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