Domesticated Yeti

When I was in my twenties and newly married, I moved to the mountains, to a little village called Albiez La Villette in the French Alps. My wife was the teacher there. It was a magical five years. It was the time in my life that defined who I am. I feel lost whenever I wander away from the person I became in that place – which is most of the time.

I realise that people don’t have fixed identities. We change throughout our lives. I do believe though, that some places and/or events can anchor us better to an idea of what we want to be. I suppose the idea of an English poet living in the mountains is grand. I used to walk the mountain paths pushing my baby daughter in an orange pram. I had long hair and a bushy beard. I must have looked like a domesticated yeti.

That seems like a long time ago. Life has been great since then so I don’t see those five years as some kind of golden age. I suffered a nervous breakdown while I was there. I’m not clinging to the past. I just like what I became in Albiez. I was a person who saw beauty and meaning in everything and every moment. All the poems I submitted to magazines during that period were rejected – I have a pile of rejection slips as a souvenir. But I wasn’t bothered. Writing what I felt and saw was more important than publication. Of course, I have always wanted to be read, all authors want to be read, that’s why they write.

I wrote my first novel in Albiez too. I still have it, in a drawer. It’s a pile of typed paper with faded notes scribbled everywhere and corrections stapled to the main storyline. It’s a mess. It’ll never be published because it’ll never work as a novel. The two main characters in the novel, Agnes and Tom also define who I am. They are a part of who I was. I believe that my current feelings of being out-of-place is due to a sense of being overwhelmed by human social narratives. The power of the mountains reduces the significance of human narratives. Agnes knew this which is why she wanted to run away from the ‘voice of the city.’

Maybe what I’m saying in this short meditation on my life as a domesticated yeti, is that I’m not actually inspired by the ever-changing, ephemeral narratives of human society – I never have been. On the other hand, I am inspired by the awesomeness of nature. Living in the mountains felt natural to me, as if I belonged there. My poetry and novel recognised the humbled position of humankind against the immensity of the wonder of existence. We are very small creatures. Planes, ships, rockets, nuclear bombs and walking on the moon doesn’t make us any bigger, not if forget that for millions of years, nature managed quite easily without us.

I discovered Chopin and Beethoven during my time in Albiez. Maybe human narrative ought to be in the form of music – without words. Not that words are bad (I’m a writer after all.) The dysfunction of any narrative is with the storyteller. I know this much.

What Now

Now doesn’t last long. It becomes a memory, a story, too soon. The actual is short lived. Our reality is that of an ever-shifting potentiality not a stability.

Ideas move forward and jump from one moment to the other. Christianity has been doing this. Christianity has a backpack full of ideas: love, forgiveness, perfection, altruism, sacrifice…

One gets the feeling that at present, today’s potentiality has a completely different structure and that the ideas Christianity brings with it are no longer ideas people can relate to – except maybe love but that no longer belongs to religion, it is now a social idea. In fact we can keep all the ideas that originally came with Christianity, without religion. This means that Christianity is left with just its own unique story: Humanity’s innate sinfulness redeemed by Jesus who offers himself as a sacrifice and dies on the cross to save us.

So, what now?

If we are to live in a religion-less future, as some predict, how will we guarantee social cohesion? How will individuals be guided and kept from falling into chaos? In a meaningless world, nothing is good or bad, everything is indifference. In a religion-less world, we are alone. If we survive as a species or die-out makes no difference to anything but ourselves. Of course, if that is our reality then inventing a God or religion and maintaining the illusion won’t change anything.

Christianity may have lost its power but I don’t think the idea of the existence of a God is dead. In fact, understanding the nature of reality as being innately meaningful is not a stupid or naive idea. In my mind, believing in God is not grasping at straws. It is bridging the gap between our experience of the world and the ultimate nihilistic idea that we are not really alive, that we are not really here – like a flower that blooms in an empty garden where no gardener has ever existed and no spectator will ever exist to see the bloom.

Seeing reality as meaningful, in a non-religious way, is not unreasonable. It is hopeful.

Return to Self-World

When you have lived in the presence of a powerful narcissist you will get dragged into their world. In other words you will be living in their narrative and not your own. To function properly as your own person, you must be allowed to create and maintain your own self-story – your life-story. The only place you can realise your true nature – your hopes and dreams – is in a world that you understand, feel comfortable in and enjoy. That is because it is your living place, a place you have created.

Your own world is much the same as everyone else’s. It’s made up of the same people, cities, situations, societies as the rest of the population. But inside your head there are subtle differences. You will experience the world in your own unique way. I’m convinced that each person experiences the world in a way that is as individual as a fingerprint.

I have been living with and continue to live with, a very powerful narcissist. My abilities to be the person I want to be have been subdued and pushed to the side-lines. My work on the PhD and my writing have suffered because of my relationship with this person. It is likely that my submissive nature empowered the person even more. Narcissism is a mental-health issue and not the sufferer’s fault. I blame nobody for the situation only myself maybe, for having fallen into the narcissist’s trap.

I write this to help others. If you are a creative who is in a similar relationship, you must make sure that your world remains your world, otherwise you will cease to be able to work effectively in it. Create boundaries in your mind and in your personal space which will enable you to leave the world of the other person, preventing them from overrunning your world. A narcissist will overrun your world because they don’t want you to have your own space. They must occupy every corner of your experience otherwise they will feel abandoned and mistreated and you will have to suffer for your unacceptable behaviour.

Some Time and a Desk

Just under two weeks ago it was my 60th birthday. My five wonderful children presented me with two tickets for a weekend at Silverstone to watch the British Grand Prix. All my life I have followed Formula 1 racing but I had never seen one in real life. What a wonderful surprise.

A few days before my 60th birthday I travelled down to Hampshire to collect my elderly parents who were to stay with us for a week. We already have my wife’s mum living with us permanently. She has cancer, heart failure and two slow-growing brain tumours. My mum has vision problems due to Glaucoma and my dad can hardly walk due to arthritis. It was great to see my parents that week but it was hard work and very emotional. I got no writing done. I got no work on my PhD done.

Taking them back home a week later and some random lorry dropped a block of wood on the motorway in front of us. I could not avoid it and the wood damaged my new campervan quite badly. This was just days before I was to take the campervan to Silverstone. I frantically tried to patch the campervan up so I could use it. I managed that. Me and my son went to Silverstone and had a fantastic weekend watching Lewis Hamilton win the British Grand Prix for the sixth time. I got no writing done. I got no work on my PhD done.

Now I need to get the campervan ready for our annual holiday in less than two weeks’ time. This will mean spending hours in a garage while repair work is carried out. This year we are touring Switzerland and France. I also need to make sure my mother-in-law is able to be safe and happy on her own for two weeks and set up the necessary procedures for that. I will get no writing done. I will get no work on my PhD done.

I am not complaining. Life is good – very good. We have started going to Church again after several years of making excuses not to. Going back was easier than we thought. Both my wife and I continue to have issues with Christian doctrine. Our true spiritual natures seem to exist somewhere between Christianity and Buddhism – and the great outdoors.

I want to write now more than I have ever done. I need to find the time in my busy schedule, to sit at my desk and create stories. It takes time and a certain peace of mind, to write worthwhile content. Somehow, writing fiction – or nonfiction – helps establish a better understanding of the world. Writing narrative helps me better understand the meaning behind the chaos. It is the human task maybe, to work with the Infinite in creating the best life-story possible for all of creation.

The mind can drown in activity and distraction. I wonder how many great texts were never written because of the constant call from all those to-do lists, duties, holidays and hobbies. I am not complaining. Life is good. But I would like to write more. I would like to have the time I need to do my PhD properly. What I really need is to get organised. Or is that just another distracting task I have given myself?

Words

Writers make words their own. Most things have been said before and need to be said again and again. Most writers climb the same cerebral hill many times, each time using a different path; a different approach, often discovering something new.

Can we sperate an author from their words? Post structuralists say that an author is lost from his/her text; that the reader becomes more important than the writer. Is the interpreter more important than the thing being interpreted for which the writer is not only its vehicle but also its voice?

A writer is their words.

Does this mean that a writer is alone in the world of their words? We all are. Writers are inviting readers in through open doors. They do this not so that their words can be appropriated by another’s mind but so that they can be used to share an experience: a particular experience of a moment had by the writer whose living, loves and laughter has shaped the way they experience the world.

Of course, a reader will never truly know what a writer intended. We are, after all, islands in a big sea of outsideness. An outsideness that is populated by so many weird and wonderful things including other people’s minds. Entering the open door of an author’s mind is like being invited into a stranger’s house and given the chance to explore the furniture and ornaments that make a stone-shell of a house into an individual’s home.

Writers make words their own.

People make words their own because we all tell our lives in narrative. We tell stories about ourselves. Nobody likes to be misunderstood. We tell our lives in objects to, in the furniture we buy and the ornaments we collect. The unique way an individual uses words leads words to become ornaments for them.

We share experiences, we hold hands, we share what is said and unsaid and yet mystery always remains and thank goodness for that. An author’s work is never a closed door; there is always room for the reader to reside for a while in the text. But even when the author is long gone, the text will never belong to the reader. The reader is not the most important part of a text. Neither are they the least important. Words will always be the home of the speaker or writer.

Creative Writing PhD

Can you feel the night? I watch stars as a small herd of sheep quietly graze on evening grass. The hills are monochrome against a dark sky. A small flicker of light hugs a corner near the dry riverbed. This is Bethlehem in Galilee. You know the light. It comes from a stable cut into the rock of our imagination. It is real, if anything is real. It has changed lives. It is an ever-changing artefact that demands our attention and devotion. It is no random event, it is a creature that has crawled through history living and breathing with us. It is where our story begins.

Can you feel the sunrise? I watch as a herd of cows make their way towards the milking-shed, their udders full. If I can get myself out of bed I will walk down and watch them being milked by Jock, the milkman. I’ll watch the machines suck the long, thin teats as the warm-white liquid flows along the transparent pipes. If I remember to take the small churn, I will bring back milk with me. Mum will be pleased.

Story is like wine. Built from parcels of life full of encounter and sunshine, stored and fermented. Forgive me then if, sometimes, I ride my paper bike, intoxicated. As children, we live a life of tall grass and long days.  We don’t notice the wide gaps that exists in between the rare moments we are touched by the sacred hand that strokes the air around us. As adults we grow easily bored, as the world begins to belittle itself and we lose faith in the day. Story and wine replaces the magic we once knew when we didn’t know what we imagine we know.

Can you smell the hops? They came at the time we’d be sent to celebrate harvest-festival in church. Dragged by unbelieving teachers and an indifferent curriculum, we’d stand stone-cold and get to know hymns that would after, accompany us through the years and become familiar friends. It all made sense: The stable, the three kings, the child, the words and deeds, the body and blood. It all made sense until it didn’t. Story is a poor substitute for the real thing, but it is all we have. And its real all the same. A different sort of real.

I’d walk to the hop kiln and watch the men work into the night. The fires would glow, and the hops would dry to a crisp grey-green. Dad worked hard. I didn’t realise then, how close those days were to ending. At school we’d be told how machine would soon do our labour for us and that we’d have so much leisure time we’d not know what to do with it. We have. We spend our time looking back for the meaning we once had. Even the recent-born realise there is something missing.

The Scruff

I began my writing journey by composing poetry. For years I scribbled my ideas and experiences into verse. I was not a committed poet. I’d go months without writing, sometimes years. I never really developed as a poet. Having said that, my poetry does represent a lot of labour and although it may not be the most skilful work written – far from it – I like my poetry. So I put together the best of my work and published it.

Sometime you write a poem and you are happy with it. Sometimes the words you write just seem to fall into place in the way you want them to. Here is a poem that does just that. It says easily, what I could never have said…

The Scruff

you led me, the scruff, untidied mind,
by the bone, into the wilderness
where stone is a soft bed, and told me
to love my thoughts and wait
for the small bird: she’ll sing as the sun rises

the path was never there, you say
the apple was in fact
a pomegranate; a whisper of cloud
stuck to a sticky sky

voice is no vehicle, it is the soul
you say, noise is a pebble, God is underneath
the moment, lift it, you’ll see
you say
days collect rainwater

tall grass sways like the echoes of a bell
calling mass. think big, you say
mountains are small seeds, enough
to plant, love is never where you thought it was
wait,
for the small bird: she’ll sing when the sun rises

you’ll see

This poem is included in a collection of my poetry you can purchase on Amazon – The Collection is called: The Road From Albiez

What To Expect…

I wrote this poem in Finland. I was staying there for three months on a university exchange program (I was training to be a nurse). I spent a lot of the time in Finland just wandering around the magnificent countryside and one day stumbled upon a little graveyard surrounded by trees, spring flowers and the sound of birdsong. The poem below is the result.

What to expect when you visit a graveyard.

When you visit a graveyard
you expect stillness, but
you get crowds, horizontal layers
of rowdy life stories,
jostling and bumping.

You expect honesty but you get
thieves, feathered voices
stealing your attention.

You except a certain
decorum, but you get sensuality,
a brutal harmony of light
and sweetness wrapped
in the intimate touch of a breeze.

You expect melancholy,
but you get joy,
like a bright colour
Unfolding.

When you visit a graveyard
do not expect
a quiet word with the dead.

This poem is included in a collection of my poetry you can purchase on Amazon – The Collection is called: The Road From Albiez

Stone Cottage

Who lives at our Stone Cottage?

Firstly, there’s a man who sometimes writes poetry and sometimes prose-fiction. He is greying. Likes walking and photography. Likes to cook, has a penfriend in Poland and is known, on this website, as Fender (that’s me – goodness knows why I am writing in third person!). I am keeping the blog and will write most of the posts. Here is a sample of my poetry:

Our Love

our love was built in the sixties
hit ice on its maiden voyage
and sank without a trace

sex is not easy to endure
when the fridge is left open

cold words lose their fire
in the empty moments
of everyday

a few more flowers in the vase
would have been nice
another joint
might have done the trick

remember how your legs
squeezed my love
into our soul

remember how we cried
when cupid sewed
our hearts together

remember the time
you threw our song
out of the window

that’s when I realised
love is vinyl
breaks too easy

sometimes I want your legs
around me again sometimes

I just want to know
why cupid continues to live
in the ice box
of our fridge

And then there is Sarah. She likes walking too (and photography), has a whippet and plays the cornet. She is a Counsellor training in psychology, a Buddhist-Pagan (or Pagan-Buddhist) and enjoys relaxing on the PlayStation. Sarah was once a Christian but lost her belief in a personal, all-powerful God. She bakes – bread and cakes (which is why I have joined the gym).

Finally, there is Margaret. She is Sarah’s mother and has been living with us for seven years. She is quite a personality. She has had a lot of health problems – a diagnoses of inoperable cancer most recently – but she does not let it get her down. She lost her Christian faith several years ago but continues to believe that the universe is meaningful. Her hobbies, at the moment, are: shopping and puzzles.