Month: March 2015

Risking failure more minor

“Difficultly then, whether of life or of craft, is not a hindrance to an artist.[…] Just as geological pressure transforms ocean sediment to limestone, the pressure of an artist’s concentration goes into the making of any fully realized work. Much of beauty, both in art and in life, is a balancing of the lines of forward-flowing desire with those of resistance — a gnarled tree, the flow of a statue’s draped cloth.” “Leaving the refuge of silence demands the willingness to be seen, to be judged. It demands that we turn away from our desires to please, to fit in, to spare the feelings of those we love, and also from our desire to create a shapeliness that does not reflect how awkward, unfinished, and ambivalent actual experience is. For the writer, the person of public speech, it demands risking the fates of Mandelstam or Horace, Sor Juana or Christopher Smart. Or more likely, risking failure more minor: boredom, triviality, confusion. Risking seeing that we are lesser beings than we had hoped.” Nine Gates: Entering …

To the River

I was pulled to the Ouse as a magnet is pulled to metal, returning on summer nights and during the short winter days to repeat some walks, some swims until they amassed the weight of ritual. I’d come to that corner of Sussex idly and with no intention of staying long, but it seems to me now that the river cast a lure, that it caught me on the fly and held me heart-stopped there. And when things in my own life began to falter, it was the Ouse to which I turned. To the River, Olivia Laing   In the summer of 2009, after ‘one of those minor crises that periodically afflict a life’ — the loss of a job, and then a lover — Olivia Laing set out to spend a week walking the length of the River Ouse, forty-two miles from source to sea. The Ouse, ‘a pretty, middling river’ flows through Sussex Weald and Downs and into the English Channel at Newhaven. If it’s famous for anything, it’s for being the …

Eclipse threads

All I have today are loose threads. Strands of thought. * We were all excited this morning about the eclipse. At school drop-off people were talking about where they’d been in 1999 for the last eclipse. B and I had planned to walk to Cornwall to see it. I asked him to remind me why we were going to walk rather than, say, get the train & he made the peace sign at me. Anyway, we didn’t, but we can’t remember why. His sister’s wedding maybe. Or maybe we decided it was going to be cloudy anyway. Or maybe we realised that walking from London to Cornwall was going to take a while. Who knows? It was our first summer together. Sixteen years ago. This morning, though, was totally cloudy: white-grey sky. I walked into town with Popsy, bought a coffee & we ended up on the Cathedral green just before 9.30. It was cold, very cold, and there was a small scattering of people standing around, trying to work out where the sun would …

To hang out the washing

Birdsong and light in the mornings. Always the coo-COO-coo of the wood pigeon. The days are warmer, almost spring-like. Washing on an airer in the garden. The line, once strung between the shed & the dead cherry, hangs slack now that we’ve had the tree taken down. One of my favourite things: hanging out the washing in summer. Best that the machine finishes before the sun reaches over the houses. The line in light, bare legs in shade. That feeling of promise early on a summer’s day and the virtuousness of a line of washing in the sun. How a sheet whips taut in the breeze. My grandma’s line with its wooden line-prop. Lupins, mint, and pink cranesbill in the long border beside it. The lines at the back of our flat in London: Edwardian maisonettes, a ground floor and a first floor, each with its own thin garden. We were upstairs but had to walk down the steps to reach our line. But the best upstairs lines were high above the gardens so that …

Light Lifting & other thoughts

It’s taking a moment to steady myself for the start of another week. The house is quiet. Popsy is napping; the older two are at school. It’s been a weekend of strange on/off fevers, long days, boredom. Hours of looking at campsites on the internet for the summer. Of wondering why everything has to take so long to decide/organise/plan. Last week Popsy had the fever & woke two evenings in a row; or rather didn’t wake, but just screamed inconsolably in my arms until I woke him. The first evening, when I’d calmed him down enough for him to speak, he told me that he had a tummy ache & we lay together on my bed as I rubbed his stomach. In the morning, when I asked him how he was he said, as he always says, ‘Fine. I have my milk now?’ I asked if he remembered the tummy ache & he said, ‘Yes, tummy ache in my ear.’ Ah, yes, a tummy ache in the ear. Which made far more sense. Today, at …

Dept. of Speculation

“The baby’s eyes were dark, almost black, and when I stared at her in the middle of the night, she’d stare at me with a stunned, shipwrecked look as if my body were the island she’d washed up on.” “My love for her seemed doomed, hopelessly unrequited. There should be songs for this, I thought, but if there were I didn’t know them.” So, I’ve been wanting to read Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation for a while. Certainly since I read Helen Phillips’ short essay on Offill for the Literary Mothers project (which I wrote about here). And then even more so after I read this wonderful conversation & book list. For reasons of practicality (reading in the bath! shelf space!) and aesthetics (the UK cover was nothing on the US one), I didn’t want to buy it in hardback. So when I knew it was coming out in paperback, I ordered it. I had the dispatch email yesterday, publication day. Then, walking home from my second coffee date of the morning, I veered very …