I now am six weeks living in the Bungalow. While I love my new home, I have discovered it takes time to settle, to establish routines and find a natural rhythm to the day. I am still exploring in which chair it is right for me to work, read and watch TV (Goldilocks syndrome). Do I want to write at my desk, in my bed, on my couch? It still feels like a poem in the making. On occasion, I think, yes, this is the best place – perfect and then the next morning I find the beat is off kilter. It will come, I guess, just like the poems. My life will eventually pervade the rooms and not just pretend to live there, just like my words stutter their way on to the white page – and find some sort of expression, eventually. It will take time for it all to ‘bed’ in, for the feathers to roost, the dust to settle and, clearly, for the metaphors to be untangled! I noticed, yesterday, for instance, I didn’t put my woolly hat in the coat press (such a thing is a new phenomenon for me) straight away, but left it untidily on the dining table…so maybe I am getting there. So, while I be kind to myself and wait for my days to find their familiar, I have been reading. So, a few thoughts on what I have been reading and where it has led me.
(Before I begin though, I have to say, my prevailing thought at the moment is ‘Thank God’. ‘Thank God’ that I have a home, that I have time to explore, that I have a basic income, that I don’t live in America etc).
I have just finished reading Swing Time by Zadie Smith. I found it a little bit of a struggle to finish as I bounced between North London, New York and an unnamed west African country. The story is the trajectory of two working class girls born to black and white parents (one of each) whose common denominator is their skin colour (the girls, that is). The book is about culture, class, background, wealth, poverty, individuality, the North, the West, developed, undeveloped, sophistication, religion, passion – in short, a multiple of sins and a multiple of me s. (How does one write me’s?) Anyway, me is the theme. Me across the world. Me as daughter. Me as friend. Me as trampled on. Me as personal assistant. Me has a half cast, Me in relation to you, rather than the I. The story travels across the years, across generations, between countries, back and forth until I felt like I was counting the minutes until the end.
I also read The Blue Guitar by John Banville, a book full of exquisite language, complicated, esoteric (on every page, I had to look up the definition of a word) and crammed with self-indulgence. The protagonist is an unpleasant, self-absorbed, selfish creature who despite the beauty of the language (I loved “days smeared all over with sunlight, dense and shiny as apricot jam”), spreads himself across the pages like an unpleasant water mark.
However, before I sound too grumpy, I loved Ferenji and Other Stories by Helena Mulkerns. Through the experiences of Western war reporters, UN, military and non-governmental workers, she pinpoints the absurdity and obscenity of war and the pointlessness and inevitability of poverty and corruption. Each story casts a long shadow and at the same time shines a light through her characters. They live in a time warp between the tarpaulins of the refugees and the drinking holes of the story tellers. The detail and honesty is interesting and I noted how important are small kindnesses and how love, even if only in affairs, becomes hugely significant. Helena Mulkerns writes with poignancy, simplicity and directness about war, greed, corruption and the powerlessness of people.
All of which have featured much in my reading recently. Is this because society is saturated with such or infatuated with it, I wonder. Mind you, Alone in Berlin by Hans Merkell is a post war classic. It is based in Nazi Germany and follows the characters in an apartment block through the years of the war. It is a thread of horror, depicting both the weaknesses and strengths of individuals dealing with what seems to be an unfathomable corrupting force of power. There is no redemption for anyone – which I guess leads me to Trump’s presidency.
I find myself unwilling to add to the maelstrom of opinion but cannot ignore what is likely to be a pivotal point in history. I am scared…scared of more intolerance, injustice, violence; scared of division and the loss of my right to live in peace and comfort. My recent reading only serves to heighten my fear. I do not think ‘systems’ and ‘democracy’ serve to protect people. I believe the forces of globalisation and rise of dictators are inextricably linked and dependent on war, greed, corruption and power. But, I feel too old and tired to galvanise myself to respond.
So, having said that, and having read the above books, I think I can make no better contribution to the debate than referring people to AESOP’s Fables – particularly what he says about kindness. At risk of sounding grumpy, old, and traditional or sentimental I find myself thinking (rather surprisingly) we can only be ‘rescued’ or ‘saved’ by our individual bravery, love and kindness. It is all I can suggest: be kind to each other.
AESEOP(or Æsop, from the Greek Aisopos) (c. 620 BC – c. 560 BC) was an ancient Greek fabulist of possibly African descent (his Greek name means Ethiopian or black man in today’s parlance), by tradition a slave who credited the African goddess Isis for his gift. Aesop’s Fables are still taught as moral lessons and used as subjects for various entertainments, especially children’s plays and cartoons.