Looking over the shoulder of the world

Circumstances are ripples, spreading ever further; my own world is small, though not as diminished as it once was. With reading, the absorption of facts, personal accounts and dispatches, comes the inevitable dark coil of fear and sympathy about my throat. Feelings, I must admit, I’m not accustomed to. My eyes are drawn to places where Trouble mutters under its breath, and quiet sobs fill the smoke-hue nights.

It is not as it was in childhood, in my teens, when Kosovo burned and thousands of ethnic Albanians died. Then, it was a TV flickering in the lounge, and my father’s white face (he would understand the implications very well), and statistics pinstriping the screen. But before you knew it, the feed was all run through, the news had shifted on, and I would traipse upstairs to my bedroom, to read about dragons and urban graffiti and rabbits emulating Hitler.

I still read such things, for they are just as important, but the perspective has changed – over the years, I’ve come to read them through the filters of personal and learned experience. Whether this is detrimental to the suspension of disbelief, the magic, remains to be seen. It can enhance certain aspects of a narrative, ja – it’s far easier now to visualize and comprehend the mustering armies, the tactical “gameplay” of warfare, which once left me cold while reading (for example) the books of the Dragonlance saga, many of which are based on campaign-setting. Likewise, I can sift back through memory to those fictional governing bodies ringed about one large table after another, their faces mapped with the roads of responsibility, as the voices of hundreds – thousands – of people, cry out for justice in their minds… and I find among their number, the authoritative figureheads I watch and read about today.

It used to be only the battlefield and the rank ‘n files which caught my attention: the ready hearts, and the ones who couldn’t control their bladders; the letter writers, and the rapists; the bitter truth of what “glory” is (blood turning black as it seeps into the ground, and the twisted face of your friend as he is trampled beneath the shit-shod hooves of a horse.) Now, it is the political side of things too, the economical aspect of conflict, which forces me to jump from one article to another, reading and reading and reading, until finally –

*now being well enough to grasp what it all means, to the best of my abilities*

– I find myself watching the horizon. “Dark have been my dreams of late.” Such coils of fear and apprehension, and I find symbolism in the strata red-gold nimbus that layers up the horizon, stabbed through by the evening sun, because I’ll only ever be a dreamy metaphor-fiend, and the world still has need of those.

For clarity, I took myself off, wandering over the world and looking for what it’s got in its pocketses.

It was a grim road, full of tanks and revolutionaries and agi-prop. I ducked and wove through the crowds, finding an enemy long thought to have had his teeth pulled, but no – still very much alive and well, if perched upon a glass mountain.

Certain narratives will leap out, full of pathos and personal inflection, while others cause me to falter on their stepping-stone facts. You know the ones I mean. They read like bank statements. But then again, there is a need for this style, as there is any other – to suit circumstances and audience etc. We can’t all write flowery prose.

Here is something I’ve learned from Twitter, incidentally. Those who wish to know about this stuff, will go looking. The rest will wait for items to drop into their feed, or will remain blissfully unaware. Every option is fine. I sometimes wish I could do the latter, but am too nosy, and too worried now. Blame a military upbringing, and a meddlesome nature.

The question is, if I give a damn so much, why not just write my own narrative truth based on the facts and personal accounts gathered and stored? Why not put all the research to use, if it is interesting?

One example, based on current events: I can’t speak a word of Russian or Ukrainian, nor string a sentence in cyrillic. I haven’t the necessary experience of such writing, nor the full historical grounding / first hand perspective, on which to firmly set my feet. Who am I to pass judgement on Mr. Putin and the dictators who have come before him, and will no doubt rise after? Who am I to speak of the plight which may face Ukrainian citizens this winter, as the Kremlin ups the ante with further economical pressure?

What I see, isn’t so much the data. It is the aftermath. The people on the ground, who will (as ever) be the ones to suffer. The civilians who didn’t ask for this conflict, and even if they did, certainly do not deserve the hardships which may come to them, in the form of gravelly hunger pangs and the blue chill of an unheated home. That’s assuming, of course, that they get to keep their homes at all.

Dear friends, I can only speak from a limited experience, but my truth is this: to feel the sleeplessness of adrenalin-fuelled nights, while your body desperately tries to keep warm as it craves nourishment – these are all too familiar memories. And even though mine were created from a mental illness, the fact is, hunger hurts. So does cold. And there may well be Russians who feel that pinch too, by the end of the year.

These are but a few examples. I am 30 years old next year, on the tail-end of anorexia, and so far behind those I wish to talk to, and missing so much of what I’d like to talk about, that it makes my head ache with all the cramming-research. But I’m a bit obsessive like that; and would quite like a Pensieve, to extract some thoughts / feelings for later reference, while I eagerly download whatever’s caught my interest – basically, what I would have liked to have learned about, in further education (or have forgotten about from school.) This is another sore point for me, dear reader – the illness left my mind diminished, to the point where memory is not what it was. I find myself having to take “refresher courses”, leaving all company behind, to wander the roads and campaign trails and library archives of the mind (full of gold dust and blessed silence), picking up this book and that, loading and linking one file to another.

Leeloo Dallas Multipass.

My long-term memory tends to be stuffed with innocuous things, like cat coat genetics (e.g. variations of patterning in fur – ticked, smoke, shell/cameo, solid etc), and odd-end guitar chords from many different songs, which when stitched together might make a harlequin cacophony, but not any melody conducive to good listening.

I hoard a wealth of titbits in this head. Odds ‘n ends. Extracts from books, the plots of which have long since blurred and run; the title and date of a painting which formed part of the pivotal gallery of some notorious artist, though I know it only by the manner in which it spooked visitors to my grandmother’s house, and the cool lap of hardened oil under my fingertips – the Braille of a sensory creative.

But none of it is anything you could pin a career, a profession on.
A Jack (Jill) of all Trades.

So when trying to (re)learn things – right now, for a bit of historical context, it’s the old Soviet Union, Stalin and Kaliningrad Oblast, the enlargement of NATO, etc – I pull whatever strings are available. Simon Schama’s good for research; I cannot recommend his “A History of Britain” enough; nor indeed, for you fellow creatives, “The Power of Art“. His vernacular style always did spin a decent narrative, and he’s such an affable presence, that to see him onscreen is to know him as your mate down the pub. Oh god, what a dream that would be. If asked about that Desert Island thing, I would take Schama, and an endless supply of Chilean Merlot.

Distraction has always been a key feature, when I couldn’t handle personal reality. One memorable occasion was when I was 12. My older sister had brought a couple of friends around to watch the film “From Dusk ’til Dawn.” They had curled up in the lounge, and were laughing – as most mid-teens might, having the experience to realize just how silly it all was, how unrealistic the gore and stabbings, the peelings and flesh-eating, etc.

But for me, it was all too real, and a nightmare. I’ve always had a thing about being stabbed in the chest, for as long as I can remember – which is faintly funny, considering my penchant for blades. But I can’t watch things like “Kill Bill” without averting my eyes, every time a blade comes near the sternum.

So that day, I managed to get roughly halfway through the film, trying to prove I was tough enough, before whiteout fear sent me scuttling up the stairs, to sit on the top step, arms crossed over my chest and head on my knees. Looking back on it now, the reaction seems fierce, overblown. But I can distinctly remember going to my bookshelf and desperately pulling down stories which would not feature death – in particular, murder. There was this terrible, wrenching horror inside, when I realized I couldn’t face reading my beloved “Redwall” books, because they feature a significant amount of blades. But if you were to read how beautiful these narratives are, how homely their perspective, you wouldn’t find enough to trouble the 12 year old I was. It’s very strange. I never forgot that experience; it took me three hours to leave my room. And no, I have never seen the end of that film.

Right now, just thinking about it, I have one of my arms looped diagonally over my chest, like a sash, clutching the opposite shoulder. This is how I used to walk, through town and through school, as a kid, such was the fear. It’s lessened somewhat, to the point where I can actually allow a bag strap to do the job; but I still can’t sleep on my back, and refuse to let anyone touch me there.
Which is just as well, all things considered.

It’s why I don’t entirely discount past lives. How can a small child be terrified of knives coming near her from the front, yet I have never once been bothered (by the thought of) being stabbed in the back? Anymore than a rational person, of course, who wishes to live. But you know what I mean. It’s a strange paranoia.

Anyway. I have more reading to do, before I can ever hope to write such fact-based narratives as the one mentioned above. If only I’d had a clearer idea in my head, back in school – could’ve saved a lot of hassle (and time), by taking a more direct approach in further education. Could be out in the world by now, combining the two prevailing passions of my life – travel and writing – to form some kind of consistent profession.

Oh well. Wishes, fishes, water, sea. It’s not over ’til you’re dead.
There’s time yet. I am still young, and naive enough not to know any better.

This is my truth. Tell me yours.

What answer could I give you now
That you would call your own?
A word, a promise, bent about
The needs of both, of loss and life,
Of things we know can’t be undone
A truth of petals, raven-blue
About our feet; a thorn I knew
Would never leave my darker side
(I keep it close, awake, aware
A story waiting to be told)
The woman-child has far to go
To learn of what she cares for with
An open heart and aching eye
This lamplight haven, eyrie heart
Is Smoky Lake and City Found
By one who waits beside the shore
With silent patience, visor down.

As ever, dear friends – just thoughts, really.
I wandered down that road. It was long, and sometimes the dust got in my eyes, the grit in my throat; but I wasn’t alone, and for that, wasn’t lonely.
Now I am back, still reading, still learning, and watchful as ever, from under this too-long fringe.


4 thoughts on “Looking over the shoulder of the world

  1. drewchial says:

    The events in Russia, have been confounding and overwhelming. Keane passed me an article claiming Russia’s aim is on Finland. It’s confusing and heartbreaking. Sometimes I want to be an ostrich and stick my head into the sand.

    On turning 30. I’m 32 and I dread turning 30 like it hasn’t happened yet. That’s how much of milestone we build it up to be, that even after it passes it can plague you. It’s just a number. You’ll still be the same person.

    Honest and brutal, as always. This journal strides across such a vast mental map.

    • raishimi33 says:

      Cheers, Drewfus. It does often feel like walking across a world, inside my head – a bit like Lecter, or Sherlock, only I certainly don’t have their mental capacities 😉 But the older I get, the easier it is to visualize whole places “upstairs” – when I say I went wandering, through barren Georgia and Kosovo, the taut streets of Crimea, and saw the proudly elegant lines of St P’burg architecture, I mean it, in the cerebral sense. Such is the way of some dispatches, in particular – I hold onto them in that cute little app, Pocket, for rereading; they send you on journeys. Admittedly, some of them (where Ukraine etc are concerned) are difficult to read, in terms of their rawness. But that is to the credit of the authors. I wish to write like that – based upon real events, from first hand experience. It frustrates the hell out of me, that I didn’t know more about this line of writing when in school. Could’ve been a foreign correspondent by now. But that’s that, anyway. My tuppence down the well.

      As to the oscillation of news … it’s why I cross-read between journalists, from Ukraine and Russia, US and UK in particular. They’ll all have their own take on things, with varying degrees of neutrality. There’s also the authoritative press releases from, say, NATO – those are usually boring as whaleshit to read, but well worth trawling through for facts. That being said, they really don’t give much away – understandably.

      It’s basically a case of piecing all this stuff together, to work out your own opinion. I’m learning, all the while – about the new shale gas, about natural gas / oil storage, and how these can be used for political gain / economical pressure; how ground troops manoeuvre, how the Russian oligarchs work, etc. Plus stuff I always had an interest in, like the deployment of AWACS and fighter jets to the Baltics, to protect airspace. Can’t say I blame them, for that request. I’d be edgy as hell too, with that great big bear looming on the horizon.

      As to turning 30 – I totally agree. Just another number. But to me, it’s another year gone by where I feel I haven’t done anything significant with my life. The number itself is irrelevant, it could be 35 or 26. I am slightly afraid, Drew, of seeing my life slipping past, and not having pushed my boundaries enough – not giving this thing in my head the boot, good and proper, so I can get on with things that I want to do / need doing.

      But as ever, that’s for me to sort out. No one else can make it happen. Etc.

      • Graham Milne says:

        Midway through my 38th year all I can add to that is don’t wait another second to push those boundaries, Rachael. I find only now am I finally doing what I should have started ten years ago when I was free of significant responsibility, yet in 2014 I have a wife, an adopted son, a full-time career and a mortgage to fit into the mix. The best time to do anything was yesterday, the second best time is today, the worst time is tomorrow. And you certainly strike me as someone who’s talented and capable enough to achieve anything she wants.

      • raishimi33 says:

        You dear thing. I needed to hear that, especially today. Feeling out on a limb, but this is the path I want to take. No more dicking around.

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