Monday, 29 March 2010

Mama Mia


Today is both a very sad day and a very happy one. Since becoming a mother I have had several days like this, there was the first day of nursery school when as we walked along he gripped my hand and asked me why he had to go. But when we arrived his face lit up at the sight of other children and all those toys, and he rushed in not looking back. I was so happy that he was happy, but also a little sad that he didn't need me to hang about.

There was the first school trip. And university. Motherhood is to be in a constant state of ambivalence. You work tirelessly to ensure your child will be able to enter the world with confidence, to make yourself redundant, and when that happens you are thrilled as you sit in your empty nest and wonder what to do with yourself.

I've been lucky, Bob came back after university and has been living here with us and working locally. I've had several extra years of baking birthday cakes and chatting with him at the kitchen table over supper. All the while, though, I've been thinking this is no place for the young, there's no space to grow here. But Bob is resourceful. All the while he has been gathering strength, increasing his knowledge, formulating plans.

And now he's off to begin his adventures. On Saturday he got on a bus to London to spend the weekend with his best friends. Today they will take him to the airport so he can get on a plane to Hawaii where he will work on a Noni fruit farm for two months. While he's there he will research where to go next. He wants to see as much of the world as he can. I got an email from him last night that read: 'I am unfathomably excited about tomorrow.' I am too. To think that my child has the confidence to venture so far from home, on his own, into the unknown is amazing and wonderful. I feel like I did a terribly good job. I have every confidence that he is more than capable of looking after himself, and others should the need arise. And I look forward to hearing his tales. But I will miss him every day. I don't suppose he'll be back for some time.

Images from top: Graphics Hunt, Flickr and Wikipedia.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Last Request

I'm just about to do the title page for my portfolio, and suddenly find myself floundering about the title. So I thought I'd ask you what you think is better: Slow Peel, or The Slow Peel?

My theme isn't Heroes, as I once thought, but Labels. Those labels that we inherit, pick up, choose, lose, and discard throughout our lives. Hero being just one. My characters all have problems with their labels, they are trying to hang on to the ones they want and discard the ones they don't. Labels like: 'mother,' 'housewife,' 'tidy,' 'stylish,' 'gardener,' 'foreigner,' 'friend.' One of them, for example, has realised that 'party girl' has been replaced by 'drunk' and wants rid of it. I hope the story shows how 'party girl' slowly peeled off. Hence 'Slow Peel' for the main title. But do I use the definite article or not?

I tried to upload the cover artwork to show you but it's such a huge file blogger can't seem to manage it. But to give you an idea here is a photograph of it on my computer screen. It's a picture of my head rendered in logos. If you click on it it will become big enough for you to make some of them out.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Why Didn't I stick to Housewifery?

I'm sure I used to be able to do more than one thing at a time. Today I couldn't even answer the phone.

I want to have my portfolio ready to go for binding by Monday, Tuesday at the very latest, so that if they fuck it up I have time to get it put right. I wasn't happy with the way my last dissertation was bound but by the time I had it in my hands all I could do was rush it over to the university to meet the deadline.

I need ten thousand perfectly placed words for the prose section and have, so far, positioned six thousand eight hundred and ninety five as well as I can. I still have one short story, the first chapter of a novel and the first chapter of a non-fiction thing to work on. The word count I can manage, it's the perfect bit I struggle with. As for the poems I have seven out of the required ten done to the best of my current ability. So I need another three.

I feel like I'm working in a word factory, on night shift. My hours have become entirely nocturnal: I work till about 5am and don't rise till about 3pm, it takes me until about 8am to get to sleep. Still, my table now looks like this:

Filled with completed work. When I look at it I feel like I've at least done something. I still don't know what order to put it in though, but am told that it will become obvious. I also need to get the artwork for the cover done. I want a head rendered in labels, some of them peeling away to reveal raw flesh, maybe even a little bone. But, damn it, I'm no visual artist so lord knows what I'll end up with.

Last night, before I went to bed I put all my clothes in the washing machine and set the timer so they'd be ready to hang out when I woke. This afternoon as I hung them I looked into the basket and saw my iPod shuffle still attached to my tracksuit top.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Happy Birthday to Pat

The glorious, adorable, divine Pat is 80 today. Yes, 80! You'd never know it. When I first met her I thought she was about my age, it was only much later when I began putting two and two together, such twos as the second world war and having been born, that I thought: hang on a minute.

Anyway, because I've learnt so much from her in the past two or three years, and she's made me snort with laughter on more than one occasion, and she always knows just the exact right thing to say in any circumstance:

Very Merry, Cheery, Happy Birthday Pat, XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Delightful and Energetic

Sixteen days and it will all be over. I'll have done all I can to get the degree I've been working for, part-time (?!!!), since October 2007. My final portfolio will be out of my hands. It should have been submitted last September, but stuff got in the way and I couldn't work on it over the summer as planned. I got a new submission date for the end of December, and more stuff got in the way! But now the summer stuff has been brought into relative, if uneasy, harmony with the rest of life and the winter stuff has been dealt with, so I have no excuse but to get on and meet my latest date. I could have taken this semester off but I want to graduate this summer, so I decided to just do it. Deciding to just do it and actually doing it, though, are two quite different things, and it's only in the last few weeks that I've managed to spring into action. I've spent quite a lot of time since Christmas feeling guilty and angry with myself for doing bugger all. Then, a few days ago, Elizabeth wrote a post about procrastination in which she included a quotation about how we tend to ignore the voice that impels us to create. In the comments section I asked why we do that. She responded with this:

" She remembered from what now seemed the astonishing free and spacious days of her education the phenomenon of the first day's work on a task. One had to peel one's mind from its run of preoccupations: coffee to buy, am I in love, the yellow dress needs mending, Tim is unhappy, what is wrong with Marcus, how shall I live my life? It took time before the task in hand seemed possible, and more before it came to life, and more still before it became imperative and obsessive.

There had to be a time before thought, a wool-gathering time when nothing happened, a time of yawning, of wandering eyes and feet, of reluctance to do what would finally become delightful and energetic. Threads of thought had to rise and be gathered and catch on other threads of old thought, from some unused memory store."
A.S. Byatt Still Life.

I felt so much better after reading that, it feels so right and true: 'wool-gathering' is what I've been doing. And yesterday it finally became 'delightful and energetic.'

First, I awoke to an email from my supervisor saying: 'I think this is it!' about the latest incarnation of my essay.

Second, I decided to act on a growing notion to substitute an old radio drama for a short story that wasn't responding to redrafting. I was a bit nervous about opening the drama document: I hadn't looked at it for a year, it could have been terrible and needed much work, but it was fine and perfect for my theme. All I really needed for it was a different opening song. This could have been difficult but I'd heard what I thought could be the perfect one on Sunday on my iPod Shuffle, the only thing is I didn't know what it was called. A brief trawl through the contents of the Shuffle was all I needed to find it, and I got to listen to some Radiohead into the bargain. Good stuff.

Third, I began the great disentangling of the wool:

I need to be able to see, at every turn, where I'm at.

I cleared my table so I can lay out each piece as it is done in the hope that they will fall into perfect order.

New folder into which I'll put each piece once I've got it as good as I can, to keep them all in one place, and also so I feel I'm achieving something. Once the last piece is in I will dance!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010


I took a break from poems yesterday. My eyes were doing that bulging thing and had gone all cracked and dry. Also, I had got the first draft of my covering essay (aka the Afterword) back from my supervisor with comments: the opening's a bit glib and ploddy, he said, I need to flesh out my idea, 'run with it.' I like the idea of running with it, but I have so little time I'm afraid of where running will take me and how long it will take to get back. I'm afraid that once I start running I won't come back at all.

So I spent yesterday thinking about my theme and not doing anything constructive at all. Now I'm wondering if I should scrap that idea and try another. It was a bit of a whim anyway. It was to reimagine heroism. The idea came to me after my supervisor said that my characters could never be heroes because they are always being dragged back down by the quotidian.

First I thought, 'that's true.' Then I wondered why that's true. Then I became irritated by the whole notion of heroes at all. Now I have a calcium depleted skeleton of an idea and every time I try to put some flesh on it, it breaks and I have to try and reassemble it. Knickers.

I hasten to add that he is very encouraging and only asks me to think a little more about what I am trying to say, so I can show how my characters and poetic personas fit in to the heroic tradition. Heroes restore the equilibrium that benefits a privileged few (landowners, governments, capitalists, etc.) at the expense of the rest of us. Heroic tales have traditionally been told to keep us content to stay in our place, by showing the alternative as evil. They give us a taste of that evil ( dragons, communists, terrorists etc.) and then along comes the hero and wipes it out so we can carry on (growing crops, voting, buying cars and handbags) living the 'natural' way we do. Are my characters collaborators?

But, there are anti-heroes, or people's heroes as they are sometimes known. Robin Hood, Ned Kelly, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid spring to mind. They always have to die in the end, don't they? I have to think. I have to think in a directed way, and do some research. But it all feels terribly artificial and strained, as though I'm trying to impose some sort of limit on my work that doesn't exist in reality. And I still have poems in need of attention, and stories, and a piece of non-fiction, and not much more than two weeks before the whole thing must go to the printer and be bound.

My problem could be that I am glib, incarnate.

Monday, 1 March 2010

On How One Sometimes Gets Things Totally Out of Proportion

I have this fear that I'm going to drive everyone away with this daily poem posting, but there aren't too many more to go, and I'm finding it invaluable.

This one has undergone so many changes that it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the original with the exception of the idea and the words 'jam' and 'tungsten', see photo for all the variations, if you click on it it will become big enough to make sense of.

Rather than give it to you in written form I thought, to ring the changes, I'd record it and give it as audio.

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Update: Weaver can't hear the audio properly and I can't have that, so here's the text too:

Sisyphus of the Laundry

Tungsten lit stigmata,
the fall of a ruby tear
in Eliot’s yellow fog whose circle
tightens round my throat.

A ruby tear? Hark at her!
You’re such a romantic dear
with your fancy cuffed rubber gloves
and eco friendly washing suds.

Dark, dark raspberries were crushed
and boiled in a pot with sugar
for this: miscarriage heading for the sewer
in a stream of piss; blood blister
on a smoker’s finger. Jam
on a pristine pale cream linen trouser.