Riddle-Speak

“The naming of cats is a difficult matter
It’s isn’t just one of your holiday games…”

So said T.S Eliot, and I’m inclined to agree with him. Three names apiece, one of which “THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess” – I have enough trouble remembering my own, what with all of these trailing diminutives; feathery scraps of childhood.

There are many things to love about the felidae. The light behind their eyes, that tapetum lucidum, so as to to see between worlds. The way they will greet, not with the wet manners of a dog, but with a dry nose and tall tail-tip. There is a certain pleasure to be had in noting the pause, the wavering head, as they watch for your approach with open hands and blue-black tone. Even the most docile feline carries the glint of a smile.

Creatures like the crocodile and the hawk were worked into the pyramid walls of ancient Egypt, were known as gods and goddesses under the papyrus light; surrounded by hieroglyphics simple in their elegance and, at times, complex as data encryption.

sobek horus
http://www.123rf.com

Horus and Sobek and of course, Bastet – the cat goddess, cast in the half-light as both protector and warrior, associated with the sun (as the daughter of Re/Ra) and the moon, via Artemis and the Greeks. Whatever can be taken from this mythology, it’s certainly a truth that cats are crepescular by nature, at their most active in the pale thresholds before conscious thought, when all lines are blurred as a Nocturne.

Firefly Glow
kfrose.blogspot.com

A cat who would speak with you at length, speaks through the riddle-dance that is appealing in its vagueness. Easy to lose yourself between the muted lines, to forget what it was you were meaning to ask. This is a preferable state when running from details, responsibilities, predictabilities, but the adult world is seemingly governed by such tedious moments, when only the finest-nib clarity will do. I’ve caught myself laughing (rueful rub of the cheek) at my own frustration with an Access Denied. Encouragement reaps its own rewards.

Who would go so far as to break his own limbs to walk as a cat, when no cat would wish to walk as a man?

“Whatever the Alchemist had turned itself into wasn’t a cat.
Half clothed in mist, it trudged painfully towards them from some lunar distance, supporting itself on a staff made from the leg of a panther… Lost in a maze of ruptured highways – burning with rage and desire down every wrenched, coppery perspective, tottering through constant darkness towards every gleam of daylight, deluded by mirror-images, led astray by the very mathematics that had allowed it to penetrate the Old Changing Way: deceived, dazed and disorientated – it had begun to disintegrate. Where cat and catskin had once run seamlessly together, all was in rags.” – Gabriel King, “The Wild Road.”

Crippled by his own hand, each limb contorted and tortured into the supple lines of the feral way, the Alchemist is infused with the energy of sacrificial victims. To control the Golden Cat – that symbolic focus of all natural life – he would walk the wild roads, tying them up in agonized knots, to gain power over this world and the next. We know the highways as “leylines”, in folk lore; but King – the pseudonym of writing pair Jane Johnson and M. John Harrison – employs a lexicon and syntax reminiscent of the free will carried in all wild things, taking the audience between transitions of wary poise, spitfire instinct and playfulness. On the ghost-roads, the smallest feline casts a long and sabre-toothed shadow.

It was through The Wild Road that I became aware of “narrative voice” as something distinct from my own, or that of authors I admired. The protagonist, Tag, is a Burmilla kitten whose movements leap out from the page in keeping with his thoughts:

“‘Alone”, thought Tag.
He tested this idea until sudden panic swept through him. He ran round and round the lawn until he was tired again. He licked his fur in the sunshine for ten minutes. He couldn’t think what to do. He jumped up onto a windowsill and rubbed both sides of his face on the window pane. “Breakfast!” he demanded. But clearly it would not be feeding him today…
He had a new idea. He would feed himself.
“Eat a bee,” he thought.
He thought: “Eat more than one.”
And he tore off excitedly across the lawn.’ – pg 20

This staccato style would quickly become tiresome in another context. This is a life lived close to the ground, defined by the smallest details: that which only a cat would notice and remark upon. Dappled with feline lore and mythology, the novel is narrated in the singular (Tag) and the plural – the nine lives of the cat – infused with the innocent-arrogance of the species.

“Those families bade us welcome and we went into their homes of our own free will, and stayed on our own terms. They treated us like deities, each cat a god in its own house – gifts and offerings, and prayers for a share in our fertilitiltiy and health, for they were a sickly and superstitious lot.
Before long, they were raising temples, drawing our image on the walls like their ancestors before them. In the new drawings we were guardians of the doors of night, guardians of the realms of the dead. We sat at the frontiers of the shadow kingdom; we watched over the spirits of the dead, to guard them in their long sleep.
The same old fears, the same old hopes.” – pg 172.

Each twisting strand weaves the historical with the modern, passing from Bubastis through London to Tintagel head, along the ghost-roads where nothing is quite what it seems. It hit me between the eyes. Aged eleven, seeking something more than the well-shaped but quaint books that had papered my childhood thus far. They were too obviously human. When Tag chases bubbles around his home, he is “as leggy and unsteady, as easily surprised, as easy to tease, as full of daft energy as every kitten”, progressing from this haven of soft humans and pale light into the wider world; drawn on his quest by a mischievous magpie with an agenda, and a one-eyed black cat with a life layered by papyrus, frost and fire. As even the Majicou knew, through his collective lives as keeper of the roads, the power to move between the primal state and the domestic one comes with a price:

‘”So”, he said, “what am I to tell you, Tag?
That if, as the pretty myth has it, cats are allotted nine lives, I have lived out eight of mine? It would be true to say that. That I am as old as the highways I care for, and which sustain me in return? That cats once got up on their hind legs at night and held not just a parliament but a just parliament with human beings? Ridiculous. No cat has ever wanted to walk like a man. Yet it’s a pity we can’t talk to them, Tag.”‘ – pgs 135-6.

Such a care, to know what you cannot speak of.

Peter .S. Beagle’s story, The Last Unicorn, is a work of art coloured bittersweet with a love transcending shape and time. The scars on the face of a warrior, the marks on a wizard’s hands, map their own stories. Even as the unicorn leaves an inevitable trail along the roads of mankind, so the world of mortality marks her in turn with the necessary lessons of care and regret; a heavier burden for one who had lived pale and distant as the moon.

“The sky spins and drags everything along with it … but you stand still. You never see anything just once. I wish you could be a princess for a little while, or a flower, or a duck. Something that can’t wait.” – Molly Grue.

When changed into a woman by the well-meaning (somewhat undisciplined) magician Schmendrick, to save her from the Red Bull, the wilderness lives on in her eyes, for a time at least; but the grey world heaps dust on the memories of wild beasts and woodlands, and that aching fear for her people which began the quest, begins to fade:

“Now I am two – myself, and this other that you call ‘my lady’. For she is here as truly as I am now, though once she was only a veil over me. She walks in the castle, she sleeps, she dresses herself, she takes her meals, and she thinks her own thoughts. If she has no power to heal, or to quiet, still she has another magic. Men speak to her, saying ‘Lady Amalthea’, and she answers them, or she does not answer. The king is always watching her out of his pale eyes, wondering what she is, and the king’s son wounds himself with loving her and wonders who she is. And every day she searches the sea and the sky, the castle and the courtyard, the keep and the king’s face, for something she cannot always remember. What is it, what is it that she is seeking in this strange place? She knew a moment ago, but she has forgotten.”

She turned her face to Molly Grue, and her eyes were not the unicorn’s eyes. They were lovely still, but in a way that had a name, as a human woman is beautiful. Their depth could be sounded and learned, and their degree of darkness was quite describable. Molly saw fear and loss and bewilderment when she looked into them, and herself; and nothing more.’ – Ch 10.

Yet it is the cat of King Haggard’s castle who knows her for what she is. Bound by his own language to speak through the twisting riddles, of what is and what might be, his truth is never more than an eye-glow.

“How do you know she is a unicorn?” Molly demanded. “And why were you afraid to let her touch you? I saw you. You were afraid of her.”
“I doubt that I will feel like talking for very long,” the cat replied without rancor. “I would not waste time in foolishness if I were you. As to your first question, no cat out of its first fur can ever be deceived by appearances. Unlike human beings, who enjoy them…. You have very little time. Soon she will no longer remember who she is, or why she came to this place, and the Red Bull will no longer roar in the night for her. It may be that she will marry the good prince, who loves her…”‘

“When the wine drinks itself,” he said, “when the skull speaks, when the clock strikes the right time – only then will you find the tunnel that leads to the Red Bull’s lair.” He tucked his paws under his chest and added, “There’s a trick to it, of course.”

“I’ll bet,” Molly said grimly… “oh, cat, wouldn’t it be simpler just to show me the tunnel? You know where it is, don’t you?”
“Of course I know,” answered the cat, with a glinting, curling yawn. “Of course it would be simpler for me to show you. Save a lot of time and trouble.”

His voice was becoming a sleepy drawl, and Molly realized that, like King Haggard himself, he was losing interest. Quickly she asked him, “Tell me one thing, then. What became of the unicorns? Where are they?”
The cat yawned again. “Near and far, far and near,” he murmured. “They are within sight of your lady’s eyes, but almost out of reach of her memory. They are coming closer, and they are going away.” He closed his eyes.

Molly’s breath came like rope, fretting against her harsh throat. “Damn you, why won’t you help me?” she cried. “Why must you always speak in riddles?”
One eye opened slowly, green and gold as sunlight in the woods. The cat said, “I am what I am. I would tell you what you want to know if I could, for you have been kind to me. But I am a cat, and no cat anywhere ever gave anyone a straight answer.”‘

The cat knows what it knows, and will continue to look on our world with a crooked head and a mutable smile. We’re still new to the game, after all.

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Dreaming of Mercy Street

I knew where I was going, once. Had some sort of a plan, a topic, a novel, a vision – and a hell of a lot of rum.

Now, I have two children who are not mine, who I adore but would like to press Mute on for two hours in the evening … and shifts that are sapping the life out of my mind. Blah fucking blah. Same old story.

I want to get out of here. See Germany, see France, Belgium, Austria, mountains chained into diamond teeth, a hard blue sky and fierce-scented forests. I want to break out of this block that holds my head like a vice, out of – what – weariness? Spite at myself? Fear of failure?

It’s the same song on repeat. My past never left, and hunts me still. At least I sleep through the night, for now. The last bout of insomnia was a bitch.

Sorry, this is a protracted whinge. I can’t seem to find the words elsewhere. I use pictures to detail how I feel, and am more reliant on these than ever. It’s 8pm, and I have only just sat down.
Where is this all going?

To sleep, with any luck.

Let down at work. Nothing I can go into, but suffice to say, I’m screaming into thin air. And getting through a lot of chewing gum.

These words at least, come easily enough. Nowhere else to lay them out, to put them down. Glance over and be gone, it’s all one to me. The other blog post will have to wait until … some kind of coherency returns.

I can’t change my style, anymore than I can change my blood type (A-)
I still walk bare foot in the rain on sunburnt tarmac, and look for the last hidden corners of the library, out of the sight of teens and away from the burring computers that riddle up my bones with current. The view from that wide-eye window is magnificent; one of the last I shall remember. The lady cathedral in dexteree, and a sprawling canvas of blue-green towards the silver ocean of sky – planes from the nearby airport, swimming with the dreaminess of carp from one cloud to another.

And to sinisteree, the flat rooftops where cats lollop and play, sprawl and wail, and chase with curved backs, over the baked bricks. I had a dream of following them, once, as a child. There was always time to hide in the hedges, jumping out to scare my older sister; and teaching my younger brother how to wait, silent and still, in the green-black shade of the tallest marigolds you ever saw. Three feet, those damn stems grew to. Only my mother could manage to tame so fierce a jungle in our back garden.

Seven trees, lined up like soldiers – one beech, three larches, two willows, and a stately grandfather oak. It was on the latter that I taught my kittens how to climb – Chloe took to it readily enough, having less fur than her sister, Jess, to weigh down small pinion-paws. Poor Jessie would take a running leap, make it halfway up the trunk (digging into the crusty bark), before flailing back down, arse first, in that inconsistent way of cats. I wished for her to have Norsk Skaukatt in her blood, if only for the long “nose-guard” profile reminiscent of the Viking helm, and that singular way of descending a tree, head-first, in a spiral, as in the way of the Nuthatch bird.

Certain breeds have their own peculiar traits. The Skoggy, with its spiral-descent; the Siberian, with its triple-layer fur, allowing it to become a snow-plough; the Ragdoll with its “flop”; the Siamese its shoulder-riding (although my Kai, a Birman, was also a fan of this); and my personal favourite, the Turkish Van – one of the very few felines who will readily approach water for a swim.

Ja, if there’s one thing I can go off on one about, it’s cats. As a kid, I collected relevant books, ornaments, toys, jewellery, fiction, poetry – wrote some of the latter myself, where did that all go? caught between the pages of some ink-stained notebook, buried in a suitcase – and pretty much lived my life in trees, down in the long grass (running from spiders), in the hope that one day I would wake, and no longer be human.

Still waiting.

This staccato voice, and aversion to loud faces, and arrogant-innocent nature, are all born out of that child’s dream. There are some mornings when I wake and watch the sky, and feel so much myself again that it seems the world had never moved on, and I had never grown and seen the patterns of my mind shift, the days blur into years. I am walking the highways again, lost in a silver-blue mist that began around my ankles and stirred up to the height of the hawthorns, and there are no thoughts of home. Of paedophiles and murderers. Of watchful, waiting eyes. Of anything beyond recall.

Just the night, and my feet at their softest, and ice-rimed leaves crackling still – because no human could ever learn to walk like a cat.

Not even the Alchemist managed that.

I should reread the Wild Road, really, and find myself again.

the wild road

Well. That’ll do for now.

Wandering through Colours: Theories in Synaesthesia

Synaesthesia is not a product of conscious thought. Though it is possible to induce a short-term effect in the minds of test subjects, via hypnosis, mnemonic-training and drugs, the truth lies in the lack of consistency and prolonged reaction times between the inducer (trigger) and the concurrent (synaesthetic response.) To put it another way, regarding the more commonly known grapheme-colour type, the identification of colour in a letter will differ each time, with an “a” seen as red in one instance, blue the next. Synaesthesia is closer to the involuntary actions of a cardiac muscle; we don’t tell our hearts to beat or blood to flow, yet these will occur even as we sleep, and we are aware of them through the feel of our pulse and in our conscious state.

The Stroop Effect is used by researchers to “see if the reactions within a person’s brain are consistent with those standard in a brain altered by synesthesia.” Typically, a longer reaction time will be seen in the mind of a non-synaesthete (imagine a kick as opposed to a blink.) The Test-Retest measures consistency between inducer—>concurrent: subjects are presented with a set of objects, flashcards bearing numbers and letters/words, or an audio programme without visuals, and asked to attribute these with a synaesthetic response of colour, shapes/patterns, textures, taste, personality traits, moods etc. After a set period of time, the test is reissued, with a synaesthete producing replicate results, “as they’ve already made neural associations which are automatic and consistent.”

The answer then lies not in preference, but in a reflexive response. It’s also true of synaesthesia that, with increased awareness, its strength can be intensified. This was my experience last year, when I could finally put a name to what was causing all of the colours and shapes in my mind, in relation to sounds, letters, numbers and – more recently discovered – moods. I had experienced flecks of synaesthesia, in conjunction with sounds and some written words, since childhood, and had assumed everyone saw the world as I did. Now, it’s possible to distinguish one particular “mood” from another by the colour that defines it, like strata-nimbus layering up the sky as forewarning of storms, or wispy cirrus on brighter days. This is most likely through an increased awareness of what I’m “looking” at.

I did at first attribute every reaction to grapheme/tonal synaesthesia, but this couldn’t explain how I was also able to perceive moods in colour, independent of text or sounds. Further research showed that an emotion-based type does indeed exist. It’s possible for a synaesthete to present more than one type, often without realizing it, much as we experience crossmodal correspondences to enhance our awareness of surroundings (think of a cat phlegming the air, using both taste and smell, as well as sight, to map out relevant features of its territory.)

On top of all this are the actual means of manifestation, through internal or external perception. An associator-synaesthete will find their concurrent is based in the mind, as of an awareness, like ink sifting through water, while a projector will find synaesthesia in the world around them, as colours in letters or shapes moving around their body in connection with sound.

For my part, synaesthesia presents itself in indistinct form behind my eyes – I’m an associator. A grapheme won’t be defined in clear-cut lines, but I am aware of its inherent colour all the same; just as I know that singer Cat Power has a smoky-purple voice, and the colour of loss is milky-violet. It is an awareness of changes in light and darkness, a shape seen out of the corner of the eye. A sun-dial shadow moving silently over the plate. A painting in Tonalism.

nocturne
James McNeill Whistler, “Nocturne – Blue and Silver – Battersea Reach.”

I’m certainly no expert in neuroscience, but curiosity about the syndrome has led me to wander from one theoretical idea to another, linking proven facts relative to the brain, to what is known of synaesthesia through objective tests, research and subjective reports. Of particular interest is the chance of there being a deeper interaction between sensory modalities for a heightened synaesthetic response, like weaving orchestral instruments into a symphony. In my experience, reading aloud from a book can stimulate colours in sight and hearing, as well as evoke colouration in a mood. Do these always stand independently of one another, or can they mingle to create a stronger impression?

One theory holds that “synaesthetes have unusual connections between different sensory regions of the cerebral cortex, perhaps because of a failure to prune improper, under-used or redundant synaptic connections during development of the nervous system.” If what has come before sounded like gobbledigook, this one’s a clanger. It basically means that, in the creation of synaesthetic brains, some wires were leftover between important sensory regions; this allows unusual crossovers to occur between sight and sound, smell and memory, mood and touch. The cerebral cortex is responsible for information processing – everything from thinking, perceiving, producing and understanding language – and is divided into lobes, each of which has a specific function for governing areas of response and interpretation. These are the important regions, while the synaptic connections are the wires.

cerebral cortex

This rather brilliant study of emotional-synaesthesia, goes some way towards supporting the theory of a “candidate region… implicated in both emotion and memory,” playing host to my own colour-associative experiences of mood, and certain letters/numbers. The retrosplenial cortex is “known to respond both to personally familiar people relative to unfamiliar people, and to emotional words relative to neutral words… Its location in the medial-posterior region of the brain also makes it an attractive candidate to interface with visual regions.” Which would explain how I am able to sense an internal response, while filtering out “neutral words” (and presumably sounds) with no emotional salience – could this be the reason that I have a strong reaction to letters “a” and “e”, because they happen to make up my own name – Rachael?

A study conducted in 2010 by Romke Rouwe and H. Steven Scholte of the University of Amsterdam, saw the recruitment of “16 projector and 26 associator grapheme-colour synaesthetes”, who were each placed in a brain scanner and “shown letters and numbers to evoke synaesthetic experiences.” Of the structural and functional aspects tested, one striking difference between the brains of the two types lay in the volume of grey matter density of particular areas. Projectors were seen to have increased levels in the visual and auditory regions, the activation of which caused the perception of “real objects… letters and numbers, to evoke the vivid experience of colours in external space.”

Associators, on the other hand, were seen to have increased grey matter in the hippocampus and surrounding areas known to be “critical for the formation of autobiographical, semantic and spatial memories.” The hippocampus is involved in connecting “emotions and senses, such as smell and sound, to memories” – that’s the wonderful nostalgia found in the smell of frying bacon on a golden morning, or the wind-rush excitement that spikes up the skin, evoked by the spice of pine needles. The location of the hippocampus, in the temporal lobe – itself responsible for the interpretation of sounds and language -gives a boost to the possibility of a crossover occurring via “unpruned” synaptic connections, in the brain of an Associator. Furthermore, it would allow for a range of synaesthetic experiences, perhaps activated simultaneously by the same stimuli, for that “symphonic” effect. It would certainly help to explain how I am able to experience writing, music and other inducers, on a multi-sensual level.

It is noted in the study that this region, with its wholly internal perceptions, would resemble “memory retrieval”, in that letters and numbers would only evoke “recollections of the experience of colours, rather than vivid impressions of the colours themselves.” This goes back to the issue of recall v.s. actual sense-crossovers, and would lead me to question the validity of my own experiences … were it not for the undeniable presence of colours in relation to moods, as well as the additional (and consistent) features found in inducers, such as texture, personality traits and spatial awareness. These are all experienced on such a unique, nuanced and involuntary level, especially where there is strong emotional resonance, that I find it difficult to attribute each one only to memory-recall. But the study does serve to highlight the crucial differences in construct, for understanding how one synaesthetic mind will differ from another in practise. Variations between regions of the brain that are stimulated, will dictate whether an internal or external effect is produced.

Timing will also differ between the two types, based on interference between actual visual perceptions, and the external synaesthetic responses of a projector. While a grapheme-colour associator would read a coloured letter and find their concurrent “in the mind’s eye”, a projector would take longer to identify what they are seeing in the external world, as evidenced in Stroop tests, when a “colour word is printed in a colour that differs from the meaning of the word… When asked to name the printed colour, the discrepancy causes longer response times and more errors, because we can read words more quickly than we can name colours.”

This is not to say that I don’t have my fair share of distractions and crossover-confusions. The colours of individual graphemes can be altered by the presence of a ‘dominant’ colour in one letter (“i” is white, and has a tendency to “bleach out” other letters around it; the word “institutionalized” appears as a blind man’s stick, tall and upright), while a mood-concurrent may overwhelm a song, cancelling out the colours inherent of vocals and music. The National’s “Slipped” appears in the silver-lilac of an evening sky; these are the colours of loss and longing. No instrument stands out, and vocalist Matt Berninger’s chocolate-baritone is obscured in the haze.

Lake heart 1

Some prominent grapheme-colour features:
a = navy blue
ae = blue-green
c = canary yellow
ch = canary yellow
e = green
h = kelly green
i = white
m = red
o = ultramarine
oo = teal / turquoise
s = mint green, silver
t = black
u = yellow
x = grey

3 holds very favourable connections, as its turquoise appearance has a silky sheen reminiscent of sunlight twinkling in a thousand sparkles on the ocean, or a beautiful ball gown cunningly sewn through with glitter. It is also of moderate size, neat and compact, with positive traits of independence and intelligence. 6, on the other hand, is little and silly; light green, and quite youthful. 9 is enigmatic and purple, towering-tall as a solemn older lady in heels; while 7 is brown and cheerful. 3 also runs concurrently with the letter C, which begins many of my favourite words; but in this case, the colour-perception is far less appealing, in solid canary-yellow (think of a child’s box of poster paints, or a piece of plastic.) Again, this points towards a reflexive, rather than a preferential reaction.

0 = no colour
1 = red
2 = yellow
3 = turquoise
4 = dark green
5 = yellow
6 = orange
7 = brown
8 = pink
9 = purple
10 = no colour

The name of my friend, Carlotta, is dark blue (“o”) and pale pink (“a”). There is no sign of canary-yellow “c”, and “a” is normally blue when beginning the alphabet; it also stands at odds with her Twitter handle, @1chae, with the consonant diagraph “ch” appearing in yellow, while somehow lightening the blue-green of “ae” into turquoise.

The presence of “name colours” has a mnemonic effect that’s handy for social situations – I can pin a colour/colours to people, as you would bookmark a page. Similarly, synaesthetes who experience sequence-space and colours in relation to time, are able to create an internal diary or an external calendar; in a projector type, the latter is known to appear around their bodies, with more recent dates featuring large and prominent, and later dates “further away”.

“For me, the days of the week go from left to right, and the months go round in a wheel, with January meeting December in the bottom centre. Oddly, I don’t have this for numbers. So when I think “I’m meeting Lizzie on Thursday”, my mind jumps to a low space in front of my torso, towards my right. (Thursday is brown; Lizzie is blue).” – Holly Williams, “I can smell a Rainbow.”

cartographiesoftime2
Brainpickings, “Cartographies of Time: A Visual History of the Timeline.”

The texture of a letter can be altered between its written and spoken forms, with certain phonemes silvering-up words that would otherwise have a matte or solid appearance. The sibilance found in “city”, “cerulean” and “strata”, for example, whittles their shape down to something delicate, like a crystal glass or fine-link chain; at odds with the boldness of phoneme /k/ in “cat”, “clover” and “kill.” It’s for this reason that I consider words based in Old French to be of paler hue and lighter substance than those of Germanic origin, which appear more jagged.

While a lower pitch equates a darker tone, the colour of a voice or instrument will not change; a swift climb up the scales produces a narrowed effect and lighter shade. Should one instrument take precedence over others, an overlay of colours may appear, as with the ostrich guitar in the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” – those brass flares claw at the smoky teal background like forked lightning over a midnight sky. The two colours stand out, distinct from one another, yet the image is still wholly internal; there are no external projections onto the world around me.

Timbre dictates shape, with folk singer Nick Drake’s voice appearing in the rounded fluidity of an oboe, rippling green as river water, occasionally gritty with oak bark. Canadian singer Leslie Feist appears in pale mint-green, woven through with striations of darker and lighter shades, in a texture best described as “tethered” – a matte, frayed-edge appearance, as of a strip of papyrus or woven cloth. A broader stroke (e.g. a guitar chord or throaty voice) produces a wider sweep of the brush in a range of shades, while a single monotonous note or thin/quiet voice appears in the trail of a fine-tipped watercolour pencil.

As a general rule, music I would file under “wandering / nostalgic” – almost invariably in minor key – will appear in colours evocative of the bittersweet tang found in a sunset, regardless of unique instrumental and vocal features. Gold, brass, copper, cream, honey, fawn: twisted scrap metal, the jagged hues of a landlocked barge; the haze of an early autumn sky, the sepia tones of an old photograph. Mogwai’s “Too Raging to Cheers” is one such song, reminscent of a fiery day’s end, wandering an abandoned railway line, smelling the thick richness of oil leaking from heat-baked sleepers, listening to the scrunch of gravel underfoot, the bony clatter of weeds in the wind.

abadn
Flickr, “The Disused Railways Pool.”

Kensquarrycar1-1

When depression begins its slow creep-crawl through my head, I know of its presence through the gradual fading-out of all colours. While this can happen in connection with weariness or low blood sugar, a prolonged state of “pale mind” is a signal for me to look around at circumstances, experiences; if I’m not pushing the buck with excessive exercise or lack of rest, something else is at work. In similar fashion, a stark “whiteout” represents real fear and/or shock, caught in the camera flash of a moment. This reaction has been known to intrude on actual visual perceptions, much as someone suffering with a migraine would find it difficult to see properly. Other synaesthetes have reported similar instances of their concurrent producing a warning signal:

“Since I was a child I have had vivid visual images in response to fearful or uncomfortable thoughts. Intense ones, that is. The fear-induced images take the form of highly wrinkled bluish-greenish paper moving around in an irregular pattern. It’s a whole landscape. Sometimes the images consist in large quantities of quickly presented irregular and wrinkled pieces of bluish-greenish cloth moving around very quickly. Not all of my uncomfortable or fearful thoughts are associated with this sort of phenomenology but the occurrence of this kind of phenomenology is a sure sign of uncomfortable or scary thoughts.” – Berit Brogaard, DMSci, PhD and Kristian Marlow, “The Superhuman Mind: Cases of extraordinary mental ability.”

I always know when a feral mood is coming on. It’s in the glossiness of a raven’s wing or a beetle’s back; the purple-blackness of a forest full of thorns and silent trees, all shot through with the pale claws of the moon that lick off dark eyes. It’s the wilder side we try to conceal from the grey reality of Everyday. It’s an amalgamation of those raw emotions that are rich as soil and hard to deny. It’s the source of my insomniac nights, spent wandering the orange-splintered lamplight haven, kicking up old leaves. It’s the hot hard feeling in the back of the throat, the burning eyes and iron-grin, when reading something that fills you with a sudden savage desire to act – to run, fuck, claw the walls. Sometimes it appears without any prompting at all. When I’m at work, it’s best to keep my head down. Left unfulfilled, it can fall into a nimbus-mood, which is closer to repressed anger and a bad mood.

beetle black

For all of these words and theories, I still have no clear idea as to the origins of the synaesthesia that colours up my mind. Perhaps it’s better this way, wandering through the half-light, in unfinished lines of what-might-be. All I can be sure of is the consistency. Even when talking with another chromosthete (sound—>colour), I would find discrepancies between our reactions; particularly if they happen to be a projector-type, able to watch the flux-flow of colours and patterns externally. My internal perceptions are as much a focus of life as the normal five senses, and – as a writer – it’s priceless in figurative language. I can simulate (and stimulate) versions of what I perceive, through sensory crossovers that will allow a non-synaesthete to know how a word relative to cold may appear blue, how a situation full of tension can be tasted in the iron-tang air.

I’ll cover my own influences in the next blog post.

Recolouring the mind

This synaesthetic mind is usually sparking over with some colour-pattern or another, some form of mood, passing like the lowering nimbus that follow the spine of the Beacon; or flicker-flaring like shafts of golden light that dance across the wings of white gliders and red kites, angling over the Downs.

When feelings are blunted, through writer’s block, depression or illness, the colours become muted shades. Imagine the negative of a photograph, and you’re close. I’ve yet to put my finger on why or how this happens, but am aware of it as a creeping sensation, as of whitewash bleeding down a wall. Clarity loses its edge; sharp lines are blurred into a “porthole” effect, which in its turn creates a rather narrowed scope of the world. Emotions follow suit (or perhaps it’s the emotional “whiteout” that leads), paling into a blank space that is neither up nor down, high nor low. Just … there.

And not much of a “there”, either.

I prefer to feel, even if it is a black hole of a mood. This nothingness is like burning the tongue, losing all sensation of texture and taste. Music that once lifted the hairs on my arms, now appears as flat colours of the mind, once so vibrant in accompaniment as they danced in silver-fine threads, or strident bars of mahogany, cream and ochre.

(The bowed guitar of Sigur Ros’ “Rafstraumur”, is an excellent example of the latter.)

I have to step away from the world for a time – at least, the sociable one. Cutting off all contact, speaking few words beyond politeness for a day or so, I follow the inevitable trail of childhood back to old influences. The people whose work first coloured my mind, washing it through with a sluice of paint; books and music, art. TV programmes. The sort of things that are best appreciated alone, no matter how much your fingers may itch to exact their details on social media, in imagery or images.

Believe me, I’ve tried. It can never have the same effect. It’s like trying to portray the heartbeat of a Rothko painting in a postcard. Nothing captures that eerie sensation of life within a canvas, until you’ve done it yourself – stood behind the blasted rope that keeps you from touching eternity (maybe a saving grace after all, for such disappointment would live in knowing that it really is only whorls of hard paint), and felt the walls breathe, seen the colours ripple.

The room goes silent and still. Your eyes slide down to the floor, upward and across – unable to look at the damn thing straight on, because it holds a gentle laugh at your own futility, mortality.

I have a quiet grin myself, now, remembering that room. Its light made of living shadows, maroon and purple and black.

The truth, I suppose, is that I need to break out more. To step away from these lines. It’s too easy to become embedded in daily habits, to lose a whole year in work, and weekends, and work again. But it seems that when I stop to look around, to take a breath and feel … something else happens. I know I’m pessimistic in this. I don’t want to become chipped china.

Alice Hoffman. Truman Capote. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Jeffrey Eugenides. Peter .S. Beagle. Authors who hold imagery in one hand and narrative threads in the other, and somehow manage to weave the two into a sensation of near-poetic prose. I come away feeling refreshed, more myself. It’s where the disconnect-reconnect occurs. It is finding the world again, through the artistic influences that once led you to believe there was more to life –

Than this solid state.

Metaphors flourish under new light, and I take to spotting things. Clouds that resemble spilled cotton balls, a blue-steel lake; the way a skein of geese resembles a great black arrowhead. How a favourite song fills my mind with the milk-honey sweetness of an early autumn sky.
(Cream and gold; you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.)

And the old childhood favourites, of course – Jenny Nimmo, Brian Jacques, Robin Jarvis, Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman. The ones who taught me that nothing is beyond suspension of disbelief, so long as the threads are strong enough. I threw away so many stories, as a kid, full of anger and frustration at my own imagination. Or rather, the lack of force behind it, my own dull willpower. D’you know what is so bloody odd, so iron-tang smile now, watching the actions of Putin and the Kremlin in Russia? I wrote similar things while in my teens – younger – then binned them, because I thought no one would believe me. That such narratives would never make it onto a shelf, because no antagonist could possibly get away with cutting off a town, a country, isolating them in poverty and bleeding out minds with propaganda (though I didn’t know these terms at the time, just the basic concepts.) The authorities of the world – other countries – would surely never allow this sort of power-play to happen; it could only exist in the fantasy novels I was reading at the time.
It’d never catch on. Not in the “real” world.

Of course, what I didn’t know then was that Brian Jacques had drawn upon the Second World War, as an influence for his Redwall saga. And then I took an interest in history myself, and began to read backwards.

Typical, really.
Truth –
Fiction –
Interchangeable.

More to the point – why, even then, did I give so much of a damn about what other people thought of my mind?

Well. That was then, this is now; and the only responsibility I will take from it all, is doing something about this paling mind. We govern our own futures.
Which simply means following myself back home.

Lampenlicht

Another twilight, another moss-covered wall; another lampenlicht walk, under a sky threatening to split with the weight of its thoughts. Conflict, my dear friends … it is the word of today, tomorrow, forever. It doesn’t seem to end, so much as stir from one ripple to another. To another, to another.

We have slipped beneath its dark surface again, tinged by the reddening sky; and in all my fanciful dreams, all those silent-screaming thoughts of the night (only a handful of months ago, and somehow another time, another place already), I could not conceive of it all. Such sights. Things I, and other unfortunates, will never be able to erase from under the eyelids. Such white-out times of pain and loss, for those hounded across ancient diamond teeth.
And the long fingers of evil stretch further, and further across the walls of the land, slipping between the cracks of history, to rear up

– sudden and swift

against your own tomorrows –

Into today.

I dislike using the word “evil.” It is too easy, too sweeping; it does not allow for coherent debate, for the flip of a double-sided coin. No positive argument to make, though, for a head on a pike. For a child, spilt like a misspent word into the sand, into a timeline. Into the world, passing from one to the next, until the life is an image of itself.

No, I won’t forget you. I won’t, and never want to; because for all that your identity was stolen away in blood, your innocence, the new light in your eyes … You were a life, and you were someone’s beloved.
No, I won’t forget you. I wish we had met under any other circumstance but the baseless, senseless defilement of that symbolism, for all that the perpetrators had to go upon. Religion is not theirs to keep; the flame goes out in hands too cold to know life, reason, and love.

Oh my friends – we hold each other in these white-out times; we keep our minds cradled in the lap of knowing the other’s despair;
And oh my foes –
I know your shadow-name, and I know you for what you are.

beetle black

I fear for this world, and am trying to find myself ready for it. Insofar as anyone can be ready, setting their face to the sky, to the watchful sun; to the circling pen-mark of rooks on the wind; the haggard trees, the lampenlicht nightwalk, and my old comrade-in-arms; the Lady Cathedral.

cathedral girl

lampenlicht

Tonight, I listened to the piping sweet-bell language of the bats, and knew the changing of the watch. The leaves are burning up on the buildings, scarlet as the mornings and ragged to their tips, like the wings of the rook, like the frayed ends of my hair.
It is almost blonde again; that brown-gold colour of youth. Combined with a near-normal body, I am slowly coming back around to what once was, while keeping these gentle lines about the eyes, these freckles on my nose; this somewhat yellowed laugh, like a papyrus scroll unrolled, filled with spider-black lines.

Uncover our heads and reveal our souls; we were hungry before we were born.

The past catches us up in the end. Run as hard as you might, and you run only from yourself.

I am quitting this blog tonight. It is too full of last year, which was painful, and still aches to the touch. There are places in town, across counties, which I still cannot enter, for the ghosts that run past me, trailing thoughts and feelings in their wake. Each time I think myself known in this new life, I am somehow only my own shadow, crawling up the wall.

You, Nosferatu; you long fingers, you smiling-abuser, you – with your burning touch, who would not let me go. Who still find my dreams, and riven them all around with brambles, choke me in mud of the past, until I am fighting awake and screaming for air –

And it will not end, until I turn and stop running. Stop running, and turn, turn about again, and find the light in all places, the one which will never go out. It has been here before, has come again; a different intensity each time. It is life, and love, and knowing that these claws sink only so far; that the nightmares will die in the day, with the dreams.

One coin, two sides.

I am wondering at the validity of this therapy. For all that I used to come awake and know myself frayed, frail, parched in the throat, dying a little more inside, but still alive – now, I find it difficult to feel anything at all.
To connect one thought to another, to find the patterns that were constellations. Or perhaps this is end-game after all, and I am walking ahead.
I see nothing but darker days, as yet. Anyone could tell you that, I suppose. You only have to look at the pitfalls awaiting the Eurozone; at the blue winds rising over Russia and Ukraine; at the red-rimmed eyes of the sun, the morning that fades a little more with each breaking heart.

I had thought myself paled into Forever, and had all but decided to disappear, back up into the tower of clicking needles and spinning thread. Those red-black stones called; the brambles lashed against the sky, filled with an everlasting storm made of torn angel wings, and a man’s blood on a knife clenched in her hand. That was a story and a song of long ago, when I was … about thirteen, I think. I had forgotten it, until now.

“You should never run from anything immortal, it attracts their attention.”
or indeed –
“Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairy tale.”

Shorn wings, and the silver-fire cage of an Ever-Storm; that angel learned what it is to love a mortal, to feel the chillness of steel on bone, marking her as one like him after all; while forgiveness and punishment found her still, huddled into the rain-fretted mud, as one of His own. No love goes unacknowledged, no tear is forgotten. Silver and white, and blue and black; red as the life on the long thistle-song.
Jealousy reaps its own rewards.

barnes elias

But then came this, the lark’s rising song in the voice of Vicky Beeching; and I found myself able to cry, and to know colours again, and – while still alone, without touch
(which comes closer to a feather-trail of memory, every day)
I was awake and aware, and feeling what should be. Rubbing my cheek, and drinking a black-hearted coffee, and going on with a smile.
Such bravery in the writing, you would find in the heart of a unicorn, for all its ageless pain and wisdom; the ability to touch so many, to lift them from the dark place where we may go, from time to time.

Oh Robin. If only I had such words as these, by the inimitable John Underwood, to set the last bar. You were a dear childhood friend, known on a soundtrack to my RAF youth; found in a film for the rough-ready teens; and a summer sun of adulthood, which will never die.

apola sun

Keep the streets empty for me, Liebe.
Now I know your face, and I know your name
(the one you will learn; we are roles reversed, through the clock)
May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out.
My King of Swords. Cut which-and-every-way, the song remains the same.
Dreaming of Mercy Street.

Round Two: Dream/Nightmare

You know those dreams, those nightmares, which seem so real that you question nothing but your own sanity, for fear that it might break under the fear?

Sitting in this pale morning light, I am off-kilter, and feel outside of Time. I need to get this all down before I forget.

I was perfectly rational, lucid, in waiting for a near-unknown correspondent at an old inn we had decided upon as a venue for our finally meeting. The rooms seemed pleasant enough, innocuous in that way of golden sunlight flooding one space, before falling into strangely dense pockets of shadow … The air felt clotted, claustrophobic, but then – upon wandering further along narrow corridors, over creaking uneven floorboards, you would come upon yet more gold bars of light, and you would twitch and feel yourself to be silly and paranoid, rubbing your cheek in irritated confusion at the welter of nerves under the skin. There’s nothing wrong with this place.

I was waiting for him, that correspondent, and the sun was climbing over the sky, while the landlady – a woman pretty in her plainness, with brown hair and a purple t-shirt that you felt were not her first choices – carried a broom about like a gun, or a pint glass like a grenade, and was cordial with the regulars (of which there were quite a few, scattered over the green-gold lawn and inside on tall stools set on tottering flagstones) while positively bristling with abrasiveness at all newcomers, such as me. I only realize now what she was trying to do; who she was trying to protect.

Yet more pockets of darkness, where there should have been light. So incongruous.

She was trying to turn people away, having suffered enough pain and abuse at the hands of the other two staff members – an old man, the janitor, and a younger man, the cleaner, who basically ran the establishment. They were both very powerful, I could sense that, but kept it hidden beneath drab clothing and silence … But every now and then, I saw the corner of one mouth curl up, and I know enough in this life (spread to the dream one) to take care of such signs. So it came as no real surprise when the younger man cornered me on the stairs, where I waited in black-gold light, in such trembling heat (one of those summer evenings when it is best to stay indoors, though the air is so sluggish and thick) – no surprise, then, when he pretended to be my correspondent, while hiding in the shadows.

But I knew his voice, though I had heard it about as many times as I had the one I waited for, and called him out. And when he tried to put his hands on me, I ran. I ran up a long corridor, and found a bathroom that was more like an indoor swimming pool, or some alpine spa; sheer rocks of plastic, ferns trailing into different kinds of water; the swilling kind to bathe in, the cascading kind to feign wilderness. And more of that light, pouring in at a wide-eye window, but even that couldn’t dispel the real fear surrounding this place, especially at this point… What need for the sides of a bath, ridged up in the water that is basically a pool in itself? How did they keep the water confined; where did it go? I don’t know why this should bother me so.

They were powerful, those men, but not powerful enough – when both tried to rape me, as I made my escape out the back door, I swung such blows at both that I sent them spinning, with a force I would never hold in real life; I whacked them both upside the head, you would have loved it. Laid them out flat, and I saw them then, small and –

But I ran, and the landlady followed me out. I saw her tears then, on her face, and the hatred and love she felt for me, for being able to escape while she could not. What kept her there, what power did they have over her and others who may have worked there, unseen, unknown?

There was something so beautiful, so wrong about that place; it reminded me of the warren full of snares in Watership Down, with the sleek and well-fed rabbits, whose lives seemed so perfect, yet they knew only resignation. There was real evil in that place, in the shining wires – the unseen enemy, that is exactly how this dream felt. They tried to draw the Sandleford warren rabbits in, to have them fall upon the hands of the enemy instead. Only Strawberry felt enough remorse to follow the escape, to beg forgiveness.

Silverweed’s poem, full of prescience and sorrow. I saw it in the landlady’s face.

No doubt after this entry is done, I’ll feel normal again, and will feel silly for writing this all down, and for sending a message to my own correspondent; yet the one in the dream never did turn up, though I had the feeling he was watching from the sidelines, as though this were a test. Possibly laughing quietly to himself. It felt like a test, and as ever, as in reality, my anger won out. I have thrown punches before to save myself, but in doing so, have I endangered others? When a childhood neighbour tried it on with me as we babysat my little brother, I locked myself and the latter in the master bedroom and stayed there until he had gone back downstairs to raid my father’s fridge again. And when my mother came home and got me to unlock the door, and sat on the edge of the bed to ask what had happened, my silence didn’t last long; not as long as the next one would, so many years.

I was so angry that I told her exactly what had happened. But whether it was dealt with in an appropriate manner, I cannot say. It was a long time ago, and I was a child still; not quite thirteen.
He told me he wanted to give me an early birthday present.
I told him No.

Right now, that dream is behind my eyes, and feels all too real. Is it possible for a second act? To go back, to save the landlady and others? Is it possible to meet my correspondent? Why send me there, knowing what was inside, and my history?
I suppose it is just a projection of me overcoming my fears, of using that anger to carry me forward, this inability to back down, this fear of losing to people who try to control me.

But even as I stride forward, I am aware of others falling back, of those still vulnerable. I don’t know. I don’t know why I felt the need to tell him about La Jetee, and Sans Soleil; to watch them as I was instructed by the second teacher, alone and back-to-back. I don’t know if he would care, if it would mean anything to him at all – I am 97% he won’t respond, either because he doesn’t know how to, or because he is that angry with me. It doesn’t matter anymore. Maybe that’s why I could finally get the words out.

This feels like something that has gone on ages; that has gone on long enough. This life, always on the run from some fear or another, of speaking up and speaking out.

Now it’s time to get up and go back to pretending at normality, which is basically what we are all doing anyway.

Here, at day’s end

A peach-gold glow spread over the sky this evening; the air was full of the satin-smell of roses in full bloom across gardens stitched with tall lavender and buddleia. Their heads were hung low with the weight of their thoughts, the dreams of the wandering bees. Such sticky sweetness to find, to follow the trail from one place to another, until home is a distant memory.

Tomorrow marks the birthday of my landlady’s twins. They are currently clambering over one another to be first to peek over the bannister, as their mother and a family friend lay out the arrangements for a party of “some significance.” One balloon has already ended its own life without compromise, in a bang so loud that the dog saw fit to rest her racing heart outside in the lush summer grass.

(Whenever she thinks herself alone in the house, she will lift her long nose and let loose a soul wavering in the howl of ancient people; the wild roads call her blood still, but it is my voice from this eyrie heart, which brings her back. I would call with her though, had I the words of the wolf; such an aching testament to what was, and what might have been.)

These two beautiful children will be a year older, and I have known them for less time than it takes to walk from one shore to another. They have grown on me, in the way that some kids do, until I am surrogate big sister and confidante both; when their giggling whispers grew too loud tonight, I sent them on their way with the promise of a wake-up call first thing, with a breakfast fit for tiny kings and queens. That I am not much of a cook, is beside the point. You can’t go too wrong with pancakes and maple syrup.

And, watching their mother glide about the conservatory, hanging balloons and banners without needing to stretch, I was hit with such a sudden pang in my chest that I had to duck away, to stare up at the darkening sky and find stars … To remind myself that I chose this writer’s life, this solitude. This illness, this not-for-me-danke, this wandering road that still goes ever on.

I am not immortal, and that is what I would ask of myself, for a child. And the sort of dedication – the perseverance – which I know is not inherent of my personality. Whatever dreams may come tonight, let them hang on the supermoon, on a horizon boundless. It has been a dark week; I could use a little light.

In letting things go, I don’t make easy decisions. I’m a pack-rat, and tend to hoard that which gives me pleasant nostalgia, the sort of electrifying thoughts that are reminiscent of another life.
A life I could know, and never Know. Words remain within their boundaries until turned into experience. Into incidence, circumstance, situation, action. Currently, I have –

– only this heart.
And a dim light, in the west.

Tomorrow, I think I will escape to the City, to wave at the diamond-teeth along the skyline, and to wait for the frantic spill of energy at home to abate. I am as much confused by children as inclined to empathize with them. They work upon instinct; there is little, if any premeditation. When a small boy passed me on the street in 2005 and – turning to his mother – asked Why is that boy wearing a skirt? (pointing at me), it was yet another kick in the shins from Whoever, that I really should be taking more care of myself. I wore cropped hair then, and the raw bones of illness. There was little to distinguish me from my teenage brother.

I saw a photo of him earlier, posted by our mother on Facebook. He has become a man, quite without my noticing.

In trying to see all the world at once, I miss a great many things.
In trying to keep others safe, I am the one cutting the rose from its roots.

I hope the twins enjoy their party, with the sort of gut-ache giggling-wildness that only small things can really appreciate, like a kitten chasing a bubble and knowing itself to be outside of Time. That, more than anything, would make me smile, come tomorrow evening. I can’t wait to hear all about it.

Breaking my lip upon this thorn.