follow through? Would any dare admit to it? Probably not. And who would ask them anyway? Collectors don't get questioned, they get interviewed, and either show off everything they've acquired or sell it off to the highest bidder: someone they know they can make big(ger) bucks from. Whether collectors buy for the love of or because of what one day it might be worth is a moot point, however, what it essentially means is they would probably have the Work on display but not allowed it to be touched or handled in such a way that its roundedness, in this instance, becomes something other.
And that, I don't think I can bear. A demi-god made of existing materials which, outside of the art world, has a utilitarian purpose, which is not to say its new untouchable status is the fault of the artist; no, it's the critics, the audience. Often, an artist is unconcerned with all that. Their concept has been freed from the cage where it was housed for the public and critics to make of it what they will. A shoe will never be looked at in the same way again or a slept-in bed. A paper clip will no longer just be an object to hold papers together, nor will a crumpled ball of A4 paper just be an thrown away error.
Conceptual art, as it's first viewed , can be taken at face, and of course, monetary value depending on the artist, whereas I, no matter who the creator was, would want to liberate it further, and not just in thought but in deed.
Would I purposely vandalize? Not, I can assure you, if it wasn't mine, as in purchased, nor probably even then, though the temptation to do so would be present forever, but then I don't think I would buy a piece of conceptual art if the object itself was also utilitarian in design because ironically the concept, whatever I thought the thought behind it was, would disintegrate over time. I might see its cleverness, but might also think it futile. I wouldn't want it to become a prized possession of mine.
In art, I need depth, visual depth, and bizarrely not all conceptual art, for me, has that. Thought, yes, sometimes in bucket-loads, but a Work, at least in its outward appearance, can't be expected to hold that for all time. In a nutshell: once considered, it's gone, it doesn't live on. Unless, of course, for you it's a brand new discovery. It can make you pause but can it make you stop? Each and every time? Won't there be times when you just see it for what it once was?
What was my borrowed idea? Oh that, well, it involves a scrunched up ball of published book material shoved through the letterboxes of random addresses.

Picture credit: Work88: A sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball,  1994, Martin Creed

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Angel Flung From Space

I'm so far ahead of myself that I forget how far ahead I am. Ahead of what? Time, space, philosophizing, though my feeling of this is subjective and not substantive. My views to, my relationships to everything are personal and though meaningful to me, mostly, are less meaningful to others, if at all. And as you might have gathered, I like making my position, any position, as clear as possible. If and where I can.
Sometimes, thoughts won't be grasped you know, at least not in a way they can be explained. It's like knowing the definition of a word and the context it should be used, but being unable to formulate a comprehensive sentence to explain that term or its usage to someone else. I take information in, some say like a sponge, but I cannot for the life of me pass it on when the moment arises. Not when it's requested or could be volunteered, not when it could help some other seeking knowledge. Knowledge that I already have, a short-cut to wherever they want to eventually get to.
No, the words die in my throat, tail off when I notice the uncomprehending look in people's eyes: what is she blathering on about? Or worse become a burble of mismatched words which don't go anywhere and leave the enquirer no clearer, still, in fact, knowing nothing more than where they started from. And if further questioned as to my explanation, I'm liable to lose the plot, to um and er a lot and to throw my hands up and out in uncontrolled gestures. My hands moving of their own accord as if to divert people's attention: follow my hands and not the words streaming from my mouth.
Nobody has ever fallen into a trance nor stopped listening to what I'm issuing although the hands have been followed. It's a curious effect, not even mildly hypnotic and yet even I, in the midst of talking, get distracted by the other person's darting eyes, so that really all it is does is confuse and make me painfully aware. My hands continue to dance, as if they're separate from me, despite desperate attempts to rein them in, and so in certain situations now, where improvised gestures would be unforgivable I have to sit on them.
I've never asked what the other person sitting or standing opposite me thinks of this shadow puppet show. I'm not sure I'd want to know. How much notice do we take of other people's mannerisms, or even of our own? Perhaps I'm unusual in that respect; self-centred, self-absorbed even or just distressingly self-conscious.
Too much time to mull, I suspect. A writer's failing, not that I really think of myself as a writer. I prefer not to categorise whatever this is, this exploratory outpouring, except to know that if I didn't allow a blank space for it I'd probably go mad; they'd be too many thoughts and nuances running amok up here.
Up where? In the unsolvable maze of my mind whose hedgerows are undefined. What once seemed to lead somewhere becomes a dead end; what was once a cul-de-sac opens out. Its pattern changes on a frequent basis, so that everything that appeared simple is complex and anything anticipated to be complicated is simplex. It's akin to a 3D design, which if viewed on a lit screen, you can look at from every conceivable angle, except the one in my mind runs to a different, though not entirely incompatible, program to its host.
Now, I've heard of independent thinking, but this is frankly bizarre. A sure sign, though not the first, of madness or a contracted virus. And some, it's true, is in a code I don't recognise until I locate the Master Key to unlock that particular door, but for that you need convergency and that rarely occurs when I want it to, least of all when I deliberately give thought to a situation or a puzzling affair. But then perhaps my analytical behaviour is too much of the kind you'd ordinarily associate with a much younger person; my mind lagging behind making that transition to full adulthood, and therefore determined to raise uncertainties for me to ponder over, such as where do we come from? where do we go back to? and could an Angel have been flung from Space to take my place and erase my default settings?

Picture credit: Convergence, Jackson Pollock

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Whole in One

Time is a slippery devil!
It gives, it retracts. Yawns and sighs like a person needing their bed in the middle of the day and drags on until the homecoming hour and then speeds up so that it's lost in the end-of-day commute and other preparations for the morrow. Sleep, at the appropriate hour, doesn't last as long as it feels it should, which amounts to a barely awake, glum-looking, glum-feeling workforce.
There are many, I think, who would welcome Death for a long, long, sleep. Blasphemous, yes, but not untrue. If I could prick my finger on a spindle I would do, though I'm not sure I'd ever want that particular curse to be broken. To wake up and resume what's left of my life in a very different world to the one I departed, though possibly having to continue the same drabness as before would be a worse fate. 
This imagination of mine, as helped along by Kurt Vonnegut and fairy tales of old, finds it all too easy to make that leap – a leap of time in the shape of a giant's foot – where a whole world slumbers as the earth's clock goes haywire, to wake up a zillion years later either in a life familiar or in an unrecognisable world.
Would time have frozen, moved backwards and forwards, or passed as normal with nobody to comment on or watch it? Would it matter if it had done all of those if the whole of humanity was dead to the world?
A further, more perplexing question is: are we sleeping now? Drifting through the lives we lead, or think we're leading, in a spaced-out mode. Peace, man.
Awake, yet not. Acting with what we think is Free Will, but is it really? The term redefined to suit whatever doctrine, with barely a hair between what is and what isn't. How many actions are yours and yours alone? All are or eventually become repetitious, with some so finely tuned you don't even realise that a) you're doing whatever it is whenever you're doing it, and b) it's as regular as clockwork.
Hmm, half-past four, time for tea and a dunk-able biscuit. And yes, we do that in the South too, but mainly with Digestives and Rich Tea and not crumblier varieties. The biscuits you dunk is as personal as how you fill (or kill) time when you exercise Free Will, or think you're exercising it. And dunking has a crucial time factor.
Our love of time strikes again! Get it just right and your mouth receives a delicious tea-soaked biscuit, just the right softness in texture; time it all wrong and you not only lose half the biscuit but also get to choke on the buoyant crumbs. There's an exact science behind it: the temperature of tea to the thickness of biscuit, the ratio of biscuit to tea, unless you're aiming for a whole soggy mess in one large mouthful. Whatever floats your boat, takes your fancy, and it's a very useless, yet enjoyable way to fill (or kill, whichever you prefer) time when you have more on your hands than you know what to do with.
Golf, I believe, is a popular past-time for this. Hmm, me and ball sports, ball sports and I, it's an accident-waiting-to-happen combined with a land of missed opportunities where the club or racket hits the turf or the air, and maybe a leg or an arm, and where the ball if, by a miracle, whacked goes in the opposite direction to the one intended or embarrassingly lands at my size six-and-a-half feet (the half in the case of shoe size is important!) with a dull, unsatisfying thud. No, I'll stick to experimentally dunking biscuits in tea. Whole in one!
Seriously, well, sort of, why isn't there a donor bank? No, not to give MY time as in also have to give with my brain or person (i.e. be physically present in a time-donor situation) as I know those already exist, but to donate whatever I don't have a need for to someone who might use it more productively than I would or currently do; or alternatively to save for a day when a few banked hours would be useful.
Way too much or far too little. Do we all have that problem? And what should we do in moments of deja vu – rerun or redo? Peace, man. Dunk biscuits.

Picture credit: Several Circles, c1926, Kandinsky

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Close-lipped

Mona Lisa and I share a feature: the close-lipped smile, although I think you can tell when I'm really happy or really glum, but possibly not when I'm neither, when I don't really feel like smiling in either direction, with the corners very obviously turned up or down like a circus clown's painted lips.
Sometimes, even I'm not sure any more when I wear a smile in company if I mean it or not. Of course, a real up-curling of lips occurs naturally and touches other noticeable facial features: the eyes, the cheeks etcetera, and does feel, as your muscles perform it, to have more spontaneity, whereas others half-pulled have half that feeling. A polite half-smile that stops halfway and could, at times, be described as cold. A cloud has passed across the face, the warmth of the sun gone with it.
The close-lipped smile is not a new thing, done consciously due to false modesty or embarrassment, I've naturally always smiled that way; smiling like a crocodile would be most unnatural, and yet, it seems by not doing so I don't convey 'happy' as expected, which sometimes leads to strangers telling me to smile more and so I try harder. Try to exaggerate it as much as naturally possibly: still close-lipped but wider, my cheeks lifted higher like ripe, not-yet-picked apples until it reaches my small eyes and also pushes them wide, but then falls away quickly when released, my face suddenly flat, somewhat deflated as if both my cheeks have been slapped, instead of slowly fading till my features resume their accustomed plainness.
Smiling to a set criteria, or semblance of, is exhausting, like exercising muscles because you know you should and not because you want to. And I'm not sure it's convincing anyway, either to my internal self or to the people it's outwardly directed at. Is there a placebo effect for disingenuous smiles? Well, it works for laughter, the belly-laughing kind...supposedly. Although it is true that witnessing someone else's belly-shaking convulsions can provoke a fit of the giggles, even if you don't know exactly what the amusement is or even if you personally find it funny. Smiles too are returned by automatic reflex, yet, in my inexpert opinion, the spread effect seems, and feels to me, different, particularly if you're smiling back at a person before you rather than a still picture.
Then there are times you genuinely smile so hard you feel your face might crack as if it were as fragile as a china doll's, but still, even in instances like that the guarded smile is seen as just that: guarded.
When did smiles become all about teeth? Bright white, perfectly straight ones.
When did flashing teeth mean personality? There's far too much of the show biz about it.
Is it any wonder that people have smile hang-ups, willing to hand over hard-earned or loaned cash to correct imperfectly aligned, off-white teeth that in spite of these perceived flaws do what they're designed to do? Bite and chew food etcetera. Again, functionality is pushed aside for aesthetic reasons.
The cynical amongst you might say that perhaps that's the precise nature of the Mona Lisa smile: the concealment of crooked, discoloured teeth, which I suppose in that age was more than likely, and yet if it was I doubt she would have been mindful of it, enough to remain close-lipped, since others too would have had worse or similar. Although Da Vinci, I suppose, might have favoured an understated smile, preferred to give the eyes and mouth the look of possessing a long-kept secret.
Alternatively, perhaps people just smiled like that back then, as I do now, and to do so open-mouthed would mean something quite different, something threatening even. Baring teeth as if to fight as a snarling dog might do.
Have I given this too much thought? Probably, but only because I'm perplexed as to how a pencil-drawn smile can arouse people's suspicions.

Picture credit: Advanced Diagnostic Techniques, Barry Kite

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The Decibels, The Decibels

The sun shines and yet everything is a little less rosy, not for any particular reason that springs to mind, it just is. Quiet, too quiet, and lazy.
Sometimes it's nice to be able to hear the wind rustle leaves or a tiny bird's cheep-cheep, but there are times when the kind of quiet you long for is for a brief moment unsettling, until it's broken by a child's sobs and then, you again wish for that prior quiet to return. For murmurs rather than ear-piercing shrieks or drawn-out cries: Mummy, Mummy, Mummy...
Quiet does not often descend when it can be most appreciated, so that when it comes it's unbidden and unwanted, and can't be enjoyed; whereas if it's hoped and planned for, the anticipated silence is disturbed. Other factors, those unknown or not considered steal it from you so that what you get is not really quiet but a moderated tone of, which your tolerance of depends on your own sliding scale.
Sound carries, increases and decreases in perceived volume which you either tune out or tune in; sometimes the ear picks a minor sound up and won't let it go, even after it's stopped, or sometimes you hear yet block although the noise in itself might be persistent and jarring. But then there are times when everything else gets drowned out apart from the babble, anything directed at or that requires a response from you is indistinct. You're present in presence alone, your mind floundering like a fish hooked from its watery home; the lips facing you constantly moving but the words uttered unheard, and yet you pull your own face into expressions that you hope are suitable, rather than lean across the table, or, more excruciatingly, ask for everything they're said, during your incommunicable panic, to be repeated.
Babble, babble, babble...which if it was a brook or a stream and you were alone with your thoughts would be quite pleasant, but as a murmur of intermingled voices, no; each vying to be heard above (or below) one another with the acoustics of wherever you are heightening the disharmony of it, as well as your discomfort.
The false pretence or flash of understanding of whatever is passing between you and your companion: I comprehend, I sympathise, I try to equalise with an experience of my own; I nod, I simper, I exclaim in shock or horror, my mouth an 'O'; I observe you carefully with head cocked on one side like a dog studying its funny owner: what is she saying?; I stir the teapot and nibble at a biscuit, and pray the background will soon be muted.
By who? Now, that I couldn't tell you. Perhaps by someone similar to a lamp-lighter who, in olden days, would turn on the street lamps and control their intensity; or the modern-day equivalent: a singular hand on a dimmer knob, although these days this is used more for aesthetic reasons, still, the twisting action of hi or lo in this scenario applies. Lights up, lights down, it's the same with sound.
So, why is it that when I'm at home and all alone, I talk in a whisper or in a lower than normal voice as if speaking out loud and to myself is a crime, or at the very least a strange habit. I talk everywhere, in all three rooms, and possibly even more than I do when in company. I sigh, I swear; I reason things out; I gossip; I read aloud from books; I read back what I've written; and I listen to the rise and fall of the chatter outside: bird, human or operated machinery, to which my hearing makes constant adjustments.
Some days sounds are bearable, some days are not; most days it's a mixture of both as if at certain times my sensitivity is somehow different. I either relish the quiet or I want some form of noise, as if I needed to be reminded palpably of my existence, in this world or as a thinking, feeling person, and yet there will always be sounds that irritate beyond all measure: boozy voices singing and the counted overture to drinking games, and bottles being dumped in their bin and breaking, glass on glass, night and day. My location chose me, not I, it. And away from it there are other dissonances, some of which aren't loud, just annoying, and unavoidable, unless, of course, you're plugged in to another world of sound.

Picture credit: New Neighbour, Barry Kite