Sunday, January 29, 2012
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
People tend to oversleep in my guest room. The ceiling is painted like a night sky and the tapestry curtains, when closed, shut out even the most gregarious moon. If one chooses to leave the Moroccan star light on up above, its soft blue lightbulb casts evocative shadows perfectly tailored for dreaming. Consequently, I keep a dream journal on the bedside table and have been delighted to read the entries written by those guests whose dreams have taken them across extraordinary thresholds while asleep in that room.
We are extravagant dreamers in this house. We soar, wingless, through palettes of technicolour in reveries guaranteed to confound even the most sagacious of interpreters. Think I’m kidding? For a while, The Songwriter experienced a recurring dream of a traveling evangelist with the strange and wonderful ability to turn himself into a gorilla rug at the close of each tent meeting.
He once dreamed of a cow that transformed into a monster when the moon turned full. Don’t laugh, now. He turned that particular dream into a song called “I’m A Werecow” that remains an annual favourite on the Dr. Demento Halloween radio show.
As for myself, I tend to be a fairly baroque dreamer. My somnolent travels are lavishly decorated with all the lilies gilded and Elizabethan music floating in through glassless windows. For years I have had a recurring dream of a neighborhood covered over by gargantuan, animated trees. The streets are now as familiar to me as my own. They spiral and twist past houses I recognize completely, though I’ve never seen them in my waking hours. And there is one house, large, with windows like the sightless eyes of the blind. It sits behind gates of wrought iron, mysterious and unsettling to my mood, looming silently in the shadows of a late afternoon, unwilling or unable to allow me entry. Strange, no?
My dreams have been easy to interpret of late. Populated with exploding sweet potatoes and suitcases full of water, they tell me I am feeling overwhelmed and behind. I hear their admonishments to slow down and breathe deeply, and I intend to heed them as best as I can. How wonderful that they communicate in such entertaining ways.
How about you?
Any good dreams lately?
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
It is said that the brilliant writer, Edith Wharton, wrote in bed. With her Pekinese on the pillow beside her, she would lie back on the pillows, writing in longhand and throwing the finished pages on the floor beside her for a secretary to gather up and type. Marcel Proust, another famously supine author, had the walls of his bedroom covered in cork and reclined with a fur lined coat draped over his legs as he wrote his beautiful words.
Thackeray wrote in hotel rooms.
Thomas Mann, in a chair by the sea.
J. K. Rowling prefers a noisy cafe and Victor Hugo wrote in the nude.
For all my pecadillos, and I have them to be sure, I have found that I really only require one ingredient for optimum concentration when I’m writing, but it’s a vital one. Quiet. Blissful, peaceful, almost Franciscan, quiet. This past week, my lack of, and need for, a quiet state became apparent and a good friend tossed me the keys to her wonderful house in the marshes of South Carolina, telling me to make my way there in haste. Without being told twice, I threw a few old sweaters into a bag, grabbed my laptop, a book or two, my knitting, and fled. Upon reaching the low country, I stopped off at the market for yogurt, celery, Pellegrino and fruit and arrived at my sanctuary just as dark pulled her curtain across the tops of the pines.
And I noticed it as soon as I stepped cross the threshold.
Calling my friend to let her know I had arrived, she proceeded to give me instructions on operating the space age electronic system, but I only heard a few words.
Television, docking station.... iPod... Tony Bennett.
I had not the heart to tell her, but I had no intention of turning the thing on at all. Music dancing through the house would perhaps be perfect for a summertime visit, with the windows and doors thrown open and me with nothing to do, no thoughts to think. But this trip was to be different. This trip, I needed to work and to work I needed silence.
It’s been said by those wiser than me that true silence is a sound unto itself. If that’s true, then it is, I’m afraid, a sound we in the modern age rarely, if ever, hear. So akin as it is to solitude, many of us find true silence unsettling and avoid its company whenever possible, preferring instead to fill our hours with a bombilation of sound so profuse it is often difficult to distinguish any individual component. But just as I occasionally thirst for solitude, I also crave silence at times and this week was to be a quiet one, with only Nature’s calming voice in my ears.
I opened the double doors onto the capacious screened porch, and heard a dusky breeze rifling through the palmettos outside, like the rapid turning of the pages in a book. A waterfall of rain hit the roof one morning, a soundtrack so pure it served to focus my thoughts rather than distract them.
The pops and creaks of a settling house when the temperature drops at midnight.
The cry of a hawk sailing over the trees.
The splash of an alligator as it slides down the bank into the pond cross the road.
Hot water running in the bath.
Bubbles in a glass by my chair.
One tiny blossom cut from the newly blooming tea olive as it lost its grip on the branch in the vase and fell like a cottonball to the table beside me.
These were the sounds I began to notice as the week slipped by, inspiring sounds that seem to bestow, rather than steal, creative thought. And my mind, so cluttered and crowded, befuddled and loud when I arrived, was shiny and sharp on the long drive back home. No longer were my thoughts and ideas undisciplined, each one talking over the other in rowdy bids for my attention. Now they politely sat in my head, orderly and accommodating, waiting for my consideration.
Dear Virginia Woolf once advised that a woman requires “money and a room of her own” in order to write. I would respectfully add a wee bit of silence to that equation.
After this week, I highly recommend it.
“True silence is the rest of the mind.
It is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.”
1644 - 1718
A marvelous book on living with silence was written a couple of years ago by Sara Maitland, entitled Book of Silence. Included in her experiences with silence, she describes a forty day solitary stay on The Isle of Skye that I find both courageous and, occasionally, utterly tempting.
Monday, January 9, 2012
A Quieter Palette Now
The colours of Christmas have gone. The house, so recently lavished with shades of scarlet and new penny copper, an iridescence not unlike song that enabled the rooms to lift up their voices like angels, now yields to a quieter palette.
Debussy and Satie have replaced Mozart and Handel.
Icy blues and greys are drifting down like snow.
The calm colours slowly fall and I feel their presence like a comforting hand on my shoulder.
I take deep breaths.
Despite the happy occurrence of my wedding anniversary at the end of the month, January has always tried to lure me into a melancholy mood. Over the years I have learned to outwit its blue intentions by treating the month as a holiday all its own, sweetly special in spite of itself, and to that end....
I fill the house with white flowers.
Hydrangeas, freesia, lily and rose.
My candles are scented with coffee and fir.
I indulge in pedicures and massages.
I see good movies and read good books.
I build roaring fires in the fireplace and curl up with Edward to re-watch Waking Ned Devine, The Secret of Roan Inish and Babette’s Feast.
From the watery depths of lime scented bubble baths I plan the vegetable garden and window boxes of Spring.
I read poetry.
In other words, I try, as a friend of mine declared as his resolution for the new year, to be “good to myself”.
I highly recommend the practice.
The icy blues and greys of January, though perhaps bleak colours to some, are now, to me, colours of serenity and repose which provide a restful background for a gathering in of myself - my thoughts, my plans, my wishes for the year. I now jealously crave this month and find that just like the hyacinth bulbs now asleep in the garden, I need the tranquil time it offers to be my best self throughout the rest of the year.
If perhaps you have found your spirits a bit sluggish since the departure of the holiday season, here are some colours of January to make you smile.
I cannot wait!****************************************
2. Owl Cake
I’m making this cake this week for a little friend who’s a bit under the weather.
I think it will make him smile, don’t you?*************************************
And I’m making this to make myself smile.
I’m adding a wee bit of lavender to mine.
No you're right, I’d never wear this.
But you gotta love it.
I highly recommend this magical movie.
The perfect antidote to a cynical world, Hugo is sublime.
And sublimely beautiful.
Especially in 3-D.
Also, The Descendants was wonderful.
And I’m counting the days till The Iron Lady!*****************************************
I love the city of London in winter.
Even on a shower curtain.
7. Gretel’s Polar Bears
A lot of you know Gretel Parker, Cotswold toy-maker extraordinaire.
Everything she creates is magical, each creature seems imbued with a wee bit of seriousness that I just find irresistible.
Her polar bears are my favourite.
They remind me, of course, of Edward.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
The Glimpse of a Promise
They flood my television screen as the hour nears midnight. Variegated hives of revelers swarming the streets of iconic cities - arms pumping the air, faces split open in joyous grins. No one is immune to the palpable excitement that builds as the numbers fall - ten, nine, eight - into a mad frenzy now keeping time to the fireworks popping outside my own window. It is a universal excitement that almost takes form - swelling out, stretching up, reaching back, branching forward - sprouting hope and desire that flower almost before our eyes into goals and ambition; a great rolling tide of optimism that gathers us all up and leads us, singing, into a new year.
Here, we share a quiet kiss.
A dog’s head gets a tousle.
Thus, we pass another waypost on our journey through time.
We turn a corner.
We start off anew.
Prone to contemplation, I am sitting by the window in thought when I hear my name called. The Songwriter has accompanied Edward and Apple on their bedtime ramble out in the back garden and I am being summoned to join them. I wrap a shawl round my shoulders and head outside to the dark.
“Look up”, he says, smiling.
And I do, into a sky of navy blue, speckled over with winking stars.
“Yes, it’s lovely”, I say.
“Keep looking”, comes his reply.
And then I see it.
Skimming across the canvas of night like the spark from a magic wand, a hope made manifest, a visible dream encircling the stars.
A shooting star.
“I saw one, and now you’ve seen one too. Good omens, I should think”.
We wait a while longer, but no more flash above us.
Just for us.
We reach down and pat the dogs sitting silently at our feet.
One white, one black. Both dear.
We four follow each other back inside to the warmth, knowing whatever this untested year has up its sleeve we may hold fast to the glimpse of a promise that soared through the sky on its very first night.
Happy New Year indeed.