WINIFRED-EMMA: FORGET THE NOBLE TRUTHS CHAPTERS 6 – 10
November 29, 2008
CHAPTER 6: JESSERENT
THE SIXTH GATE
Jesserent, Jazzerant,, a splint armour, [O. Fr. jaseran (t), jazzeran – Sp. jacerina.]
The process of loosing the scriptures; the motives for Innana’s descent, jesserent, Molly’s bones; coverings; the cemetery re-visited; the dentists return; wave and mountain dream; Uccello’s St George and the dragon.
The process of loosing the scriptures
This process of loosing the scriptures, the rules or ‘laws’ by which she had lived her life was having an effect. w-e felt the ambiguity of the client in the hair-stylist’s chair, who says “I want a complete change” and then adds nervously “but don’t alter the length”.
The loosing by expansion, using additional information gleaned through the internet to change her relation to what she already knew by dilution had been a good plan, and had worked, was working. But the story of Inanna and her descent to the underworld had refocused the new material in a way she had not expected. It had re-connected her to things which she had already almost succeeded in forgetting, or at least ignoring. She had understood Death’s injunction, ‘to listen to the screaming’ to be, in theory, therapeutically, morally and socially a good thing, but to actually experience it was not pleasant. She realised now that to abandon the rules, meant also to a certain extent to abandon rationality, and though the rational had not ever been her god or goal, still the loss of it might tip her into the same pit into which her brother had fallen, and from which he had not been able to return. He had been stuck, in terms of the Inanna story, because unlike Erseshkegal he had had no comforters, and so, for him, the constant screaming had never stopped.
The motives for Innana’s descent, jesserent, Molly’s bones
So, thought w-e, the motives for Innana’s descent to comfort Ereshkegal were certainly mixed. Of course she would have wanted to stop her crying because Ereshkegal was her sister and was mourning the death of her husband, but also it would have been because the sound of crying was impinging on her life, and once she began to hear it, it would have increased in volume and become impossible to ignore.
The computer had absolutely nothing to say on jesserent or jazzerant, and this in itself was unexpected, it brought w-e to a temporary halt, though apparently it had plenty to say about splints (548,000 hits) and armour (4,390,000 hits). The splints took w-e’s mind back to Molly’s broken arm, she knew Molly had been anxious about going to hospital to have surgery because the cardigan she had helped to drape around Molly’s shoulders had a beautiful Norwegian pattern, and when she admired it Molly said it had belonged to a friend of hers, who was in her nineties and had gone into hospital for something minor, but through a series of errors had been returned to the operating theatre four or five times, and died of an infection. Molly’s eyes, normally peaceful were wide open to something alarming, “I really don’t want to go in for surgery” she said, and later when w-e mentioned this, Sylvia said “I don’t blame her, I would not like to have to go in myself.”
“But don’t you think hospital hygiene will improve, after all there has been a lot of publicity about it? asked w-e.
“I don’t think so. When I was nursing as soon as a patient left a bed we would strip it, but we had a trolley by the bed, everything went into a trolley, now they pull bedclothes off and they go on the floor. Spreads infection. In Sweden they take the whole bed away to spray disinfect it, and a newly sterile bed is wheeled in for the next patient. We used to wash the whole bed frame with a special disinfectant, everywhere, including underneath and it was left to dry, for several hours, that way you could be sure it was safe. Now there is no time to do that, they use ‘wipes’, but only across the mattress, its not the same.” The dismissive way she inflected the word ‘wipes’ showed a strength of feeling unusual for Sylvia.
“So the patient gets into an infected bed.”
“Very often they do. We had basins for hand washing, one in every four-bed ward, with disinfecting soap in a bottle, sometimes I came home with my hands raw from washing, the doctors also used to wash hands between patients, now they don’t always.” She didn’t think things would change soon, “the whole system is against it, there is no sister to control the ward, make sure things are done rightly”.
w-e hoped devoutly not to have to enter hospital herself and she worried about Molly. When she met her next on their landing Molly was sitting with her hair in rollers, her head under a helmet hair drier of a kind w-e had not seen since the 1970s. The volunteer hairdresser had arrived, and was using the landing as her salon. w-e saw the mottled and blackened arm in a new kind of sling. Apparently the collar and cuff arrangement had been the wrong kind of support as the bone was splintered and separated from the head which had come out of the shoulder socket. This new kind of splint/sling was to help the head to connect back into the socket, but they thought it was unlikely to succeed, “They think there will have to be surgery.”
In order to encourage her and also because she did think it likely w-e said she thought god would be on Molly’s side, after all Molly spent her life in the service of god, spreading the word in an even peaceful manner, and knowing that she had the truth, must surely as Molly herself had said “make a difference”.
As she sat on the tube on her first outing for weeks, w-e’s thoughts turned on armour as a covering, protective, healing, adorning, rank-signalling, she wrote a note as best she could bracing against the wobble of the train. Then she re-wrote it in capital letters in the hope of being able to decipher it later. Images of clothes and uniforms, of conformity and rebellion drifted unordered through her mind. She remembered talking with her friend Mark, who had gone to Ibiza, opened a club and disappeared into the money it made. He had opened her eyes to clothes, and through him she began to notice what they signalled, how much information they gave if you paid attention to them. For a while she had gone out to watch people on the street, each person coming towards her was so densely and richly defined, such shades and glimmerings of needs, neglects, compensations. She had become carelessly blind to them, forgotten the whole thing.
Now she connected coverings with rules, rules as protective, as splints, forbidding movement, necessarily restrictive, rules as obscuring, blocking the ears to alternatives, to the present, and these were necessary because all alternatives could not be gone through, not even once. Each enquiry would spread out creating new planets, suns, galaxies, the right answer, or indeed any answer could not be arrived at because enquiry was a creative force that constantly overtook each possible destination.
The disadvantage of imposed rules, the laws of religion or state, was their inflexibility, they were cumbersome and slow to modulate, whereas enquiry darted and flashed mercurially forward and backward, often inviting transgression. The desire to loose the rules she lived by, had been brought about because she recognised that her security had become her prison.
But there was to be no change of one order to another without moving through chaos, she understood this to be lawful, not the imposition of a law but the way it had to be, no new order could arise before the dissolution of the old, unless that is a person was living outside the constraints of time. It was time that folded and unfold events, like a pleated curtain drawn back and forth across a window, or perhaps it was memory which ordered things in sequence and out of sequence which seemed to hold and reinforce the old order, yet sometimes new thoughts came, from where? The story of Inanna, which she had been drawn to in the understanding that Ereshkegal represented some split off part of herself that was seeking reconciliation, now re-presented its narrative in terms of sibling relations. Her descent to comfort her own sibling had already been made, and to no satisfactory outcome, because in the end however much she loved her brother she could not agree to die with him, which is what he wanted.
The friend she met for lunch had an unusual approach to clothes. He told her that twenty years ago he had gone into a camping supply shop, for tent-pegs, or whatever, and it had a sale on, so he bought forty green t-shirts and was still wearing them. “Some are still new, or new-ish, if I have to go somewhere and look respectable I root through them for a new one.” His jackets, also green, were a series of identical easily recognisable garments, he was famous for having one permanently over the back of his office chair, giving out the message of his presence somewhere in the building, whilst in fact he might be, and often was, far away wearing another jacket.
He took off a green jacket revealing a green t-shirt, the fact that it was a much used one indicated that she was a friend for whom being respectable was not necessary, a complement in its way. His clothes spoke of a desire to halt or deny change, to appear consistently equable, and to be seen in his own terms, unvaryingly in his work role, this was comfortingly reliable, meant that he would be thought of as “always the same”, though of course this could not be true, his clothes were as deceptive as those of a Rolex wearing, chequebook clad man, though the motives for the deception might be different. Clothes showed how much power a person, desired, agreed to, or admitted to having, the power could be sexual, financial, political or it could be as ambitious as her friend’s clothes which showed an heroic denial or holding back of time.
Inanna’s powers were made visible by her crown, her lapis beads, her breastplate, her double strand of beads, her gold bracelets, her measuring rod and line, her royal robe. Life had formed round her, not just as a protective shell which is how w-e had always thought of armour, a place to hide, but as a declaration of her powers, magnificent like the armour w-e had seen in a museum, engraved and inset with gold and silver, embellished with cutting edges on elbow and knee, spiked helmets creating an aura of safety for the wearer who, close to, became lethal. Inanna’s powers defined her, separated her from others. When these outwards signs were removed, she was revealed in her nakedness she became one with her subjects, and her fate became the fate of all.
The cemetery re-visited
A few days later, w-e went out to post a letter and decided to carry on for a short walk, before it got dark, so she headed for the cemetery rather than up the steep hill to the duck pond, passing a couple of elderly women deep in conversation. The entrance to the cemetery was strewn all down the right hand side with plastic carrier bags of various sizes and colours, it looked as though a competition for plastic bag strewing had been held, and then she realized that the wind must have blown all the bags to that side, the left side had none, but then she wondered in the seventy five yards between the road, the big metal entrance gates and the entry to the cemetery itself, how had so many carrier bags been let go, most people visited in a car, as a notice on the fence warned ‘Stop Beware of Pedestrians’, ‘Be aware of pedestrians’ edited w-e crossly, noticing for the first time that a whole batch of instructions were also given about accompanied children and guide dogs.
Inside amongst the winter greys across the whole field of graves, there was a bright dotting of red plastic roses, and poinsettias of exactly the same red, the first ones she passed were on large double bed sized marble graves were clearly Christmas table decorations, poinsettias and fir cones, in baskets, with silvery bits, this looked like a surprisingly frugal recycling. Later on she saw some Christmas door wreaths, holly with berries and plastic red roses, or fir with cones, laurel and plastic lilac coloured anemones, in one case the string from which the wreath had hung on the front door trailed across the grave.
There had been several new Swiss chalet type rest homes for the watering cans built, one of these was now sited opposite the much visited, often chaotically disordered grave of the sixties singer, which had had a good clear out since she had last seen it. Beyond, where the new graves were she saw a young woman standing at the grave where she had seen oil lamps, “she must have come to refill the oil”, thought w-e, interested but not wanting to stare. As she rounded the curve of the path she saw the exceptionally small young woman changing her tiny Wellingtons for tiny shoes at the back of her four-wheel drive, so w-e felt she could now look over at the grave which seemed to hold even more flowers than before, huge lilies had arrived, but she didn’t like to make a complete inventory.
As she went on she saw the large teddy bear, which had been on the grave, now sitting on a new pine bench, provided for mourners under the trees, above it someone had hung a multicoloured woven banner, similar to a kind of new-agey priest’s stole she had once seen in church, and a set of metal wind chimes. The four-wheel drive took off with energy, probably not aware of anything much, let alone pedestrians. At the back of the teddy bear bench there was a cluster of vases, some were beautiful. What was going on? Was there a family feud, one side going down and putting the teddy bear and ‘our’ vases on the grave, the other side returning later to change things back?
Fascinated by the Christmas front-door wreaths, w-e counted twenty-five on the graves she passed, a few of these had little florists gift notes encased in plastic envelopes, and looked as though they had been delivered directly to the grave as a way of including the departed in the family celebrations.
At the main gates there was a group of eleven or twelve-year old boys, they radiated guilt, and actually huddled furtively, like a demonstration of a guilty huddle, she walked briskly past them, and on the way back passed elderly women still in the same spot, still earnestly talking. She also saw the man with the half-starved, ill looking dogs, he was a lot thinner himself, but no less threatening.
The dentists return
The days after new year passed and gradually dentists returned from their holidays, the flow of patients to and from the surgeries resumed. w-e had secured an appointment for the third day back of her own dentist, who had enjoyed a prolonged break in the American south, and took her abscess there. Lying back mostly with eyes shut behind a pair of plastic goggles she tried to relax but a mouth full of hands and implements, together with her fear of the processes made praying a better option, so she gave herself into god’s care continuously throughout the whole procedure. When she opened her eyes she saw hanging over her a round moon-like light, silvery with a hyacinth blue tint on the faceted glass at the rim. The next time she opened her eyes she seemed to be in a cavern looking up at distant alpine peaks, these were the mask and the white cuffs of the dentist and her assistant, another time she saw the soft gleam of her dentist’s eye as it peered into her mouth.
“We found the source of the infection” said her dentist, “ I expect you noticed the smell,” and indeed w-e had smelled the unpleasant puff of decay escaping her mouth. “The nerve was dead, it was black and rotting” added her dentist in an unusual spurt of vocalisation. “But I have cleaned it out and disinfected it”. w-e had to make a further appointment for the cleansing treatment to be repeated the following week, she was relieved to feel that she was no longer walking around as she had for the last month with pus from the rotting nerve inside her.
The next day she was alarmed to have another toothache, this time on the other side of her mouth, it was a Friday, and so rather than risk going on into the dentist-free zone of the week-end, she took herself back to the dentist, to see if she could have an emergency appointment. To her surprise the receptionist got up at once and said “I’m just going to find out if she will see you”, and came back saying that if w-e would wait the dentist would see her after the next patient. It was the afternoon and incredibly hot in the waiting room, the others waiting had shed their coats, and after a bit w-e also took off several layers, her coat, a jersey and a t-shirt.
She moved to sit some way from the receptionist who had a bad dose of the ‘flu’ saying apologetically that she did not want to re-infect herself. This proved to be a conversational opening for the woman opposite to give advice, about ’flu’, mothers and their children, in a transfixing flow of inaccurate medical information. Unless inhalations were carried out as she described, the poor receptionist would develop pneumonia, and then pleurisy followed inevitably by TB, but that would be alright because TB was now easily cured. w-e who knew that there were now strains of resistant TB and that cases of it were on the increase, managed to hold her tongue. “Mothers are the best doctors for their children” said the woman, “they know them, see them every day”. “She continued at length to recount the curing of her own son, brought back to her from New York because of his ’flu’, she discoursed on phlegm and as she did so gave a balletic mime of the site of the phlegm indicated by a hand touching her chest, using a rising gesture that showed its loosening and journey up to the throat, and a graceful turning of the hand conveyed its expulsion from the mouth. w-e wondered if her own flows of advice were as inaccurate and irritating, probably they were.
Through a window in the waiting room the sky looked a worrying colour until she identified it as the pink in a sky she had seen in a Monet painting, there was a fish-net of lichened green branches scratched glowingly across it, while through the other window the sky was a clear birds egg blue. Two transparent epoxy resin dolphins arched expensively from a blue curling wave on the receptionist’s desk, quiet fell on the waiting room, w-e waited.
Wave and mountain dream
Three nights later w-e dreamed she was on the side of a mountain with a female friend, looking down she saw the sea begin to splutter and boil, in her dream memory she knew of the danger of the giant wave, she told her friend they must leave, but they decided against the road they had come on, it was too low down, and they began to climb up the mountain where they would be safe. A third woman appeared who had chocolate that she offered them, w-e could not eat it, because it had nuts which she was allergic to, she worried that they would not find food. But at the top of the mountain they found a house, with a kitchen well stocked with food and decided to eat and leave money which w-e found in her pocket to pay for it.
Uccello’s St George and the Dragon
Years before w-e had tutored an exceptionally inventive seven year old American girl, who wanted to tell stories in her drawings. Her mother wanted her to make representational drawings of leaves and fruit. So they compromised, did a bit of each and in between w-e showed Cora-Belle postcards of the paintings and they talked about them. w-e remembered the Ucello painting now, because the boy hero St George was in armour and so she had just realized was the dragon, which had its own natural armour, only the chinless damsel was unprotected. The strangeness of this small painting lay for w-e in the fact that the damsel was passively holding a thread or lead which attached her to the dragon, she wasn’t tied to the dragon and could easily have separated herself from it if she had dropped the thread. She showed this to Cora-Belle, who bent over the card, her blond hair shocked forward, she looked up at w-e her eyes glazed, reaching back towards some source of knowledge, then she said in a dreamy voice, “I think they are the same person”, “the dragon and the damsel?” asked w-e, “yes” said Cora-Belle, “I think so.”
CHAPTER 7: LANGUAGE
THE SEVENTH GATE – LANGUAGE
the most diluting word so far; naked; the sound of cotton; memorial; checking out at the supermarket; jealousy; Donne’s poem; Helmshore refurbishment; rotting; Terminator Two; the flies; life stories; love and the most noble truth; Lent; first time reinstatement
language human speech: a variety of speech or body of words and idioms, especially that of a nation: mode of expression: diction: any manner of expressing thought or feeling: an artificial system of signs and symbols, with rules for forming intelligible communications, for use in e.g. a computer: a national branch of one of the religious or military Orders, e.g. Hospitilars.
The most diluting word so far
With this word the dictionary had come up with the most diluting word so far, whereas there had been no computer entries at all for jesserent, there were 197,000,000 for language. w-e entered additional qualifying words and found the following table of entries:
Number of hits
Language and politics, and death, and hope, and sport, and sex came next and in that order, language and babies hardly registered. w-e wondered if these numbers would be the same, if she were looking at the hits in Italian or Chinese, surely there would be cultural differences that would affect the order?
The languages she decided to look at, as most relevant to her purpose, were the ones connected to Inanna and Ereshkegal as Inanna passed through the seventh gate completely naked, Ereshkegal’s jealousy of Inanna, her killing rage and eye of death that left Inanna a corpse a piece of rotting meat to be hung on a hook in the wall. The insurance policy Inanna took out before she began her journey, the helpers created by her grandfather, their thereputic consolation of Ereshkegal, their negotiating and bargaining powers.
The computer connected naked with porn: films, and opportunities to meet ‘super hot girls ready to party’, or ‘free introductions to housewives, for a trial period.’ The front pages were all orientated towards supplying men with presumably naked at some stage, women, no invitations or trial periods for women to meet men, or other gender combinations. Probably they were represented somewhere in the forty-four million references to naked that Google had provided, but this was not the nakedness of Inanna, which in language terms was connected to vulnerability, powerlessness, a language unclothed in deceiving flattering disguises. A naked language, thought w-e, would be primal conveying meaning without room for doubt or misinterpretations, more a language of presence, of the swift transmission that tells you in the instant you meet someone for the first time an encyclopaedia of information, of attractions, and warnings, to be remembered later after events have run their course.
A Canadian woman told w-e of coming to London and staying by herself in an opulent apartment lent to her by friends of her parents. On her first evening she took herself out and succeeded in meeting a group of people and arranged to go to a movie with them the next day. But as she explained, “that apartment was pretty impressive, and I thought I might as well show it off”, so she invited them all to meet there first, for a drink. When she opened the door to them, they had brought a man with them who had not been there the night before. He was standing at the back of the group and she could see only part of his face and head. But just seeing this fragment of him was instantly and overwhelmingly exciting, and yes, this was her husband-to-be. What could have transmitted this powerful effect, it was enough to make one believe in ‘auras’ or ‘astral rays’, or simply fate, something quite different from needing or desiring to have free introductions to housewives for a trial period, though even there, life changing meetings must take place.
Verbal language thought w-e can relate to experience as an extrapolation or distillation, that gives an expression of a state, is a result of something, but in itself it does not account for the hormonal flows, the ‘astral rays’ or ‘fate’. “I love you” is the outcome of complex processes and these processes must also ‘speak’ or the words will be empty.
Most of human life goes on invisibly inside the body, breath, blood flows, digestion, the deepest most intimate functioning is beyond our experiential tracking, we can understand intellectually how the breath and blood are inter-related, but that is not at all the same as experiencing these processes. She knew that the language of explanations resulting from experiment and investigation also becomes void when separated from the experience of discovery.
This is how the noble truths of scriptures had become theoretical constructs, dams which hold back flowing experience. Small verbal expressions of something once experienced are held fast to as the ‘truth’ itself, and from this rules and modes of behaviour and belief, notions of immutable laws are formed. Emotional understandings reached through grief, fear or love find verbal forms but these become obstructive matter, gathering into rotting sores of resentment, jealousy or rage clogging and congealing, preventing the proper exchange of substances.
In both these cases life is restricted, the body of language becomes dust or slime. w-e realised that this is why she must abandon whatever she regarded as ‘wisdom’ start again to let life wave over her, she must allow for and value confusion, the hormones, all the invisible processes, the ‘rays’, and ‘fate’ itself. Though some things have to be held onto, some knowledge, some modes of doing things, ways to function retained, everything can not be let go. But knowledge itself is not wisdom, and it is the reverence for, or the privileging of some special knowledge, that becomes dead wisdom and must be let go.
The sound of cotton
Once these fleeting thoughts about language began to flicker, they connected unexpectedly with experience. As she put on her long white cotton nightdress she felt the pleasure in the sound the fabric made, the wrinkling and straightening movement of its substance was like the gentle breaking of water over rocks in a small stream, something that she loved to listen to.
When she was in Italy the family she stayed with used to go out in a large group to walk in the mountains, when they learned of her liking for the sound of water, they all stopped talking as they crossed small rivers or streams and stood still so that she could hear it. Were there a new cousin, or friend in the party, they would hush them, saying “she likes to listen”. Seen in the Italian context, the cotton sound could be thought of as a bit of a, by association, an indirect ‘madelaine’ moment. But in itself the sound spoke of something soothing, as did her computer which gave out a stream of sound as its innards whined, fluttered, gurgled, hummed, gave notice of its processes, signalling activities, the stalling and restarting of them, all these kept her in tune with the machine. She had speakers, but had disconnected them disliking the programmed noises that came through them.
Before she fell asleep, the images of the mountains came back to her, and the husbands on the family group walks who used to pick flowers and give them to her so that she ended each walk carrying a bridesmaid’s bouquet of wild flowers, and her fear that the wives would hate her, but they hadn’t, the wives had been tolerant. Italy and Italians had rinsed away matter surrounding the certainties of Protestant morality till these notions emerged for what they were, a way of being, a set of rules, or as Alice would have said ‘nothing but a pack of cards’. Not that they themselves were not imprisoned in their own delusions, so rigid in their own assumptions that w-e could not even talk to them about some subjects, there being no common ground at all. Their freedom lay in holding sets of what she would previously have thought of as conflicting emotions, they were not troubled by this, did not spend time as she did striving to find out which was the ‘right’ emotion, or the ‘real’, or ‘true’ emotion, they lived in a multiplicity of feelings which they accepted, as they accepted her, relating to her in a network of emotional modes none of which threatened exclusion. When she felt that she could not impose on this family longer and ought to move out, they had been horrified, called a family council round the dining table and said she wants to leave, she is unhappy, “Why?”
When she explained that at home people did not go and live in other people’s houses for extended stays, they just said “we do here, we’re used to it, you are no trouble to anyone, you dress yourself, you feed yourself, you have a nice room, you eat well, in Italy if you have all that and leave it, we call it stupid”. It had taken some time to convince her, one day the husband managed it. “Look” he said “let’s settle this once and for all, this is your home, you can stay here for ever, until we are all white-haired and walking round on sticks”.
The day after these explorations, w-e set out for a pub to meet some people before going on with them to a church for a memorial service. When she found it the pub had a series of tiny rooms, corridors, little alcoves, it was crowded and dark, she toured around it anxiously a couple of times unable to find anyone she knew, and then sat outside in the bright freezing air at a table where she would be visible. But the time came to leave for the church and she went off on her own, finding the huge church, part of a monastery lodged on the edge of a hill, closed and with no sign of anyone else waiting. She walked back to the house of the friends she was due to meet and there was no one in.
So back up and down and up the hill she went again to the church and this time the door was open and she entered. She saw a photograph of the young woman who had died propped on the alter steps. In the black and white picture, her eye sockets were completely in shadow so neither open nor closed, giving a disturbing skull-like image as though she were half way between life and death. In front of the photo were a pair of red shoes, a book and a candle. Behind this arrangement the church soared up to a dome over a massive Romanesque tomb-like high altar set in pillars and overhung with stone angels, poinsettias blazed in the distant recessed ledges of it. The church walls had been painted in a number of colours that w-e recognised as being from the tasteful National Trust paint colour chart.
There were a few people there all young and looking responsible, moving things from here to there and from there back to here again. There was an older woman in a black fur who, when w-e asked her if she was the mother of Adele, said she was “the mother of the best friend”, that there was not going to be a priest, but people were going to share their memories. “When you see a voluminous woman”, she said, “that will be her mother”. w-e was uncertain where to sit, it could not be like a wedding with friends of the bride on one side, and of the groom on the other, she sat on the other side from the fur coated woman, and a German young woman, who was organising the music, remembered meeting w-e and came up to her to ask if she was alright, which she was, having only really met the Adele once at her birthday party two years before, she had spent a long summer afternoon wrapping up a bottle and drawing on it, picking flowers from her balcony, collecting things to take her. It had been a happy evening, Adele glamorous in a fifties’ frock. w-e felt as though she had no right to be at this memorial sharing, yet she had been shocked by the sudden unexpected death of someone so young, she had wanted to come, imagining that there would be a mass with hymn-singing and prayers.
The music organiser knelt down by the pew w-e was in, she herself was not at all alright, she said she was playing songs that people had asked for because of memories, and strains of Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne wafted miserably from the machine at the side of the church. The door right at the back opened from time to time and people came in, then after some while the door opened and a whole crowd of people who had been to the cemetery to see where the ashes had been interred, came in all together, a large black clad sober crowd, w-e’s friend Nicola among them and her flatmate, they brought in icy air which fell about her feet.
The ‘voluminous’ mother sat in front of w-e and Nicola, she had a bundle of papers and wrote with fast jerky writing, until someone stood on the steps and began the process of sharing their memories of Adele. Then she ran her right hand through her hair, pulling and patting it’s short reddish strands and began to emanate powerful waves of feeling, her body opening up with laughter at some stories and at other moments collapsing over with shudders of silent crying. w-e was so near her that she could not avoid the pain and her own body began to hurt, she leaned forward instinctively, feet on the kneeler, her chest closing up to her knees, she noticed that Nicola and her flatmate had adopted exactly the same posture. The temperature in the church dropped steadily, Nicola warmed her hands in her hat using it as a muff, w-e wrapped her feet in a wool shawl and thanked god that she had put on as many layers of t-shirt and jumper as she had.
Then Adele’s mother got up and went to sit on the alter steps, taking her bundles of paper with her, she said that she was used to speaking, and wanted to speak now, and she did. Her voice was strong, she talked of Adele, of her family, Adele’s birth father, their Latin origins, their culture, her own spiritual beliefs, the significance of the date Adele had died on, which was Epiphany, of the cemetery being on the flight path for airplanes, and having also the natural flight of the birds, and now too the spirit, layers of aerial significance, her memories of having sat there in the grass with her daughter; Adele as a child, tap dancing on a table outside in the porch, at a wedding which they did not have because the video had run out. She talked of the people who had cared for Adele while she had had to work, her friend who had been Adele’s ‘other Mom’. She recounted the phone call in the early hours of the morning coming across the continent from a tired doctor at the end of a twelve hour shift, to tell her the news and how she said in her terror “bottom line, bottom line, bottom line,” needing to hear the worst actually said, “and then the doctor said, you know, Adele is no more.”
She said how much it meant to her to meet Adele’s friends, to hear their stories, because since Adele had left home they had seen so little of her. The cold clawed and w-e’s sitting on bones bored into the pew. Adele’s mother talked of her own processes, her narrative was full of turns and time-twists, reflective, insightful, questing, looking into her own future, like an underwater plant, opening and closing in response to the swirls of water surrounding it, she had many things to say, and she went on saying them. She read an essay Adele wrote when she was sixteen after the death of her father, she read Adel’s commencement speech which ended “What are you going to do with your short magical life?” The mother asked this question “ of all of you here now”, she had finished. W-e and Nicola put on their hats and stood up, but the mother ran forward, there was something important that she had forgotten, she was crying, w-e and Nicola sat down again.
Then it was over, and there were groups of people, standing not quite leaving in the dark church, and the music played was Son of a Preacher Man, an oddly heartrending song, playing into the ears of this group of people from a time long before Adele or any of them were born, and w-e and Nicola eased themselves from the church and walked briskly to the flat people were coming on to for a drink.
Nicola hurled olives and salty biscuits into bowls, got out glasses and bottles and put the kettle on, they had just made themselves warming mugs of tea and coffee when the first people began to arrive and stand round edgily. w-e talked to a couple of people and then found herself in a doorway obstructing the general flow with Adel’s mother, who came up the stairs in a wet coat and would not take it off, though w-e tried to relieve her of it, but she didn’t want it to be taken, “For now” she said “I want to stay here and talk”. w-e thanked her for all she had said and added that British people were not good at all at sharing stories about their friends, and how she had been at the private view of a large memorial exhibition for a painter who had died in his eighties, much loved by generations of students, and not one person mentioned him at all, they held their glasses and talked of other things, and at the time she had been shocked by the whole emotional atmosphere of denial, the loss of opportunity.
The mother hugged her and said, “I know almost everyone here, I saw you at the church and I felt you were encouraging me, who are you?” w-e gave her the mug of tea to hold to warm her hands up and explained that she was no one in particular, had been to Adele’s birthday party and wanted to come. She wasn’t able to say that what had hooked into her heart had been that she had wished Adele many happy returns, and there had in fact been only one birthday more to come. Somehow they talked about the process of dieing, the experience of witnessing the spirit leaving the body, and all this intense talking was being done with people pushing back and forth through the doorway. w-e tried to nudge the mother into a more comfortable place, but she was immovable, the mother’s friend, Adele’s ‘other Mom’ was standing the other side of the doorway w-e reached out he arm to try to bring her in with them, but it was not possible, so she stayed where they were on the landing and w-e left only when a Portuguese young woman came to say her goodbyes.
She went briefly into the main room now full of people, the photo from the church was propped up by the mantelpiece it had temporarily lost its icon status and become a thing among other things to be picked up, carried about, put down. There was a lap-top with pictures of Adele on it, one of her friends was trying to find out how to operate it, w-e went out onto the landing and leant in the doorway into Nicola’s bedroom, the ‘other Mom’ was also there and, though she refused a seat at first, did sit down.
It must have been hard for her, she had looked after Adele a lot when she was a child, she too must have been suffering, but the role she had taken for now was to support Cristina-Maria, “I don’t think its sunk in yet” she said, as they looked out of the door through they could hear the strong the voice of her friend, “what happens when there is nothing left to organise, to arrange, to do?” Deaths and experience of deaths rolled out of their memories, from and into a kind of universal stream.
On her way home, w-e remembered a talk by an academic theologian about the ear as a female organ in contrast to the eye which is male.
The theologian, a woman, had said that the ear receives, but the eye penetrates, and that in theology the organ overwhelmingly referred to is the eye, and the activity sight, that we see into, looking into things. But this was probably, thought w-e, because the theologians had been male, after all the eye can receive. Her thoughts wandered, Inanna’s journey had started from listening, setting her ear to the ground, pulling her awareness into the dark, where eyes would not serve her. But then again, Ereshkegal could see, had a terribly eye of death which she set upon Innana.
The listening that evening had been a rare communal activity for w-e. She thought of god, in the words of the hymn, ‘immortal invisible, god only wise’ she could not remember god described as inaudible. Her journey home was slowed down by train changes, longish waits. Next day she looked up eye and ear in her Biblical concordance and found 78 lines of references to eye, none to eyes, and only twenty-four to ear, and two to ears. She wondered if the Biblical use of the singular, where we usually use the plural, had resulted from translation, from some usage in Greek or Hebrew.
Checking out at the supermarket
A couple of days later w-e found herself at the checkout queuing at the till of a kindly woman she had exchanged some words with during Ramadan, when the woman was tired due to fasting. Back then, while they were packing w-e had asked if she knew that Christians also used to fast, though not exactly in the same way, but that they had Lent which was a period of fasting, not held to with any strictness now by most people. “But why not? It is good”, said Schara, “you appreciate so much after fasting”. Now, while she waited for her turn at the till, she heard and then saw a grappling hand that tried to extract the plastic purchase divider from its slot, w-e gave it to the woman who had the round eyes of the very old, set like wrapped berries in a strong happy face, once w-e’s shopping was underway and moving through, this woman came round to the exit side of the till while her friend placed their shopping on the counter. She had a stout wooden stick and showed no sign of wanting to sit down.
“My hands are so cold” she explained, “it is freezing outside” said w-e, “I’m ninety-one, my hands are old, and I’ve just got over the ‘flu’ said the woman, explaining her difficulty with the purchase divider, w-e admired her for overcoming the ‘flu’ still recent enough for a mention of it to cause a sympathetic ripple of reminiscence round the till. “But I still don’t feel like a round of golf” said the woman.
Overcome by the emotions of the memorial event and her confused thinking about organ theology, w-e now felt the need for a specific focus elsewhere and embarked upon a new Google search. There were two million, two hundred and ninety thousand hits for jealousy, the first few about the control, overcoming, or handling of jealousy, ‘Managing Jealousy in Open Relationships’ looked like a site that might be much referred to, if people in open relationships had time for sitting in front of a computer’ thought w-e somewhat bitterly, perhaps jealously. She was drawn to the site which flagged “don’t deny jealousy”, but it turned out to be a site about polyamory, both ‘partners’ in a marriage having multiple other partners, presumably sexual, and how to handle the whole thing with consideration for everyone involved, how to politely avoid unpleasantness in gatherings where several of each partners other partners might be present.
“There is so much to be grateful for” thought w-e, complacent in her lack of a partner with multiple other partners and the merciful lack of opportunities that this would have afforded her for learning the appropriate managing strategies.
At http://www.planetwaves.net/jealousy.html she found ‘Jealousy and the Abyss’
by William Pennell Rock, from the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 23, No. 2, Spring 1983, 70-84 ©1983 by the Association for Humanistic Psychology.
His abstract read: ‘Relationships – and jealousy in particular – provide an opportunity to come to a fundamental understanding of the self. Jealousy is the eruption of attachment. It can be transcended only through awareness. As we move with awareness into the core of this phenomenon, we pass through ungrounded expectations and beliefs, projections and delusions, envy, guilt, the loss of self-esteem, and the threat to security. The core is an existential problem; it has to do with illusion and the essentially fearful nature of the ego. In possessiveness, ego defends itself against nothingness. When we come to know and accept the nothingness at the core, jealousy and the pain of obsessive attachment cease.’
This Olympian view of jealousy while interesting to the impartial and uninvolved reader did not seem to w-e to be something that would adequately deal with the jealous wrath of a goddess. Ereshkegal was suffering the death of her husband and had been buried since the beginning of time in the dark earth whilst Innana reigned above on the sunlit earth with her husband and children, adorned and loved, probably her jealousy could not be experienced, looked at or treated separately from her killing rage.
The website on which this appeared also had the picture of a mid-thirtyish middle-Eastern looking man with a long bony face, who was reaching for cuteness by way of a knitted hat pulled on ineptly and crookedly as though by a seven-year-old, his coat collar up, his lapel decorated with a child’s plastic badge, his head on one side, his smiling lips looked as though they must have been enhanced by many dollars worth of enlargement injections. w-e felt irritated at first, and thought that he was in the process of distorting himself, but then she realized that he might in fact be trying to show outwardly the part of himself that had never received any attention, but that unfortunately he would probably attract bullying adult-children as much as a kindly parent adult-children to play out his drama.
Donne’s Elegy 1: Jealousy which she also found on her search, danced round the difficulties adulterers’ experience, praising the jealous husband for letting them know he is suspicious, suggesting they take themselves somewhere other than his house or bed to play. But this, on the face of it rather dull advice, sings to the sound of Donne’s music, is the poetic equivalent of the hand that finds the zip, that strokes and carries on, defeating protest.
Though not admirable by some moral standards this advice was a joy to listen to, more of it might have been included in Advice, most of the material for which had now been submitted to the publisher, but the book itself had had its publication date put back. w-e was partly bored by the torrent of advice with which she had been dealing, but was also more and more sure that advice worsens most situations. Take the advice of the jealousy man Rock, to realize the nothingness of the core, supposing you could, or thought you could and somehow deceived yourself, got it not quite right, what then? Besides, nothingness is surely difficult to recognise, one would be forever saying “is this nothingness?”. And if there were a this, surely it would not be nothing?
She remembered the great storm of the eighties, the public response to the loss of trees, the funds raised for buying new trees, the urgency and commitment to re-planting. Yet a decade later, studies showed that natural reforestation had overtaken human attempts to restore the damage. Left alone nature had done it better, had they known it, the best advice would have been to leave things be, and yet of course this could not always be the case. The catastrophic great wave could not be responded to like that, people could not be left to starve and die, in the knowledge that those remaining would repopulate and replace the dead in a decade or two.
Just the same, w-e had begun to think that direct action, the ‘taking charge of your life’ approach of so many self-help books, did impede natural integration, they focused on the ‘problem’ so fiercely that trust in life itself was atrophied. on the other hand, though despised by the rational, open the heart and mind to completely new experience, free the imprisoned mind from the limitation of certainties, contradict the accepted wisdom of the time. It is acknowledgment of the possibility of, or the embrace of miracles that allows them to occur, and more importantly than creating trust in god, they create a trust in the flow of life itself.
The housing association had recently shut down and sold off many of its properties, and there had been unsettling rumours about the future of Helmshore itself. But now, as Sylvia had told w-e some days before, the housing association had received European government grants of nineteen million pounds for the refurbishment of their properties and because Helmshore had never undergone anything in the way of improvements since it had been built, this is where the necessary works would begin. There would be a meeting in the common room that evening to go into it all.
Butlers in tailcoats with silver trays would be installed at the end of every corridor, ready to give kindly assistance to any elderly person who might require it. Taps with hot cocoa and cold champagne would be plumbed at intervals throughout the building for the encouragement of the mobile, w-e’s own idle fantasy seemed to have been called up by a recent re-reading of The Young Visitors, and other excited imaginings came out during the meeting. These were to do with connections between the apartments, hatches through which food could be passed from one apartment to another, and tunnels through which residents in small bungalows could connect with the main building. The oncoming disruption had brought the residents out in a rash of Freudianly expressed anxiety narratives of regression, she wondered what other dreams the refurbishment might stir.
During the meeting there had been more giggling and hands coyly held over mouths than w-e could remember having seen before. While dreading the noise, chaos and brick dust to come the residents embraced the idea of change, and to suggest in a limited way that this was a regression gave no idea of their child-like enjoyment. It seemed to w-e that the Freudian terminology, which had in its time been a miraculously new language, one that had created a seemingly unlimited re-ordering of the understanding, had now shrunk to contain a limited set of popular understandings.
Although, once Freudian imagery came to mind, it was impossible not to see the new cordless, digital, hands-free speaker-phone telephone that she had just bought without some tinge of Freudian terminology, and also thought w-e excitedly with traces of organ-gender theology, which was, she could now see, an offshoot or byway of Freudian analysis. The new telephone was a phallus shaped object which slotted upright into the plastic hole of its separate base. Voices would issue from the tiny apertures in its erect head, its ‘face’ lit up and gave visual messages, mysterious clues as to its state of functioning which she had not yet learned to decipher. The old telephone handset lay passively, attached by an umbilical cord to its mother, it was ear orientated, had no visual messaging at all.
The Inanna story itself was susceptible to Freudian analysis, but this did not spark anything insightful, apart from the sex-death association, in which Inanna became an unlikely lock-knit clad Woody Allen kind of sperm penetrating the body of the earth and meeting her end in the throne room of Ereshkegal, where the eye of her sister fell upon her and she became a corpse, a piece of rotting meat, hung on a hook in the wall to decompose in the womb of the earth, a kind of inversion of human conception and gestation.
Christ’s decent to harrow hell, to quicken the souls of the dead came from the same family of descent stories as did Inanna, Persephone, Hercules, and Orpheus, though the hero stories seemed more Freudianly precise, representing a male act of creation, the spirit penetrating matter and bringing life to the dead.
She knew that the whole question of rotting was a worry for theologians. By the time Christ reached them would Adam and Eve would have rotted unrecognisably, mingled with the earth so much that their bodies could not be resurrected? Also at what age would the body be resurrected? Would this be the age the person was when they died or sometime earlier, would a body that had lost a limb be resurrected with it or without it? It would have made for a less conflicted dogma if earlier Christians had allowed the body to rot and the spirit to ascend to God. But as it turned out they had seemed determined that Christ’s dual nature, both human and divine. should manifest corporally as far as death was concerned.
The dual nature was hinted at in Jerusalem, there she had descended the first flight of steps into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to see a screen of large jewelled eggs, hanging suspended in front of her. To her right the stairs had twisted down into the incense billowing air, a Disney stairway, lit by huge ornate pierced-work lamps and candles, she passed glittering grottos of significance to a variety of Christian churches Greek and Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, there did not seem to be anything Protestant along the way. At the very end there seemed to be a little hut, the size of a suburban potting shed. It was the tomb of Christ and had to be entered by bending down through a low opening. Inside there was a bed shaped bed sized tomb and on the dusty rock walls were hung small jam-jars, attached in a clumsy way by wires and holding offerings of wilting flowers. At the end of all the grandeur and ceremony, the official voices of the church were theatrically silent.
The computer brought her references to the lyrics of Rotting Christ, yet another sex ‘n death rock group. The cover of one of their albums did show the image of an exhumed and rotting Christ, which w-e deleted immediately she glimpsed it. It was not an image she wanted to examine, bringing as it did the memories of her own brother’s burial and the months afterwards in the distressing knowledge that this rotting process would be going on. In contrast, the body of her father had lain for months in a deep freeze while the slow processes for carrying out an autopsy gathered strength. This also had been unpleasant.
Not as horrifying as the exhumation of her friend Michel’s father’s body in its rotting state with one intact, perfect leg and shoe. For reasons she had never understood this had been legally necessary and Michel, his sister and mother had had to witness it.
As for Ereshkegal, with her eye of death, w-e realized that Ereshkegal was a personification of death, and, like the Death, who had advised her at the beginning of all this, not all powerful. Look at it in this way, if Ereshkegal ruled the kingdom of the dead why was she separated from her husband when he died? Was this because his body rotted and she was unable to stop or reverse the process? What kind of body did Ereshkegal have? There were anomalies in the story, things that didn’t fit, or background information that she did not have, this critical intrusion in her experience of the story surprised w-e, but then she thought, “the inevitability of death is not comfortable, it is not a story that can be told by the living, so I would have to find fault with it”, as her dream grandmother had advised she should not “make a friend of death.”
Death could only be made friends with in symbolically distancing terms, as in alchemy where the processes of rotting, or blackening were now seen psychologically as part of a voluntary descent into the inner self, a psychological death to the material world, or as w-e was herself doing, a scattering of her wisdoms, a sinking down into the inexplicable diffusion of the definitions of her randomly found words, an abandonment of their attendant certainties. This process had led her ruthlessly to the grieving raging Ereshkegal in whose petrifying presence she had no prescription, no explanation, no wisdom and no life. In this way she had understood the story in terms of her own experience and then understood her experience in terms of the story, and here this part of both her own and Inanna’s stories came to an end.
And now w-e was left incoherent, hanging on the hook of the story dead and gone, what did it matter if her imagined wisdoms were scattered or not, what did it matter? The restrictions of them, their binding had been unwrapped and no one can live without modes of being, patterns, illusions, lies, the lily pads across the pool, the way of smoke and mirrors. The truth was that it was not the giving up of her powers, her adornments that enabled Inanna to descend to Ereshkegal. Gate by gate death itself takes all powers and adornments, so any preoccupation with keeping them is vain, and in vain.
In the early morning she could not work, the computer screen reflected a dazzling light from the new energy saving light bulb. These bulbs, somewhat strangely, supplied free to the blind, and given to her by a blind person who not un-naturally had no use for them, were larger than the usual ones, they protruded down below the lampshades and this caused the difficulties. When she switched her overhead light off it was too dark to see and when she switched it on it was blinding and hurt her eyes. This had been the case for over a month, but now she could not tolerate the discomfort of it any more, was angry with herself for not having taken steps to solve this earlier. After an irritating amount of time was lost fiddling about with a reading lamp which needed a new bulb and had a dodgy switch, she decided to diffuse the light by extending the shade. She taped a white napkin to the top of it, but it fell off after a minute or two, her second attempt ended with the sticky tape falling on a book, where w-e had to leave it, as pulling it off would have obscured the text. After her third attempt with the tape she felt like an infant unable to disentangle herself, also she felt too hot in her jacket but too cold without it, she began to complain out loud, and then to throw things. She dragged a chair about to stand on to deal with the lampshade, and pulled a neck muscle. There was nothing for it but to switch on the television and watch the Bishop of Oxford, who was confusingly in Cambridge, handsomely smiling and nimbly hornpiping his way through a tricky interview.
Later, when this had calmed her down, she saw what she had begun to suspect earlier in all this, that Inanna had been lonely, and so had Ereshkegal, their ruling powers had isolated them from others, and from each other, who they were and what they were was wraiths, shadows, spiders whose threads had been pulled out to the very end. There was nowhere to be attached to, and nothing to attach with, their beautiful patterns were gone, there was no web for people to wonder at, no flies were caught, they were hungry.
w-e now remembered the curious metallic entity in Terminator Two, a sci-fi shape shifter, silvery and metallic who flowed into a multitude of changing forms, she connected him with the handsome helpful Death who had morphed so suddenly from the Bacchus figure and realised that Death was Mercury, and that it was Mercury who flowed into the residents of Helmshore, her dream grandmother, the men at Homebase, the inhabitants of the graves in the cemetery and their imagined flower-bearing relatives, into Inanna, Ereshkegal and into everyone else in her internal and external stories, so all the time that she had felt on her own, she had in fact been accompanied and helped in the way she had wished.
This connective fluidity suggested that she herself must now allow herself to be taken, to flow into the being of Inanna’s servant Ninshubur, then into Enki, Inanna’s magician god of wisdom grandfather that the servant had gone to pleading for Inanna’s life, and then into the slavific flies that he made from the dirt under his fingernails.
The magical flies began to change the direction of the story. w-e recognised them as the helpers demanded in myth, who had to be there at the birth of a god, she had forgotten who it was whose divine child could not be born, who shrieked in prolonged labour because no midwife was present.
The flies mourn, they moan and cry, echoing every word of Ereshkegal conforming oddly to contemporary therapeutic practice. Their language is one of intonation, a transmission of emotion, of presence, the echoing language mothers speak to babies long before ‘rules for forming intelligible communications’ have been formed, a comforting cycle of repetition in which mother echoes baby and baby echoes mother. Each echo subtly changing, as the slightly shifting lines do in the story of Inanna, ‘she opened her ear to the great below, the goddess opened her ear to the great below, Inanna opened her ear to the great below’, each repetition bring the listener closer, moving them from the abstract ‘she’ through the formal ‘goddess’ to the name, to the one, to the one and only ‘Inanna’.
The calm steady buzzing of flies echoes the shushing sounds mothers make to calm their children, the agitated bombarding changes of pitch as flies career unsteadily round a space, getting near and then further away, these suggest cries of distress, and then, thought w-e, flies were always connected with death, with rotting meat, corpses. Flies laid their bundles of shockingly tidy white eggs on rotting meat, thus they were also agents of resurrection, and a subversion of the great divine creator above and of other winged beings, birds, angels, cherubim and seraphim.
w-e remembered Bishop Tutu, the reconciliation process in Africa where victims were listened to, their sufferings witnessed, their stories heard; the hours in which she had herself listened to others outflowing their pains, like milk expressed from overfull breasts; the stories told at Adele’s memorial event and afterwards when she, Nicole and Adele’s other Mom had sat together. Listening to echoes, taking soundings, these established place, and with this a recognition of limitation, if the listener attended closely they would hear the sound waves fade and eventually die out. But, surely she thought there could not be time enough to re-tell everything that needed to be retold, to listen to everything that must be heard, there had to be a moratorium, a grace of forgiveness.
She wanted to stop painful narratives leaking from the past into the present. She had to a certain extent listened to her own internal wailing, helped or hindered by ten different professional therapists and a multitude of amateurs kindly adopting the role temporarily. Each telling of the narratives shifted them, and this was the value of the oral tradition in which change was part of the process and each change in the story changed the past, made possible a change in the present and the future. Now to her distress the wailing that she heard was not on account of her own suffering, but of the suffering she perceived she had unknowingly inflicted on others. These memories rose from her intestines and hit her bodily, fountaining up, not as epic narratives, but as isolated moments, fragments of neglected perceptions that would not be contained. Perhaps the listening and therapeutic echoing had to be integrated, a constant part of life, not split off into performances, or rituals carried out only during the therapeutic hour, in therapy rooms, but running on like the water over stones in the Italian hills.
Love and the most noble truth
The noblest of all truths is the life-story spun from experience, and patterned by the noble truths received from others, the family, the culture, the archived accounts of events which were even now decaying in whatever form they had been captured. The curating of noble truths was taking more and more of her energy. The most important stories must be lost through retelling. She settled down now to tell the story that seemed to be the central hub from which life radiated. It was this.
She had been told that love was something she would experience later, in its deepest form from having a husband and her own children, though to judge from the husbands, mothers and children around her, this did not seem to be so. If she did not do this she would remain forever lonely and unfulfilled as a woman. At the same time, once she entered married life, she would cease to be an individual, would have no chance to explore or use her talents, she would remain perpetually frustrated and unfulfilled as a person. This inescapable twisted strip of life had held her in paths of endlessly looped misery.
This was, of course, she now realised, her mother’s life-story, refined of all impurities, retaining its contradictions, it had been her mother’s involuntary gift, probably in all kindness an attempt to warn her what life was like, and also as an ease to her own suffering, an invisible insurance against seeing her daughter live differently, because then she would have suffered even more, seeing that there could have been a resolution of a kind, that it could have turned from tragedy to comedy.
Her mother’s life story had also been inherited and so on back through time, these stories even if not actually told in words were still explicitly understood, valued because they came from the deepest longings, they are the un-echoed cries that remain internal. By passing on the same pattern of emotional need, her mother had made her an echo, a magical fly, a companion whose mirroring had eased her own suffering, her loneliness.
A couple of days into Lent, w-e found herself in a stinging drizzle turning into the drive of the cemetery, she saw the laurels splashed with vivid yellow shining through the brambles, the honeysuckle renewing itself, a small clump of budding daffodils by the entrance.
Once inside she could see that things were on the move, spring had not yet arrived, but changes had been made, although some of the Christmas poinsettias remained daffodils were coming up everywhere, some in recently planted patterns inside graves, some dotted irregularly, the incoherent remnants of past schemes, there were edgings of bright polyanthus primulas. A large triple grave with blue and white hyacinths in full flower blasted out its perfume, three empty urns at the head were labelled worryingly Mother, Father and Daddy. She wondered what narrative lay behind this triple burying, why the order had been as it was, the choice of words which linked mother and father while seeming to cast daddy as the outsider, it was odd.
Turning into a path she had not explored before w-e walked between rows of old and decaying graves, most without names, some sinking into the earth, some seeming to rise up, breaking headstones and crosses which had been stacked back into the grave areas in a kind of stone club sandwich. In the grey light on the grey stones the mosses and lichens glowed golden and acid green, the bare earth, where a grave had been dug over, was red, there were some snowdrops in flower, and one grave was taken over by a dark spiky lavender bush. Further along were small graves, with so many names of grandfathers, mothers, sons, daughters, wives and husbands, that it was difficult to disentangle who had been what to whom, who exactly was in there. She noticed that the inscriptions on headstones and round the side of the graves had commas, but these were not enough to clarify the lists, paragraphing might have done it.
Back on the main path, outside the fenced off military section, she saw a crop of mushrooms exactly the colour of the fallen oak leaves, in the newer graves there were fresh flowers, autumnal looking chrysanthemums, large expensive florist’s lilies. The sixties singer’s grave had a new black and white photograph of him tucked in among the flowers at the foot, only the quiff of hair showed above the stonework and flowers. At the back, at ground level was a new oval colour photo of him in a gilt frame smiling shyly up into the eyes of the passer by, baskets of cyclamen, hyacinths and miniature daffodils in bloom showed that he was still loved, remembered. The other side of the holly berried bush which bordered this shrine, there was a zen-like grave, a flat, smooth oblong of cement with a triad of oranges shining like suns with puckered green nipples. It was raining more heavily now, she rounded the curve of the path and saw the gave with the oil lamps, there was no one about so she walked over to see what was happening.
A muddy area around this grave showed that it had been visited a lot, and indeed there had been changes, additions. To say that a grave was infested with fairies sounds unkind, but this grave was overwhelmed by fairies, some were tiny, an inch or so in size, others larger, a leaden sleeping fairy with folded wings, two smaller green garden fairies played on a sea-saw, others knelt, beseeched, sat pertly on the edge of the grave with legs crossed, more appeared as she looked, and with them flights of cherubs in whose white chubby hands coloured glass prayer beads had been placed, there were angels of a more traditional kind, standing in guardian position or leaning on empty plaques, these spilled out onto the muddy area surrounding the grave, where there were also two statues of girls holding dogs, and a miniature wooden wishing well, planted with winter pansies. It was raining more strongly now, one of the lamps swung gently on its hook, the other nestled among the fairies, their lights looked dusty, dimmed by the translucent brilliance emanating from the grass and flowers around them.
First time reinstatement
On her way to the station w-e came across a young man walking up and down a section of the verge which had a raked earth surface. He had a small bag and was scattering seed from it in a way that made her think of medieval woodcuts, he seemed to be permitting himself a pleased smile. His large municipal van was nearby, it had the initials CBD and after them the odd phrase, ‘First time reinstatement to the utilities’, a baffling legend thought w-e, it was on both the side and the front of the van.
When the train arrived w-e got into a carriage with a sleeping man in it, she called softly hoping to stir him, but he slumbered on, sunk down and curled over, so though it was the end of the line and the train would take him back from where he had come she felt that sleep was what he wanted most, perhaps he had even got on the train as somewhere to sleep out of the icy drizzle. There was no way of knowing, seeing the sower had been a good sign, an omen, her mind wandered. She had begun to read Jung’s Answer to Job, had anyone written Job’s answer to Jung? Probably they had, she herself thought that Jung had missed the point, which was that there was no point to make, that finding an ideology in which suffering could be made somehow fruitful, was to be deluded. Job endured, he refused theories about why he was suffering, he continued to trust, to bear witness to life and in the end acknowledged that god was unknowable, and suffering a part of the unknowable, not a material, thought w-e, out of which ladders could be fashioned on which an elite might ascend to somewhere else. That somewhere else being a better place that the carpenters of the ladders, who could not make a whirlwind, had somehow brought into being. People were always doing something with suffering, she was herself, learning from it, struggling with it, or being in the process of overcoming it, conquering it in the way that in past centuries nature had been conquered, or else masochistically lying down in it, as though suffering itself had manners, or conscience and would take notice of how it was received or rejected. Noisy boys got on the train with their mobiles, they disturbed her thoughts, she moved to the next carriage. On the radio that morning a man had been talking about time and its flow, causality. He had said that when time was imagined to flow backwards a person would have a cup of tea and then after that put on the kettle to boil the water for it, that this was absurd. w-e thought not, she found it easy to imagine a world in which drinking tea would seem to give rise to the consequent boiling of water.
Once, on her way to the rose garden in Regents Park, she had suddenly experienced the universe as being one complete whole, in which one thing did not follow from another, but in which everything already was. This was not something she could bring back into any reasonable verbal formation, when she tried she babbled and conveyed nothing, so she gave up. She did know though, that she had received enlightenment, and as elevated as that sounded she knew also that she was just exactly as she had been before, apart, that is, from being enlightened.
Years later, after struggling once more to express what she had experienced a friend said to her ‘you saw the universe without time’ and that was it. What she had seen was that cause and effect were a delusion, time was a path taken through the universe, and that while it might not be possible to make time flow backwards, it was possible to be both within and without time, to oscillate between the temporal and the eternal.
CHAPTER: 8 RETURN – ENTOIL
Entoil, to entangle or ensnare
Entoil; sacrifice; day one – acquisitions diary Oxford Street; another day; hair; crossness and hairdressing; flowers, fish and disability beds; sunny day; veneers; conference entoilments; the Land of the Tulip; menu dream; replacement
w-e’s exploration of language had brought her to the completion of Inanna’s descent, her death and return to corporeal life, but the story does not end there with Inanna trapped underground, and w-e knew that her task now was to follow Inanna’s journeys, her ascents first to earth, then to the great above and lastly her return to earth as Goddess of all three realms. So once more she settled with the dictionary on her lap and randomly found the three new words she needed to help her follow Inanna’s path.
The dictionary had come up with entoil, another archaic word which her computer repeatedly restructured to read entail. In the context of Inanna the word made w-e think of the dark tangle of roots which held the goddess underground. When she looked up the word further she found that to tangle which was defined as ‘to unite confusedly’, came from the Danish tang or the Icelandic thange both meaning seaweed.
When the flies sprinkled life-giving water and life-giving food on Inanna she began to live and breathe but she was not yet free. She was entoiled, entangled in the underworld, in a passive relation to the word, she was not yet entoiling or entangling, but she would have to be, because there is no way to enter the world and remain separate from it. Eat or be eaten might be rephrased as entrap or be entrapped, ensnare or be ensnared, ancient concepts coming from hunting times, when there was no deep freeze compartment between killing and eating.
In order to have her life back Inanna must find someone to send down to Ereshhkigal to replace her, and the guards that go with her will not leave her until they have captured the person she chooses, the person she condemns to death. So they set off back into the light.
Self-sacrifice is the virtue of the fawn-cardiganed ones dotted singly among the empty chairs in church, or sitting immobile on the alter itself offering their inner arms to the institutions of church and state for the opening of their veins, the drinking of their blood.
“I was one of these, anxious to please, allowing others to speak for me, but now I can be rid of them, of their committee representative, I can speak for myself, and act for myself.”
This is the internal voice w-e heard unexpectedly, she was startled by some ruthlessness in the tone, some readiness that she had not heard before to pursue her own life, she did not wish to sit and think, or to hide away safely, or to refrain, she wished to act.
Although shocking, this voice had not come out of nowhere. She had in fact acted to give up the interviewing she was doing for the publishers. It had been unsatisfactory for some time, but it had been a security of a sort. Now she realised that hanging on to the security was in itself a full time occupation and even at the risk of finding something worse she could ‘let go of nurse’. Being willing to abandon her wisdom was the same thing as being willing to abandon security, both were delusions.
Uncertain how to proceed w-e took temporary refuge in a Google search for ‘sacrifice’ it brought her two equally depressing hits, one for a vapid lyric to an Elton John song, and one to an encyclopaedic site which chronicled sacrifice through the ages, often the sacrifices were of children. The drama of sacrifice was an unpleasant one, it could not be escaped by changing roles, to swap being sacrificed for being the sacrificer, because whichever role was taken the story was equally horrible.
On the other hand, by adapting her established methodology, the story could be expanded rather than diluted, mixed in with other stories, more of a shifting spectrum than one specific colouring of life events, and although she was framing her own story within that of Inanna, this entoil part of the story was only that, a part, she did not have to stay in it, solve, or understand it, she just had to live it.
Thus the expansion that she needed now was not of a contemplative nature, but one that demanded excursions, carnival, participation in other people’s stories. She got her diary out and saw that she was due to have three meetings and a clothes buying outing, two of the meetings were tidying up things for the publisher, the third was with her accountant/bookkeeper to get her papers in order. The clothes were necessary for a conference she had organised that was happening the following week. Later no doubt there would be other occasions more pleasing, perhaps more adventurous, taking her into unfamiliar atmospheres, but she did not have to worry, because this pioneering drive inside her would propel her outwards into the stream and flow of life.
Today, with the snow sprinkled on house and car roofs, the capital would hurl itself into its annual drama of battle with the elements, trains would not run, people would inexplicably become stuck on motorways for hours, every five minutes the radio programmes would carry bulletins of snow stories, phoned in from commuters and mothers on the school run giving the latest traffic reports, half the population would regress to childhood and love it, the others would be resentful and stay in where possible, it was a good day to adventure out shopping.
w-e wanted to get a jacket, for the conference, something new, because nearly everything she had was old or bought in Oxfam, something she could put over jeans and look a bit frivolous, but most of all new and in shape, something that would join her to contemporary flows. While many sought to rise sartorially above the herd, she recognised that she needed to begin by joining it, but she was starting from a disadvantage. Having only one pair of shoes, and probably unsuitable jeans, limited the choice of jacket, really her whole wardrobe needed clearing out and re-stocking.
After putting on and taking off all the available jackets in the shops in the area she went to, irrespective of price, she delivered herself into the hands of a mischievous blond young woman in whom she felt some confidence, and eventually bought something in what was called ‘bark’, it was grey, absolutely not at all the colour or look that she had aimed at, it was expensive and when she got home she saw that all her other clothes looked even worse when worn with it, so she would have to fit in more shopping before her second to last interview. She also decided to keep an acquisitions dairy, in which she could record the clothes, the people and the new events she encountered.
Day One – Oxford Street
Sitting here by the radiator and in front of the window my left side is warm but my toes and the right side of my feet are freezing, I went to get a blanket and now sit like the pampered passenger in a chauffeur driven car as I speed forward into the yesterday I recall.
Starting at the end, but in no exact order, what I learned was that special measures are required, firstly because I have no suitable clothes at all, apart from my overcoat, and even with that a small woman wearing bright turquoise jewellery and red lipstick came up to me with a friendly expression in Regent’s Street and said, “just so you know, your hem is undone,” then she added “people often don’t know.” So I wondered if I was part of a mission to track down fallen hems, perhaps preserve standards, check on missing buttons, “thank you I’ll see to it” I said briskly feeling like Mary Poppins found in charge of unruly clothing, but she was gone.
She’s going to have a difficult time, because hems can no longer be counted on as a given. I saw hemless garments, t shirts in which the material had simply been cut and had no edging at all, asymmetrically slashed garments in which what used to be the hem hung down raggedly in points or scoops, sometimes these were tufted or fringed with fraying threads. They had a pantomime air to them, suitable, I imagine for the clubbing world. I have never seen anyone wearing anything like these clothes in the north London Marks and Spencer’s and Waitrose which are my main sources for clothing observation. These are filled with women observing the dress codes of years gone by in which hair-dos, manicures, ruthlessly tight clothing and brown lip-liner show that you do really mean it. Even my own hand has begun to hover over the lip-liner section of the plastic makeup dispensing stands in Boots, fortunately nothing has come of it as yet.
So what I can see is that I need to build a complete wardrobe and for that I need to know who sells what, and where and for how much, and just as importantly, what is not in them and which therefore cannot be found however earnestly I quest. Secondly, I have decided to acquire these shopping skills, and enjoy the process.
I really have been out of it all for a long time, looking at the odd magazine supplement has not prepared me for the changes I found. For example, even the more expensive shops are selling distressed clothing, the edges of pockets and hems of trousers, rubbed and worn, faux-faded, depressingly similar in fact to my own jeans and t shirts which are also faded and worn. There must be some kind of guilt associated with this, the distressing is an outward sign of inner distress at needing to acquire so many material goods, at flitting so fast from one bit of clothing to another, at the faithless binning of scarcely worn garments, so that now the clothes are given false pedigrees, dream pasts in which they have become ‘old favourites’, have the comfort of having belonged for years, of having been a participant and witness to the lived life, when in fact they are bought during the Friday lunch hour, worn once and thrown out on Sunday morning.
The other possible function of this look was that it encapsulates a romantic poverty, of a feel good movie or television family, or of the poor fairytale girl, the Cinderella who will become transformed, there is also something determinedly helpless, childlike and dependent about this look.
So it was more difficult than I could have at first imagined to venture forth with a clear idea of what I wanted, which was a pair of black or grey jeans to wear with the ‘bark’ grey jacket. The pair I found were in a sale in Marble Arch, they have an obligatory distressed bit of material that is going to turn into a ripped gash after a few washes, and have 2% elasticine, which may mean the I cannot wear them as in the past I have reacted blotchily to stretchy fabrics. But, by the time I found them, I had already been in and out of my shoes, hat, overcoat, two scarves, cashmere cardigan, woollen jersey and one t shirt on account of the heating in the stores, five times and was ready to compromise, so I’ll find out on the day if I have a reaction to them or not.
As is the way of keeping diaries some days have now gone by since I last wrote, snow has snowed and melted, fallen and thawed again, dire warnings of future falls are given hourly, but still it just seems unsettled, cold and damp. I need to spend today writing up the interview I did yesterday for which I will not get journalist of the year award, as the whole thing bulged out of shape and became much more of a joint conversation than I planned. Also, now I am re-reading the notes I made, I see that the directness of what I asked and the frankness with which Barbara answered while excellent in one sense might make her want to modify what she said when she sees it written down. This whole new aspect of interviewing emerges once the format strays from the formal question and answer set down like a script, so now I feel that I must give some kind of emotional context for the words and some kind of summing up that softens what is written.
As a result of seeing this I realize that what usually happens when I am with someone is a kind of evading, I steer down some permitted corridor ignoring doors to left and right, and the other goes along with me, or if not I drift away, evaporate. This way the tone and content of my experience with other people aims to remain constant, like a controlled room temperature. Thus there is no entoilment, no entangling, entwining or togetherness, there is privacy with its attendant loneliness.
Tomorrow I am off to have my hair cut by a new person, my regular person, in Knightsbridge, a tall elegant Chinese transsexual, who directs all conversation towards the expression of her own opinions which are Thatcherite in their fierce and ungiving nature and who sways in her own emotional aura into which I disappear during the appointments, has gone away for five weeks, which is too long to wait. So I telephoned Nicola’s man in North London, he is Scots and had a cheery telephone manner, “I’m Neil, I own the salon” he told me.
He was sympathetic to my having eczema, “I have it myself”.
“On the scalp?”
“Yes, but it comes and goes, doesn’t it?”
“I certainly hope so, though mine seems to be marching remorselessly on”.
It does, mine seems to be an all conquering Alexander of eczema, retreat is not its way, but the possibility of a more tidal eczema is one I take in with enthusiasm.
This morning I slept until it was almost light and when I drew back the curtains first there was the faint moon nearly full with an unusual form of cloud twirled over it, an irregular upright wedge-shape with undulating sides. I went back to sleep and the next time I opened the curtains it was light, the sun was out and two huge airplane trails crossed the sky in a St Andrew’s Cross, startling and I began to worry about flying to Holland which I may be doing in a couple of weeks. This is not unusual, any journey arouses feelings of doom.
Meanwhile, co-incidentally Molly has come back from Holland where she was staying with her son and daughter in law. They were all on the landing the day before yesterday and Molly was not wearing the sling and collar. This morning as I opened my door, she was going down the stairs in an immaculate pale blue blouse and told me that she had just done some ironing, her bones have mended in six weeks. On the landing of the other set of stairs I met Sylvia who told me that on Friday she had tried to leave the building but that the ‘lifeline’ system she switches on when she goes out was not working and the Housing Association person she telephoned had no understanding of why it had to function. “She said she would do her best to have it put back, but I told her it had to be done, they simply don’t understand the importance of leaving people without emergency cover, once their shift is over, they just go.” Apparently on Saturday there is a huge Housing Association open day at the Aviation Museum, which she has to go to, it’s a celebration of getting the first part of the nineteen million pounds grant aid from the EEC. “What a pity you have your conference and won’t be able to come” she said looking at me naughtily.
The Chinese woman who lives here appeared at the top of the stairs, she was wearing layers of padded clothing and had little bags on long straps hung criss-crossed over her front, this gave her the air of a warrior, she was smiling. When I said ‘good morning’ she replied in the same words, it’s the first time I have heard her use any words at all, usually when I have passed her on the stairs or path outside she laughs and makes gurgling noises, so this ‘good morning’ marks a great change, an escape from the language prison. She ties her spider plants up with string, binding them at the base so that they become little palm trees, they look very controlled but perky. Sylvia explained that the Housing Association had not paid the telephone bill, that was why the ‘lifeline’ would not work, but that BT have now restored emergency use.
Crossness and hairdressing
I rang Nicola before setting off for the hairdresser because she had stayed home the day before with ’flu’-symptoms and didn’t have much food in the house, I’d said I would bring her some shopping if she was still there, but she had gone into work. When I got her on the phone she started saying that there was something she had to discuss with me, but not now, in a few days. She has been rumbling with about to be had discussions for a week or two and as she is providing the recording and filming equipment and other things for the conference, as well as speaking at it, this made me extremely nervous, because before when she has had ‘things to talk about later’ they have not been pleasant, and so though I have acknowledged that she might not come to the conference, through one thing or another, the ‘flu’, fright, or some ideologically reinforced hormonal reason, and although I have backed up everything she is bringing with duplicates to be brought by other people, still the idea of an overturning of the organization four days before the event was not good. So I asked her to tell me what it was about and she was mysterious, and I got extremely cross and said ‘don’t do this Nicola, I experience this as extremely threatening, if you have something to say tell me now what it is about. Then she sounded shocked and as though she had shrunk to a tiny size and said it wasn’t about the conference at all, she wanted to consult me about something. So I back-peddled and apologised, and I know that in reality I am cross with myself, and that also I had tapped into the stream of volcanic energy waiting to be let go on Saturday.
So off to the hairdressers and a peaceful empty shop on the high street, with one woman having some treatment done to her long dark hair, and me being trimmed by Neil. Downstairs, where the ladies loo is, there is a dampish warren of sun-bed and other treatment rooms of oddly varying sizes, the laundry accessories that hairdressers always have, plastic baskets of towels, washing machines, but also incidental bits of domestic furniture and a vast heart-shaped mirror that looked out of place. The loo itself is perched on a little raised platform in a dark room made from the end of a corridor which has the fire escape door in it. The outside world is a bright rim around the top side and bottom of the door and there are two handwritten notes taped onto it with arrows, one says ‘bolt’ and the other ‘key’.
Flowers, fish and beds
At the station, on my way home, there was a flower woman setting up, and I walked past her and wanted flowers, and went on walking and then made myself go back to see what she had. I bought a deep red amaryllis on a thick stalk about two and half feet high, which she wrapped in cerise paper. At my own station I went to Waitrose and bought a rainbow trout. Initially I was behind a dark-haired woman who was buying quite a bit of fish, asking a lot of questions, darting back and forth along the counter, being looked after by a youth I have not met before. The main fishmonger was standing outside his counter with his back to it, resolutely talking to a customer. When the woman had been served the youth gave vent to his frustration, ‘she does that every week’ he said, ‘comes in here and looks at every single fish that we have, and makes me talk about them’. The main monger moved smoothly back behind the counter, his calming presence did not stop the youth, but it softened the flow.
When I got home the common room had turned into a temporary showroom for a range of disability beds and chairs being promoted by two salesmen, who, while not undertakers, were that one step removed from undertaking which allowed one to remember that undertaking was going to occur. They tried to entice me to sit or lie on their beds, but apart from being incommoded by the trout and the amaryllis I really did not want to.
Through the dappling, bubbling and streaking of the condensation I can see golden light where the sun is bouncing off the houses opposite, layered between the condensation and the sun are the black spiky lily leaves and the clotted mass of the lavender. So, to put it more directly, the sun’s out again, and welcome, yesterday was on off sleet and icy drizzle. I walked to the travel agent to book the ticket for Amsterdam, but on the way my fingers were so cold that I went into the medical centre to warm up. In the room behind the reception counter, women were sitting at desks and chatting, this is their usual mode of being. Eventually they look up idly as though the people waiting belonged to another universe, and go on talking. This suits me as I don’t want anything, except to stand there and get warm, but I see now that it is not the delay so much as the feeling of being ignored that usually irritates me, so I call out hallo in a cheerful voice, which dislodges one of them.
I ask for an appointment with the nurse, which is something I know they can never do, and by the time we had discussed why it was not possible I was warm enough to go out again.
When I got to the travel agent it seemed full, but there were probably only ten girly girls, eighteen or so, booking their first group holiday and seeming en masse innocently oblivious of the arch flirtation performance circusing out of their travel adviser.
I saw my first veneered teeth behind the counter of a wine shop in rural New York State, about four years ago, I didn’t know then what they were and marvelled at their perfection. They did have a hint of the impossibly heavenly about them, the kind of incorruptible teeth angels would have, Now that I have seen the application of veneers on TV makeover shows, I have learned to identify them gleaming expensively from celebrity mouths. Recently I caught my self looking at a television presenter without veneers and thinking, ‘she isn’t trying’. Partly I admired her for not buying in, but mostly I thought she ought to get off to the cosmetic dentist and acquire the universalising mouth of the rich, which spares us all reminders of aging, sickness and death. Unless some hitherto unrecognised threat arises from the veneers, breast enlargements and face lifts humanity will polarise into those who wrinkle and fold up, and those who are scraped clean, washed in the blood of the cosmetic surgeon.
When my own dentist had to put in a crown he showed me a colour chart of shades from white through to dark yellow ochre and suggested, depressingly and unsuccessfully, a shade that was darker than my present teeth, because ‘teeth yellow as they age and later your crown will blend in’. I did not relish the notion of walking around for some years with a dark crown, waiting for the brief period of time when my crown would ‘blend’, before further ageing inevitably brought its blending to an end.
I’ve begun to think about another planet where cosmetic surgery is used to make people look older, to line, sag and pouch the faces of the young so that they do not have to wait to acquire the signs of living wisdom, hair could be thinned, except in the nose and ears where there could be weavings, implanted tufts of vigorous curly hair.
Recently I’ve noticed an increase in disparaging remarks about the old, last night on the local BBC phone in programme a caller said he could not stand a rival station because of all the ‘old people ‘ ringing in, the presenter made ‘I agree with you’ noises. This increase may be because the usual targets for hatred have been politically and theoretically manicured away so that hatred, which usually used to flow towards gay, immigrant or ethnically other people now flows with increased vigour towards the elderly.
The small conference I organised for the publishers took place in a learned establishment in central London last Saturday, it involved layers of entoilments that I had not envisaged. My friend Fernando got up at three in the morning in order to drive through snow to be here at eight, in order to help me go in on the tube with the books and papers and to collect the lunchtime sandwiches from the coffee shop which at the last minute had ‘changed the rules’ and could not deliver as promised. Friendship and catering, these were important themes of entanglement throughout the day. When we got to the entrance Nicola was standing there with her camera equipment, the glass coffeemakers she had borrowed from work, her paper for the conference and a large bunch of red, orange, and yellow roses which she gave me when we got inside. We were meant to be having registration in the basement common room, but by the time we had put down the food and wine, and our coats, books, papers, tripod and camera, the first speaker had arrived put down his bag and taken his coat off, and it seemed impossible to move everyone downstairs. So Fernando and I went to the second floor pantry to make coffee, find a plate for the brownies, the lift was broken so I was running up and down the stairs, being caterer and hostess as other speakers arrived. Just gathering them all together was a pleasure and also a huge relief, because of the weather threats over the last few days with newspapers not missing a chance to have horror-worst-ever-weather banner headlines.
What I began to realized while the conference was going on , but which became clearer yesterday, is that papers on the same subject have different aims, some seek to find order, to clarify, present a perfect ‘reading’ with nothing unruly escaping from their classically or romantically erected building. This shows that they understand the text, more, or better than we do who sit listening to them. The best of these is a revelatory experience, in which certain facts, or perhaps contradictory elements of the text under consideration are almost bound to disapear. Others play devil’s advocate and disparage the text, saying it is not worth bothering with, even though this is itself a contradiction as they have agreed to come and speak about it. Some papers seek to amplify the text by relating it to other texts, comparing its treatment of main themes to that of other texts, some look at the text and try to see what the author intended, others decide what the author intended and seek to show how he managed, or didn’t manage it.
So, as I understand it now, my job was to recognise the purpose of each paper and if possible steer comments and questions into the right areas. The right areas being ones associated with the aim of the paper, so that each paper can be appreciated and understood in its own terms, rather than being castigated for what it is not. I did not have this skill on Saturday, but the awareness is here and I will take it off to Holland with me tomorrow while I listen to a large number of papers over the next four days.
The Land of the Tulip
Back there in the land of the tulip, in a small town with narrow streets surfaced in herringbone patterned brick and exuding financial and moral security, with hardly a car to be heard, in my hotel-land of many stars, there were entanglements, though not of the romantic kind and also merciful disentanglements.
One of my ex-co-researchers arrived with his wife, he is angry with me for something, from the intensity of his rage I can see it is nothing to do with me, most probably refers to early experience. His mother dumped him with the nuns and did not see him until he was in puberty. That could be it. Mothers suffer, but they do cause suffering as much as anyone, sometimes it seems as though the sorrows of the mothers are visited upon all daughters, not just their own. This man is distressed when things go wrong, even little things, if there is a mistake in an email, he thinks that there is intent to punish him, and his wound is so deep and his pain so bad that there is no way through it, every contact seems to hurt him make things worse.
I see how emotionally like clings to like, how I am a tuning fork receiving other peoples’ vibrations of fear, pain and rage, sometimes even without ever having spoken to them, just seeing them and been physically near enough to, as it were, pick up their stations.
When I spoke to him he hissed at me, a jumbled mass of distorted facts, wrongly connected bits of information, to which, I know from experience, there is no answer that will sooth or smooth out the misconceptions, and his wife was an extra in this scene, she looked ill, tight and also ugly with rage, and they were together in some huge drama which I have no wish to enter and in which unfortunately I have been given a temporary starring role, and which I did not manage to extract my self from earlier. So I said nothing, and was left to unhook myself from my own inner dramas, sequels to theirs, dramas of resolution, where at the last moment I swerved into a new angry scenes that denied me a peaceful close. That night at the end of many hours being unable to settle, I said the collect for purity and asked for guidance. I fell asleep immediately and slept till morning.
I dreamt that the conference delegates were sitting in a wide circle, all wearing little pinafores, of the type worn by infant school children, over their usual clothes. They were each holding a hotel menu in a reverential way and a sepia photograph of the chef, looking patriarchal with a long curling white beard, was taped as an icon onto the side of the slide projector, with masking tape.
It was lunch time and I was hungry, I suggested we go to the restaurant, but they ignored me. They were reading the menu in a devotional way and commenting on it. Starting with the soup, they pondered on the meaning of carrot, ‘what is carrot in me?’ ‘Do I imagine that I am never carrot-like, have no essential carrotness, what would it mean to be organically grown, a ‘real’ carrot?’ They connected the colour of carrots with marigolds and wondered if the chef had meant to remind them of marigolds, if the marigolds were what he was really writing about, or did he mean to suggest the sun with its petal-like rays? Were the three images, of sun, marigold and carrot symbolic of the three spheres of life: above earth, on earth and below the earth. Following this track of triadic place references the delegates spoke softly with special ‘menu’ voices. Someone said she thought that the deeper meaning of the soup was the sacrifice of the carrot, that it had given its life for the soup, perhaps for us, this caused ripples of unease, another said that the green ferny top of the carrot had been cut off and thrown away, discarded as useless, they thought about this as well as they could, ‘what in me is cut off and thrown away as useless?’ Some of them got out aluminium spoons from their pinafore pockets and began to suck them.
Then an angry elderly delegate got up and charged into the middle of the circle, and spoke wildly, ‘I knew the cook, I lived with his family, his menus are jokes, he made them up to amuse himself on his days off. Look at the other ingredients of the carrot soup, it says ‘carrot soup with mercury and squids ink’ The carrots are what he buried in the menu, you cannot find them because they are made with mercury and squids ink, in other words the soup is an alchemical soup made from writing.’ He went on to describe the dead chef’s kitchen, his mode of purchasing ingredients, his assistants and their future careers, he was eloquent and a bit triumphant, he sat down.
‘What might ‘marigold’ be in me?’ enquired an earnest young man in a black jacket, then each in turn told stories about marigolds, some cried and put their spoons to their cheeks to collect the tears.
In terms of the Inanna narrative as it relates to my own life, I can see that the person who needs to be sacrificed, as a replacement for me in the underworld, is the person I was before my diluting descent began. Although I have no idea why or how they thought this, in Holland the word was that I am not at all as I used to be.
I had no aim to present myself in any specific way, but that of course might be what they noticed. I did recognise that my time with that group of people was up, at least in the way I had related to them before in the years I have been attending. I have affection for them, but I do not wish to hold on to the attachment at any cost, I feel the need for scissors so that those entanglements can be snipped off and another kind of connection formed, if not with them then elsewhere with others.
I remember now with pleasure the story of the Inuit Goose Woman who pretended to be human to ensnare her husband, and who had several children with him before he stumbled on the fact that she was a goose and threw her out. But after some time he realised that he loved her, whether she was a goose or not, and went to find her and bring her home.
CHAPTER 9: TWEET – THE ABOVE
Tweet; At St Elmo’s; Easter; Saturday; On Sunday; Ends; Clay bowls
Here in relation to Innana’s release from the underworld and her journey back to the surface of the earth, the dictionary offered ‘tweet, the note of a small bird, to pipe as small bird’. A tweet is not an ecstatic song, it is a small unconsidered sound made off left somewhere, that concerns the tweeter, probably does not concern me at all. Still, the tweet is tweeted, something is saying something about something, in a small way, a sleeve plucking sound that can be ignored or tuned into.
It could be that there is an internal universe of small tweeting sounds, maybe in choruses telling communally of dawn and dusk, individually of small discomforts or contentments. Then between the internal world of waking and sleeping dreams and the outer world, the body has its own range of tweeting calls in the intake, circulation and expulsion of air, the call of bones, muscles, skin. The small sounds of the digestive fluids, of saliva and acids, blood; the eliminating fluids sweat, lymph, urine, pus, phlegm, tears, these sighs are all an accompaniment to functioning. They are the tweets, the small messages that my body sends me, flocks of minute unheard flesh-born angels for ever psalming.
There are shrines to their singing, places where they are attended to. The osteopath Marco with his marmalade hair and marmalade cat was the intermediary whose touch released non-narrative flows of my repressed past. In his coffin-shaped basement consulting room I experienced flows of terror so extreme that I got off the treatment table and tried to run through the wall trying to escape my own death which seemed about to extinguish me. This fear overcame me many times, but lessening on each occurrence like the waves of a receding tide, I came to understand this, in the terms that Marco explained it, as a release of shock, held in my body from the past.
I began to recognise my body’s memories, to distinguish between what was happening in relation to the present and what was a trace of something that had happened years ago, just as now I can distinguish my memories of Marco and what happened then from where I am sitting now, in the early hours of this morning wrapped up in a duvet on a swivel chair in front of my computer, my breakfast sitting in my stomach, feeling the itchings and raspings of skin, its heating up and cooling down, its expelling of irritations, its surrender to touch.
Sometimes when I went to Marco’s I regressed and my hands became baby hands that could not operate the fingers separately, but had to work together without the thumbs to grasp onto his beard or long hair. My brain retained words and their meaning, but I lost the skill of speaking. In these moments he became my mother, not my own birth-mother, but nonetheless my mother, a sturdy mother that I trusted. Sometimes I felt the internal flows of energy release and move, I became aware of bones, once I felt the inside of my slightly crooked spine burning and beginning to straighten itself, sometimes all this was listened to internally by both of us, sometimes talk flowed over the table.
Though I can’t say I have fully retained the discriminating skills I learned then, I would like to relearn them, this time on my own through an expanding awareness of the whole of my physical functioning, its interrelated balances, distortions, crampings and slacknesses.
All these usually go unnoticed, because the long despised flesh is understood to be inferior to the mind, while the spirit and soul are accepted only as metaphors, fictions which exist in epics, scriptures, hymns. But where else other than in the body can the mind exist, and where could my spirit, or soul be, if these do exist, if not here in my ignored body?
Recently, I have been able to distinguish emotions deriving from the past from those arising in the present. These feelings now, of sadness, these relate to back then, but they have their own processes, which I can allow to continue, the dryness of lips and the roof of my mouth, the pain in my intestines know how to deal with themselves. Trust is the message of the archangels, the archangel of all messages, trust is the great mother, the origin of and entry into all energy flows.
So by happenstance Innana’s rising from the dead, her rebirth on earth and ascension have arrived in my story exactly on Good Friday and I shall go to church today to become saturated with collective remembrance of Christ’s death, and by extension all deaths, all endings, and I shall listen to the six meditations on his death, and sing, and become part of the community that witnesses this together.
While mostly I feel it is not to my benefit to mix my emotions with another’s, certainly not automatically without discrimination, this is a time when it is of benefit to exist in a communal flow of feeling, to be together as a congregation, as the liturgy expresses it ‘although we are many we are one body’, to recognise our common nature, our common fate. This is not the same as allowing myself to become attached through emotional umbilical cords to the individual inner lives of other people who are so often unpleasant and destructive, I see now why I have desired to regulate or block the intake of other peoples’ emotions. Yet the desire for communal flow is also strong and it often overrides sense, or the senses’ evaluation of what is incoming. Then I have a tendency to welcome any communication, as though I were a pot-holer trapped underground whose survival depended on rescuers so that hearing or being heard is of the prime importance, what is heard goes by, in those circumstances, without evaluation.
At St Elmo’s
In the church porch I saw Helena, she looked like an anxious mouse constrained to feign pleasure in the company of cats. This is how she has always looked for the ten years in which I have known her or seen her, we both used to sing in the choir and I went for a while to the same ‘dance of the spirit’ class. Helena used to stay the night at my house so that she did not have to leave the class early to catch her train, but she was a dreadful guest. She sucked in energy, had endless problems and demanded special foods for breakfast, which I bought, and it never occurred to her to contribute anything. There she was looking exactly the same emitting the same squeak. She had shown me a mean side of myself, the limits to my kindness and this also came flooding back. Inside the church I sat on a cross bench at the side so that I could see the congregation, already seated, and so that I could get up and move about during the three hours of the service.
Not everyone was elderly, but perhaps three-quarters of the people there were over sixty, I had been with many of them through the ebb and flow of the liturgical year and felt the bond that this brings. Apart from some smiles of recognition, there were no exchanges, the silence was a good one, active without being nervous. The windows down the side of the church had open vents and the cold hit my back, my bones felt like knives, from each known face I received a look and in it I saw the history of my exchanges over the years, saw or thought I saw their own historical accounts of me. I saw a woman whose husband had died a couple of years ago, she was overwhelmed, her face puffy and childlike, she stood for a while by the carved pulpit and I could see her feet clad in some gnome-like long pointed shoes, but when the hymn had ended and she moved, I saw that she had no shoes on, what I had seen were her feet in socks. Then she sat on a bench that creaked noisily, and she moved down to sit on the marble floor so she could look up at the counter tenor singing in the gallery. Though I have heard him sing before this, today his voice ripples and splits like water over rocks, he produces gurgling sounds I have never heard before, “have mercy on me O God let my tears persuade you. See here, my heart and eyes weep bitterly before you.’
I saw the rector sitting up front, and let my antagonism to him drain away, there is a lot of time for things to fall away and this is what I do rather than contemplate the cross and the cruelties of the world and all our coming deaths, which after all I am reminded of each day. We sing a selection of hymns all of them familiar but without credits, our service sheets used to have the names of the composers of both words and music and the date, the dates always helped to pitch the hymns so that the seemingly trite injunctions to do with the crown, thorns and bleeding bodies could be settled in the context of their time, there were no fearsomely modern attempts at the hymn, but I thought there should be. Preferably ones without rhyme, as rhyme is the consumer of reason in hymns, any feeling or insight is sacrificed to the predictable necessity for the endings of the lines to clonk together.
Coming out of the tube station to go and meet Nicola, I noticed the people waiting, each face showed the same pair of emotions, the anxiety of waiting for someone and also an unsuccessful attempt to mask the anxiety. I can’t work out how these emotions made by subtle muscular adjustments to their different faces are conveyed to me, to everyone who cares to look. At the same time so much is still hidden, so that going round the streets and into shops you could never tell the appalling sufferings that are endured, the life stories that pour out given the right conditions for their telling.
Nicola found me among racks of clothes with my own face unadjusted. It adjusted itself instantly, and we went off to have a joint late birthday celebration in a French restaurant Nicola had chosen. I liked the place it was, in current jargon, ‘emotionally non-invasive’, that is it did not take charge of its customers and force them into a specific ‘fun’ or ‘style’ mode, there was no music and a good age range of people eating there, a sense that you did not have to be or pretend to become a specific kind of person to be there. It was a sober, adult, restaurant, gave us good food and served us with good manners.
After lunch we wandered in and out of shrines to spending, and I enjoyed the wonder of the material things that could be had for money, distillations of flowers in sprays, lotions, balms, creams, and unctions, sitting in their frosted, etched bottles, their glorious boxed waxed wrappings, their expensive auras speaking of a paradise where toil was banished, each perfect object in a bubble free of time, suffering and death, each acquirable through the ritual manipulation of a credit card, and I enjoyed also the rare feeling of belonging to the spending community from which I mostly feel exiled.
I woke late, dressed and got myself out the door before the counter-flow of inertia dragged my back to bed, was lucky with the tube and managed to arrive in time, to hear the end of the choir rehearsing ‘Lobet den Herrn’ in the gallery. The mood was buoyant and I found myself in my ‘old’ seat, right at the front, and almost immediately felt in the fizzing stream of whatever it is that flows up and around places where there have been centuries of congregations.
Behind me sat Philomena, who had retorted a vigorous “poppycock” to a depressing visiting preacher she disagreed with on the question of old age. She had been in her nineties than, must surely now be near a hundred, still lively and astute. Since I had last been to Sunday morning service she had moved several rows towards the front, I imagined this would be because of her difficulty with walking. I talked to Matthew a friend of hers, who was himself now suffering from arthritis, he’d told me before that she lived in a completely unsuitable house in Westminster with every room on a different floor and that she fell occasionally on the stairs, and had to stay in bed for a week or so to get over it. In my experience this did not daunt her at all, she thought it a ‘bother’ but otherwise seemed to have no grudge or anxiety to hold her back.
The service opened with a blast of singing, lifted by a trumpet the sound of which entered my whole body structure, blood, bones, nerve-endings, cells and pulled singing out of me.
When he stood for the Gloria the rector sprang up and gave a small additional jump on place, some involuntary inner process had been at work in him, his sermon, when it came, was given with a direction and strength that were not there two years ago. Walking about in the giving of the peace I found Elspeth, with whom I had had a falling out, and she was glad to see me, she was sitting at the back with the rest of the choir. The familiar processes of the liturgy re-embraced me, and when I sang the sound came from below my collar bones.
After the service I stayed for a while, this was usually a mistake, in terms of enjoyment, and so it was this time, apart from seeing John, another member of the choir, and the only person in the congregation with whom I have had a long friendship, to my surprise he wanted to come with me to a birthday party I told him I was going to later in the summer. Elspeth joined us and alongside her willingness for mending fences she began to criticise and quarrel with everything I said, I found it uncomfortable and felt the slight paralysis brought about by conformity with a set of manners. These constrained me from putting a stop to her demeaning remarks. I fell to modulation and evasion, but these were not enough to defend me and really attack or departure would have been the better strategies. Elspeth just has a specific need to be right and for others to be wrong, it is not something I need to take personally.
It had always seemed to me that Innana had been forced into a ruthless position to have to choose another person and condemn them to death, but now I understand this as an ability to separate myself, to be separate, a single being who can become one with others but does not have to be.
It is as though, up till now, I have confused time and space, I have confused separation, the end, in terms of time: that is the frightening end of death, with the spatial properties of ends: the proper recognition of where I myself end and others begin, so that any acknowledgement of separation meant death.
Once there was a magician who made a set of clay bowls. They held whatever was poured into them milk or wine, grain or meat; they held regrets and memories, desires and fears; love and abandonment, laughing, dancing, singing, noise and silence, when he had finished them he gave them legs to walk about on, and they crashed into each other and cracked and split and leaked out substances and sometimes this was extremely pleasant and sometimes it hurt, and at other times the splashing and breaking had no affect whatsoever, and the magician decided to find a better way to contain the universe, so he thought about it and he is still thinking, and it might be useful to wait for him to come up with something better, or then again it might not.
When she said to John after the service that she could understand why the trumpet was regarded as an instrument of heaven, he said ‘in my practice I have occasionally heard the trumpets of heaven, and they are magnificent’.
… anyway he took my number …
“I said what’s the matter, are you ill?”
Then I couldn’t hear them because going over the bridge the wind blew their words away, I came back to “ … then he fell asleep and began to talk to me as though I was a customer …”
“He sent me a lot of poems, the one I loved most was: ‘my heart is in my mouth and singing’”
“When my heart sang, everything flowed out so strongly, no energy was wasted in restraint, in hiding, or in fearful deceptions. I loved how I was, how it was, flying with my own wings, where you could see me, showing my brilliance, the fainting and sudden depth of my diving falls, the swift turns, the soaring, and I have never felt so lovely, so free, or sung so beautifully as I did when you were watching me, listening. When your eyes and ears closed I disappeared.”
She wanted to make a sculpture of a large mother, so that she could curl up in its lap and be at rest; she was in love with someone who would not leave his wife.
He made a sculpture of a dining table, the centre rising like a pitched roof, he said his divorcing parents sat one on each side of the obscurement.
Now he is old things come back to him, pulses and waves of something, vibrations long held in, these escape his weakening muscles, he hears the little cries which never reached the air.
Sitting on the grass in a London square she told me that her step-mother was a prostitute and that when she was sixteen she was put ‘on the game’. She loved her stepmother who was beautiful and kind to her, “she was doing her best to see me set up in life”. I remembered that once, on the telephone, she told me that she had just had her sixteenth abortion. I tried to say something, she said, “no, not now, its not the time to be a mummy for me”.
He brought me back shells from New Zealand, a handful of tiny glittering blue and green shells sitting in a larger shell, I gave them to the depressed daughter of a shipping magnate I met in a self-help group.
She lived next door to a woman who snored, the first night she thought, “if I let this annoy me I shall not be able to stay so I will imagine this as the sound my ancestors heard in the cave. I regard it as reassuring,” and so, for seven years, she slept peacefully each night on the other side of the thin snoring wall.
When the milk cart came, drawn by a donkey, the man poured milk out of silver churns into our white jug, white with a little posy of pink and red flowers on the front of it. The jug was covered with a small round cloth kept in place by an edging of two different kinds of blue glass beads, dark sapphire and pale turquoise.
The garden was high on the side of the hill, sitting on the gate, looking down onto the sea glistening round the small island, we could watch the mail boat heading for England.
By the gate there was a dark bush with waxy pink flowers and long sharp thorns.
There were a lot of fairies in her books, but she had never seen any. So she searched for them in the garden, in the places the books said they would be, in, or around, or under flowers, but she did not find them. She concluded that there were not any, but never discussed this finding.
She did ask about the existence of angels. After her grandmother had explained that angels are the thoughts of God coming down to us, she had added that our thoughts also ascend to him, thus it was clear that we too generate angels.
When he came back from the war he was ill and went to a nursing home with a dark laurel filled garden and a black lake, where we were put to play while our mother visited.
“The recovering heroine addicts, were the wrong karass for me, they shared dramas of dependence and deception that seemed like mine, but weren’t. One of them arrived in my life and brought others, they were endeavouring to transform themselves and this in itself was attractive, but they each brought their own abyss millimetres from their well clothed exteriors, I did think of taking heroine and then giving it up, so I could truly belong.”
She wanted to find her flock, her kind, her kin, her guild, to be part of something, but what she found was only satisfying to a part of her, the rest of her always wanted to change the group she was in, and then she no longer belonged.
“When I had stomach pains I went to the White Heron Lodge for healing. I met a woman whose instruction from the healer was to hold my feet and apply ruby red colour rays to them. My feet and legs were active, buzzing with energy ever since I had been in Jerusalem with my cousin. We went on to the holy ground, and he took me to a place and made me stand there and see what I could feel, and I felt this prickling flow, like the rising bubbles in boiling water, but cool. I told the healing lady about it and asked if she could feel the energy in my feet and she could. It must have been months after my brother died. She told me that her son had died, he was young in his twenties, they had spent his last few months together in a cottage somewhere, ‘When he died he took me with him as far as he could, he described everything that was happening, he said it felt as though he were being pulled across the sky in a boat.’. “
I suppose the kin and kind I was always looking for was my brother, but he had disappeared long before he died. Yet I do still pull him along the sky with me.
She had multiple miscarriages and a baby still-born at seven months, she went on and on conceiving and loosing, and then she left her husband and had an affair and a baby with no trouble at all, but the man left her and she took up with a murderously controlling rich South African, who had been married for one night in Capetown, but had fled before morning, and was now divorced. When she became pregnant he said he was glad and that they would marry, but in the fifth month of the pregnancy he told her he would never marry her, he was abusive and she left him. She telephoned every day with awful bulletins. Three days after the baby was born he did visit, and after a year decided again on marriage. He made her sign something so that she could never inherit any money from him. They were to have a blessing in a smart central London church. “You can’t come she said, “Christian does not like you”.
Before we went out to lunch he gave me a sherry and made me sit on the blue velvet sofa in his office and began to interview me. He held up a series of hoops, some with ribbons and some with flames for me to jump through, and somehow I knew how to leap through all of them, as though I had been transformed into someone else, someone who could do this kind of thing, and I was astonished. After that we were friends.
In the semi-converted commercial loft in Berlin where they were living, there were hundreds of plastic gnomes, perhaps thousands, they shaded into the dark corners, there was little lighting and it was mid-winter, they were away and I could not fathom the heating system.
When I put my head under the water to wash my hair ice needles projected from the shower head and injected my skull with pain.
When he lost the papers he said “I have never had them, you must re-print”, but she said, “I would rather we found them”, the printing had been expensive, she knew they were there somewhere in his office. He became enraged and shouted, she left the room, went down the corridor into the stairwell, where Araminta had been waiting for her, they were going off to edit something. He came running out after her, screaming and threatening, “I can have your contract cancelled”, she sighed, it was not worth loosing a contract over. She said “this is dreadful, you mustn’t upset yourself so”, they went back to his office, he retreated behind his desk. Through the window she could see two builders, doing something. He seemed on the verge of disintegration, she said “look into my eyes, look into my eyes” and he said “I will look into your eyes” and she held his eyes and looked at him steadily and he began to calm down, and she soothed, and he came back round the desk, he stood close to her and suddenly collapsed out of one emotion into another, he kissed her cheek and said “I’m sorry” like a five year-old, and over his shoulder she could see the builders’ faces at the window shamelessly watching them. He remembered where he had put the papers, they were in his filing cabinet.
When I said I was going to a conference the girls in my corridor exchanged glances, “will there be men there” they asked, I said there would be, they disappeared into their rooms and came back with clothes, clothes suitable for a woman going to a conference attended by men.
I went back recently and the garden had been built over, my room had disappeared.
I am still everywhere I was.
They met at boarding school when they were ten and became an item. When they were older they used to spend the summer nights together outside in the grounds beyond the Young Farmers Club hut. Eventually they became over confident and were caught while carrying an iron bedstead back to the girls’ dormitory in the early hours of the morning.
In the showers after games they got hold of her and smashed her head against the concrete wall, then they pushed carbolic soap into her mouth. They never did it again, but then they didn’t have to.
The grandmother called out, she was ready to die, she said “farewell” in a strong voice and then began to breath heavily, there was no doubt that she was dieing, but she was a fighter
and I encouraged her saying “fight”, “yes, fight”, and “keep on fighting” . She was detaching from her body and at last she was wrenched out and I felt whatever she was that was not her body, glide up and out of her head to somewhere near the ceiling. When the doctor came he took out his pocket handkerchief and twisted the corner into a point and touched her open inner eye with it, and said she was dead.
When our dog Flossie had her first two puppies she was unhappy, she bit her daughter in the stomach, so my mother made a drawstring cloth bag to protect her and put both puppies in a small cardboard box with a hot water bottle under a blanket, and she fed them with a dropper. Flossie would not even look at them. But our cat jumped into the box and became their nurse, cleaning and cuddling them for several days until Flossie recovered and came back to them.
Coming home from a conference the trains were without signals and the journey was slow, the train stopping before and at every station. A man with a young boy was sitting near me, he had nothing to read, so I said to him, “the only thing I can offer you is this catalogue of academic religious studies publications, I don’t suppose it would be of much interest”, but he said “as a matter of fact it would”, he didn’t read it though we talked for the next four hours. He told me of being on a Buddhist retreat in the Far East, how over weeks he had slowed down, “in the beginning the mosquitoes infuriated me, they drove me mad, in the last week I was there I could let one settle on my arm and bight me without being disturbed.”
“When I have a daughter I will call her Tamara, I think it’s beautiful, apparently it means something lovely.”
“my flesh shall rest in hope”
CHAPTER 10: ON EARTH – CAPITULUM
Capitulum is defined as a close head of sessile (stalkless) flowers as in Compositae (bot.) also the head of a bone, expecially a rib, pl capitula, capitella, adjectives, capitulate; capitular, Latin diminutive of caput head.
Here Innana, having travelled through all three realms, below, above and on earth, has returned to the ground. So now we have come to a parting of the ways, Innana, w-e, my writing and your reading must all go on in our own separate lives. This is how I understand the mysterious appearance of the capitulum, the multi-flowered head in which each flower will have its own communal cycle of flowering, its own separation and seeding.
But you could do this, if you want to. You can choose a story and live its cycles of tragedy and comedy, see how the story infiltrates your life and how your life illumines the story, until they flow together and your fate is the fate of your heroine or hero. In botanical terms, congruent with the idea of the capitulum, you can allow pollination to occur.
By these means, in the end, you my be freed from the other story, the one you have not recognised that has been woven round you, the threads bearing life and infiltrating every particle of consciousness until you are a willing fiction, or collection of fictions, out of which it is now impossible to separate fictional narrative from the autobiographical.
Just as I have become aware of the story I unconsciously lived by, the story of Joseph the dream interpreter, which I learned first as an infant in the room where young children were sent for most of the silent Quaker meeting on Sunday mornings, and later with symbolic interpretation from the surely Theosophical head teacher of my junior school. She did not tell me that every child who has been abandoned in a pit to die can and probably will become an exiled interpreter of dreams.
When you have done with the flower, what can you make of the rib, that most Biblical of bones, and what are the thoughts of the head of the rib? Then, when these have been listened to, there are still the following words, ribald, riband, ribatutta, ribaudequin, ribbon, ribos, ribibe and ribston-pippin the last of this octave being an apple, most Biblical of fruits, introduced, my Chambers says, by Sir Henry Gooderick (1642-1705) of Ribston in Yorkshire, all of them waiting, but willing to wake up and sing to you.