…a hole in the wall

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45.

The first time you lived alone was in an attic bedsit in Laura Place, Bath.  Your window overlooked the rugby field and you shared a cold bathroom with the woman across the hall.  You were nineteen years old, and for many years you’d longed for solitude and freedom, but now that it was here you had too much time and not enough wisdom to know what to do with it.

You were studying at catering college, back in the days when the Government paid young people to learn.  On the way home from class you bought your food for the week from the vegetable stall at the Guildhall market.  You practiced your new-found cooking skills on the two-ring stove, tortellini with white wine sauce a speciality.

Once, you invited your student friends around for a party; flame-haired Rachel from Liverpool who was quick as a whip; butch Martha who found an equally butch girlfriend by the end of the course; gentle James who was darkly handsome and in love with the blonde Melissa; the sullen Tom who dressed like he was homeless but whose parents were so wealthy they lived much of the year in the Cayman Islands. 

You wish now that this party had involved drinking games, dancing and kissing, but no, it was a decorating party, everyone invited to strip wallpaper from the crumbling Georgian walls with occasional breaks for scalding cups of tea and cheap biscuits. 

The wall beside your bed was cracked and crumbling and when everyone had left you began digging into it.  You kept on digging as though there was something to discover, but all you found was a giant hole and the panic of knowing you were truly lost and detached in this small attic room in the centre of the city.  You gave up trying to find the end of the hole and began filling it with fresh plaster, layer upon layer until the wall was bulging like a gently pregnant woman.

Eventually you moved out to live with your boyfriend, who you married after a few years.  You had two children and a collection of meaningless jobs, you went on holidays, celebrated Christmases and birthdays, you wrote novels and raised your children, you went to university and became a teacher.  At some point along the way you realized how the heft of your days were driven by the needs and wants of others, marriage and motherhood a secretive cage that was kept in plain sight, your children the prize that kept you blinded to the bars.  So you got divorced, you travelled, you met people, you loved and you lost people.

And now, thirty years after living alone for the first time, you finally live alone again.  Daily you relish your return home to find your water glass on the counter where you left it, still imprinted with the shape of your lip.  You dance before breakfast, light candles at the window, stay in your pajamas to write. You pause at your window to see the rooftops of your town, the smoke-curling chimney pots, the church spire, the greenhouses and gardens, the multitude of birds and trees and cumulus clouds.  You stand and wait for the setting sun.  You close your eyes and feel the room pulse to your own beat, knowing there are no holes in the wall you are trying to fill.

Now you have time and you choose how to use it.  At your window you feel apart from everything and a part of everything.  You stand and breathe, feeling time stretch wide and long before you. 

Here, anything is possible.

…spelling isn’t everything

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44.

you can’t help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn’t spell it right; but spelling isn’t everything.  There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn’t count…’
Rabbit, The House at Pooh Corner (A.A. Milne)

words you can’t spell
phy…psch…psychology; calander… calendar; consious… concious… conscious; contentious… contientious… conscientious

A baby begins to learn language in the womb, listening to the voice of her mother, the rhythms and inflections, the wonderings and discussions.  By the time she is born, these patterns are imprinted in her brain like a hand pressed into clay.

words that always raise a question
affect or effect?
focused or focussed?


breath or breathe?
custard or cream?

You don’t remember learning to read or to write, but you do remember the books.  The Aristocats, The Famous Five, the Bible. A novel about lost boys in the wilderness was the first novel you got lost in, all of you lost together. You read everything. The Beano, Jackie, cereal packets, the medical magazines your parents subscribed to. The Guinness Book of Records and books on ballet and birds were regular Christmas treats gifts.

words you dislike
treat, trope, gloat, moist
, Scrabble, sad, bleh, blah blah blah…

You love the feeling of reaching for a word just beyond your grasp, the moment when it drops into your mind to complete the sentence you are constructing – like a bird landing on a branch alongside her rightful family.

words you love to say
serendipity, rhododendron, peach, articulated, nourishing, bibliography, hattifatteners, vexed, vexing, murmuration, gloaming, backscattering, diaspora, anticipation, echo… echo… echo…

If a child is never spoken to, she will never learn to speak.  Hearing words is not enough, the TV or radio are merely passive sounds passing through the brain.  Eye contact, questions, repetition, smiling engagement, all give meaning to the words, and then meaning becomes learning.

Words move through your mind like restless rats trapped in a sack, nosing each other to see who they belong to and how they might behave together. When you spill them onto the page or the screen, your mind loosens and lightens, you feel a liberating auphoria. You like it when they form families, when they discover they belong together.

Then something new is born.

…things you find vexing

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43.

Fallen leaves that are mushy underfoot instead of crunchy.

Reaching the bottom of a bowl of popcorn to find a glut of unpopped kernels.  So much unfulfilled potential.

Coathangers and the tanglesome way they live.

The cat missing the litter tray, a small smile on her lips as she walks away.

The inner conflict of drinking red wine.  You love its robust flavor but your body pulses with the possibility of a migraine.  Is the pleasure/pain ratio worth it?  At what point should you take the tablet?  And when you have, can you carry on drinking red wine?

Arriving poolside in your swimming costume only to find that diving is not allowed.  You consider this to be the National Scandal that no-one is talking about.

A favourite vinyl record that jumps or CD that glitches (although strangely you find it satisfying to anticipate the jump or glitch… and then it happens).

Leaving the opticians crying luminous yellow tears (but no glaucoma for another year does give you a skip in your step).

Turning on the radio to hear the last few bars of ELO’s Mr Blue Sky.  Musical joy has been rhapsodic on the airwaves and you didn’t even know it.

A stapler that doesn’t staple even though it’s full of staples.

Thinking you are an easy-going person so a list of vexing things would be short, only to find you are easily vexed and your list is long.

…things that make you smile

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42.

Children when they’re far away.

The smell of a vinyl record as you slide it out of its sleeve, placing it on the turntable to watch the undulating grooves, the crackling moment when the needle touches down.

Worms (the earth variety, not tape or thread).

Beginning a new teaching semester, the promise of new students, new conversations, emanations and realizations.

The sound of the dishwasher.  The sound of the washing machine.  A roast dinner that someone else has cooked.  Sitting on a lawn someone else has mown.

Telling a class about House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski only to discover that someone has read it, both of you banding together to tell the class they MUST READ IT.

Holding a match to the wick of a new candle at dinner.

Ending a teaching semester, the promise of sleep, of absorption into your own reading and writing.

Pie – sweet or savoury, especially with a puff pastry crust (but not chicken with carrot lumps and short crust pastry – you once sat in the primary school canteen refusing to eat this pie, the thought of which still constricts your throat.  You can’t remember how the stand-off ended, but you imagine the dry chicken and pastry thudded as it hit the bottom of the bin).

Hattifatteners.

The rarity of new things (except for shoes, they usually make you regret you ever walked into a shoe shop).

A new pen that glides across the page with the lovely promise that it will make writing easy.

Stroking the hot fur of a black cat lying in the sun.

Ending a list with a cat, with sun and with bliss.

…the tree: in five parts (5)

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41.

Part 5

Growth of the whole

‘Most trees have spurts of growth to coincide with favourable climatic conditions. Typically, growth will stop when the weather becomes too cold or dry and the tree will enter an inactive period.  During this time, buds are formed to protect the tree’s internal tissues, and once favourable conditions return, growth will recommence and an expanding shoot will push out of the bud – forming new leaves and branches.’

You want to uncover the truth of the body, the mind and the soul, so you cut your thoughts into neat segments, parts 1 through to 5.  You catalogue, pinning these fragments to the board of your screen in the belief that separating the disparate clutter of your self will identify the core.

It takes time for you to realise that truth does not arrive in separate pieces, and however neat the display there will always be more lingering just out of sight, and more, and more.  And what of the unpinnable?  The unclassifiable?

And so you step back to look at this tree you’ve curated.  The roots, the bark, the sap, the crown.

A further step back to see the forest and the animals, the countryside and the cities, the land and the sea, the earth and the sky, the Earth and the Universe.

And there you find harmony in the whole, growth blossoming as favourable conditions return. 

(Tree quote sources from Resource Library at International Timber)

…the tree: in five parts (4)

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40.

Part 4

Sugar spirit

‘The staple of the tree diet is sugar, which is generated through photosynthesis.  Chlorophyll in the leaves absorbs the energy from sunlight, which is focused on the water molecules sucked in by the tree’s roots – splitting them into their component hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The hydrogen is combined with carbon dioxide to create sugar, which is in turn transported to other areas of the tree, while the remaining oxygen is released into the air.’

There is something that flows through you that for most of your life goes unnoticed.  When it does make its presence felt you called it good luck, or serendipity, but there is no logic to this unexplainable phenomenon, so always you let it pass, let it move on with the transience of an autumn leaf.  But recently you have learned that if you sit in your solitude and let your intellect and your body and your emotions rest, let them dissolve into the presence of the moment you inhabit, you feel this other thing rise up, and its ability to feed every part of you fills you with unexpected joy, and a vast sense of awe.

* * *

Next week — Part 5: Growth of the Whole

(Tree quote sources from Resource Library at International Timber)

…the tree: in five parts (3)

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39.

Part 3

Crown of emotions

The ‘crown’ of the tree is made up of the branches and leaves. In deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves), there can be hundreds of thousands of leaves. The Royal Forestry Society estimates that a mature oak tree will produce and shed around 250,000 leaves each year.’

Branches of enquiry reach up to gauge the world, but emotions come and go as rhythmically as the leaves.  The truth of this means you have always been unafraid to love, and, of course, you also have your intellect to soothe the pain of loss.  In times of trouble, your mind will make you attentive, showing you the luminous sunset, the soft breeze of spring, the gentle words of a friend, gifts that console the present and nurture the future.  You wonder then, if an oak tree conjures 250,000 leaves a year, how prolific are your emotions?

* * *

Next week — Part 4: Sugar Spirit

(Tree quote sources from Resource Library at International Timber)

…the tree: in five parts (2)

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38.

Part 2

Roots of the mind

‘…trees utilise roots to extract water and nutrients from the surrounding area, as well as to anchor themselves in the ground. While most water is absorbed by the roots nearest the surface, some trees extend a ‘taproot’ deep into the soil.  Roots can also play a part in reproduction, storing energy and defence, and some types of tree have developed aerial roots or buttress roots that extend from the trunk in order to stabilise themselves.’

The roots of your mind dig deep with tenacity.  Your intellect believes it can solve any problem: philosophical, logical, physical, emotional; the problems of others and of yourself.  Your mind employs Bloom’s Taxonomy:  Knowledge — Application — Analysis — Evaluation — Creation. This is your anchor, your reason and defence.  This is solitude, where the knotty or jagged becomes clear and certain.  Once the truth is found, the solution will evolve.  But, you have discovered, if your truth and the truth of others is different, the solution will remain elusive.

* * *

Next week: Part 3: Crown of Emotions

(Tree quote sourced from Resource Library at International Timber)

…the tree: in five parts (1)

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37.

1. Bark of the body

‘One of the key characteristics of a tree is the woody bark surrounding the trunk and branches. However, only the outer layers of this are alive, with a vascular system of cells called the cambium being responsible for the production of new bark.  The inner layer of bark, known as the phloem, is briefly tasked with delivering nutrients throughout the tree, before rapidly turning into cork.’

You always believed the workings of the body to be an exacting science.  If you take the prescribed tablets, follow the physiotherapy, modify your behaviour, your body will respond with recovery.  And so you work your body hard with daily exercises, you avoid lifting, you avoid standing still, you avoid long walks, you take the small blue pills and the large white ones, you always sit with cushions, you never arch your back.  Your mind is determined on the logic that treatment = health.  So of course your mind is outraged when the logical doesn’t materialise, and it begins to tell you every day that you are broken.

* * *

Next week: Part 2: Roots of the mind

(Tree quote sources from Resource Library at International Timber)

…the herb garden

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34.
After he is gone the loss empties you of feeling, so you stand in the herb garden every night to smoke one cigarette. He was taken away before anything began so you aren’t mourning the loss of what you had, you are mourning what can never be.

Except, of course, that’s not entirely true.

He was never taken away. He took himself away, and when you stand in the garden every night you wonder if any thoughts of you passed through or alongside that decision.

You exhale, trying not to dwell on the question. You cannot bear the answer. Although it is easier to think of your own suffering than it is to think of his, which came as it did with no sense of choice.

Over the weeks, standing in the herb garden, you watch the mint retreat to woody stalks. The thyme becomes a tangled knot. The purple-headed chives fade to white. The garden sinks into cold and dark with just a rectangle of yellow light from the kitchen, a low glow from the windows above where your children sleep or read beneath their sheets. Sometimes there are stars, pin holes in the black.

The nicotine tingles in your blood. Clouds shift. The earth tilts as you inhale your meditation.

The weeks turn into months and still he is gone.

Still you wonder where you were in his decision.

Still you evade the answer, and you evade the real question.

Over winter you stop smoking, and when spring arrives you stand in the herb garden in the pale and tender sun, and you see that amongst the dirt and weeds the mint is sprouting plump rippled leaves from its sturdy stems. Not dead at all.

You feel a flood of relief, and wait for him to return also.