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.
Wednesday, 28 August 2013
This is a sad week. As some of you know, I've been very involved in the badger cull protests. With polls showing 80% opposition to the cull, and with far too many scientific studies showing that its effect will be negligible to even start to cover them here (I've been collecting evidence for 18 months), myself and other friends who've been active in opposing it really did think we might turn it around; but it's started.
And now there is the probability of military intervention in Syria – surely an unwise decision, though I realise the issue is complex in humanitarian terms.
In the light – dark – of all this, I want to post this poignant and moving poem by William Stafford, to remind us all that even when humankind seems to be so lost, we can still hold together.
A Ritual to Read to Each Other
If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.
And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
― William Edgar Stafford
Stay awake, my friends, stay awake...
Tuesday, 27 August 2013
Autumn is dropping her stories, already, all over the moor.
Each year I think I've never seen the rowans such a perfect shade of pumpkin-red, the light quite so enchantingly golden, promiseful. There are stories in the juicy 'whorts', the wild bilberries clinging to the rockfaces; in the ancient granite boulders; in the steps I take in the steps of others on this oldest of drovers' tracks.
In the west, against a hazy sky, Pew and Vixen Tors are cutouts. As I think the names of the tors, ahead of me on the track something flashes a shout of russet against the goldgreen light – vulpine and voluptuous with summer.
I notice with a heart-murmur of pain the new young badger's freshly-dug latrine: it's tonight the badger cull is due to start. I can barely let my mind go there – the cruelty, the stupidity, the insanity, the demonisation that, against the science, is to pacify farmers about TB.
I lie back on a mossy boulder. The grove holds its stillness as a chalice bears wine. I still too to earth-time.
Across from me new tongues of fern emerge from stone speaking their own green language; descendants, perhaps, of the ones that have died in the season since I was here; since we were here. Or maybe the old crown simply died back, and these new Fibonacci spirals are re-emergence from the same strong rootstock.
Once we looked into the mouth of this history of rock; its tales, its long journeys and transformations. We wrote for it then, in its language.
At the edge of the grove our other selves flicker in the trees; die away; re-materialise. Perhaps nothing is ever truly lost.
I wish I could upload for you the stories of the unknown unseen yous. I wish I could upload, too, the yaffle of the green woodpecker as it undulates away southwest; the song of the unseen wren by the granite gateway; the sharp taste of wood sorrel leaves bursting on my tongue. From somewhere comes a tang of pony on the breeze; warm, sweet, good.
Now, homewards, the late August sun slides over my hair and neck, my shoulders, my back.
The lanes are dusted with handfuls of golden chaff from the barley harvests.
Later, darker, waifs of cloud float down the Princetown road, slow me to a crawl in case of ponies, sheep, cattle in the road. The other side of each wisp is astonishingly clear: the Milky Way shawling the sky.
I don't know, suddenly, if I find myself drifting among the stars, or if I am myself the drifting stars.
From Thursday, I'll be off in France leading a writing retreat in the wild Cévennes (one place left for anyone wanting a last-minute adventure!).
I'm not taking my computer, so more after 9th September.
Sunday, 25 August 2013
It's an exciting moment when the cover for your next book arrives. (Actually, it's a bit agonising opening the jpeg – just in case you hate it. Luckily, I didn't – not least because the publishers used my photo!) And when the proofs come, and the book's existence in the world is about to become a reality rather than a dream and you have to reread the typescript with one eye to the public, it's quite a trepidatious experience.
When I write, I write because I'm passionate about the content; I don't write for a particular audience. However, of course it's not true to say I don't think about a readership – every writer wants to be read. But my focus is on what I want to explore, even as I'm trying to make my writing the most engaging, and fluid, that it can be to convey my subject and entice a reader.
I wrote Imago, my first novel (see http://roselle-angwin.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/pyrenees-cathars-and-imago-part-1.html and three other posts), hot on the hooves of my first commissioned book, Riding the Dragon. It was an easy write, but it then took 17 years to find a home. After writing it in the early 1990s, I collected the prescribed number of rejection slips; some of our major publishing houses asked to see the whole manuscript (instead of the usual 3 chapters and synopsis), which is always a heartening sign. Several of them wrote a personal letter telling me how much they liked it, so thanks – but no thanks. The general consensus was that it was too minority-market; too esoteric for a general readership. Then Labyrinth and The Da Vinci Code made erstwhile esoterica more mainstream, and I eventually found a publisher. It's out there, and some people like it.
However, back in 2000 when I was about to embark on a new novel, and had a whole shoebox full, nearly, of rejection notes and letters for Imago, I thought that maybe I'd focus more on plot and less on character; make it more 'saleable'. I knocked ideas around with a friend and my daughter, and the plot gradually came into focus. I was, and am, pleased with it. I think it's strong, gripping, engaging. It takes place partly in Brittany (Imago was also partly set in France), but mainly on Dartmoor (Imago is partly set in Devon too).
This is part of what the blurb on the back says:
Take two brothers. One secret. One woman, two lovers. Add in two deaths, and the trauma of foot and mouth on a small Dartmoor hill farm. Under such pressure other older secrets emerge, with devastating consequences.
But then, of course, I discovered I had no interest at all in writing a plot-driven 'genre' novel for the sake of more sales.
What I'm interested in is character and relationship (in its broadest sense); and ideas. I'm interested in exploring the age-old dilemmas of the heart, of how we live and might live, in choices, consequences, responsibility, of the impact of our actions on self and other, and of the places, literal and metaphorical, choices take us.
I'm interested in what it means to live authentically, and what it means when our need to be ourselves, and to act with integrity, compromises consensual morals or our own desires; what happens when what we need is in conflict with what someone we love needs; I'm interested in the 'hero's journey' towards individuation. (I suppose both books explore the quest to be more nearly one's truest self.)
I'm interested in the fact that the heart can hold apparently contradictory truths, and can love more than one person.
I'm also passionate about how we might live in relationship with other species; and, as a lifelong countrydweller, I'm deeply interested in rural issues – so misunderstood by Government after Government, and so under-represented in fiction (unless you count the so-called 'aga-sagas').
Just as I was writing my storyline and putting people in situations where they would be tested close to the limits, foot and mouth broke out around me. I was living at the time on the edge of Dartmoor, and we were in the epicentre of the first outbreaks. It was a truly appalling time; it became the norm to pass farm entrances sealed off with government officials sitting in parked cars at the gateway to make sure no entry or exit was happening. We all walked or drove through straw 'baths' of disinfectant.
Eventually our movements were restricted; footpaths and bridleways closed, and most of us limited our driving. The Government were in hysteria. It became the norm, horrifically, to see white-coated figures moving through fields of cattle and sheep; it became the norm to scan the horizon for new pyres. I find it hard to express just how grim it all was.
Once movement was permissible again, I drove the 60-odd miles across-country to North Devon to see my parents. The worst thing was seeing the lush pastureland of Devon, normally nearly all home to cattle and sheep, completely – and I mean completely – devoid of farm animals. There was a dreadful silence to it all, literally but also metaphorically.
I have farming family, and some of my farming friends were directly affected. Farmer after farmer went out of business; pedigree herds generations-long were culled. One of my friends manned the Farm Crisis Network helpline, and was fielding incident after incident of suicidal callers.
As a writer, I was documenting it. It was a disaster, a tragedy, and I didn't know what else I could do. Gradually it became clear to me that with so much obfuscation, dithering and mishandling on the part of the Government what was happening needed to be out there in the public domain. A more unconscious part of my brain was registering the tension and conflicts inherent in the crisis. Slowly, I found myself incorporating the material in a fictional form into the climax of the book. Such a trauma can completely tear a family apart, and I stirred that into my book. I discovered hidden issues in the storyline that I didn't consciously know about, but which, under such pressure, I could see were bound to erupt to the surface.
And then there was 9/11, and the run-up to the war in Iraq also became a backdrop.
And so the book was written. And didn't find a publisher. And then, it did – the same publisher as Imago and my last poetry collection. I'm pleased with it, ten+ years on; and I'm also a different person now, so the story I'd write now would be different. Nonetheless, there are similar themes in this book to some of the themes in Imago; most are psychological, as above; and, well, there's a 'love triangle'. Sort of. And I suppose there's also a kind of persecution: in Imago that was of a minority 'heretical' sect from the C13th; in The Burning Ground, the 'persecution' is more to do with our collective attitude towards animals as being dispensable where profit is concerned, and the imposition, via the Ministry of Agriculture, of urban values and requirements on a rural population.
If that all sounds a bit worthy, fear not – there's plenty of love, sex, loss and death – and I'm only partly joking when I say well, what else is fiction made of? There's also a great deal about land, and place, and our relationship to these and the natural world and of course to each other. And I had fun, too, gently sending up a New Age centre; I share many New Age ideas and beliefs, and worked thick in the heart of New Age ideas for many years – and can also see the ridiculous side of some of them. (I have what I hope is a healthy dose of scepticism whilst also appreciating so much that the New Age has brought.) So I hope there's also a little humour...
The Burning Ground is due on October 14th, from IDP. http://www.indigodreamsbookshop.com/#/roselle-tbg/4579665759
And you can also order it from your bookshop, or from the dreaded A-word online company...
Thursday, 22 August 2013
I think one of the hardest lessons I've had to learn, and keep relearning, it seems, is that there are times and situations and people from which/whom one simply has to walk away. I find that almost impossible to take onboard. But I've been thinking about the two or three friends I've lost over the last 30-odd years, and what precipitated the loss of our friendship, and realising that for me it's been the same issue each time.
I'm naïve sometimes. I tend to think the best of people, which is a good trait; but I hang on in there in situations where it's obvious to others that I'm harming myself, or even another, by doing this, which is a dumb trait. Also, I'm dogged, in the sense of hanging-on like a bull terrier: I'd always prefer to sort something out, way past its sell-by date, than walk away from it without resolution. Perhaps it's arrogant to think everything can be resolved?
And I'm over-responsible; plus I have a strong sense of guilt – due perhaps to my Catholic upbringing – which means that I take far too much responsibility for my part in any exchange which hasn't turned out well: beating myself up, being even more reasonable, trying harder to understand and accept behaviour that, actually, is not OK, making excuses for the other, and over-analysing my part in it. What this means, in turn, is that I try even harder.
I'm starting to realise that that one of the things that I respect and warm to most in another is the ability to see what one's done that's hurtful, and to say 'Sorry, I messed up there'. Taking responsibility for one's stuff. Owning one's shit. Taking back the projections. It takes a kind of humility and self-awareness, it requires looking at what we don't want to see about ourselves, and it makes us vulnerable. Without it, I think deep friendship and real intimacy simply aren't possible.
One of the Buddhist precepts is about doing all one can to resolve a situation. What the precept doesn't speak of is that it's also wise to stop once you feel you've done all you can; to do anything else – like continuing to try to resolve it – might be a form of coercion, of self and/or other, of soul, no matter how positive the original motivation. (I'm reminded of a Buddhist teacher's words, in that case about compassion, but I'm sure there's an analogy here: 'The kind of idiot compassion that helps little old ladies across the road, whether or not they want to go.')
'Know Thyself', enjoins the inscription over the temple of the oracle at Delphi. And I have lately realised that some people simply don't want to go there – and my expectation that they do isn't helpful. (OK, I'm a slow learner.)
When the chips are down, as they say, no matter how lovely the person might be in many ways, or how much one appreciates aspects of the friendship, the importance of self-honesty can't be over-estimated, in friendship, for me, anyway. If we're not willing to be try to be honest with ourselves, how can we be trustworthy with another?
And, too, more fundamentally, there are some personalities and temperaments that simply don't do well together; and some people who simply aren't good for each other. It doesn't make either person wrong, or bad, or lacking; but it might mean that to stay is masochistic. Then, perhaps, there is simply nothing one can do other than just walk away.
Wednesday, 21 August 2013
The fruits of it are coming out now.
Ruth has been walking the Southwest Coastpath; a marathon 630 miles along the stunning and dramatic coastline of Britain from near Poole in Dorset to Minehead in Somerset, taking in, of course, all of the Devon and Cornish coasts. If you know the coastpath, you'll know how stunning and unique the walk is. If you don't, there's a treat ahead of you. The project complete, the walks are just now coming out in sections. I have the first Cornwall (from Plymouth) four in my hands, and more are due out at the end of this month. (Ruth's already brought out the Dorset to Plymouth sections.)
Ruth's brief was to write up short circular walks, graded from easy to strenuous, since most people are not in a position to do long stretches (plus there's the issue of transport at the other end), so most of them are a morning's or afternoon's walk (between about 3.75 and 8 miles, on the whole).
The guides divide the coastline into sections of 16 or 17 walks per book. Each is surprisingly detailed, given that there isn't a lot of space, and Ruth's included aspects of interest, such as ancient and heritage sites, history and natural history, local legend, info on local characters (eg Daphne du Maurier), or activities (eg tin mining, smuggling) relevant to each area. I know she had to rein herself in with frustration, since each book is slender; but I hear there's a Collected Works coming in the future, with all the bits she couldn't include.
The books are also pretty, with a good clear layout, and decent photos. A particularly useful addition to her walks are the aerial photos – it makes such a difference to have both text and visual descriptions. (Had the books been a little longer, I'd have liked the addition of a local map to enable one to see how the sections 'bolt together', but it's not a problem as each is self-contained.)
TM and I do quite a lot of walking on the coastpath. I posted about a bit of it ten days or so ago, with photos: we walked a stretch on the Lizard, the most southerly point of Cornwall. It's here: http://roselle-angwin.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/well-i-have-recaptured-something-i.html
And I talk about a stretch in East Devon to Dorset here: http://roselle-angwin.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/southwest-coastpath-day-1.html (I was too exhausted at TM's walking pace to write up the succeeding days).
The four books I have so far are the sections from Plymouth to Falmouth, Falmouth to Penzance, Penzance to St Ives, and St Ives to Padstow. I love them. They're slim enough to slip into a bag or a big pocket, and make you want to get out there and walk right now.
You can buy them here: http://www.swcpa.co.uk/products/Falmouth-to-Penzance-Colour-Booklet-%252d-Walks-along-the-South-West-Coast-Path.html (scroll down for the other books), and of course at the usual online outlet whose name we don't mention. Best of all might be to order them in to your local bookshop. They're £4.95 each. Look for Ruth Luckhurst. And if you buy them, like them, and walk, please do post her some reviews.
There are wonderful photos and details of the whole route here: http://www.southwestcoastpath.com/
Tuesday, 20 August 2013
Day seems to rise up from the ground in the wavering thinning river mist, rather than wash down from the sky. Each morning carries the scent of autumn already, and the light is soft, sifted. This morning two hot air balloons drifted over southwards from the moor; I heard the burners' continuous roar as the balloonists struggled to keep them afloat – no thermal lift, despite the heat.
A spotted woodpecker came again to tap at the kitchen door; I don't know why. Last week, TM's cat, who very rarely catches birds, caught the other young robin – just one left now from that little courtyard brood whom I've been carefully watching; who've survived so much. When I went into the house yesterday, the cat was prowling by the dresser, back and forth, pacing. Unusual behaviour, so I shut her out, in case. At that point a tiny baby vole, half the size of my little finger, shot out from beneath the dresser and wove its way in the shelter of the furniture to the open door into the courtyard.
A hammock hour to celebrate the arrival of the cover for my new novel (more anon; am pleased with it). Dreaming under the blue sky by the ash trees: one of the local buzzards; a skitter of young swallows, still minus their long tails, about me, chittering and looping – already they've been gathering on wires.
The bumblebees are the size of hornets. I never thought I'd say these words, but – I find myself actually missing the hornets we've had in previous years – their placid (unless threatened) natures, their aphid-eating ways. A dragonfly buzzes me, curious, then goes to hang vertically, as if in water, on a plantain stalk, its tiger-face turning my way from a yard or two. A bluebottle lands near it and it bounces up into the air. The fly rises too and then resettles; the dragonfly jounces away, as if threatened. The butterflies are here en masse now: fritillaries, admirals, peacocks, orange-tips, coppers, meadow browns, small blues and of course the cabbage whites.
At last our veg plot is cropping – weeks after our friends' with polytunnels, but we've an organic and abundant harvest of early maincrop red potatoes, huge onions, garlic, and the wonderful Cobra French beans are forgiving of elements and prolific of crop, as are the kales. And at last we've enough courgettes coming on to make fritters (try them: grate a couple of fat courgettes and maybe a potato, leave them in a bowl with a good shake of salt for 10 minutes; squeeze them out, then mix with herbs, a chopped onion and some garlic, salt and pepper, a beaten egg, and stir in about a half-mug of flour, then drop flattened spoonfuls into hot olive oil. You can add the courgette flowers too, and I sometimes mix in marigold petals.).
The daffodil bulbs are already in the shops. The wasps are eating our apples. These days. These days of late summer, of fire and water, earth and air...
Saturday, 17 August 2013
The GM issue is a troubling one. Proponents argue that it'll solve the world's hunger problems. My own sense is that it's not genetic modification we need to look to, but better, fairer, more sustainable methods of food production that are in harmony with natural systems; better and fairer methods of distribution; and challenging the agri-businesses, including and especially of course the pharmaceutical companies responsible for, and set to make huge sums of money from, pesticides, herbicides and now GM.
There is also the issue that GM crops, once released into the environment, can't simply be retracted if they are seen to be harmful rather than beneficial; and so far we simply don't know their long term effects. Inserting a GM gene into an organism, as an expert tells us below, does alter the protein structure in potentially damaging ways.
As far as I know, GM crops are sterile, which then raises the socio-political problems of, for instance, African farmers being sold GM seed and having to rely on the pharma companies each year to buy seed as they can no longer save their own, now sterile, seed as they traditionally have done.
My friend Mario Petrucci, poet and PhD physicist, went out live on Radio 4 the other evening in discussion with Green MEP Caroline Lucas and erstwhile eco-activist Mark Lynas on the GMO issue. Here are his thoughts subsequent to that:
'Much has been made in recent years of the 'conversion' of Mark Lynas from eco-activist to pro-GM. Lynas tells us that his conversion was spurred by his study of scientific data showing beyond all reasonable doubt that GM is safe and indeed essential to future global food provision. I'm no coal-face expert on GM, I openly admit; but it's worryingly easy to find ample on-line data and opinion from individuals and agricultural groups that raise serious concerns about GM, opinions (these sources claim) also based on scientific data. Are these opposing positions all underinformed, misinformed, deluded or biased, and are companies such as Monsanto and their researchers all squeaky clean and up-front? What does your gut tell you here?
'Using my head, too, I sought defectors from the pro-GM movement, anyone who 'did a Lynas' in reverse. Here's the link for what seems a typical case (former pro-GM researcher Thierry Vrain): http://www.foodrevolution.org/blog/former-pro-gmo-scientist/ <http://www.foodrevolution.org/blog/former-pro-gmo-scientist/>
'For me, the hub of his argument is this: "I refute the claims of the biotechnology companies that their engineered crops yield more, that they require less pesticide applications, that they have no impact on the environment and of course that they are safe to eat.... studies show that proteins produced by engineered plants are different than what they should be. Inserting a gene in a genome using this [GM] technology can and does result in damaged proteins. The scientific literature is full of studies showing that engineered corn and soya contain toxic or allergenic proteins."
'Why do these sorts of people not get the same media coverage as Lynas? Of course, it's unwise to base your opinion on an online page here and there, however well-informed they seem; but the divergence in so-called expert opinion (all of it apparently based on science) is pretty startling. As a scientist, I can say it's clear that something's very wrong here. Perhaps this is a case of what I call 'Information Pollution' (e.g. 'junk science' used to promote an agenda, or the disingenuous interpretation of available data, or too many people adopting simplistic positions and not looking deeper). Or maybe the true value of GM is as yet a complex and unresolved issue, in which case should we be going with it? My own reading convinces me that we should be at least sceptical of GM while so much science and public opinion is in conflict on it, especially given the reported problems with GM that are already bleeding through for farmers using it. These instances need to be investigated reliably by independent scientists, if they haven't already. We need a clearer picture based on INDEPENDENT sources.
'On a live Radio 4 programme this very week, Lynas dismissed all my challenges to GM as simply wrong. The impression he gave was that the data didn't support my points at all.... (if you want to hear the whole programme, click link below...) http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0388kfn/Summer_Nights_Environmental_politics_fifty_shades_of_green/ <http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0388kfn/Summer_Nights_Environmental_politics_fifty_shades_of_green/>
'... and yet the comments I made were based on substantial evidence, consisting of first-hand accounts, comments and articles from practitioners in the field, and researched summaries: everything from published data to the BBC's own web article on super-weeds in the US (again, immediately dismissed by Lynas as 'wrong').... http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19585341 <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-19585341>
'Moreover, whoever turns out to be right on GM, and (more to the point, perhaps) whoever has funded the particular study you happen to be reading, it still leaves us with the problem that food provision worldwide is a much larger and interconnected issue than what happens in fields. Those concerned about feeding the world, and pressing for GM as a means to do it, might apply themselves equally (if they haven't already done so) to examining and challenging those economic, trade and social contexts that contribute to starvation and poverty. And is GM really the ONLY way to put that right or does GM (with its patents on seed, for instance) indeed become an exacerbating factor?
'Many say there is enough food already to feed to world, much of it grown locally by the very people who need it most, so the failures might also have something to do with issues such as fair trade, massive food wastage in the west, and the tempting of subsistence farmers into cash-crop monocultures that mainly serve developed nations. And what about biodiversity, protection of soil, and herbicide/pesticide pollution? Do organic methods and innovations (as it would seem) present safer workable alternatives? In India, for instance, SRI (a system of rice intensification) has "taken agribusiness giants by surprise with its record-breaking harvests across the globe.... an interrelated set of farming principles that rely on fewer seeds, less water and a partial or complete shift from inorganic fertilizers to organic manures and compost". Does this sound like bunkum to you, and if not why isn't it being more widely reported?... http://www.mnn.com/leaderboard/stories/how-small-scale-farmers-are-growing-more-rice-with-less-water-and-fewer <http://www.mnn.com/leaderboard/stories/how-small-scale-farmers-are-growing-more-rice-with-less-water-and-fewer>
'What I'm asking here is whether GM is really about feeding the world's poor, or is it at least as much to do with powerful multinationals endlessly turning a profit and seeking to gain commodity monopoly on our most basic assets? Meanwhile, organisations like the WTO may not always be doing quite what we thought they were:
'In any case, whichever way you lean on the GM issue, it probably isn't wise to assume it doesn't really concern us in daily life, and (more than that) please don't be bulldozed or even persuaded (too easily) by any simplistic assurance or challenge from the likes of Lynas or, for that matter, me.'
Environmental Scientist and Poet
16/17 August 2013
Friday, 16 August 2013
Wednesday, 14 August 2013
The Guardian has focused many column centimetres on the story. She herself wrote a column in last week's New Statesman speaking of what this has done to her life: how she can barely eat or sleep, let alone answer the door. Nonetheless, I'm as amazed at how she has stood firm and strong, without crumpling, as I am devastated and horrified that this kind of thing can happen in our time.
Her crime? Eating her children? Eating someone else's children? No. What Caroline Criado-Perez, co-founder of http://thewomensroom.org.uk, did was request that, once the Bank of England had decided to remove Elizabeth Fry from its £5 banknote and replace her with Winston Churchill, they reinstate a woman to add to the mostly-male line-up (apparently the Clydesdale bank has two women on their notes, but otherwise it's all men). When her request was initially refused, she cited the Equality Act. The new Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has agreed to replace Charles Darwin with Jane Austen (albeit with a bland quote).
Happily, Criado-Perez has the support of MP Stella Creasey and luminaries such as historian and feminist Mary Beard, who have themselves received a high number of threats and abusive tweets, and shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper. There's been a flood of signatories to the petition requesting Twitter to install a 'report abuse' button, which they've agreed to do. This may not seem much to offset against such rage and hate, but it's a small triumph.
Meantime, it's the 21st century, and patriarchal fundamentalism in the form of hatred and abuse of women continues unabated, as it has for at least the last four millenia, and probably longer. The Hebrew and Greek worlds undermined women and the feminine principle, and our own Western society is very much rooted still in this. (Frighteningly, it's this too that plays in to our destruction of the natural world, subliminally viewed in our collective depths as 'inferior', being 'merely' matter, and linked with the feminine/mother – 'mater' – as opposed to the more abstract world of spirit, or mind.)
Sophocles has Creon say in the Oedipus play: 'We'll have no woman's law here, while I live.' In the 6th century, at the Council of Macon, in France, the Church took a vote on whether women had souls; and it was returned in the affirmative – but only by one vote. St Augustine and St Paul, famously, were misogynists. Even Romeo and Juliet, that play over which we love to sigh, incorporates Mercutio's speeches telling Romeo to have his lustful way without worrying about the consequences to the woman. (To Shakespeare's credit, this is followed by a very different speech by Romeo that exalts the power of love.)
Jungian Robert Johnson, from whose book Femininity Lost and Regained I take the above info, says that it is not possible for love to flourish while exclusive masculine values are in power, and given that power is often exercised at the expense of love, love can only perish.
But what has been happening on Twitter exemplifies, amongst other things, a society in the death-throes of the patriarchal. What we're seeing is a backlash of fear and hatred at a sense of diminishing potency, in the face of women holding out for equal rights. It seems crucial that we don't respond in like terms. Hate will not bring anything other than more hate.
It's important that those of us who know how urgent it is that relatedness, community, fearlessness, the feeling nature and values founded in kindness and compassion are the only way forward stand firm on this.
Maybe, just maybe, we're seeing the beginning of a new era in which the masculine principle and the feminine will hold and work together, in men and women alike – though I doubt that any of us alive now will witness it.
Monday, 12 August 2013
So when I used a little of my mum's legacy to buy the 20-year-old 'Clarissa' for myself, I intended to include the very specific kinds of freedom allowed by waking up by the sea, with the dog, and with what little I need around me, plus the laptop powered by a solar panel kindly bestowed by my friend B to enable me to write up notebook contents – and the wherewithal to make a cup of tea.
And yes I know I know there are environmental issues: it's diesel, and after wrecking my last diesel engine by running it on recycled chip fat (not our own, I hasten to add), there's no avoiding the pollution. But I travel minimally, try and do so by public transport when I can, and fly almost never; so an occasional trip out that is the cause of so much joy I try not to feel too guilty about it. And, in material terms, this is the first home I've ever owned, and it is enough.
So we parked up, somewhat illegally, in a cliffside car park by a lovely Cornish 'hedge' (stone bank, studded with little wildflowers). At around midnight, five cars tore in driven, presumably, by the local youf, who proceeded to do numerous wheelies and handbrake turns at some speed and very close by. I hadn't realised quite how much revving such activities needed. We decamped, only to find that, with heavy rain setting in, the driver's side windscreen wiper had stopped functioning and was in fact about to drop off. We drove back in again.
I then spent the night awake, fretting but pretending to myself that I wasn't, about whether the 20-year-old bottled gas system for the cooker, which I've not managed to have serviced yet, was safe, and clearly at some level I thought staying awake to make sure I knew if we were about to die from toxic fumes whilst also getting the interior of the van wet due to many opened windows was a better bet than calculating the odds and getting a really good night's sleep (even though as it happened I'd barely slept the night before either).
But oh! – the joy of waking (well, in my case the relief of being awake and alive and not gassed, at a reasonably human hour, 6a.m.), as I'd imagined so many times, by the sea, and being able to make a cup of tea and savour the view. And then to be able to leave early on foot to walk the cliffs while the dew was on the grass and the sea too spangled with silver light; and then to have the sun break through and paint it all in gold – and all this in one of Britain's most beautiful spots and before all the August trippers arrived (though not before the early dogwalkers).
TM and I don't always do well with a lot of unstructured time in each other's company, as we sometimes seem to want to do different things. But coast walking is something we share well; and apart from a minor literary skirmish we didn't have any of the philosophical disagreements that are sometimes our default (yes, I wish we did just argue about whose turn to do the dishes/wash the laundry/clean the bathroom).
TM made up a haiku as we went along:
on the morning grass
dewy flowers sparkle
above the western sea
Not bad, I say, but you need a little leap of surprise between lines 2 and 3. It's good when you can have a small oblique reference to the human condition without actually stating it. Some say that haiku never include metaphors; some say that the whole haiku is a metaphor; my own sense is that the concrete imagery one uses can, and maybe must, somehow also stand in for transience and be more-than just concrete imagery.
Transience! says TM. Why would I want to do that?
Oh ho. That's where we get into difficulties. In a nutshell, my Zen approach suggests that wisdom lies in recognising and accepting transience and uncertainty, whereas for TM that's far too simplistic, and his whole drive lies in seeking truth and that which is permanent and unchanging. You could say these two approaches are polarities; or you could see that actually they are faces of the same coin. Whatever, we could have gone galloping off on one there.
I just about desist. I mention instead a lovely haiku by Basho:
the temple bell stops –
but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers
which TM seems to get and like. (Stop while the going's good, girl... but no.) To illustrate my haiku point, I speak a haiku by my Zen mentor Ken Jones; it's one that I think so well summarises what haiku is trying to do:
out in the cold sunshine
planting early potatoes
uncertain who I am
(I use this in my book Writing the Bright Moment).
TM grabs this one. If I were uncertain who I am I certainly wouldn't let on! OK, here's my new version:
on the morning grass
dewy flowers sparkle
I know who I am
which makes me laugh. I suggest a new ending:
this is what you get
and we leave it there. TM strides on ahead, as is his wont, and I stroll and enter minor raptures about the sealight, and the miniature flowers, none of them bigger than a 5p piece and most of them the size of half my little fingernail:
...then, 10 or 12 miles later, giving the poor exhausted dog, who today is refusing to walk, a rest in the shade of the iconic tamarisk while TM bodysurfs amongst the million people crammed into the cove and I hang out on the cliffs above, dreaming...
Thursday, 8 August 2013
I've lived on or close to Dartmoor for most of my life. Until recently, at the quarter dates of each year I've led outdoor retreat days in one of the most magical sites on the moor, and am gearing myself up to begin these again. (The inner 'territory' of these Ground of Being days are described a little on the Courses page of my main website, but in much more detail on my new website, dedicated to my eco-soul work, thewildways.wordpress.com. You'll probably need to copy and paste that - seems blogger and wordpress don't like each other much!)
Some of these sites appear to be domestic, social or functional in purpose; others are probably ceremonial, as indicated by a stone row, or often a double stone row, leading towards a stone circle and sometimes too a standing stone. There are many theories as to their origin and purpose; I've spoken of some elsewhere and am currently working on a long essay in relation to all this. What's relevant here and now is that there is an almost tangible atmosphere at these places that seems to engender silence and inwardness, and inspires both the imagination and an activation of what we might call soul.
This is no doubt partly due to our knowledge that our ancestors two or three thousand years ago built and used these monuments, and that might have been a continuous process, one way and another, since. But that by no means explains everything a sensitive person might perceive and experience there, or the impact on our imaginations. I wonder sometimes if there is a continuing process of a quality of energy amplified and transmitted by the site, and that our ancestors chose these sites knowing that they were/are places where, as they say, 'the veil is thin', and their stone structures augment this natural flow, rather like acupuncture needles on meridians and nodes of energy; and that our being there, attending to this aspect, also enhances its flow and potency, in a two-way exchange.
Anyway, my retreat days on Dartmoor take place at Merrivale, where one is led down a double stone row (and there is another, less complete, beside it) leading more or less east-west, and then there is a jink through 90 degrees towards the south, towards a small and welcoming little stone circle, which very much radiates qualities of the feminine principle (here I go again!). Just beyond that is a monolith, a menhir (literally 'long stone'), which is quite obviously 'masculine' in its symbolism. Here's a poem from one of those days:
Friday, 2 August 2013
We could say this story is about male initiation: the movement from boyhood to manhood. So this might suggest what a man needs to do to claim his own masculinity – by detaching his 'father complex' from his actual father he can see more clearly what is his own journey, rather than being driven by an unconscious relationship to the father and therefore masculinity. (He has to do the equivalent with his mother, too, by stealing the 'golden key' that is hidden under her pillow, the myth of Iron John tells us in the book of the same title by Robert Bly.)
I was very struck by Johnson's telling of that story, and fell to reflecting on what it would mean for a woman to 'dig up the bones'. The axe, of course, is a symbol of masculine energy, like the sword and the lance. The equivalent for a woman in relation to the mother, or Mother, would be the cauldron or the grail – those great archetypal symbols of feminine energy.
I've been having a hard time since the death of my mum, in November 2011. I miss her enormously; we had a very close warm relationship and there simply isn't a substitute. I've also found myself in a great deal of grief about aspects of her life that were less than fulfilling; opportunities she simply didn't have, a great loneliness in her. And then there was, the last few years, her dissolution into Alzheimer's.
Beneath this lies my enormous grief and anger at the wounded feminine in our patriarchal culture, whether that takes the shape of violation of the rights of other species and humans, the disassociation that allows war and destruction, the repression of the feeling nature and relatedness, or the abuse of women and children. As Johnson says: 'The feminine aspect of humankind continues to weep over the barrenness of modern life.'
I've been stuck in that, seeing the wounded and neglected feminine everywhere I look. Thinking about the Paiute story has enabled a huge albeit subtle shift in me to take place, and looking 'beneath', as the story counsels, has restored to and in me a renewed awareness of the enormity and power of the gift of the feminine, and its ability to survive and thrive anyway.
The cauldron and the grail, for me in relation to my mum, have enabled me to see what blessings the feminine in my mum truly brought and loosed into my own life: the feeling nature, a love of plants and animals, a deep attunement to music and art, an awareness of psychology (my mum was extraordinarily switched on to the importance of psychology, bringing us up in the late 50s and 60s on the latest thinking in child development), a focus on relatedness. What a gift, under the bones, for me to take forward as a lamp.
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