The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Saturday, 30 June 2012
'Saharan dust', I say airily.
'Why on earth should it be?' TM asks.
He's right. Why on earth should it be?
'I just know it is. Southerly winds?' I attempt.
'Doesn't seem very likely.'
'No, I suppose not...'
Driving back across the moor on Friday I catch a Met Office man on BBC R4. He's talking about winds from Africa driving towards mainland Spain and creating a weather effect called the Spanish Plume. This seems to create ice in the atmosphere (upper atmosphere?) which in turn has a number of consequences after it's all crossed the Channel into Britain, some of which are the flash floods in the northeast of England, landslides in Scotland, unseasonal hailstorms in the Midlands, and 110,000 lightning flashes mapped in GB last Thursday alone. Oh, and deposits of red Saharan sand in southern England. I'm not underestimating the human unhappiness of the devastation caused to eg homes, railways and vital supplies. Nonetheless, there's something somehow a little bit subversively exciting about the fact that the dust on my car comes from the Sahara.
And this happened once before, in the last century, which is why I 'just know' that it's Saharan dust. Later, in my prose-poem collaboration A Hawk Into Everywhere (2001) with poet Rupert Loydell, I wrote 100 words about it (sort of). Here they are.
'Flavours, colours, names of the winds. Mistral, sirocco, tramontana, migrating over land masses, oceans. Contagious; madness, anxiety, restlessness, unspecified yearning. Salt-foam and fish of the blustering westerlies; sherbet-stainless-steel of the tricksy easterlies, setting horses skittering. The wind off the Urals that flattened the Fens and the fenlanders. Your car misted one morning with red Saharan dust, wind-skirts full of swallows, laden with odours of spices and rose. The dark tents of the Bedouin rocking with reek of camel dung, hashish, incense. Indigo and aubergine nights. Grit that gets into your eyes and makes you ache all through.'
© Roselle Angwin & Rupert Loydell 2001
Friday, 29 June 2012
High tide, a wild morning, wild and stormy,
and you take the leaf-deep stony path
above seal-grey waters
where the geese are dragged
through the sodden air like ripped-away prayer flags
in a crazy disordered dance, and the waves
slap hard on the mudflats’ flanks,
and for once questions like
what use is poetry, if you’re starving, or a refugee
squeezed between torture and war, or bleeding alone
in some dark alley
have momentarily flown, though left you unguarded;
but bent low over the creek the damson tree
drops unremarked a cargo of fruit
on the waters –
mornings like this
grey and green with straggled leaves
and the rain storming the opaque sky
let it be enough now to hear this one curlew keen,
to have one last bedraggled swallow skim the thick air
over your head, see the inkcaps’ effortless
to witness one small flower –
samphire, or a late marsh marigold –
struggling through black mud on its journey upwards
against gravity, pointing the way –
let each day be a small triumph, let it be
two fingers to death.
Tuesday, 26 June 2012
George Monbiot is one of my heroes. Here he is on Rio and post-Rio: 'It is,' he says, 'perhaps, the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war. The Earth's living systems are collapsing, and the leaders of some of the most powerful nations – the United States, the UK, Germany, Russia – could not even be bothered to turn up and discuss it. Those who did attend the Earth summit in Rio last week solemnly agreed to keep stoking the destructive fires: sixteen times in their text they pledged to pursue "sustained growth", the primary cause of the biosphere's losses.'
'Some people will respond' Monbiot continues, 'by giving up, or at least withdrawing from political action. Why, they will ask, should we bother, if the inevitable destination is the loss of so much of what we hold dear: the forests, the brooks, the wetlands, the coral reefs, the sea ice, the glaciers, the birdsong and the night chorus, the soft and steady climate which has treated us kindly for so long?'
It is hard to remain optimistic about the future for our planet. Did we really think the machine could be turned around? The monster machine is all about growth growth growth; and is virtually unstoppable. And that's not unconnected with the debt paradigm, nor with rising levels of human population.
The trouble is consumer capitalism depends on unlimited growth, but we live on a planet with finite and finely-calibrated interconnections of ecosystems. Yet we act as if 1) it's all unlimited and 2) it's put here for us. It's a very simple equation. No ecology = no economy.
As a counsellor, I suspect there are very high levels of unregistered despair in our collective psyche at the destruction of the natural world. I also suspect virtually no one pays any attention to the effects of this on our inner lives and how we then 'act out'. Part of the picture is our sense of powerlessness and helplessness, which entraps us in a vicious circle.
So we also need to believe we can make a difference. It's not enough, is it, to focus on what's wrong.
Monbiot proposes three ways forward: the first 'is to draw out the losses over as long a period as possible in order to allow our children and grandchildren to experience something of the wonder and delight in the natural world and of the peaceful, unharried lives with which we have been blessed.' I'll come back to that one.
The second, he suggests, 'is to preserve what we can in the hopes that conditions might change'. Well, yes...
And the third, with which I'm in total agreement: 'is that, while we may have no influence over decisions made elsewhere, there is plenty that can be done within our own borders. Rewilding – the mass restoration of ecosystems – offers the best hope we have of creating refuges for the natural world, which is why I've decided to spend much of the next few years promoting it here and abroad.' Yes. Yes. Yes.
And even if we can't all commit to the action required for this bigger picture, we might be able to make as simple a gesture of hope towards the future as each of us committing to saving/making/restoring/tending/watching one tiny area of wildlife habitat – in our back garden, in our local community, in a patch of wasteland or marshland; maybe as a collective effort, as has happened here in Totnes.
Growing some of one's own food, organically, is empowering, liberating, and makes a small difference – fewer food miles, not supporting multinationals, not adding to the toxic chemical overload, preserving wildflowers, bees, and insect food for vertebrates – for their own sakes, but also because our lives depend on them, too. (Plus there are so many benefits to gardening in terms of personal physical and mental health.) I'm not naively suggesting, by the way, that a little bit of gardening will solve the world's problems. I'm simply suggesting that doing something, no matter how small, has a more positive impact than doing nothing, for fear it'll make no difference. These actions go some way towards offsetting our despair and sense of hopelessness.
One of the things I've found so heartening this year as I travelled in the late winter round small Westcountry rural primary schools giving workshops, was an awareness and practical effort towards sustainable habitat, wildlife preservation and growing organic food. (Dartington Primary School grows enough organic veg on site as to sell it to the local shops. Tiverton Primary schoolchildren are raising salmon from eggs to release into the rivers – that will have happened by now, I realise.) These efforts, however small, make a difference.
But I quibble with Monbiot's first point about drawing losses out to preserve something for our grandchildren. Yes, of course, that's worthwhile. Essential. I want that too, and will fight for it. But it's not enough in itself; and beneath it is something I consider to be at the root of our current environmental troubles, and that is an unconsciously hierarchical attitude that puts humans at the top of the tree. In other words, a deeply-engrained anthropocentrism.* It's not enough to wish to preserve the planet for our descendants – we need to preserve it for itself, in its own right. Seems to me that we fall into a fundamentally flawed trap: the planet with its other inhabitants, in my view, was not put here for our benefit – that's 2000 years of Judeo-Christianity informing our post-industrial worldview.
Unless we can shift our view from the purely anthropocentric to a more ecocentric perspective, to be more genuinely and radically inclusive of the ecosystems of which we are a part and on which we are entirely dependent, nothing will change.
Perhaps all we can do is commit to gearing down/scaling down our own individual views of how much we need in material terms in order to be happy, to notice instead how little it takes to make a difference, and to feel empowered to make changes in one's own locality at least – that's a revolution worth having.
* If you consider the ethical issues behind all this worth investigation, I highly recommend Patrick Curry's Ecological Ethics (polity).
Monday, 25 June 2012
First, though, a confession: I can't raise much interest in the global economy, and very little enthusiasm for money as a subject. I expect that's not only ignorant but also unjustifiable, and possibly dangerous. (TM, were he to be a hands-thrower-upper-in-disgust, would be doing this with relentless frequency; what he does is his much more restrained, subtle, English version of disbelief and amazement every time it becomes apparent, yet again, that that's the case with me.) But that's how it is.
You see, I'm not a Digger-Luddite-come-old-hippy for nothing. I reject our materialistic value-system. I want to do, as I always have, work I love and believe in, that at the least causes no harm to anyone/anything, even if the financial rewards are small.
I don't have, have never had or even applied for, a credit card. I don't own a house and have never wanted a mortgage. I have no loans and no debts, and very few possessions that are worth anything in financial terms (though quite a few that speak to my heart). Although I'm in a minority, I'm sure I'm not alone in resisting. I like the 'less is more' focus of simplicity – plus if you don't have much you don't fear losing it. Seems to me also that on a writer's income (hardly any writer earns more than £20K p.a., and most of us less than £10K, and that via other writing-related activities, usually) it would be foolish to borrow money that I conceivably won't ever be able to pay back. This way I feel a certain freedom. Not to mention smugness – but I am not speaking of this to be smug, but to say that we get so caught up in the machine of 'the system' that it's hard to imagine removing ourselves, even slightly.
But there are alternatives; maybe in addition, or as a replacement of a small part of the way we live: what about a barter economy? When I was younger I taught myself a number of self-sufficiency skills, and later, in my 20s and 30s, a great deal of what I needed to live on was an exchange – whether for furniture or pottery, firewood or accounts, clothes, food or maintenance of my van, for the shoes I was making as a small business.
Some of you in England may remember Mark Boyle, and the flak he attracted for showing that it was possible to live without money for an entire year. I'm not suggesting we do that, and networks are important; I'm just mentioning that it is possible, if tough. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/nov/09/mark-boyle-money
Our debt-based culture relies on our fears and our desires. TM tells me that if everyone did as I do – refuse/d to have a credit card or run up a debt – the economy would collapse tout de suite. I do realise that that might not be A Good Thing, but I also know we need to completely revision not only our relationship to money and our enslavery, our enthrallment, to our debts, but also our worldview rooted in a capitalist dream of infinite resources, on this little finite planet of ours. What will it take? Total collapse of the planet's own integral infrastructure? Without an ecology there can be no economy; and the former is where I put my efforts and passion.
However, that aside, another little aside: did you know that 'mortgage' literally means 'grip of death'?
And so few people seem to understand the implications of the fact that in our society, in GB at least, 97+%, yes 97+%, of all money in circulation is debt – in other words, only 3% of our circulating money is represented by actual money, and the rest is conceptual, virtual, promises, figures shifted between computers, that's all... debt with nothing, no 'real cash', no ingots in the vaults of the Bank of England, to flesh out – metal out – the promises.
I hadn't either. Still don't, without stretching my braincell rather a lot.
TM thinks highly of Michael Rowbotham's book on this, which is, I think, entitled Grip of Death. It's quite an extraordinary concept, the fact that almost none of our money actually exists; well, is imaginary.
We need to start to envision a different kind of relationship to money – surely?
If you want a very clear, concise, depiction of exactly how our debt-based economy works, in precisely 2 minutes and 37 seconds, have a look at this: http://www.positivemoney.org.uk
Normal service will hopefully be resumed after a kip.
Thursday, 21 June 2012
~ Roselle Angwin © 2012
Wednesday, 20 June 2012
'Poems, even when narrative, do not resemble stories. All stories are about battles, of one kind or another, which end in victory and defeat. Everything moves towards the end, when the outcome will be known.
'Poems, regardless of any outcome, cross the battlefields, tending the wounded, listening to the wild monologues of the triumphant or the fearful. They bring a kind of peace. Not by anaesthesia or easy reassurance, but by recognition and the promise that was has been experienced cannot disappear as if it had never been. Yet the promise is not of a monument. (Who, still on a battlefield, wants monuments?) The promise is that language has acknowledged, has given shelter, to the experience which demanded, which cried out.
'Poems are nearer to prayers than stories, but in poetry there is no one behind the language being prayed to. For the religious poet, the Word is the first attribute of God. In all poetry words are a presence before they are a means of communication...
'The poet places language beyond the reach of time... Poetry can speak of immortality because it abandons itself to language, in the belief that language embraces all experience, past, present, and future.'
Monday, 18 June 2012
Here there is still a small fishing fleet: despite the sea being fished out, and despite myself not eating animals, it gladdens me nonetheless to see the remnants of a small local natural-world enterprise, complete with the dangers of relying on the sea and her moods, still surviving; and after all, my ancestors were fishers and trawlermen, some of them, out of Cornwall.
A and I sit in sun, with a mug of coffee, with the scent of saltwater and seaweed blowing over us.
Walking back, picking our way over sand and painters – or maybe they're simply called mooring ropes* when they belong to slightly bigger boats – inhaling sea air, I come across a very beautiful small stone Buddha, just back of the sea. I remind myself that I can choose to simply be here, with everything just as it is, right now, and be ok with it.
The hospital is small, quiet, friendly – and perched on the hill with far-reaching and uplifting views over said sea. While I wait I read Kathleen Jamie's essay on gannets, think myself back up in the Hebrides, see them diving with such ferocity of intent into the Sound of Mull.
The surgeon is gentle, and jokey. I say, as I lie on the theatre couch (if that's what you call it) trying not to feel sorry for myself, how lucky we are still to have a(n) NHS, and how fortunate I am that this is such a small affair, and so easily dealt with, in such a peaceful situation, given Syria, given Africa, given terrible wounds, war and violence, given probably a large proportion of the world.
Nonetheless, although I can feel no pain due to the local anaesthetic, the sound and sensation of my skin being cut away at my throat is odd, disturbing in a primal way. And the incision is bigger than I imagine it will be, and I'm told it might create 'pathological scarring', and there's no guarantee that it'll be entirely successful, or that I won't need to come back. Breathe, I think. Right here, right now, how it is. 'And', he says, 'no more sitting in the sun without sunscreen.'
I'm aware, too, of the irony of noticing and dealing with my mum's carcinoma last year, before she died; and being oblivious to my own, growing, strangely, at the same time.
Back home, we raise a glass to missing parts. Outside the female woodpecker flies in to the peanut feeder, this time with her daughter. (Usually she brings her son, or they come as a threesome.) I notice how she favours the son: fat and cocky and demanding as he is she succumbs to his bullying and feeds him; her slender smaller daughter she mostly chases away, even tonight when it's just the two of them. She feeds the daughter maybe one time in four of the daughter's requesting.
What is it, I wonder, that makes her favour the son? Is this an evolutionary quirk? Are there more females than males in the contemporary world? Are males a better bet for the lineage? Do woodpeckers have an Oedipus complex and whatever its reciprocal maternal complex is? Or is it simply that his bullying persistence drives her nuts (so to speak)?
And then I think about what it is that makes us favour one person over another (I'm not thinking of children here, though of course there is an argument that parents and children choose each other pre-birth; that it is not an accident, the fact of to whom we are born/whom we parent). Evolution/pheromones/biochemistry? A psychological fit? A rush of blood to the heart?
(Or simply to the more physical and procreative parts?) A sense of deep recognition, unquantifiable?
Something like a sense of twin rocks in the same stream, the same waters of consciousness washing our pasts and our futures?
And I think I'd better stop there; two glasses of fizz now to the wind, and I might pull this blog in the morning...
*This reminds me of a poem of mine. It has nothing to do with anything except boats, and the hazardous journeys of the heart. Nonetheless, here it is (and maybe 'rope' should really be called 'sheet'):
Riding the back of the Tamar
our keel cutting clean,
waves peeling away to the margins,
narrow channel, silver
among silvered mud,
hoisting the jib, rope snaking
past our feet, creak of breeze,
the deck tilting
between red and green lights,
Navy flotilla, open sea ahead.
Everywhere the world gives voice
unreservedly, over and over:
day crawling up the sky,
the lights of Saltash
multiplied and returned from water,
taste of light rain and saltspray,
that flock of squeaking titmice
shimmying in the pines
we left behind,
tea in this red plastic mug.
The sun, still rising.
What we need is faith,
a good wind,
a few kind words.
© Roselle Angwin
Sunday, 17 June 2012
As I’ve mentioned before, two central practices for a writer are one, the art of really paying attention (observation); two, cultivating imagination, which brings apparently disparate things together. Imagination is served hugely by thinking symbolically, getting into the habit of continually inviting metaphor. What’s it like? What’s this like? Everything’s symbolic; as poet John Casteen says: ‘The physical world / contains an inexhaustible supply of metaphor…’
Just as the phrase ‘what if?’ is a key phrase for a fiction writer, so the question ‘what’s it like?’ is key for a poet. (In fact, metaphor, I’d say, is central to any creative endeavour.) Looking for a metaphor – the comparison of one thing with another – is a way of thinking associatively; a ‘right brain’ activity that allows us a freedom from linear thinking. Where the rational mode tends to differentiate, discriminate and separate, metaphoric or image-based language is the language of the heart: it connects, associates, and tends to draw together.
I’ve been thinking about heart and heartfulness, and what that means; how important it is to live ‘with heart’, to write with heart, from the warm core of oneself.
Whether or not it’s actually physiologically the case, we all know what it means to have heartache, through loss, or love, or joy, or separation, or empathy: a physical pain that certainly seems to make itself felt in the region of the heart. (And goodness knows we all have enough reason to feel heartache in this poor neglected war-torn and overheating world of ours.)
And a metaphorical pain to the heart – a shock, grief, loss, mourning, separation – is so often mirrored symbolically in the body. I’ve been doing some one-to-one work with a writer who came to me to unblock his creative life. His feeling was that his voice was blocked and nothing seemed to have ‘heart’ in his life; no surprise to find that he’d had a minor heart op just before we started our work together.
Over a few sessions, we uncovered a number of sources of grief in his current and back story. Gradually, working through these things on paper, looking for creative images, metaphorical ways to relate to these things, he started to find ways to allow the repressed or unarticulated griefs of his life to shape new creative expression.
There’s a huge amount of energy locked up in trying to hold painful things at bay; and that same energy is therefore not available for creativity.
How’s your heart? Image for it? Ken Smith in Shed writes a poem to his heart after a serious illness. Here he compares his heart to a fennel root, to a great horseradish, to a loaf of hot bread ‘new minted from the oven’. ‘Heart, brave messenger’, he says.
I asked my client to have a Q & A session with his heart, writing it out as a dialogue. Then I asked him to acknowledge the various heartaches of his life, and to write a love letter to his heart, pulling him through year after year as it had. Finally, he finished by making a poem. Our hearts, metaphorically speaking, can always use a bit of attention. You might want to try something similar?
Shed: poems 1980-2001, Ken Smith (Bloodaxe Books, 2002 Northumberland)
Thursday, 14 June 2012
How I love the BBC. Eddie Mair's 'PM' programme on radio 4 last Tuesday was both excellent and inspiring (and punctuated by the little personal asides: 'I am 46' – a kind of repeating thread re his forgetfulness. 46 isn't so old! Perhaps he's in love?). A little piece of information with far-reaching effects was that the Global Peace Index for the last year has actually shown decreasing levels of violence, globally, hard though that might be to imagine. How cheering; and how unexpected; and how our perceptions are skewed by the media.
Another joy was the lovely Emma-Jane Kirby's report on the new French dance production 'Swan', which has dancers improvising with live swans with whom they've been establishing a rapport of 'reciprocal imprinting' since the cygnets hatched two years ago. We heard how part of the set involves dancers improvising in relationship to the swans, sometimes in glass water-filled tanks and/or huge rose bowls. 'They adapt to us of course but we also try to adapt to them,' said a dancer. 'We have done a lot of imitation process – like spending hours imitating them and just being there and listening and looking at them – and they look at us. We just spend time with them, feeding, sleeping, playing, swimming, some of us also slept with them. This was not so comfortable!'
I have reservations about 'using' animals, but there is clearly no coercion here; just curiosity on the part of the swans, and response on the part of the dancers. There's a charming clip here: http://theatre-chaillot.fr/danse/luc-petton/swan
I believe that some of the swans are black (and the clip which shows cygnets seems to suggest that too).
This had me thinking about the white swan, and its untouchability: they crop up a lot in poetry and myth, where the white swan stands for a kind of spiritual virginity, as well as symbolising purity, and the soul. Here in the UK all (white) swans belong to the Queen, and it used to be pain of death to kill one. Swans supposedly mate for life, so there is some imagery there around loyalty and fidelity. Swans can also be aggressive.
Lindsay Clarke's extraordinary novel Alice's Masque opens with the protagonist accidentally and dreadfully hitting a swan on the motorway, which it had mistaken for a waterway; a gruesome reminder of Clarke's preferred territory: the symbolic destruction of soul/the feminine principle and the associated wasteland of our time.
This then brought me to thinking about how in our post-Judeo-Christian society we annex the white, the 'spiritual', the 'pure', and demonise the black, the darkness, to which we ascribe, consciously or otherwise, malevolence. In Jungian thought the only way to transcend the opposites is not by elevating the one and shunning the other, but by recognising and granting due respect to both in our psyche (and culture) in order to integrate them into the whole that they actually are, and which we forget at our and the world's cost.
And I remembered the utterly magical event of seeing a single black swan at Lopwell Dam near Tavistock, once; and how there is a little colony at Dawlish, on the Devon coast. The sight of anything unexpected can make the heart leap, of course; and that little glimpse has remained with me.
When I was doing some work as poet-in-residence at a school in Wiltshire a year or three ago, I decided to take the Black Swan concept into a maths class as prompt for creative writing.
This is what I used as a basis (not sure where I found this info; on the web, I imagine): ‘Black Swan Events were described by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his 2007 book, The Black Swan. Taleb regards almost all major scientific discoveries, historical events, and artistic accomplishments as "black swans" — undirected and unpredicted. He gives the rise of the Internet, the personal computer, World War I, and the September 11 attacks as examples of Black Swan Events.
‘The term black swan was a Latin expression — its oldest reference is in the poet Juvenal’s expression that "a good person is as rare as a black swan". It was a common expression in 16th century London as a statement that describes impossibility, deriving from the old world presumption that "all swans must be white", because all historical records of swans reported that they had white feathers. So a black swan was something that was impossible, or near impossible and could not exist. After the discovery of black swans in Western Australia in 1697 the term metamorphosed to connote that a perceived impossibility may later be found to exist.’
Identifying a black swan event (based on the author's criteria):
1. The event is a surprise (to the observer).
2. The event has a major impact.
3. After the fact, the event is rationalized by hindsight, as if it had been expected.
Clearly, the starting point was to identify these 'black swan' events in the students' lives in order to write about them. What I hadn't allowed for was the Muslim girl who said that such events simply never ever happened in her family life. I said: 'What about something simple, like someone buying you a new dress unexpectedly, or a surprise visitor, or phone call, or small gift?' She was adamant that such spontaneities never would or could occur in her household. I guess that's a kind of black swan event in itself, for me, anyway...
Monday, 11 June 2012
There are now two young woodpeckers visiting the feeder– not sure if they're the same family or not. One is a fat male with a startlingly red crest, much bigger than his mother, and perfectly capable of feeding himself when she's not looking; but he not only hangs pathetically off the feeder mesh waiting for her to drop him a beakful, but is also rigorous in chasing off the other youngster, a female.
We're harvesting our first new potatoes. We haven't grown Colleen before, and they're completely delicious. The broad beans hardly bear speaking of (this is the third planting, and a weedy, thin, insect-chewed little tribe they are), but I gathered a small handful yesterday – the first of the season.
Of Cabbages and ... The Matter of Gastropods
Almost all of our kale seedlings and most of our purple sprouting broccoli, several rows, were picked off by pigeons. We have plastic 'collars' with inverted rims (turned back on themselves, I mean) as slug deterrents on some of the beans for winter freezing (French beans, borlotti, and flageolet) – they're so expensive that we only have a few. My trusty silver builders' sand is proving not up to the task of repelling the slugs that are already in the ground, and four of my seven courgette/pumpkin seedlings were completely removed in one night's slugfest. Several of the beans succumbed; several others have been nibbled; hopefully not fatally. This is on top of several lots of resowing where beans had rotted in soil that was firstly too cold, then too wet.
TM is visibly angry – something I don't witness often. It's primal, producing your own food; we put a lot of work into it, and TM has put a great deal more effort again into the building of the beds and the transporting of soil up a very steep slope. He's so angry he can barely speak for a while after discovering the pigeons' devastation of the brassicas; considering this transgression, I'm very glad he doesn't own an air-rifle. I plead tithing – we can afford to lose some of the crop, I say; and how should they know that it's not OK to eat such succulent new young greens? He doesn't buy it.
What does one do? I won't (generally) kill anything, not even a slug (though it is true I do kill the odd mosquito, if it's caught in the act of pinching my blood). I feel strongly about this. 'Every being trembles before danger,' says the ancient Pali Dhammapada. 'All fear death. A man considering this does not kill or cause to kill.' I practice Buddhism, and this is a central tenet.
So we stick windmills into the soil near the replanted brassica crop, and birdwire – a kind of humming string, the noise of which apparently deters birds. These measures will save some of the crop. We should have done that before the seedlings appeared. We might have to net them. More fools us, for our inertia.
But what to do about the slugs? My life is overfull to the extent that I'm permanently exhausted; I know I'm not going to get it together to go up into the steep field by torchlight each night to pick slugs off four big beds, and then the two little beds near the house, and remove them into the woods.
TM simply wants to use slug pellets to kill them**. He says that we are after all pretty carefully organic in every other way, and we're talking about a very small area. We don't have to be quite as purist and hardcore. I resist this, deeply. It's not just the use of poison; it's the knock-on effects: no slugs = no frogs, toads, hedgehogs, thrushes, blackbirds.
Let them eat cake*
And therein lies the rub: our large-scale use of pesticides and herbicides is responsible for the vast decline in wildlife species, as well as the pollution of rivers and earth. If we don't care for the sake of the other species in their own right, then at least we might consider exactly what and who is going to pollinate our food crops when all the bees have died from ingestion of pesticides, herbicides, weakened immune systems, Varroa mite, more concrete and fewer flowers, bad weather.
Many non-organic seeds are coated in neonicotinoids (actually I need to check if these have now been banned in the UK; but I suspect not); this means that the emerging flowers too carry a toxic pesticide load, and there is an impact on bees, other insects that feed on the flowers, and maybe even a small dose impregnates the birds feeding on those insects. How wonderful would it be to plant only organic flowers?
And how would it be to do this for its own sake, because it needs doing, for the planet – regardless of how it might benefit us, our species?
Egocentrism or Ecocentrism
SO: something that occupies a great deal of my thinking time, as well as my lifestyle ethos and personal practice, is how we as a species can move from our deeply engrained habit of anthropocentrism to one that genuinely relates to the rest of the ecosphere as having equal standing and equal rights to those of humans.
This ecocentric view will of course not be to everyone's taste, but having spent a lot of my last two or three decades investigating green ethics, one way or another, I cannot see any other way forward for all of us than to reassess our relationship to the natural world and the rest of its inhabitants towards establishing a more compassionate and egalitarian worldview. Ethically speaking I can't put my name to any approach that involves a relationship to the planet that is utilitarian: ie based on its 'usefulness' to humans, thus reducing everything to a 'resource'.
This re-visioning seems increasingly urgent. More, it seems unlikely that we ourselves will survive, let alone the other species with whom we share this planet, without a change of direction. The capitalist model of growth is simply unsustainable: it requires infinite resources, and too many of us live on a small planet with limited supplies of the things we require to keep our consumer lifestyles afloat.
The trouble is that the alternative doesn't appeal much. We have got used to having what we want, and our whole way of life in the Western world is predicated on material growth and accumulation. But 'how little do we need, rather than how much?' would be an excellent starting point.
Capitalism in the Stone Age
I have masses to write and to say on all this – starting with my view that capitalism – acquisitional growth – began in the Neolithic, with the appropriating and expanding of territory (as opposed to the hunter/gatherer ethos). But that's another blog or three.
What I'm interested in right now, though, is how, on a practical level, here in this garden, we do or don't manage to live within and from an ecocentric viewpoint. It is, of course, one thing espousing the ideology, and another putting it into practice on the microcosmic scale. Any comments/tips, please share them with us!
Last year I posted a blog on our attempts here at home to live in a genuinely eco-friendly way in the veg garden: http://roselle-angwin.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/how-to-love-hornets.html. For more on all of this, you might want to re/visit this post if you're interested in living with so-called pests.
* Actually what Marie Antoinette said was 'Release the brioche flour' (eg to the masses).
** TM says that his final word was that we could use the non-toxic-to-anything-else slug pellets sold by a green firm. I'm delighted to say that so far we're not using any.
If you're interested in questions around how we live, and how we might live more sustainably, I can't recommend highly enough Patrick Curry's academic text book (be warned it's dense; it's also comprehensive, incisive and thought-provoking) analysing the various positions vis a vis the anthropocentric/ecocentric movements within, loosely, the field/s of deep ecology, see: Ecological Ethics, Patrick Curry, Polity, 2011
Friday, 8 June 2012
Wednesday, 6 June 2012
The circulation of the lymph
Are figured in the drift of stars
T S Eliot, 'Burnt Norton'
The transit of Venus across the face of the sun that we experienced last night here in the northern hemisphere happens twice in a period of approximately 105 years. This current transit occurred eight years after the last one, and its subtle effects, in terms of the cosmos, will be strong for a couple of days, but continue to make themselves felt gently over a much longer period. It occurs at the time of a particularly potent full moon, in Sagittarius, with both the sun (as usual at a full moon) and Venus conjunct the sun in polarity to that.
Symbolically speaking, we could think of the sun as the intense penetrating vigour of the masculine principle, and also the ego, in the human psyche. The solar energy is an unambiguous force. The moon symbolically is the shadowy reflective receiver of light, and altogether more equivocal. This is a primary pair, Sol/Luna.
Venus, also a manifestation of the feminine principle, symbolically stands for the softer receptive qualities of the feminine aspects of the psyche, specifically manifest in love of harmony, beauty, the arts, relatedness and love itself. Think Aphrodite, her Greek counterpart. (We could say that her natural consort, Mars, or Ares, is the warrior aspect of the masculine principle.)
So what might a transit of Venus across the sun suggest, on a human level? Maybe it would symbolise a cosmic climate in which the full-on unavoidable blazing of the sun is tempered a little by a bringing to the fore of a gentler tenderer more 'feminine' way of being, where attention is paid not so much to the direction and quantity of light but to a softening of light shining on the more personal qualities of our connecting with others or another; paying attention to the dimmer switches, or to candlelight. It's clearly a tempering of full-on yangness with a little yin.
Archetypally speaking, a Venusian time is a time of partnership, relatedness, harmony and feeding the feeling nature with creativity, art, music, poetry, beauty. It's also about a quality of communication in which engagement is enjoyed for its own sake, where the natural flow of energy between lovers or friends is easy, is playful, is graceful.
Astrologer Jonathan Cainer points out that the last time this transit happened (I mean prior to the 1st one in 2004 this century) in the 1880s it coincided with the beginnings of suffrage. He suggests that this transit will also manifest in sociopolitical terms collectively, maybe in regard to the world's money markets. We do, after all, as he says, have a woman heading the IMF for the first time. Perhaps, he suggests, at last the more 'feminine' values of empathy and compassion, combined with the justice signified by Libra which is ruled by Venus, will start to emerge more strongly on the global stage, including in the world of finance.
However, as Venus is also transiting the sun retrograde, that is, apparently, from our perspective, backwards, at the moment, symbolically it may be that we recognise the need for the qualities above by the experience of their opposites or absence. Perhaps we need in our individual lives and also collectively to be prepared to revisit aspects of our lives in relationship, unfinished business in love partnerships and friendships, before we can finally let go of what we need to in order to move forward.
Such transits always symbolise the potential for transformation of consciousness: maybe not immediate, or blinding, but subtle and enduring. There is always a change following along in their wake, though it may only be in retrospect that we recognise that.
As this is the second in the linked pair of Venus transits, it might also be instructive to look back at what was happening in our lives eight years ago to see whether any (soft, Venusian) light might be shed on what is happening now.
I've just revisited that time in my personal memory – I was coming through a heartbreak and was experiencing a deep and turbulent sense of loss and darkness, which astrologically for me revolved around the archetype of Pluto – another story and not relevant in the same way this time. (I'll post below a poem I wrote at that transit). Later that year I had perhaps one of the happiest times in my life, as well as one of the most creative, with a complete change in circumstances for 6 months as a poet-in-residence in a beautiful place in Dorset. This marked a fresh and vibrant new direction for me (and my first full individual poetry collection was published as a result, and I started painting, and selling paintings, seriously then).
It remains to be seen, of course, whether collectively, in the wider world, we'll notice a subtle shift in world dynamics and political affairs.
Venus, by the way, performs a particularly exquisite dance around the earth, creating as she goes a beautiful five-pointed star shape in her eight-year orbit (eight years on earth is thirteen Venusian years – notice the Fibonacci sequence here! - and see The Golden Section, by Scott Olsen in Wooden Books for more on Fibonacci/phi/the golden ration).
Transit of Venus 2004
First the dark god rides –
something swelling and thickening
between me and the river,
a place of no-place, cloying, fetid.
Then a sicksweet stench slides
from by the dog-rosed hedgerow,
a flutter of darkness in my nostrils.
Branches like fractured limbs. Discs elide.
Pluto opposing. The Sun eclipsed.
When our mouths are stopped
with the mud of our pasts
we have to find another way to sing.
She then lends us wings,
bestows some loving-kindness.
I take off over this dark lake
resist its claws.
Monday, 4 June 2012
'The mind I love must still have wild places, a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in heavy grass, an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two (real snakes), a pool that nobody's fathomed the depth of, and paths threaded with those little flowers planted by the mind.'
~ Katherine Mansfield
Sunday, 3 June 2012
(I quoted this too in my related blogpost 'Reason & Imagination' of 9 April this year.)
Eternally Opposite, Eternally Connected
‘Poets,’ says writer William Oxley, ‘are not creatures of the intellect but creatures of the imagination.’
I’d modify that a little to read: ‘Writers are firstly creatures of the imagination, and only secondarily creatures of the intellect.’
At the risk of introducing polarised thinking, it’s relevant here to talk about the two hemispheres of the brain. Nobel prizewinner Professor Roger Sperry researched what have come to be known as ‘left brained’ and ‘right brained’ thinking styles. In effect, these are two different ways of processing information, and an ideal scenario is one in which both sides of the brain are nurtured and exercised, and where there is flexible communication across the hemispheres as well as the ability to integrate these different ways of processing information.
Left brained thinking is the one in which most of us function during most of our waking time. Our culture requires this focus of us, and has valued this state of ‘doing thinking’ over what we could call ‘being feeling’. This state is one of high cortical arousal; logical, analytical, linear, language-based consciousness rooted in the reasoning ability. It is in this brain activity that we plan and map and schematise or organise the way in which we move forward in our daily lives. In relation to creative writing we could call this function the editor, the town planner, the grown-up.
Right brain states are normally associated with the unconscious, or liminal states of consciousness. They involve a lower level of cortical activity, and theta brainwaves associated with that state of reverie (the hypnagogic state) experienced just before drifting into, or coming out of, sleep are connected with creative inspiration. These right brain states are non-verbal, image-based feeling states which are also associated with play, as well as with visual/perceptual modes of ‘thinking’. It seems that the right hemisphere processes and retains verbal material better if it is carried in images, pattern, rhythm or feeling; hence the retention in the memory of song or poetry, sometimes even when other faculties have failed; and the reason perhaps for encoding important wisdom in poetry and story in the oral (bardic) tradition. This is the ‘imaginer’ part of the brain: right brain is the inventor, the artist, the magician, the child.
Both parts of the brain of course are in use simultaneously, and even maths requires both hemispheres (apparently in solving a mathematical problem the brain sends messages back and forth between both nine times) – and both, of course, need to be involved in creativity; but each has its own stage in the process, its own time.
Neuropsychology calls the right brained state ‘primary process thinking’ and the left ‘secondary process thinking’. Each is characterised by its own level of cortical arousal, although some research suggests that these styles may not be so much related to particular regions of the brain as to differing levels of arousal on a continuum. ‘Defocused attention’, a kind of diffuse awareness that scans, reads and collects information across a broad field through a spontaneous, associative and connectional process, is characteristic of primary process and the earlier stages of creativity. ‘Focused attention’, on the other hand, is characteristic of secondary processes and is needed in the later stages of creativity, such as shaping, refining and editing.
For me, all this is another way of saying that both head and heart have to be involved in the making of a piece of writing; and the ability to see both detail and the whole picture.
As writers, our ability to communicate effectively – by which I mean inspiringly and excitingly, as well as via the arrangement of words/ideas on the page – depends partly on our ability to work from a balanced brain perspective, where intuition and analysis, play and seriousness, spontaneity and planning, lateral and linear, freewheeling and focused all come together.
Encourage the right brain with the exercises below, which in their ultimate expression rely also on the ‘thinking’ powers of the left brain.
Incidentally, using visual art – a picture, sculpture or image – as a prompt is a very effective way of asking the right brain to kick in; or writing stream-of-consciousness style while listening to instrumental music.
The exercises below ask for non-verbal responses. (When you’re responding to any of the exercises in this book, don’t feel you have to respond only in words. Try including drawing in some of your responses.)
These are both best done with a partner, though it is possible to work alone.
Pictograms are, says Tony Buzan, the inventor of mind-mapping, ‘a way of allowing the brain to talk to itself in its own language’. Certainly visual images are a good way in to writing for many people. Try this one:
Take a large sheet of paper, and use coloured pens if you prefer. On it draw, without thinking or premeditation, a number of pictograms or hieroglyphs –pictures/symbols/images/shapes/patterns/stick figures (10 or 12), leaving plenty of space between. They don’t have to be neatly ordered in lines.
Swap (if relevant). Now write imaginative notes, words, phrases beneath each one. Again try not to ‘think’ as you do this – jot down the first thing that comes into your mind – allow it to be spontaneous, and don’t worry about ‘fitting’ the words to the image.
If you’re working with someone else, swap back. Work up the notes, adding and subtracting as you wish, to shape a piece of writing: a story or poem.
Pictogram 2: (This is an adaptation of an artists’ exercise by Betty Edwards.)
Again, take a large sheet of paper, and turn it horizontally. Make three small boxes along the top, and again about halfway down. Under each one write the name of an emotion: grief, joy, rage, jealousy, passion, fear. Now, again without thinking, sketch a quick abstract representation of that feeling state.
Take one of the boxes. With reference to the sketch, not the word underneath, write a stream-of-consciousness piece without stopping or thinking.
A variation on this is to fill the boxes with quick abstract representations of people you know; and then do the same thing.
Saturday, 2 June 2012
lifelong friends; rain, plants, stone, birds
at ease with themselves and each other, at ease
with how the world needs to be.
(from 'Rain Dharma', All the Missing Names of Love.)
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