Resonance

Well. My Winterson memoir has arrived and I have devoured chapter one. I do not know whether this is a blessing or a curse. I’m tempted to write the whole thing out but will have to make do with a few quotations.

“Part fact part fiction is what life is. And it is always a cover story. I wrote my way out”

“I loved God of course, in the early days, and God loved me. That was something. And I loved animals and nature. And poetry. People were the problem. How do you love another person? How do you trust another person to love you? I had no idea. I thought that love was loss. Why is the measure of love loss?”

[Apparently that last bit is the opening line of her novel Written on the Body which I bloody well have to go and buy and read now]

“Truth for anyone is a very complex thing. For a writer, what you leave out says as much as those things you include”

“When we tell a story we exercise control, but in such a way as to leave a gap, an opening. It is a version, but never the final one. And perhaps we hope that the silences will be heard by someone else, and the story can continue, can be retold. When we write we offer the silence as much as the story. Words are the part of silence that can be spoken”

Wow. I love it because of the way that what she describes resonates with me to the core. I also feel a little deflated as it seems my blog is effectively redundant. The book has been written already, and with a good deal more eloquence than I can muster. I am even tempted to do a bit of imaginary finger jabbing and trace the symmetries (such as they are) between her chapter and some of my poverty stricken posts.

I recently read another discussion that was looking for a definition of poetry. There isn’t one. It quoted a few attempts like Wordsworth’s “The best words in the best order” but the one that hit home hardest was that poetry is “What is lost in translation”. As much about what isn’t there as what is. It isn’t a useful definition, as setting out to write the unwritten is a tricky proposition at best, but the sublime often has no use per se. For me what good poetry does is resonate. With as little explanation as you can get away with.

I already know this book is going to floor me before I have even read it all. Jeanette did not belong. And she will, I am sure, mercilessly plumb that depth, as well as scale the heights of her redemption.

“I understood, in a very dimly lit way, that I would need to find the place where my own life could be reconciled with itself. And I knew that had something to do with love”

Spirals. Truth. Reconciliation.

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Stalker

This morning I woke to find Facebook beeping at me with a Friend Request. Curiosity was piqued. I clicked it open and the face was unmistakeable.

About 2 years ago I had extended internet correspondence with a woman from a dating site. “Extended” is an understatement. Despite several arranged plans to meet for a drink or a coffee, each time it was cancelled with excuses that rapidly escalated on the weirdometer. She also started keeping tabs on my physical location using a feature of the chat app we used, and once even referred to the app as “iStalker”.

Eventually I worked out that she was not ultimately interested in actually meeting, and cut off contact. I learned a few things to look out for and resolved not to get sucked into a virtual “friendship” again, thereafter insisting that if someone wasn’t happy to meet face to face within a relatively rapid time-scale, there was cause for concern (unless there were definite and obviously real reasons not to that were credible). I learned that sane (ish) women had the same attitude as me.

But here, this woman was trying to make contact after a desperately long interval.

No.

Delete.

By coincidence, only a couple of weeks ago I had opined to my best buddy that I was feeling relaxed that I had pretty much let go of a lot of things in my head and heart. The very first of my internet datees got under my skin and stayed there for the longest time. Now, even she has fled, and I find myself in clear water. It’s rather a relief. It’s all very well telling people they need to let go and move on, but you can’t will it to happen. You can take practical steps to speed it along (maybe) but ultimately it happens in its own sweet time.

I would not voluntarily contact or converse with any of them; not now. And thank Christ for that.

The other thing that popped up this morning was the latest post from my favourite South African. She discussed her dilemma of whether what she wanted most right then and there was:

  • Walk
  • Think
  • Sleep
  • Write
  • Dream
  • Sex

I thought that sounded like a damn fine list. My only addition would be “Eat” (which I pointed out to her. That might also necessitate some cooking, which is fine by me).

The trickiest part about that bucket list is that practicalities often intrude. I cannot always “waft”, as much as I would like to. The other problem is that to the casual observer, the whole think/sleep/write/dream thing can look, well, a bit inactive.  It doesn’t entail making a lot of noise, the thrashing of limbs or rapid movement (well, not usually. Sex is another matter entirely, of course).

Jeanette and me

This week I ordered a copy of Jeanette Winterson’s memoir, Why be happy when you can be normal? on a recommendation from another favourite blogger. I’m surprised I missed this one. For starters, the title is brilliant, and secondly, I have always felt an affinity for dear Jeanette. Her first novel was semi-autobiographical but heavily fictionalised. Her memoir is described as its “silent twin”, written much, much later. Our common ground is some pretty extreme religious fervour in our youth. She (apparently) was raised as a pentecostal, was writing sermons at six and had her heart set on being a missionary.

I was a late starter, taking up the evangelical banner in my early teens. I preached in the town centre and was all set for a life as a minister. I patiently informed all my relatives and friends that they were going to burn in hell. I was a riot at parties.

For both Jeanette and me, that all changed. Quite drastically. We both seem to like non-linear narrative.

Oh, and we are both lesbians.

(OK I made that last one up, but we are attracted to the same gender at least).

At school, as the resident religious nutter, I was asked to do a five minute inspirational turn at our Sixth Form Assemblies, every Wednesday, for two excruciatingly long years. To begin with I was enthusiastic. In a short period of time I found that I dried up. Struggled to come up with anything remotely suitable to say on such a tedious repetitive basis. It was torture, but thankfully I don’t think anyone was really listening anyway.

One of the lessons I (mostly) learned from this was not to commit to things so damn draining unless I am convinced my heart is truly in it, otherwise it will come back and bite me on the arse. Indeed, one of my reservations about blogging was this rooted fear that it would become a burden rather than a pleasure. I am pleased that this has not been the case. What it has made me realise is that as a naive teenager, my religious ardour was only skin-deep, and to an extent delusional. It was not really me, hence my painful inability to maintain my passion for spouting off about it.

This is different. Here I just open and say whatever goes through my head. The result is pretty incoherent (I’ve started wittering on about food for pity’s sake, if the content were not already so desperately random) but at least it is well-aligned. Resonance over dissonance.

Jeanette-Winterson

Billy Bragg

It seems that the rampant stupidity, ignorance, inhumanity and parochial self-interest of the far right’s reaction to the refugee crisis won’t abate any time soon.

I suspect Billy Bragg is not well known outside England (I have no idea if the stuff he did with re-imagining the works of Woody Guthrie had any kind of impact in the US) but his cover of “The Wall” by Anais Mitchell is, for me, still the best riposte. I stuck this on Facebook a few months ago, but is worth repeating here.

The Wall

I’ll miss Billy when he is gone. He was the voice of my teenage years. One of his more recent songs (and videos) that hit the spot was this one

Handyman Blues

It’s refreshing to have a portrayal of masculinity that does not revolve around power tools, shooting animals, and driving penis extensions (not that I would need one).

 

Four-dimensional loaves are not the only bread

As predicted, my son considers the making of bread to be pointless. He did it anyway.

Loaf

It is actually pretty good. This is a satisfying result.

As we made it, I couldn’t resist explaining some of the chemistry of bread. Why you add the yeast, what it does, why you have to knead it, why you need “strong” flour and all the rest. The Heston Blumenthal in me.

Tomorrow we will be tackling mashed potato. I am particular about mashed potato. “Normal” potato mashers ruin it. The vigorous pumping smashes the cell walls of the potatoes, releasing their innards and turning it into the gloop of sticky mashed potato that you could build walls out of. If you want light, smooth mashed potato you need a more gentle method and the best option is a potato ricer. Almost guaranteed good results. One Christmas I bought a friend a potato ricer. Much later, whilst I was visiting them, his wife explained to me that at some point some idiot had bought them this pointless contraption that had never been used because it was unnecessarily cumbersome. *sigh*

The type of potato you use has an effect too. Not the super-floury ones, please, either a solid mid-range potato like a Maris Piper or if you are feeling brave and don’t mind the extra effort, even something toward the waxy yellow end of the spectrum. Not all potatoes are the same and it’s a question of finding the right tool for the job (although, to be fair, if you only ever buy one breed of potato, Maris Piper covers a multitude of sins). Nevertheless, that would get boring after a while.

Maris Pipers are not the only potato

It is also true that oranges are not the only fruit. Which makes me think of Jeanette Winterson, who famously experimented with tangential spiralling narratives rather than linear ones. Perhaps my least read blog post ever was Spirals, Truth, Reconciliation , probably because it made no bleeding sense at all.

It considered the idea that blog posts are discrete intersections of a linear narrative with the spiral of a blogger’s truth (or thereabouts), which isn’t a million miles away from Jeanette’s experiments. We do not think in straight lines, so why should we write in them?

When getting to know someone, that too is a discreet circling. A succession of part-conversations on a periphery to which you will return, each time perhaps cutting a little deeper into the swirling truth. The core of that vortex may never be referred to at all, but perhaps the words and images employed are shadows of it.

No-one has ever constructed a four-dimensional model as we could not perceive it. However, just as normal objects cast two-dimensional shadows, four-dimensional objects have shadows that are three-dimensional, and people have certainly made models of those so we can squint and stretch our minds to an imagining of what the imperceptible might “look” like.

My friend (of the potato-ricer-hating wife) would argue that it is a lost cause, this attempt to grasp another’s truth, that it remains only in a dimension we can never reach or touch. I think he is wrong. No…I hope he is wrong.

But, for now, there is a loaf. And it smells rather good.

 

Practicalities

I was not designed to be overly practical. It doesn’t much suit me. Given a choice between changing a light bulb or ruminating on something vague, I would rather ruminate.

This week all sorts of things have drifted through my head. This is far from a complete list but it includes:

  • Does the Buddhist ideal of being free from all wanting just make people impossible pains up the arse?
  • Can we ever truly discern motives, and even if we could, does it matter?
  • What is the definition of “creepy”?

Oh, and a whole bunch of stuff on cheating, incentives, altruism etc, some of which arose from my memory of the contents of Freakonomics by Steven Levitt. I would love to ramble on about this stuff right here right now but I cannot because it is all so vague and ill-formed in my head, and would likely make no sense. This week I have been neck-deep in practicality. Sometimes, this is necessary.

I can do practical. It just makes me uneasy. It’s a lot more comfortable speculating on the follies of our brief lives.

But no, my 16 year old son is now suddenly  living here and practicality has seized me by the short and curlies. Today I asked him to cook dinner. He said he could not because he had never done that before. I said he damn well could and I would show him how. He (although he doesn’t know this yet) will now be cooking dinner with my supervision every single day until such time that he can figure out what we are going to have, make sure we have the necessary components, and produce it unaided at any stage of the process.

If there is one practical thing I can do insanely well, it is cook. And he is going to learn this skill if it kills me. It might do, in fact, and perhaps I should pre-stock on dysentery medication.

Tomorrow I am going to teach him how to make bread. He will complain bitterly because a) you can just buy it at the shop and b) it will not come out of the oven pre-sliced. He will say there is no point. I will ignore his protestations. At some point I will be introducing him to the washing machine. It is his friend. Without it, he will run out of clothes to wear.

I am thankful for my ex-sister-in-law. She confirmed for me that that this practical life-skills approach had worked wonders with the two proto-Vaughans she bore, and that I was probably on the right track with this one.

The ruminations will just have to go on hold for a bit until we have reached an even keel.