Wordshore

Writing in the long form
March 30th, 2014 by John

Death

Death, like its opposing force of love, comes in many forms and shades.

The physical, or cognitive, death of a relative, a partner, a friend or work colleague. Someone you knew; past tense, now. A pet, often as loved – if not more – than friends or relatives; a love strengthened through loyalty, no longer reciprocated.

The silence; the almost unbearable silence.

The death of a dream, an idea or a hope or a glimpsed future. Through redundancy, a relationship ending, bad news from the doctor, a permanent setback of some other kind. The death of carefree wonder, as we age and unpeel the stickers covering the truths of adult life and discover that, apart from sex and travel, the innocence of childhood was probably better after all. The death of the ability to write with clarity, or recite from memories.

The death of being able to communicate as the body fails, of being able to talk, or write, or remember.

And those small and transient micro-deaths; the vacation cancelled because of a sickness; the cake we had been saving as a treat, eaten by another; the anticipation of a TV show, killed by a social media spoiler. Death, and love, reminding us of their presence and power over us, daily.

It’s a little over five years since my mom died, in unpleasant circumstances following a long and destructive condition that is under-reported. (But, then again, us repressed English don’t really “do” death.) Bad enough. Around that time, and during the cremation, and afterwards, a few people severely, and disrespectfully (mis)behaved, solely in the pursuit of money. I wish karma on them, and at the least it’ll be something to write about in detail in some future year. In ink on paper, and text on screen, their shame will also be on those who looked the other way.

But, this is the first year since my mom’s death that I have not dreaded, nor quietly resented, Mother’s Day. I’m guessing this is good; acceptance, progress, a duller sharpness than before. The environment is noticeably varied in bright and deep color, not the greys and blacks of before. Notching down the reading of social media helped, this year. As does time. That’s the truism about death:

Things do, eventually, get better – though they’re never the same again.

Introspectively and perhaps selfishly, I don’t fear my own death. Used to, but not now, and I regret the time spent, wasted, dawdling on it. Regrets are, in themselves, an annoying kind of meta-death, where we kill time we cannot replace by wishing things that cannot be repeated had not happened. If that makes sense. But having brushes with mortality on a few occasions over the last decade, from the serious to the ridiculous (getting hit by buses for two years in a row) and watching relatives, friends, school friends especially (those of the same age), pets and others die with a regular or increasing frequency over the last half decade, it becomes a strange, ever-present, background thing, with rites and rituals, and patterns of behavior amongst those left alive. Or left behind. Whichever you prefer.

But I do fear the death, or mortality, of a loved one, or being in permanent pain, or the cruelness of a degenerative cognitive condition corroding the memory or means to communicate; deaths of different kinds. These are sharp fears, the kind that lie in your pillow at 3am and whisper to you when you just want to sleep.

And I do fear, or at the least am aware and wary of, the death of useful but unfulfilled days. The quietest, and perhaps the most insidious, death of all. Through fears, or circumstance, or the mind being in the wrong place, not reaching the potential of a day, week or month. A time where less was achieved than could, or should, have been. A time that is, has, gone. Dead time, now.

Perhaps that’s too morbid. Like many people, I still have the cliched “lot of living” to do. A heck of a lot to write; it feels like this is just starting, middle-aged though I am. An awesome partner to love and support, as she has loved and supported me. A close group of great friends to have good times with. Northern lights to see, fireflies to hold, cats to stroke and cheeses (in moderation) to sample, both raw and deep fried (seriously in moderation).

I am the product and the legacy of my parents, Jill and William. They lived, and loved, and died. Too early, and with unfulfilled potential. So fulfilling my own potential, whatever the heck that is, seems as good a nod of acknowledgement to them as can be done.

Better get on it, then. And if – or when – the Grim Reaper unexpectedly appears one night for myself; that’s okay. Just, not for a long time yet, thanks.

Sunset

March 25th, 2014 by John

Light. Warmth. Desk. Writing tools. Things.

Light. Warmth. Desk. Writing tools. Things.

March 21st, 2014 by John

Blue sky and sunshine.

Blue sky and sunshine

February 7th, 2014 by John

All who you can’t leave behind

It’s early February.

I wake up in a different place, these days. South Birmingham, as opposed to the tiny part of Balsall Heath that became a base for a gradually lengthening period of time, as months collapsed into seasons, gave way to years.

It’s quiet here. My room looks out onto the bowling alley shaped back garden attached to terraced houses such as these. From the wobbly window there are views of many other gardens; trees; no roads; houses of differing interest; sheds; the occasional distant sounds of gleeful rabbit enthusiasts; an upper working class suburbia that the English made, tinker with, and continue to cling to.

Abridged

This house itself is … unconventional. There are trapdoors, hidden cupboards, windows in peculiar places, and an unusually large bathroom that can only have been designed by a retired, sex-addicted pirate. It’s somewhat different, floating in a bathtub and surrounded by pebbles and candles and dimmed lighting, with eyes wandering across paintings of Naiads in various stages of undress and amorous desire. This is not Birmingham. Not staid suburban stereotypical Birmingham, or minimalist, cheap and functional Ikea-England, but something else. You suspect, or hope, that this bathroom has previously been enjoyed for salacious purposes involving many people at the same time, and if you found out it wasn’t, then you’d be disappointed.

That long and narrow garden invites exploration. It’s not eternally, horseback ridingly long, but just lengthy enough to get a small fragment of a sense of wilderness, albeit only three miles from the centre of England’s second city. Three cats patrol this hidden country; none live in the house. There are trees, a variety of trees, blossom starting to push outwards on one, but maddeningly no fruit trees. I stare with some envy, and more than a little disgust, at the splendid apple tree in the neighbour’s garden, where a full crop of hundreds of apples lies on the ground; unused, uncollected, uncherished, uneaten, rotting, a banquet for crows and squirrels but not for the ignorant people who shout and slam their way in and out of their house. I look back, to here, this place, follow the converging parallel lines to the end fence. A shed, a gate under an arch of ivy, a pathway, seats and benches, stepping places fashioned from tree stumps and placed in a pool of mud, a second garden with a second shed, a secluded area with signs of previous things created, things burnt, memories forged.

Gate

And things burnt inside the house. A fireplace that functions; metal, tile, grate, a clear chimney. Joy, and the recall and reminder of years and lives past, of peat fires in a Hebridean cottage for half of one decade, and coal fires in a rural Worcestershire cottage for two. A few memories amongst the many that this place, and the time it occupies, stirs. This fireplace has become my domain (perhaps a good thing, as the kitchen bemuses and baffles me); experimentation with wood and log and smokeless coal (hot, but aesthetically dull) and other inflammable materials. The flames and the colors and the glows and the embers to stare at, in late evenings, and remember some things and forget other things.

There are other aspects of this house and quirks within. The set-up for working is the best I’ve had since Hebridean years; an antique writing desk that perfectly suits the MacBook. There’s a downstairs toilet with a transparent glass door. The built-in bookcase occupies a corridor. Paintings of a paganistic and fantastical nature jostle with candlestick holders. So many different wooden surfaces, furniture, with grain and color and texture to distract and follow, and tactile hardwood floorboards that invite barefoot walking when the fire is lit. A quiet place, illuminated sometimes by just the light and crackle of fire flame and candle flame. And in the daytime, the sunlight. The way it creeps and peeps through the gaps between the wooden slats over my window. The red and the green and the blue beamed through the stained glass windows. The dust and soot and particles caught, embarrassed, when clouds scatter and that sunlight pours through the kitchen windows.

Fire

And this house is quiet because of the people within. My housemate, her wont to never stray too far from the jar of tea bags, is one of the loveliest people you could ever meet. She busies with her work while I frown at mine, interrupting myself occasionally to poke at an unburnt log or lump of glowing eco-coal while I listen for the inevitable sound of a kettle. She counters the aesthetic background of Boards of Canada by cheerfully humming Rolling Stones tracks from a different time, in a different room. This works, and this place works.

But in three weeks, I have had a grand total of zero visitors. That suits me fine, having quietly “unfollowed” 72 out of the 81 Birmingham residents I’d ended up connected to on “social media”, ignored all local social events, and stopped answering emails and messages from many of those people. Transition through shades of isolation. Though, having said that, it seems almost comically ridiculous and shallow, when looking into the flames of the fire that has warmed my (and your) species for millennia, to give gravitas to the oft-fleeting nature of “online connections”. Whatever the heck they are.

And while not a complete hermit – I’m back up to following 11 Brummies, albeit four (and soon five) of them related – the slightly-trimmed beard and the long, occasionally ponytailed and greying hair are perhaps appropriate for the demeanor of a person who both wants and needs this silent time to finish considering what else and who else to leave behind; and to sorting out his head, his possessions, his gradually repairing body and the next “stage of life”, whatever the heck that is, as best he can.

It’s early February, 2014. It’s spring time. This, for a short while, is a quiet place and it is my place.

Office

December 24th, 2013 by John

Moselele

No longer a Moselele virgin, tonight was my first time, this evening just past, at one of their concerts. This is an informal collective of ukelele players, most of whom live in South Birmingham and are well-connected – it often seems that everyone who lives in the Brummie Hipster Arc (Balsall Heath, through Moseley, Kings Heath and finally Stirchley) knows a Moselele member or two.

So tonight we had most of the members, around thirty Christmas songs, and several hundred people jammed inside a marquee at the Prince of Wales pub. With the rain lashing down outside, much singing did occur. These aren’t the greatest visual quality – especially the video clips – but they may give some indication of the atmosphere. Here’s the full set of pictures on Flickr. And consider going to a future Moselele event; I’m now hoping to fit a few more in before the next adventure…

(Low on time: just skip to the final, finale, clip in this post)

And the finale…

December 17th, 2013 by John

December 17th 2013

So, this happened 110 years ago today:

1024px-First_flight2

December 3rd, 2013 by John

Snuggles

Snuggles are good, for the giver and the receiver. An affirmation of love, a solid sea wall against waves of loneliness, a reminder of another soul next to your own, the warmth of feeling wanted, feeling needed, feeling alive.

Library of Secrets

November 25th, 2013 by John

An earthquake beneath paper houses

This strange and elusive and slippery and impossible to grasp, and wonderful but tearful but wonderful again, thing, whatever it is, chemical imbalance, neural circuitry, heightening of the senses, called love. Sharp thoughts and keen feelings, emotions and frustrations, this yearning, this burning, as I fall asleep; the thoughts turns back, collapse and fold into themselves; an earthquake beneath paper houses; a tall wave rushing towards boats; a midday sun burning naked skin; a voice holding the heart of another; a pen nib etching words of love into clean, white paper.

Library of Secrets

With special thanks to the Detroit Moxie, who makes things possible.

August 24th, 2013 by John

The Long Autumn

The summer fruits, the Victoria plums and Cambridge strawberries, are the sweetest and juiciest, filled with the rains of spring. But it’s the autumn fruits, those slow-growing crops such as Marjorie’s Seedling, Russet and Cox’s Orange Pippin, where the flavors are strongest and the colors deepest.

It’s strange. There’s a party going on downstairs, but I feel flat today, unsociable. Not grumpy, just tired, withdrawn, wanting to move on in several ways. So while the party goes on, and I hear the distant shrieking of people (nice people at that) who, for the most part I won’t see again, I’m blogging.

Summer feels nearly over, the last week here. The actual season of summer, and a more metaphorical one. The literal one, with long days and warm nights; cricket and hopes of winning trophies, contesting the Ashes; sitting in a garden and being thankful that winter is still some way in the distance.

Sunset

And it’s been, unexpectedly, my best summer in England. I’ve enjoyed culture; albums from Amiina, Boards of Canada. Various books, finally read. Classic and favorite films, rewatched. The rediscovery of radio. Parental ashes finally being scattered. The satisfaction of playing the first really good, worthwhile, fulfilling digital game in years, in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Getting gradually, annoyingly slowly but still gradually, ‘better’. Figuring out unfigurable things. Finding an online clip of an overhead museum-based movie I watched in April 2007. Resolving, one by one, bad issues from years past. The rediscovery of the positive attributes of living somewhere quiet (even though oddly less than two miles from the centre of a major city), with clouds and sky and rain oddly reminding of a previous ‘life’ in the Outer Hebrides. My favourite cat recognising me after several months of non-contact. Seeing the new Library of Birmingham being completed and turning out to be pretty damned good. The delight of a Brummie turning out to be a brilliant Daily Show host, and the riposte to Daft Punk by Stephen Colbert (arguably the satirist of our generation).

And (finally) figuring out what I want to do and can do in the long term, though with the significant caveat of being less sure of who I want to work for and with. My growing disillusionment with academia – the mechanics of contemporary universities in particular – and seeing it, with experience and good reason, as an increasingly insecure, uncertain and unethical source of income. As do the many colleagues who lost their jobs, in organisations such as UKOLN and CETIS, this summer. Shifting focus and taking the silver coin of the commercial sector, while still adding to the sum of human knowledge, is increasingly the long-term sustainable way, probably the only way, a fact confirmed for me today. The bitter and unsatisfied lives of most academics, either as employed or self-employed by universities which increasingly resemble dysfunctional fly-by-night traders, is not for me. It probably never was.

Contrail

But the nights are drawing in rapidly. I couldn’t light miniature candles in the hidden oasis because of the weather this evening, for the first time in weeks, if not months; the late evenings of sitting outside are, like the late evenings of natural light, drawing to an end. The (cricket) Ashes have been retained, and the Pears have beaten the Bears. Still-unresolved situations need fixing before they become more toxic. Cooler weather and cooler heads abound as the summer turns. What feels like a long autumn, that favorite season of brilliant colors, harvesting the fruits of seeds long planted, working against the clock to bring in what one can, and delivering on the potential and hopes of seasons previous, is almost here.

It’s time.

June 14th, 2013 by John

Happy Flag Day, United States of America

Stars and stripes