Woven strands: Artistic Influence

“I put in painters, or started to, because I learn as much from painters about how to write as from writers. You ask how this is done? It would take another day of explaining. I should think what one learns from composers and from the study of harmony and counterpoint would be obvious.”

When interviewing Ernest Hemingway for The Paris Review, George Plimpton acknowledged the “occasional waspish tone of the answers”, born of the author’s belief that writing “is a private, lonely occupation with no need for witnesses until the final work is done.” This sounds all too familiar. I’ve overdone my own exposure, in essays that – while useful at the time of writing my first novel, for relearning techniques – have left me somewhat strung out when it comes to starting anything new. I’m perhaps too self-aware now for a clear sense of originality. When Hemingway stated that “such ideas should remain unexpressed”, with probing questions leaving him “almost inarticulate”, I know what he means, with the usefulness of hindsight. That being said, the essays were good to write, in the way taking a clock apart allows you to know its mechanism for when something goes wrong.

But on one subject, Hemingway was willing to show his hand: those artistic influences found in the deftness of a painter with tubes and brushes, the composer his sheet music. Donne to Cezanne, “the good Kipling” to Van Gogh, Bach to Mozart – all creators that touched his life and his mind, to be called upon when he would “stand in absolute concentration” for writing. Nowadays, with the help of mobile technology, we can as easily wander through the minds of favourite artists via apps and websites like Pinterest, as we can take the conventional route of walking the echo-halls of an art gallery. Playlists can be tailored to a written draft. Dance and drama can evoke the method approach, for getting into the mind and moods of a character.

“Harmony” in music, is defined as “the simultaneous combination of tones, especially when blended into chords pleasing to the ear”, while counterpoint is “the art of combining melodies / the texture resulting from the combining of individual melodic lines.” Generally speaking, harmony and counterpoint are the agreement of elements distinct from one another, and “any element that is juxtaposed and contrasted with another”. Those moments are wonderful – aren’t they? – when you touch upon a particular paragraph that fits the background music of a bar or pub, at a time of day when you’re drinking something with the taste to somehow mirror the mood. When it feels as though everything has been geared towards inspiring an image or mood. As a method-writer, I work towards achieving this kind of interdependency of art to form a “backdrop” – something sustainable for the duration of a scene, perhaps. Watching Weimar cinema to add disquiet (in filters of blue, with nuances of light and shadow) or wandering into a particular gallery room to find the narrative of a display. When a piece of instrumental music seems to have been written for a character or scene, adding textures previously unthought of, there’s the chance to review your writing from a different angle, one governed more by instinct and mood than lyrical content.

Any piece of art can at once stand alone, and be linked to another in a different format/medium. There might be no apparent crossover, except in subjective terms. Time changes perspective too, with personal experiences adding emotional layers almost indefinable, except for the way they get under your skin and stay there. Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Dead Flag Blues once belonged to a winter’s morning slog uphill, until I read the opening chapter of Stephen King’s The Gunslinger for the first time. Now the heavy-tread rhythm and bronze guitar twangs belong to Roland’s feet through the desert, on the trail of the man in black.)

When choosing décor, we look for the blends of tone and texture that will make a house feel like a home; furnishing the lines of a living space to present an image of ourselves. Even the sparsity of an office can be made to feel like an extension of “home”, with those framed works and prints by a favourite artist, drawings made by the kids, holiday souvenirs, newspaper cuttings, empty whisky miniatures lined up in a row. Each facet reflective of individuality, while shining together to create the image as a whole. It’s amazing what you can learn about a person, based on what they choose to surround themselves with – or allow others to surround them with.

Remembering and learning about WWI, we can read the words of Sassoon, Rosenberg and Owen to live in the immediacy of those desperate moments. They connect with the likes of Paul Nash and Richard Jack, whose work asserts direct historical links as well as the more subconscious achievements of art to carry emotional resonance forward in time.

ypres salient
Paul Nash, “The Ypres Salient at Night”

return to the front
Richard Jack, “The Return to the Front: Victoria Railway station”

As much to make sense of what they were experiencing, as to capture the rawness of conflict for the ones who would rebuild peace, the artists imposed control – a strange sense of beauty – upon the ugly chaos around them. Time has no way of diminishing their effect. Standing in front of Jack’s Return to the Front: Victoria Railway station in York art gallery, I couldn’t move for about twenty minutes, absorbing each detail. The scene is absorbing in its raw portrayal of human emotions, played out in the set of a jaw, the resigned curve of shoulders, downcast eyes, pity around the girl’s mouth, the looming presence of the waiting train. It was a world away from my own liberal time… and still, almost one hundred years ago. Art crosses the borders of time and geography, carrying emotional salience forward to our own time and circumstances. Somehow, the unimaginable becomes all too real.

And it’s still going on.

“On a trip like this it is best to do rapid fire sketches, with movement. I used my drawing book like a camera. I rely very much on the power and energy of the initial drawing.”

But why is art necessary in a war?

Graeme Lothian, who was sent on the same trip as Jules George, has a unique perspective. Decades ago he was a commando before breaking his back. He sees the artists’ purpose as complementary to the journalists and historians who will also chronicle the war.

“It’s good to stand there and take a step back and just look at the Army from a distance. This will be history one day, Camp Bastion will be dust. We are painting history.”

And he believes the very act of deploying artists to Afghanistan shows progressive thinking on the part of the MoD.

“The Army have always said no to artists, now they are changing their mind. There is a sea change that artists are important.” –
Why do we need oil painters in a war zone?

There are some works of art which must be experienced in their original state for the message to come across. A postcard rendition of a Mark Rothko piece has no chance of capturing the awesome (I mean this in the strongest senses), silent sentience, hung on a wall in the Tate gallery. When surrounded by them in the Rothko room, you are compelled to fall silent yourself; to stand still, and watch them breathe. Pulse with life. They draw you in, as though towards an answer for every posed question, or perhaps the end of time itself.

I can’t bring myself to look at some of them full-on, only with the sideways glance of a reluctant admirer, with defiance and submission both. The damn things speak for themselves. They make you listen.

Art allows us to learn as much about ourselves as each other. While inadvertent plagiarism (cryptomnesia) is an undeniable part of creativity, there’s no sense in shutting down a project for the tension between goodwill and guilt, and certainly no shame in reworking ideas as an homage to another. As Pete Seeger put it, “You hear an old song you like but you’d like to change a little, there’s no crime in changing a little… It’s a process. It’s not any particular song, it’s not any particular singer. It’s a process by which ordinary people take over old songs and make them their own.”
(I wish I’d known about this as a teenager, when I gave up on writing out of fear I was just borrowing from all the inspirational childhood literature. Personal perceptions are what make us unique. Everyone has their own story to tell.)

I feel most at home among the Tonalist painters, who in the late 19th to early 20th centuries, established an American art movement based on “an abiding spiritual feeling for the intimacies of the human landscape.” The name itself alludes to “the use of muted natural tones… portraying the symbolic and abstract character of landscape forms.” James Abbott McNeill Whistler, a key founder, sought to bring harmony to the wilderness of nature with the essence of humanity. Like Hemingway, Whistler valued the idea of artistic crossovers.

“Nature contains the elements, in colour and form, of all pictures, as the keyboard contains the notes of all music. But the artist is born to pick, and choose, and group with science, these elements, that the result may be beautiful — as the musician gathers his notes, and forms his chords, until he bring forth from chaos glorious harmony.” – “Mr Whistler’s Ten O’Clock”, Public lecture, Prince’s Hall, Piccadilly, 20 February 1885.

The founder of abstract art, Wassily Kandinsky, “wanted to evoke sound through sight and create the painterly equivalent of a symphony that would stimulate not just the eyes but the ears”; he spoke of art in the synaesthetic language that is a characteristic blending of the senses. “Colour is the keyboard. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many strings.” In the same way as Whistler, who believed that “art should not serve narrative, but rather project the artist’s subjective feelings through the handling of the medium,” and who drew upon the philosophy of “art for art’s sake,” Kandinsky wanted to further the internal appreciation of music through the colours he experienced; giving non-synaesthetes the chance to experience a sensory crossover too. But anything more would be a distraction from the audience’s emotional connection. A simple gratification was to be found in viewing art, without looking for any more meaning than what was before them.

As a chromesthete, I see colours and patterns in sound – predominantly music – and moods. Though abstract and impressionist art lend themselves towards some kind of external view of what goes on in my head, nothing comes quite so close as Whistler’s “Nocturne” set. The play between light and shadow, abstract over concrete, with things appearing not quite as they should seem. The once-firm lines of steel and stone are now seemingly spun from cobweb, and likely to be blown away in a wandering night breeze. Time is dialled down to sequential movements; less a narrative, than a handful of slow-shutter shots. The gluey state of dreams and drowsiness and half-light.

800px-James_McNeill_Whistler_-_Nocturne-_Blue_and_Silver—Battersea_Reach_-_Google_Art_Project
Nocturne, Blue and Silver – Battersea Reach

A construct undone, and somehow more accessible for it.

“Taking a cue from a critic who had referred to his early portrait of his mistress… as a ‘symphony in white,’ Whistler began to envision and entitle his works with the abstract language of music, calling them symphonies, compositions, harmonies, nocturnes, arrangements, and so forth.” It’s not difficult to see how the French critic would have drawn comparisons; just as snow is never only one colour, “The White Girl” (or “Symphony in White No.1”) is composed of as many shades in a pale palette as you would find instruments in an orchestral piece. In Whistler’s tonalist work, the visual theme weaves itself into the very semantics of music: “Nocturne” is defined as “a composition inspired by, or evocative of, the night” – that resonance found in the twilight hues of a trickling character piece for the piano, played to a blue-and-silver garden or lowlit bar. Disbelief is more easily suspended when written between the lines. Whenever I’m feeling not quite myself – stuck with my head on the writer’s block, greyed-out by the Everyday – I go flicking through the works of Whistler and his contemporaries, to find the same fluid surreality of a moonlight sonata. It’s a bit of immersion, prior to writing.

As individuals bring their experiences to art for subjective interpretation, so the arts in turn allow creators to reflect upon and complement each other’s work. What is the first draft of writing, but a slew of words spilt with inspiration? We then edit to needs, as a gardener prunes a rose to allow it to flourish. The painter somehow knows when the next dab of colour will be as a jarring note in a composition. It’s not so much the willpower to begin, as the control to Stop – to insist and argue with the inner critic, that a piece is complete.

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This writer’s life (holding a compass)

Who am I, as a writer?
Well, I couldn’t tell you that. I have no deep insight into anything beyond immediate experience – which I suppose you could say is true of many of us, I don’t know, I didn’t research it. I read enough to keep my brain fired and fried by turns, but it’s a constant process of catch-up, after over a decade of mental stagnation. Oh ja, I could tell you about the interior of various mental health institutions, and how it feels to see the lights of an ambulance bracket the walls, and the dialling-down spiral of knowing you have disappointed so many people who care about you, who you care for –

But who wants to read that sort of noir life, back and forth, time and again?

I could tell you about counting calories like grains of sand through the hourglass, and how it feels when your heels crack for pacing; what it means to know your grades are failing because you can’t keep up, juggling mental and physical duress –
That conflict doesn’t leave in a hurry, it’s why I have trouble with employment –

But again, how to spin that line to a sustainable cobweb?

I could tell you about the different types of cat coat, the ticked and the spotted, the swimming breeds, the docile v.s. the gregarious. I could go off on one about the many cat shows attended, with the surprising variety of stalls showcasing craft innovation (kitty alarm clock, anyone?) and the cages filled with pacing, bawling, squeaking, hiding, wide-eye denizens of another world that we’ll never know, because you cannot bottle smoke. Even caught behind the bars, those jungle eyes found me, and I wondered who was the real prisoner.

And I’ll tell you what colour your name is, and how to find it in a song; where to weave it into words that might spill over to poetic enjambment, a river-run of themes, time, love, relief, abandonment, chaotic self-delusion. Write what you know.
Know what you write?

So many little things, spun away into an endless world of tomorrows. So many signals replayed. Refrains. I often watch myself in writing and find a wire-grin: “She’s at it again, look – haven’t we seen that before?”

My short-term memory is shot to shit. Prolonged malnutrition tends to inhibit cognition, even years after some semblance of mental and physical health have been restored. I must read and reread what I know, what I thought I knew, until getting into debates and conversations and finding myself tits-up for details … And trying to write essays and articles, when the facts and the words were tucked safely behind my ears, a tapetum lucidum for the eye, but … What did I really want to say? Why will it not come? What is all of this white noise?

Somehow, the latter has grown louder of late.

As a child, I began and finished many things with incredible speed, usually through a lack of consistency than any kind of real talent. Some skills remain – I can move with the grace of a dancer, but to go en pointe is a skill I shall always lack, after quitting aged nine. That time at least, it was not my fault; an old injury. But such things come back to haunt us, and I have rarely completed anything in full since. My parents learned quickly, not to indulge my whimsical side – it is prone to grabbing onto new interests, passing flights of fancy like the gossamer-silk of a baby spider in flight. But we all must land eventually. Boredom is my lesser enemy; envy is the bete noir, my main failing, turning kind regards to spite and a small-minded pettiness. But I am only stringing myself up, losing time better spent elsewhere, and it is (thankfully) not applicable to everyone. Only those I fear to lose.

University – I quit after nine weeks. I blamed the relapse, the lack of coherency in the course. The truth is, I was afraid, as ever, of change. I bottled it, and let anorexia win, because the timetable was hectic and I was unable to engage in “behaviours”. So it goes that, in a slow process of erosion, I have tried many things over the years, and quit out of higher sense of duty to an illness that lives in my brain, subsidizing a life.

I have lose count of the opportunities walked away from, out of fear and self-destruction. God knows where I might be now, with a little more education and ten years of living something closer to a life, under my well-notched belt. A continuous conflict between what I would like to be, and how to get there (since childhood, this certainly predates the illness), with a short attention span and aversion to rules, but a desperate desire to know the world. To read its features and hear its people, and to stay still long enough to show that I actually give a damn.

But if I can recognize these things, why have I not made changes? Why continue to feed the monster?
When does an illness become a lifestyle?

So if you really want to know why I lack motivation and focus, why I do not put my (not inconsiderable) range of skills – shallow graves that they are – to better use, look no further than this.
I am a Tryer, rarely a Doer. Much of what I actually manage to achieve is down to sheer blind luck, and the kindness of strangers.

So, stumbling from one plus to a negative, one mood and one day to another year… that’s how you’ll find me, in late 2014, with as much focus as Pot Noodles and a chestful of hopes and a headful of fears, and a heart … made for lions. Because, with all of this out of the way, I am still proud. I danced ballet, and it welds steel to your bones, laces pearls into your hair.
I do not stop trying. Not because “they” or “it” will have won, but because I’ve nothing better to do. Incidentally, that is what brought me around to recovery.
There’s your motivational poster for the day.

Now I guess I’d better sleep. I’m supposed to be at work in about an hour. Sometimes, the words won’t wait, and it’s then that I know I’m a writer yet. Holding a compass.

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.

Shadow, thorn, and one blue rose

I find myself frequently bemused by this face.

Looking into the mirror as a child, I would stare hard until my eyes bled out tears; until the small, fine lines swam into adulthood – until an image of who I might one day become, was an image grasped in the hand of argent moonlight, riming the effortless sheen.

“I disappeared the lines – as memories came flooding in, the tears blew out my eyes.”

I am not so much who I thought I would become, as an evolved form of what once was. Older and quieter, arrogant still; believing herself to be above the world, even while walking at its feet. This is what sets me apart from those who are documenting what conflicts rip open the threads of humanity, bringing the truth of the world to unresolved eyes, to hearts that have learned the riddle-speak of care and continuity.

I still have far to go. Inhibitions are invisible manacles about my feet, and the years are heavy yet. But they will break. They must break, because I will have no one but myself to blame if they don’t. We are the successors to our own tenure, coming as going – or the flatline of Existence over Life.

I am thirty years old next April. This only bothers me in the context of what I have not achieved, may never achieve, if I don’t find the willpower to focus my voice; to know what it is I wish to talk about, and with whom. Right now, I dither from one place to one more commission, to one more job. There is freedom in these scrappy lines; I am able to up sticks and leave whenever I choose. But as Dido once said – and I do believe in this song, if no other – “But if my life is for rent / And I don’t learn to buy / Well, I deserve nothing more than I get / ‘Cause nothing I have is truly mine.”

I am still afraid of plans. Of setting down roots, of putting trust in anything longer than it takes to change my mind. Why?
Because I have felt the breath on my neck, of one who does not wait. Even as I try to slow down to enjoy things – food, company, a book, a life – I am aware of those thin spinning fingers, and the whispering echo, and the way it all came so close.

But what is a life, of a thread pulled taut?

Grandfather Time, within your tower
– Darkened brick and filled with icy
Breath of ages, standing still –
You hear my voice
You know my name
You watched a lifetime dialling down
To needle clicks and spinning threads.
Now pointing west, the arrowhead
Is finding love that cannot lie
That will not sleep;
You know my choice
A shadow, thorn, and one blue rose.

He bids me rove. There is still much to learn; to be accounted for.

King and Lionheart.

I had locked him away in a pillar of ice, hoping to set his heart free, so that he might return to his duties – for are we not all bound in such ways? Certainly, no royal can remain asleep forever, even while touched by the tint of a blue rose – and this heart does not lie easy, for knowing its shadow falls on a picture painted elsewhere, in another realm. I had hoped that by stifling his voice, so full of thorns, I might return to my own barren ways, this wild wood, this writing in black-gold … but it’s never so easy, is it?

Summer sun and winter moon
I have forgotten who is who
And still we chase, across the sky
The one to live, the one to die.

His blue-black shadows of doubt, for this lionheart. His dark water for my fire. I stride forwards, even while falling back; there is no letting go, though the words meet my eyes as thorns in the palm. I cannot deny what has not been done. Just as I cannot let go of what has not yet set beyond the horizon.

The sky is filled with both moon and sun so rarely; it is these times I cherish, with the world held between, a little black kitten with ocean eyes. We are the balance, do you understand?
I am tired, inside and out. Even this heart grows weary of pain, though she cuts open her own lip so frequently, on a wire-grin.

I live for pain. To feel alive, to know that I still exist. That I am not merely asleep. This once took the form of self-harming, hot needles on the skin (irony lives in fear of contamination, even while drawing blood.) I once danced my legs down to the knees, and trained beyond the gravel-pain of heartbeats in the throat.

Now, I set the moderation bar, and try to remember that to live is to know peace, too. Quiet. Sifting dust. Just because I am awake and aware, does not mean that I must push to the very last breath –

– before fading out.

These are but thoughts, as ever. I have been called many things recently – “wise”, “adorable”, “arrogant bitch.” I would say, put in a blender, they might summarize someone I would like to be. Who I thought I would know, when “all grown up.”

Instead, I am merely blinking away tears in front of the mirror, trying to resolve a firm image of the person staring back, with water-dark hair and freckles that have seemingly appeared from nowhere. I never had them as a child. But they are a good find.

I like tracing patterns. Stars, algorithms, the flecks of a magpie’s wings against a gunmetal sky, in accordance with the turning pages of a book, clasped in the hands of a hurtling-home commuter.

I can pretend to be cute, for all of an hour, before growing bored and wanting the serious façade back. Then this will be dropped too, in time for a giggle over a colleague’s terrible mug of coffee.

We are only a collective of emotions, rick-rolling from one situation to the next. I used to believe that I had to be same person for each, a static entity, so that no one would doubt my credibility. But this is boring as whale shit, and not sustainable. Mutability lives in the fire, stirred up by the rising air; water flows to enjambment –
And earth clings to the shovel, digging your grave.

I am a nonsense of words tonight. Just flexing these fingers, after all – a warm up, before chasing the sun back across the sky, as Celena, as Gaia, as the pseudonym made up at age fifteen, with no clue (then) of what significance it would come to hold.

Here, fire lights upon the ice
The shadows thaw beneath the smile
Of summer’s name, now caught between
A sea of stars, to call you home.

Trust in this, if nothing else.
Tattoo

In Love, On Time / Album Review, “Secrets Spill Over”

Every now and then, an album or song will come along and look you squarely in the eye, take you by the hand and walk through your mind; it will speak with the words you’d come out with in your own time… if you dared. A period of your life becomes framed in the overall structure; listening to a particular track, you find the starburst of images and emotional connections, and it’s all that you can do to wander off down an alley somewhere, to be quiet and alone, to make sense of it all over again.

I’m a method-writer, and rely heavily on these sensory triggers to re-enact or replicate an emotional reaction to a situation (which may have its place in my history, or someone else’s.) Music is an excellent conduit, leading with words and a mood-colour of the moment. As much as we might cringe at the cliché (Dylan Moran worked this “Song is all about me” phenomena into his Monster tour), it is the familiar resonance of what remains linked to the chords, the lyrics and melodies, which we fall back on when the going gets tough. We look to our pasts to learn how to govern our futures. It’s a bit like going home to stay with the folks, or crashing with a best friend after a bad break-up.

There is no emotion more riddled-up with clichés than Love. I try to avoid them wherever possible, in writing and my personal life, though inevitably will fail in both, because the clichés were born out of some kernel of originality, which is old and dark and far more important than my opinions, or the vacant stare of a fluffy bear haemorrhaging its heart.

Time shares this duality. It is at once a continuum of ghosts on a wild road, a stream of collective conciousness … and a heady flux-flow of emotions bound up in reality, strung like beads along the ribbon of Always be There, and Beyond Death. It is the difference between dust motes drifting through bars of sunlight … and the wind that stirs them away with a footfall. Or better yet, not dwelling too much on Where is this Going? in favour of I’m still with you; and you are You, while I am Me. That’s only my take on things, you understand. I’m not averse to anniversaries, but continuous counting along a calendar tends to feel like heading for an end, rather than a limitless horizon.

Secrets Spill Over, the fifth solo album of artist Paul Gonzenbach and his eighth overall, is a narrative of the continuity of Love and Time, their moments of raw reality. Not so much a nostalgic contemplation, as a fine expose of the mood swings which can be our undoing, when communication breaks down and self-doubt wells up; when frustration boils over.

Every time I listen to it – and it has been on repeat for the past couple of weeks – I find myself walking through the soul of a clock, watching the slide and shine of wheels and cogs and bars; a symmetrical dance that somehow brings form and control to what is otherwise abstract, would remain forever elusive and unknown.

inside a clock

The opening chimes of the guitar ring pure and crisp through the mind, a harmonic overlay of silver bars, which soon prove to be a running motif through the album (with varying degrees of volume-inclusion; they become more noticeable on the softer tracks, which take on an ethereal quality.) These shining silver bars offset the black-fuzz of bass, which in harder songs runs us ragged, burning the heart and filling up every corner of the mind, while the bite behind some of the lyrics is unnervingly belied by the gentle tone of Paul’s voice. It’s a brilliant effect, direct without loss of control, like the dark wind which blows between icicles.
(On a side note: as a synaesthete, I have to say that this album is almost entirely silver and black. Just so you’re not thrown off by my references to cold colours; it’s not a negative slant, only how the music appears to me.)

“An obligation you blew off … Where did the drive go, the sense of devotion? When’s the last time you had that?”

the-large-clock-inside
Image: http://www.tripadvisor.com

Time. The word comes back to haunt us, with the two-way mirrors of “fault” and “disappoint”; it’s always pleasing to find a narrator who is willing to stand and confess to his/her own flaws and faults, even while delivering an expose of other’s (“You broke up with him by just not returning phone calls … And you have to admit, it’s not like you’re blameless.“) In this, Paul Gonzenbach bears more than a passing resemblance to The National’s Matt Berninger; their narrative styles read like pages torn from a personal diary and thrust under the nose, while there is something of the Ohio/Brooklyn band’s baroque-rock aesthetic, in the use of guitar, drums and fine-angled cello. But while Matt’s chocolate-baritone vocals hold the dust of an open road, the longing for loved ones left behind in pursuit of the rockstar life, Paul wears the iron-smile of one who knows what he is due. The burning-bass intro and echo-effect of vocals in “Consequence” make the hairs stand on end, even before the lyrics have begun to sink in: “Another chance to miss / Another option to dismiss / You haven’t got the sense / We’ll never face the consequence.”

There is the familiar push-pull of individuality and pining, the I need You / I don’t Need You’s which Leonard Cohen once spoke of (“And you know that I stick around for your getaway, even if I say that I won’t.”) Housing developments, drunken dizziness and fair-weather fathers, make those pockets of reality all the more tangible; these are essential for grounding what might be mistaken for youthful laments, in an ageless insecurity and self-flagellation (“It’s all in my mind, and conscience, all the time / I was too much of a coward for you to be mine.“) Frustration jars in the dissonance of chords and vocals, the staccato of drums and the burning heart of that bass, in “Break your Lease” and closing “Say you’re Wrong.”

Of the latter: I’d had it in mind to criticize the positioning of such a frantic track, in what is otherwise a very compact album. Surely the cathedral-ceiling pathos of penultimate “Worse for you than smoking”, would have made a more fitting closure? But further listens shifted my perspective. Following the themes of Love and Time, the album is not linear; it isn’t going to stride off into the sun-soaked distance, having completed its work. It is going to lead us back around, with the exodus/genesis of “Call me in the night, with your eyes wide open”: a demand for responsibility to (at last) be taken for actions. This is another wheel in the mechanism, a recurring theme often found in eye rhymes that give a fluidness to some of the lengthier lines, akin to poetic enjambment (“You fantasize about working the graveyard shift / It’s a grave way not to be missed.”)

Along the same eloquent lines of colloquial-singers Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen, each track reads as a short-story or chapter, gathered to a collective whole. While the message is coherent, there is the risk of stylistic overlap about midway through the album, which is prevented by the counterbalance of differing tempos. Written between the recording sessions of its predecessor, Notify your Friends: Everything Ends (released September 2013), Secrets Spill Over employs a slalom-run of pacing that brings relief in a breath-space, before the next adrenalin rush.

In love, no one is ever truly free, or perfect (“I’ll be waiting at the bottom of a pool… And I know that if I surface, I’ll disappoint you again.”) When we acknowledge ourselves to be wrapped about the little finger of someone else’s powerplay, we accept the consequences and get on with it, bringing our own resilience into the mix. The game is set accordingly. Time and Love can be found in the changing faces of the world, in the shifting scenes; but ultimately, it comes down to the hope for continuity to keep us going, regardless of screw-ups and misunderstandings.

There is always time for one more song, for one more page to turn; for one more evasive smile, and forgiveness found in a sigh. Secrets Spill Over is testament to this.

secrets spill over
Image: http://www.paulgonzenbach.bandcamp.com

Secrets Spill Over is available at www.paulgonzenbach.bandcamp.com/ iTunes, Amazon.co.uk/Amazon.com and eMusic.

Huge thanks to Matt Foster (@mlpfoster) for putting me onto Paul’s music.

Ocean Floor

I walk along it, feet sifting through the quietness of thoughts, the dreams of the fish, the silver-green of a life once known. They are but memories, a time and tide spent alone, with thoughts which would see me wake in the night – drowning in the salt of fears, long gone in another existence.

I was as then. I am as now. I am that is.

This is the woman, who has grown out of herself and into the light, dredging up from the darkest places we go to die alone, like animals, like the ones weary of the world and all its tawdry cuttings and fashions. I was bewildered as a child, flustered and fumbling to bring together the two integral halves of myself; the campaigner, the Green activist, the girl-child who would marry Swampy (if anyone) and live in a tree. My father despaired of my blackened feet; my mother fought with my hoarding of teaspoons and mugs on the windowsill, where I sat for hours to gape at the stars, singing quietly to the cats and the night, because that blue-black garden was all I could really understand. The bitterness of acorns, flushed out on the grass; the snails, making their sticky-wind ways over the trellis and the cracked paving, where my two black ‘n white moggies and two Birmans came and went, came and went, like pale ghosts of tomorrow and aeons past – as only cats will.

Such a hard thump in the chest; such an ache in the throat, to watch the sun go down on my own tomorrows. There seemed no way of bringing this wilder side of myself into a harmony with the woman I also wanted to be – the one who would follow men with her eyes (when not running blind from their own), because she did not trust the boys of her own age to give a straight answer, or to have more than a handful of nonsensical words strung together, usually with a cigarette latched on the lip between. Shaven skull, swipe-card eyebrow. Those were the 90’s, dear friend, and no lover of mine.

Barring one. He was a boy who stood out and apart, for a cynical – stark? – aged-beyond? – view of the world. He who had already read Lord of the Rings cover-to-cover, he who knew the meaning of Silence in a Sound, and could play guitar like a woman who weeps at beautiful art on the wall. All the usual hipster nonsense, you would find yourself thinking, but for the other integral parts thrown in – none of which I will reveal here, for his name is my secret to keep forever, like so much else in my life

(shadows on the wall)

and a scepticism far pre-dating our shared age and Year group. It was for this in particular that I loved him, the first love of three, outside male family members, which is of course the difference between Experience and Instinct. Well, for me anyway.

(I love my father dearly. But we are not, and have not always been friends.)

This scepticism, which would see him ground me in truth – all my mad-dash words and high-flying ideals, making a prey of my mind when I should have been working on something important, like coursework, or growing up, or indeed – eating enough to stay alive. When I told him that I thought it would be good for my body if I trained that bit harder, since exercise can only be a good thing – right? – he didn’t say a word.
Just looked me up and down, as a male friend with bird-bones reflected in his eyes, and raised a brow.

I listened to him, where I ignored others. When his breath fell on my cheek that night by the bonfire, it was knowledge of what could never be, but would last beyond words.

I don’t forget the ones I have loved, and they have numbered few. Three. My favourite number. Each one finding himself at some point in my life, strung like turquoise on this lifeline which has seen me evolve, beyond girl-activist to anorexic-shadow, to …well, me.

I have never looked for love. It always finds me first, usually when I am engaged in hiding from something or another
(reality.)

I am still trying to find the strands which will mesh those integral parts of me. The girl who walked with bare feet and climbed trees, is still inside. Still a focus, though she has lost her way and walked upon thorns recently, into a city of concrete and numbers. The world of men … I’m not sure it is for me.

Liebe –
I told you before, and should have paid heed to my own words. These dreams we have, they die in the dawn, for our time is the secret of shadows; only to be resurrected in the stars we make and fashion as our own.
Perhaps I have tried too hard to be you. When all I have ever worked towards is to be your equal, if such a thing were possible; to walk by your side, to know what to say, when in fact I should remember who I am –
What you might have found –
Whatever. I don’t know. It is hard to walk in concrete shoes. I am more at home in the twilight woods, after all. I have neglected my friends, sad to say, though they have rallied around me this week, in a time of whiteout and despair, when I thought I had lost you and myself forever.

When I thought the past would take me, after all.

But 3am horrors are just that. They are a cut in the fabric, to be stitched back together. I have a referral from my GP, to begin seeing a therapist again. The first in almost a decade. There is no other way forward, though I swore I’d never go back down that twisting path again; they have promised me regular sessions.

I only want to be who I am. If not happy – I could never be wholly that, it wouldn’t suit my Mercy Street to be flooded in constant sunlight – then unique. And if not your equal, for I doubt I could ever achieve that, then at least an outlet –
A waiting silence –
A word where needed –
A love and lover, without need for vehement claim. You are the last, and beyond this is nothing I have need of. I can go without love if it is not returned; without emotions, without that which would hold me back from writing and wandering and walking the lamplight haven.

Those who happen to fall in beside me, are welcome enough. But I ask only for you. As I once asked of the other two, one of whom went with me a-ways and as my friend only; it was all he had to give, and for those years of adolescence, we were close as afternoon shadows in the clay-pit hawthorn.

Of the next, I still have regret; such bitterness at the failings of my own heart. I am a chameleon of sorts, prone to latching onto people whom I admire / respect, taking that which seems appropriate for me to have – sucking them dry, perhaps, before discarding them.
Yes, that is how I view myself. An emotional virus. An amoeba. A girl who would become a woman, learning and filching experiences and hobbies and interests along the way. Because I have had so much growing up and catching up to do, and those five years together, they were lessons learned in the green-gold of a watery forest, full of red kites and walks; the drift of snow, with the lace-up pain of my numb fingers

(his own warm ones, wrapped about mine to protect the tips)

and at last, the open bowl of the pewter sky, spun out from the Downs in a seemingly endless day of tomorrows. We didn’t plan for the future, for what was then, that is not Now?

Now You. Now there is Stars, and sometimes-silence; companionable, desperately-seeking, or waiting for the storm to break. There is a little black kitten, with oceans for eyes. There is a strand of toxic beauty on the ground, the petrol rainbow that most would not look twice at, but which details my version of love, all around the block.

There is Watching my Step. There is Stepping this way, You the other; the feral dance of cats, the Whose turn is it Next?

I grin even as I write it.

There is nothing for me, beyond a blue rose held in the palm, carried wherever I go. Whatever you might think, whatever you may doubt in the world, don’t let it be me.

I owe everyone a huge Thank You for this week.
(Danke Schon.)
I have perhaps tried to be in too many places at once, with interests strung up on a crossbar, pulled apart with the pressure of being so many versions of Me at once. It isn’t healthy. I should know this by now, after long experience. This is the problem with gaining weight, and becoming well. My mind is a hive. It never lets up; there is always something new to read, someone’s life to learn.

How best to meld the pieces of myself? How best to write about the contemporary world which engages my interest, and the natural / supernatural worlds which engage my soul?

Truth is, I still don’t know. Which might explain why I took a leap at the European elections, and voted the Green Party for a change. Though I knew little about them, I am always willing to learn, and it seems that their policies are at least something I can believe in, head and heart both.

Which I guess summarizes what I am really after. Some kind of unity. When I failed before – faced with the onslaught of the adult world, while backed by the twilight of childhood

(the wilderness of wandering, the bittersweet tang of the hawthorn’s breath)

I turned away, and took up the pale life of anorexia instead. It was easier not to think. Just to dial my mind down on calories and exercise, to block out what would send me into silent-screaming pain. It also meant I did not have to face the world, and growth. I could protest innocence, could deny all knowledge, could claim to be immune from it all – because I was too unwell to focus. People leave you alone when you are skeletal. They are too afraid of breaking you, even with a hug.
Or so I had hoped. It didn’t quite work out that way, which is a long walk in itself.

(Life by Extremes.)

Well. I’ll figure it all out one day. In the meantime, have a song.

This time of year has become synonymous with loss, for me. Last year, around June, my ex and I were booted out of our little flat, which had been my first “home”, and a haven of freedom. We had ploughed our money and time into building up that sanctuary, piece by artistic piece. But all things must move towards their end, it seems.

So. It is raindrops strung like beads in the trees; it is lush wet grass, and glistening leaves. It is a thick heaviness of air, as though the world holds its breath. I remember waking up on the last morning, clutching the sheet to my chin and staring at the lemon walls – blank by then, all the posters taken down, to reveal pock marks in the too-thin plaster, the hollow walls – with the finality of tears sliding down my face. Too many to count, last year.

But that was then. This is Now. And though the future is as tilted and uncertain as ever, it is at least mine to take. No shitty landlords (quite the contrary; my landlady is a tall and elegant diamond of a woman), and a slight easing of the pain which filled up my boots with each step, leaving little puddles behind wherever I walked.
He will always be my best friend, so long as he would have me there.

And Liebe – you?
That is your word to make, and your own Mercy Street to walk. The water lies quiet and still, yet.

I hope I haven’t missed anything out. This post has been building up for some time. All I will add is this – if you have not yet checked out the #YesAllWomen hashtag, you must. I have been stung by flashbacks this week, reading through other women’s experiences of assault and abuse, but it was essential reading. I needed to know the names of other sufferers; I needed to know I am not alone, and for all my talk of “recovery”, that I have some way to go yet.

Therapy. Morrissey help me. This will be fun 😉