Green Buddha

I woke to snow this morning and a strong sense of silence and isolation. The snow muffled the sounds of traffic from the village and I felt like I was on another planet.  Looking out into the pristine garden I recalled my childhood excitement at each snowfall.  I opened the bedroom window and gathered a hand full of white from the sill.  The cold made me feel more alive.  Years ago I had a collie-cross dog called Floss who loved the snow, ploughing through it with his head down snuffling and snorting, rolling around in a frenzy.  He would return home eventually with tiny snow balls dangling from his long hair, thawing out all over the house and leaving puddles in his wake.  Cats are far more sensible.  Nadia went out warily, making staccato steps as the snow stung her soft pads.  She left a delicate solo track across the decking where my green Buddha looked on serenely.

 

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“I do not dispute with the world; rather it is the world that disputes with me.”

The Buddha

 

Red Blush

Seized by the scent of sun on skin
I make the first cut, split the almost sphere.
The morning ritual slicing from the center
around each segment, skirting the circumference,
parting flesh from flesh.  Blood perfect,
topped with a glace cherry
and served on blue china.

I want to cry out when she opens her gown
showing husks of missing breasts.
She was a stewardess before,
on the Queen Mary criss-crossing the Atlantic.
Now, she’s the kind lady on Ward 5
sharing grapefruit with a braided child
as winter sun breaks.

 

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Dark Days

The end of the year can be a difficult time for those of us who are alone, either through circumstance or choice.  In the northern hemisphere temperatures drop, the nights grow longer and Christian communities begin their Christmas celebrations.  More than any other time of year there is an emphasis on family values and sharing which can leave single people feeling alienated.  There is a stigma attached to being alone at Christmas.  Turkey for one?  So in this post I wish to share some inspiring quotes reminding us that solitude can be a positive and healthy choice.  Being alone does not necessarily mean feeling lonely and company is often overrated.  The beaming, perfect families of television commercials rarely exist in reality.  If you find yourself alone this Festive Period use the time wisely to recharge and regenerate your energy levels, treat yourself kindly and cherish your freedom.  I’m planning to lock myself indoors with a fridge full of party food, a bottle of the local whisky liquor and a pile of wonderful books.

Ten quotes to celebrate the gift of solitude:-

1. “… the highest and most decisive experience of all, … is to be alone with his own self, or whatever else one chooses to call the objectivity of the psyche. The patient must be alone if he is to find out what it is that supports him when he can no longer support himself. Only this experience can give him an indestructible foundation.”

Carl Jung (1943)

2.  “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”

Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

3.  “The only antidote to fear is to go through it. Only by embracing loneliness may its tyranny be broken.”

James Hollis (1996)

4.  “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

5.  “My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.”

Patricia Highsmith

6.  “Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust…. and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

7.  “There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more”

George Gordon Byron

8.  “The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.”

Aldous Huxley

9.  “I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel.”

Audrey Hepburn: Many-Sided Charmer, LIFE Magazine, December 7, 1953

10.  “Orlando naturally loved solitary places, vast views, and to feel himself for ever and ever and ever alone.”

Virginia Woolf, Orlando

 

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The Empty Cup

Love changes.  Love can fade, love can break.  It is not a solid and reliable commodity like a chair or a pair of slippers.  For the lucky ones it may blossom and grow like a carefully tended orchid but for many of us, love withers to indifference or even hate.  There is rarely the happily ever after ending promoted in the fairy tales of childhood.

Love is a four letter word sometimes used to camouflage abuse.

Like many survivors of childhood trauma I am accustomed to losing people who once promised to love and protect me.  They often disappear from my life very suddenly and I am left with a few random souvenirs, a few photographs.  I have become adept at dealing with loss.  On the surface at least, I appear to let go, move on, retreat within my own defences, working harder to protect myself from future pain and disappointment.  Many of my relationships end at my own choosing.  I am expert at constantly scanning and evaluating for potential cracks in the shiny glaze of love and friendship.  And the more you look for lies and betrayal the more likely you are to find them.  So perhaps my relationships are doomed from the start.  I am unable to live with the compromises and blind spots other people seem to cultivate within marriage, the smoke and mirrors of romance.  I prefer reality, even if it hurts.

I have realised I am happier with just my cat for company.  If you want true love and loyalty, get yourself a pet.  But for some strange reason I hang on to a few random souvenirs of past loves.

 

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This cup is an example.  My second husband left it behind.  I’m not sure why I keep it.  I’m usually ruthless at decluttering but for some reason I retain this piece of ethnic pottery.  My ex-husband bought it in Crete when he was on holiday with his previous wife.  I’ve never been to Crete and never likely to go in the future.   I always felt threatened by John’s continued friendship with his first wife. They had cosy dinners and trips to the cinema, just the two of them even though she had also remarried.  When I complained of their intimacy he accused me of being small-minded.  It was one of the many reasons our marriage ended.  There was no trust.

When we split up, we bickered over custody of the Art Deco sofa and the Bruce Springsteen albums.  We had several meetings on a bench in a public park to talk things through.  I was afraid to be alone with him in private.  The rustic pottery, a relic from his earlier marriage was forgotten.

The cup and saucer once resided on the slate mantlepiece of the house we shared in rural Yorkshire. Now it’s on the top shelf of a glass display cabinet in my Scottish kitchen.  It’s a chunky type of pottery with a rough, matt glaze, probably hand thrown.   Uncomfortable to hold or drink out of.  It’s a piece of tourist bric-brac, not useful, just for show.  A piece of fakery.  And perhaps that’s why I keep it, it’s a reminder that romantic love is not real, that I’m better alone.

 

 

Tales from the Bog

The house Fred built for her
sprang scarlet from mud
like a poppy on the battlefield unfurling
hope among dismembered men.
The bog land wavered between mountains
and a cold sea and the sky hung
white flags of surrender.
In the year seven, her house fell.

The house Gerry made for her
curled pearl from mud.
Like a salamander it grew,
tail renewed, warmed by winter sun.
The bog land quavered between mountains
and a cold sea and the sky hung
grey shrouds of decay.
In the year ten, her house fell.

The house Jack saved for her
sang hallelujahs from mud.
Like Jesus it rose
again, hope alive.
The bog land shimmered between mountains
and a cold sea and the sky hung
pink streamers of bliss.
In the year two zero one five, her house… thrived.

 

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Original artwork by author, acrylic and household paint, collage on canvas.

What Makes Us Human?

Is it our vulnerability, kindness, unpredictability?  Or is it our creativity and invention? Or perhaps, looking back sadly on human history, it is our immense proclivity for destruction and deceit?

Artificial intelligence is no longer a concept confined to science fiction novels.  We have self-drive cars, phones that talk and robotic vacuum cleaners.  A.I. is real and among us in the here and now.  It is a challenge to our previous ideas about humanity.  Are we really so special and superior after all?  Is Artificial Intelligence something we should welcome or fear?  Will it make us more or less human by comparison?

Alex Garland’s stunning 2015 film Ex Machina explored these questions and inspired me to write this poem:-

 

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Alan dreams 256 shades of green, hibernating
in his glass docking pod at the bottom of the garden.
Self-starting at sunrise, his solar panels slowly energize.
Recharged and updated with new kinds of seed,
66 brands of feed and non-toxic weed killers
plus the latest on invasive alien species.

Alan zips up his latex happy face
(with questioning eyebrows and a real pipe)
and his T-shirt declares ‘I love life’ (in bold font) for the Master.
After the BBC weather forecast, he initiates maintenance checks,
self-lubricates his cylinder, sharpens blades, tops up levels.
His friend, the virtual robin observes from a perch by the electric fence.

Alan has the same old routine every day,
downloading music while he works
(Tom Jones, The Green Green Grass of Home on repeat).
Perfect, straight lines along the wire perimeter,
perfect stripes overlapping by a centimeter, working left to right,
raking, aerating, weeding, feeding as he goes,

forming perfect crisp edges around the lily pond.
Sometimes he hopes for showers so he can count
raindrops falling into the water, watch his reflection crumble,
ripple into concentric circles.  Chaotic patterns
stir the surface calm, bubbles rise from the carp beneath,
flickering gold in the shadows.

 

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Note 1:- another excellent recent film about Artificial Intelligence, personality, ageing and memory is Marjorie Prime, directed by Michael Almereyda.  Click below for The Guardian Review.

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/aug/15/marjorie-prime-review-lois-smith-jon-hamm?CMP=share_btn_link

 

 

The Last Weekend

Your memory melts like snowflakes in the fire I
built when we camped in the Black Mountains and you

thought you saw a wolf. I tried to keep us
safe, stayed alert feeding flames. When you

woke next morning you laughed, said you’d
made the whole thing up. Everyone

knew there were no wolves in Wales and I
was the stupid one. When we left, a blood moon

was skimming the razor’s edge of pines. You
swilled beer in the passenger seat while I

stamped out every ember, kicking
a cover of earth over the remains.

Night falls blind in the forest. Alone,
I drove the tunnels of trees, my lights

shifting shadows and the shape of you
flickered for an instant before melting into dark.

 

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