life as a cactus

I left them to die. I had to go away for about a week and didn’t have time to deal with them. So I left them in my room, locking the door behind me with the life ebbing out of them. When I arrived home the other day their shrivelled corpses were there slumped by my window.

Marigolds and snapdragons are touchy, sensitive plants. I’ve decided I don’t do ‘high maintenance’. Or maybe I should’ve just put them outside in the sun. I dunno.

I don’t have the greatest track record with plants. OK, OK, I’m a serial killer. This is the reputation I’m garnering among family and friends. Over the years plant after plant has died. The little parlour palm and my Dracaena fragens ‘Massangeana’ I purchased recently also nearly gave up the ghost but lest you think me heartless let me clarify that in their case it was because I cared too much. Those things just wanna be left alone. Preferably in the dark (who am I to judge?). Yet despite almost completely loving the life out of it even the palm looks set to pull through. Ish.

This pathological repressed hatred of all things botanical seems to run in the family. One sibling has long since given up and changed to fake plants urging me, for the sake of any poor vegetation that might otherwise cross my path, to do the same. Meanwhile another sibling, apparently, killed a cactus. Yeah you heard me. I didn’t think those things even could be killed. You may be designed to survive the harshest, most plant hating terrains on earth, but you’re no match for our gene pool.

It was in fact while I was at the nursery picking out my poor doomed garden flowers that a friend actually suggested that I get a cactus.  I declined, long feeling that in their grim, stoic I’m-still-here-come-and-get-me-ism towards the aridity of life and their passive aggressive  stay-the-hell-away-from-me attitude to all other living things, not to mention their plain old squat ugliness cacti are rather depressing plants. Just move somewhere fertile, grow some leaves, look nice and chill out, for crying out loud. Before I could point this out my friend told me the reason I should get one is that they’re the perfect plant for me. Representative. Cheers buddy.

And yet this throw away line, like so many, became a seed planted in my brain. As I contemplated the brown husks of flowers I knew awaited me when I returned home yet being unwilling to concede botanical defeat the seed grew and I decided to embrace the cactus in all its butt ugly glory as my own. Why not embrace the truth? I’m not daisies and dandelions after all (thank goodness), but I’m still here. And though my transformation long ago into a person guarded behind a thick protective, spiky barrier that both I and those I love find so difficult to penetrate has been one of the deepest griefs of my life, sometimes that which causes pain also brings about something good. I’m still here. And I know now what I must do.

And so I write. I have begun and I won’t stop. It takes its time, effort and devotion but the ball point is the weapon I wield, with which I’ll pierce a hole in that tough flesh to let out some of the stuff stored up inside.  It takes time, effort, devotion – but it gives such joy. Drink or not as you wish, just mind the spikes.

So there now sits a little pincushion cactus on my window sill. It’s small and squat, but in a lovable kind of way, and I hear it’s beautiful in bloom. Growth will be very slow, but it will grow.

And it will live.

(Wellllll… then again I sort of tipped it over in the bag as I was walking home. Got all the soil back in the pot but was it naturally growing with that lean when I purchased it? We’ll see).

poetry, art, love

No, it’s true I haven’t written every week on art I’ve seen, nor every fortnight on books I’ve read, nor at all on anything else. We labour, we strive, we kick against the relentless onslaught of time and life and brains empty of ideas. And they kick back. Still we don’t give up.

I have in the past attempted to learn how to write poetry. I even bought a book on the subject, by the wonderful Stephen Fry called The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within.

And what I got through is great, but I never got very far. Writing never seemed like a relaxing pastime but rather like work – not in a  bad way, there’s work that’s enjoyable – but neither in a relaxing way, especially when before you can write a poem you need to go through all these very great and very useful but not at all exciting exercises. I wanted write great poems, not learn how to write them. That’s my great problem with all my artistic endeavours – impatience.

What occurred to me the other day, however, is what a tool I’ve been about all this. You may have thought, dear reader, that if I was so interested in learning  to write poetry I must be a lover of reading poetry. And you’d be forgiven for thinking that, because it makes sense. After all, why would someone want to write poetry if they didn’t enjoy reading great poets? The answer, dear reader, is because they’re a tool.

When I was (not very) younger I scorned poetry even though I loved art, to the surprise of some who knew me. Over time I had softened to realise that I had a particular picture of poetry in mind, a caricature  of twee sentimentality and head-in-the-clouds denial of reality that simply isn’t fair to what good poetry actually is. However despite occasionally stumbling on the odd poem I enjoyed such as this one with which I introduced this blog to the world, I’ve never really been moved to go out and get into some of the well-known poets and see what they have to contribute.

I think it was watching Midnight in Paris a week or so ago that stirred again the fire of this love in me. The film itself was OK but it stoked the embers of my desire for that period (imperfect s it was, of course) and these great writers/painters (I also have a new quest to read Hemmingway. A must). At any rate something clicked a couple of days ago and I went and bought this big compendium of one particular critic’s picks of the best poems in the English language, from a wide range of authors. And though I’ve only read a couple, smokes I’ve been moved.

And there is nothing that could move me to want to learn to use language in this way more than reading the beauty of their words. It surely is the same with art too. It’s when I get to galleries and see what’s possible and what visions people have had and how they sought to bring them to fruition that I’m most moved and long most fervently to engage in this long dormant side of myself again. And yet things get busy and I get lazy on Saturdays and I haven’t gone for so long. And when that happens and I get taken up with the every dayness of life it becomes so hard to motivate myself to create, though I don’t understand why I find it so hard because I know I love it deep down. But I remove it from my life. I assume that I must do it first and then it can be a part of me and I can give myself to love it. I always said, I always knew what many don’t realise about me – that it’s not enough for me to make art (or write poetry, I suppose) as a hobby. It must be my life or nothing. I must immerse myself in it, it must be my passion or else I can’t do it. I can’t dabble on the side. Therefore, having chosen a different path for myself (and without regret) I haven’t known how to keep this in my life. It has felt like pushing a rock up a hill which constantly rolls out of my hands and back down to the valley whenever I get distracted with the great Everything Else. Yet, though it often does take a long time for the creaky cogs of my dotty brain to turn over what should be pretty simple realisations, I now know the way forward. I must immerse myself in it yes, not first as a doer but as a lover.  Love precedes action. And I’ll reclaim my love.

I’ve discovered John Donne, and I’m besotted. I look forward to sharing him with you.

the evolution of bruno littlemore

Humanity…entity, or experience? Inherent or self-created reality? That’s the question raised by Benjamin Hale’s novel The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore. Written as a memoir, the book follows the life story of the brilliant Bruno, his philosophical and artistic pursuits and the deep and loving relationship between him and his mentor Lydia. The problem? Bruno is a chimpanzee. A chimpanzee with a highly evolved mind, but a chimpanzee nonetheless. A chimpanzee who chooses to change his species and become a man…but can he? Is that possible?

The question of what makes us human isn’t a new theme for writers, being tackled many times before, usually in the realm of science fiction (which this isn’t) with sinister robots and the like. In his début novel Hale bypasses the usual, run of the mill sticky ethical and metaphysical questions surrounding humanity and instead produces something unique and quite remarkable. Throughout the first half of the book we follow Bruno on his journey of discovery from his beginnings in a primate research lab, Hale manages to articulate not the answer but the experience, the feeling of what it is to be human.  We stand back and watch, as if from the outside, this outsider discover the experience of human life and relationships over a short period. In doing so we get to stand back and notice from a fresh perspective the wonderful and complex human experience, across a broad range of aspects of life. It gave me pause to reflect on and celebrate my own journey of self discovery and discovery of the world around me which isthe experience of life, my life. Here Hale uses the power of story brilliantly to enable the reader to be drawn into a world and ‘discover’ a perspective on life without needing to be explicitly told. unfortunately he can’t keep it up across the entire book. After Bruno reaches his maturity the style; the of narrative turns into Hale’s preachy rant against humanity, through the lips of Bruno,  thinly garbed in the framework of a story. This method of storytelling is pretty common and no doubt gets the point across with absolute clarity. But if that’s your goal why not write an essay? Of course story can be used to communicate a message but the real power which story can bring to communicating ideas, and which other genres lack, as I’ve briefly mentioned, lies elsewhere. However that’s not an easy thing to do, Hale accomplishes it brilliantly for most of the novel and I have to humbly add that I can’t give this critique as a writer but only as a reader.

Nevertheless The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore remains an amazing book. It’s a delight to read, and Bruno himself  is a brilliant creation, a complex and self-contradictory character, neither completely hero nor villain, sometimes quite endearing and sometimes a bit of a pompous tool – at times pushing the bounds of accomplishment and sophistication, at other times facing disaster and failure. It’s pretty incredible to think this is Hale’s first novel. Overall it’s brilliant.

One other thing though, and look, let’s be frank. There’s bestiality in this book. At one point I thought Benjamin Hale had ruined the idea of sex for me forever (turns out he hadn’t). But that stuff’s just messed up eh. Be warned. There’s sex in this book, and it’s usually pretty crook. Unneccessarily so, in my opinion.

Otherwise, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore is well worth checking out.

i love the book

You get them electronically now. You download them on little tablets; Kindles, ipads and whatever else. And I know that’s not actually a bad thing. I know the time will soon be here to take up the Kindle. It’s cheaper for one thing. When I go away anywhere my luggage is heavy – and more than anything else it’s weighed down with too many books (you can’t simply take away one. One day you want fiction…the next non-fiction…you also have some research to do). It’s been a while since I’ve hiked through the rainforest, but my backpack was always loaded with too many books.  Kindle may save my back.

But I like the book.

When I eventually take up whatever little electronic tablet thing, it’ll have its uses, but I won’t swap one for the other. I’ll never let go of the book. The feel of it in your hands. That fresh paper scent of a new book (there are several, all nice), the sheer tactility of the touching the turning of the page, the vivid imagery of the covers even.

I like the book.

And writing…writing! I type, yes I type. But everything I tap out on this cold, soulless piece of hardware has its genesis in a book, scratching out ink lines, my heart and mind etched in my distinctive and by no means dignified looking scrawl. I simply don’t know what to write when seated at my laptop. The keyboard freezes the flow of thoughts that my brain wants to spill out into the world as if someone turns off the oil heater in the middle of winter and the little uninsulated room I live in turns to ice. But when I’m scratching them out through a ball point between the black lined pages of my notebook everything becomes warm, everything thaws; slowly at first but then the trickle becomes an increasing flow. And that book which contains my words, my recollections, my very self – that is a precious object. I keep it near me. I treasure it.

I love the book.

writing out my soul

 

What does it mean to be a writer, and what does it take? I’m only in the very early stages of dabbling in writing, still finding my feet – or finding my voice, I should say. Posts come haphazardly because I don’t yet know how to throw something meaningful and well crafted out with anything like either frequency or regularity. I heard someone say recently that the best kind of writing is talking about the best bits of yourself. It expresses you, but the very best version of you and your voice that you can imagine. If that’s true, what do I want to say to people? And why in my everyday conversation do I not really think about that?

When I think about my art (which is about all I ever do with it these days) I realise that I’m motivated to express something profound about the act, the fact, of living. Of being human. That’s the very reason I started this blog too. In my introverted, reflective nature my art is a fundamental part of my speech. It’s how I seek to connect with others and express myself in a way I struggle with in everyday conversation. I’ve only begun to realise this recently – that I think I’m wired to articulate myself in creative ways and if I’m not doing that people are going to see me as being closed off  from others. Clearly I need to bring it back into my life, including this writing, in a big way. Perhaps that’s why I hold back from investing myself in art – when I invest myself in it and put it on display, I put myself on display. And now that the thought’s occurred to me, I know it’s absolutely foolish. We all long for connection, long to open ourselves up, to know and be known. If we can’t let ourselves be vulnerable, we can’t know love.

And so I write. And hopefully sculpt. I’d be very happy for you to come along for the ride, if you can forgive the bad writing as I figure it out on the fly.

How do you connect with and open yourself up to others? And if you’re a writer, or any kind of artist, what does it mean to you? What motivates you?

they stole the stars

One of the things about the city is, there’s no stars. I  miss them, markers of eternity, filling the night sky with dazzling depth and richness.

There’s many good things about the city, of course, life in this human landscape, written over with the human story in its cracks and stains and crumbling walls and graffiti and historic buildings and eclectic eateries and defiant little parks and countless lives being lived all round each other, all the time. Don’t let anyone say that cities are just blights on the world. For cities are humanity, and humanity is something incredible – both profoundly beautiful and incredibly ugly at the same time. Much like their concrete steel glass bitumen worlds they build around themselves.

But this is one of their great crimes, this robbing the sky of their stars. It’s not to say that there’s nothing beautiful about the lights of a cityscape by night, but it’s a different beauty. A different glory. The bustling rushing honking stop-starting movement, the sheer life of
the city stands in stark contrast with that endless inky blackness full of its myriad of brilliant sentinels, watching in silence age after age, so tranquil and peaceful (at least from this distance).

Two scapes, city and star, full of light, unable to meet. One ageless, timeless, endless emptiness and vastness. The other constructed space, full and unceasing in its flux.

What about you? City or stars?

confessions of a wannabe writer

Let’s face facts. I’m a pretty terrible writer. And no, that’s no false humility donned as a thin veneer to score compliments or look very noble because, let’s face it, you don’t actually know who I am and so it wouldn’t benefit me anyway. I only mean that I’m terrible because I never practice.

I do want very much to be a writer. I was encouraged the other day when a friend of mine asked me if I was, thinking that I would be. She said I had the thoughtfulness for it, which was very kind and has encouraged me to come back on here and keep on having a go. This isn’t my first blog. I’m a hopeless blogger because the medium requires a  high turnover of new material, and I just can’t think stuff up that fast. Writing for me carries the potential, the desire within it for something wonderful, something profound, and I just need to…to ponder I guess.

I’ve hoped to blog to help me practice my writing. Unfortunately, perhaps as a hangover of a long history of depression never properly dealt with, perhaps just because of bone idleness, I go about my life cloaked in a horrible inertia in which I’ve put off fully involving myself in doing the things I’d love to do. With a deep sadness I see people who love involving themselves in this or that, and I think of the past decade of my life in which I’ve squandered my gifts, my loves. Only me to blame of course.

And really, I’m not depressed about this, and I don’t mean this post to be a self-pitying, self-indulgent round of  ‘poor me’  because, of course, I have the rest of my life, however long that is, to pursue what I love. The world is ripe and full of possibility. And that gives me joy. Really, I’ve been horribly impatient and perfectionist when it comes to creativity – the journey of growth had somehow become a pain rather than a joy. That’s the ugliness of pride. So, here’s to stepping back into glorious creative living.

Because a great myth out there is that a spiritual view of the world somehow should denigrate this real, messy, beautiful world we live in. Certainly a lot of so-called spiritualities seek to transcend the ‘lowly’ physical world for the ‘higher’ spiritual one, through mystical meditations or harsh treatments of the body. But spirituality and the created world aren’t divorced from one another. The chaotic splash of physicality and history is the stage on which the divine drama plays itself out. A drama we’re all a part of. A lecturer of mine spoke last week of the gulf between time and eternity, popularised by Plato, and how the worldview presented in the Bible is quite different. God isn’t ‘somewhere out there’, but intimately involved with creation and history from beginning to end. Our bodies aren’t cages we need to break free from. They’re a part of the whole us.

My rambling, shambolic point is that seeking to live for God will not drag me out of the world into some kind of monastery, but joyfully into it. Instead I think it’s been a misguided attempt at protecting myself that has kept me passive about my art. The great plan of God is to redeem this broken and painful world, to restore it to all its intended beauty and joy. And I’m thankful to him that I’m being included in that.