The Art of Magic (and the magic of art)

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Pablo Picasso

Oekaki, Drawing, Children, GraffitiThat from the artist who also claimed that it took him four years to learn to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to learn to paint like a child.  It’s a perspective that interests me.

About thirty years ago I recall a family picnic on the banks of the River Stour on the Essex-Suffolk border.  My 18 month old son (now a professional graphic artist and illustrator) seized his father’s sketchbook and pencil, stared intently at the reeds and bull rushes growing at the water’s edge, then proceeded to draw a series of vertical and near-vertical lines on the paper.  It took him seconds.  His first representational landscape drawing!  The child moved on to other ways of exploring the environment immediately.  It was as if the drawing was some kind of instinctive yet fleeting need to capture the 3D world in just two dimensions.  He didn’t, as his older siblings might have done, compare it to his father’s sketches or seek anyone’s approval or praise.  In fact he was confused by our excitement and delight.

A tiny child will not seek out the ‘right’ colours or consider shapes and ratios.  What they do, though, when you think about it, is pure magic.  They use their crayons to create the significant people and objects around them at that moment in time.  Their art freezes an aspect of the swirl of life and movement and emotion they find themselves in and places it on a flat sheet of paper.   How very different that is from our own self-conscious attempts to draw a representational image.  We are hung up on how realistic it looks, whether our lines are straight or whether the perspective is right.  Most of all, we are worried about how others will judge it.  That, I suspect, is the ‘problem’ Picasso was referring to.

“That’s a lovely picture.  Would you like to tell me about it?” we were taught to say when I was training to be a teacher.  It avoided the problems of, “What a beautiful picture of Mummy!  Oh, I see – it’s a green tractor with lots of mud, is it?  Right.”

Gradually we ‘help’ the child to fit their depictions to the conventions of art in our world.  In medieval times, drawing the mother or self far larger than other people would have been quite acceptable.  The convention was ‘important people are shown larger than less significant people’.  In our modern world the convention is photographic, so a person shown large is closer in physical space to the artist’s viewpoint than those standing further away.

 

Light, Effect, Light Effect, Magic LightAnd what of magic?  I would argue that this, too, is something a small child experiences and responds to in a very natural, comfortable way and trying to regain that instinctive connection to the magic inherent in their lives takes many years, once the child has been trained to put it aside.

We allow – even encourage – small children to fill their lives with magic.  We tell them of Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny and read them stories or show them videos of unicorns and dragons, magicians and heroes with fantastic powers.

At some point, though – perhaps around the same time we start insisting that humans should be drawn with bodies, not just a circular head with legs and arms – we begin to teach them what is ‘real’ and what is ‘pretend’.  What many of us don’t recognise is that this is just as arbitrary and incomplete a world view as the one we are asking them to leave behind.

Magic has a strong similarity to art.  When painting and drawing we encapsulate three dimensions in two.  With magic, we bring multiple dimensions into the three that form what current convention sees as our world.  (Again, I suspect our ancestors would have viewed it quite differently.)

In the children’s story book I’ve just published, I made sure enough magic was embedded within it to at least allow my 8-12 year old audience to keep wondering.  My metaphysician (yes, of course there had to be one!) observes three members of a family who find themselves confronted with a magical ‘coincidence’ as follows:

The lady in the blue dress looked from one to the other of them – the mother, who was slowly shaking her head and muttering, “Extraordinary…”, the boy who was now clutching his cheeks and laughing with amazement and pure delight, and the small child beside her who was still young enough to understand how real magic was and therefore not surprised at all.

I’d love to think that a few children reading The Glassmaker’s Children will recognise the magic my young hero Stellan rediscovers and notice how, by using attention and intention, both he and they can find way of surviving and thriving, despite the setbacks and challenges they encounter.

 

Small note:  I originally set up this blog (back in 2012) to publicise my first book.  Since then it’s be come more of a vehicle for my metaphysical ramblings, and I’d like it to stay that way.  For that reason, I’m placing most of my posts about The Glassmaker’s Children on my Open the Box blog.  This one, for example, explains the particular challenges my two young characters face as they battle to cope with a narcissistic parent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Glassmaker’s Children

The Glassmaker's Children by [Jan Stone]Yes – apologies.  This blog has been very quiet in the past few months.  There’s a reason for that, which I’m about to share with you.

Life during lockdown was very different, obviously.  One of the most positive and welcome changes during that time was the opportunity to chat via video link with my grandchildren every day.  Their mother works from home, so I agreed to do some home learning with them each weekday morning, to give her some time to herself.

Every ‘lesson’ ended with a story session and we got through a fair few books during that time – Tales of Mystery and Imagination (my favourite picture book ever), The Arabian Nights, The Firework Maker’s Daughter, Stig of the Dump and much more.  The five year old – quite understandably – drifted away unless there were plenty of pictures, but the eight year old sat and soaked in every word, day after day.

When the summer holidays started, lockdown eased and the lessons ceased, I found that my love of children’s literature had been rekindled (unintentional pun there!)

As a parent, teacher and mentor, I’d often been able to find the perfect book to help a child dealing with family or personal issues – low self-esteem, bullying, family splits and so forth.  The book I’d never been able to find was one that explained – in a child-friendly storybook format – why, if we do indeed at some level choose the family we are born into, this child chose the parents or siblings they did.

That’s why I decided to write it.

I hadn’t been prepared for how much it would consume my life – waking and dreaming.  Stellan and Ruby Rose, my main characters, became utterly real to me.  Perhaps, since they’ve now been created, they really live in some other reality.  I’d like to think so.  At any rate, one night, during a particularly vivid dream, Ruby and I headed off on an adventure quite unrelated to the story I was writing.

Often I suddenly ‘knew’ what would happen to them next, without consciously planning it.  I caught myself thinking, “Oh, yes, clever!  That links well to chapter 14,” although the new idea had suddenly appeared unbidden in my mind.  Maybe I was being helped…

I did become rather obsessed.  There was the day the doorbell rang when I was in full creative flow and I found myself answering the door to the courier there in a Welsh accent, since I’d been writing dialogue between characters in a Welsh village at the time!

 

It’s only available on Kindle so far, but I’m hoping to get it into paperback within the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, if you know any 8-12 year olds who might enjoy a story about sorcery, self-discovery, adventure and the magical chemistry that permeates all of our lives, do send them to hunt it out on Amazon Kindle, where the first few chapters are free to read.

 

 

The Curing

I feel safest with stories.  They soothe me.  And the old stories are the best of all.

Today I want to share an old story with you – one that came to me and was most anxious to be shared.  Even the synchronicities that drew this story to me tell a tale in themselves.

I live in England, where currently entire households in which anyone has a fever or a cough must self-isolate for 14 days.  When my grandchild developed both these symptoms, her mother was faced with trying to work from home and care for both children.  I live far away, but decided to have a daily one hour video talk session with the children, giving my daughter a chance to get some uninterrupted work time.  I’m an ex-teacher, so we play maths games, draw, read, write and learn together.  It’s a delightful time for all of us.

I went to my still fairly extensive children’s book collection (who can throw books away?) looking for stories that would interest a 5 year old and her 8 year old brother.  Almost at once my eyes fell upon Hugh Lipton and Niamh Sharkey’s beautiful ‘Tales of Wisdom & Wonder’.  It’s a glorious collection of folk tales from around the world.

On day 1, we read the first story, a delightfully silly tale of a monkey who demonstrates that we should be very careful what we ask for.

Last night I sat down to read the second story – a Cree tale called The Curing Fox – in order to re-familiarise myself with it.

The first sentence told of a little girl who became desperately ill with a high fever, dreadful cough and breathing difficulties.

Ah.  My initial instinct was to put this one aside.  Who knows what fears and nightmares the children are having as Covid-19 spreads through the world?  Then I thought deeper.  Why, of all the stories in my bookcase, had I been led to this one, at this time?  That almost imperceptible tingling that tells me synchronicity is drawing me in had appeared.  I read the story.

Mr Lipton tells it wonderfully, but here is the briefest summary:

The child’s anxious parents summon an ancient wise woman, who listens very carefully to the rattling in the girl’s chest.  She tells the couple that she hears from it that a small, sickly female fox is undertaking an arduous journey through the snow outside.  When the child coughs, the wise woman hears the sound of the fox’s paws breaking through the crust of the frozen snow.  The father offers to track and bring back the fox.  As he journeys, the wise woman is able to track his progress, and that of the starving fox, by observing the little girl’s illness; when she senses that the hunter has stopped for the night and lit a fire, the girl has a high fever.  Finally he catches the fox, cradles her in his arms and takes her back to the village.  The mother is told to feed the fox.  It then curls up and sleeps.  The child, too, falls into a deep sleep.  Eventually, both fox and girl awake at the same moment.  The parents are asked to feed the fox again and then release it.  The little girl watches from the doorway as the fox runs off.  As it disappears, so does her illness.  The wise woman asks them whether the fox cured the girl or she cured the fox.  The mother replies that the woman cured them both.  The old lady just smiles.

I sat and pondered the wisdom of that story.  Half awake and half asleep, I thought my way back into that First Nation culture and bank of knowledge that showed such subtle yet deep and abiding connectedness.  I wondered at the idea that the symptoms of an illness could, with the right level of focus, lead the wise to find and alleviate suffering elsewhere.  I marvelled that, in taking steps to alleviate that suffering, the illness itself would vanish.  Further and further I meditated my way into the meaning this story held for me.  I thought of the symptoms – the fever, the choking cough, the inability to breathe.  Clearly the girl stands for us in our present crisis.

And the fox?  What does she represent?

The words that floated into my heart were, “Think of the World’s cough.”

 

It was from the Cree that this prophecy came:

 

 

Dragons and Rats and Realities

Right.  This is complicated.  Before I start, there are a few bits of background you’ll need:

  • For those who don’t know, I spend a fair bit of my time making steampunk miniatures.  Recently I have been making ‘time dragons’ – an ecclectic mix of papier maché, modelling clay, old watch parts, intention and creativity.
  • Steampunk, for those not familiar with the term, is an imaginary retro-futuristic existence, something like the sci-fi worlds created by HG Wells and Jules Verne.
  • As well as this, my metaphysical pondering blog, I also write one called Steampunk-Shrunk, which contains whimsical back stories about the models I make.
  • Finally, you need to know that I live in an end terrace cottage and my neighbour has recently had a problem with rats in her loft, so her landlord called in pest control.

OK.  Now for what happened.  I’ll try to put it in chronological order, but I suspect time is somehow absent from parts of it.

As I said, I’d made these strange model dragons.  It was fun.  I then wrote a rather dark little story about them to publish on my other blog.  It said that they formed out of the rubbish that collects in corners and crannies of steampunk inventors’ workshops, coalesced into living creatures and flew away to inhabit caves in an undiscovered canyon, where they had started to breed.  (If anyone wants to check the story, it’s here, but there’s no need to unless you’re so inclined.)

The following day, the pest control man came.  I heard him chatting to my neighbour in our shared entrance hall, heard him head upstairs and wished he could have been some magical pied piper … but rats are rats.  I’d had them in my roof a few years back, heard them gnawing purposefully at who-knows-what and although there is a fire wall up there between the two lofts, I’d recently heard the occasional brief scuttle above my bedroom, so I wasn’t sorry to hear that they were being dealt with.

That night I went to bed.  I’d been going through one of my frequent spells of insomnia, so was not really surprised to find I was still awake at 3.10 in the morning.  Having looked at the clock, I sighed, turned over yet again, and tried to lie still.

Then quite suddenly I found myself sitting on my sofa downstairs.  I was surprised, mainly, and disorientated.  What was I doing here?  How had I got here?  Was it real?  I checked the sofa.  Yes, definitely mine.  The colours of the fabric were the same, I could feel the cushions against my body.  This still surprised me.  I couldn’t work out what had happened to propel me here.  My coffee table was just in front of me, in its accustomed position, yet something was wrong.  I felt – I honestly did – as if I’d entered some place that was and yet wasn’t in my home.

The room was fairly dark; not (now I think about it) as dark as it should have been in the middle of the night, but there was a dimness about the whole place, as if space acted slightly differently here.  The rest of the room should have been visible, but I was only aware of this one area.  And yes, there was a difference – my model time dragons were under the corner of the coffee table, which is definitely not where I had put them.

As soon as I became aware of the dragons, I noticed that they were moving.  That was WRONG.  Now I was genuinely scared.  They were making a scuffling sound and suddenly, as if at some unseen signal, they erupted into the room, scuttling and flying outwards and upwards in all directions.

Cute, Rodent, Mouse, Small, AnimalImmediately I was back in my bed, eyes wide, heart pumping and body shaking.  A split second later, in the loft space above my head, there was a stampede of rats.  There must have been at least five or six of them.  I heard them race across from one side to the other.  Then silence again.

 

So what was that all about?

Yes, the most ‘rational’ explanation is that I’d finally fallen asleep for a few moments and the scuffling of the rats had woken me.  In my dream state their noise had become the noise of my dragons taking flight.  I’d then heard the rats running.

A few things didn’t fit, though.  Why was I so disorientated if I was dreaming?  We normally accept whatever reality we encounter in dreams quite comfortably.  Even before I noticed those dragons (and yes, as it happens they are roughly rat-sized) I felt uncomfortable, as if I’d strayed into one of those many-worlds/ alternate realities.

So now I’m left wondering.  Was it ‘just a dream’ or had I strayed – or been taken – into some alternate world where my ‘words became flesh’, so to speak?  Is there a reality out there now, in amongst all that strange dark matter, where my little dragons have indeed taken on an existence of their own?  Did I pay that world a fleeting visit, just to discover how ‘creative’ I really am?  Did (as my guides are suggesting) the same psychological trigger event occur in both worlds, causing the time dragons and poisoned rats to erupt into a frenzied movement at the same moment?

The time dragons here are quite inanimate now and so too, it seems, are the rats in the loft.  Strange, though, and interesting to ponder…

 

I’ve got sunflowers on a cloudy day

Sunflower, Bud, Blossom, Go Up, BloomThey’ve not flowering quite yet, but the buds are forming.  I can see them still – just – if I reach up on tiptoe.  These are strong, sturdy plants, growing by inches every day, almost as I watch them, and they make me feel so PROUD.

Why?

Because the person who gave me the seeds, back on my birthday in the early spring, is one of the people I’ve watched and nurtured since childhood.  There are quite a few of these brilliant, shining young people – my own kids and grandchildren as well as pupils and youngsters I’ve mentored or just been there to listen to, on the right day.

Oh yes, they’ve caused me plenty of headaches along the way.  Sometimes I’ve had to watch patiently (and often very impatiently) as they ventured off into dangerous friendships or relationships, harmful habits and addictions or endured heartbreaking, life-changing challenges.  I’ve tried to get the balance right – deciding when to intervene and when to allow them to make their own choices, when to offer suggestions and guidance and when to keep my mouth firmly shut.  Sometimes I got it wrong; sometimes I got it right.  Sometimes I helped; sometimes I was a confounded nuisance.  What I’m most proud of, though, is that I hung in there, even when the going was really tough.  True, I’d sometimes retire to a safe distance while the fireworks exploded, but I always made it clear to them that I’d be there if they needed someone to talk to, someone to scream at, someone with a shoulder to cry on and that nothing they told me would shock me enough to make me pull away.

I hope my firstborn won’t mind me sharing this.  There were times I despaired of ever reaching her.  She was sharp-tongued, harsh and so materialistic that I often wondered how we could share a blood tie.

I once spoke to a very gifted psychic who said, “Oh, your daughter!  That bond between you!  That closeness and connection is so wonderful.”

I stared in amazement.  “Sorry, no.  I wish it were true, but that’s not the way it is.  I really struggle to connect with her on any level.”

The psychic pondered for a moment.  “No,” she said.  “It’s true.  Maybe further down the time line, but I promise you it will come.  There will be a time when you are so close.  She shares your values.  You have rubbed off on her and you will be so proud to be her mother.”

Many years later, when she became a mother herself, she started to change.  She retrained as a relaxation and massage therapist.  She was a wonderful parent.  Still, though, I could see the ruthless, hard, brittle personality traits and at some level I sensed that something had to give.  There was a storm brewing.

When it finally broke, my daughter’s life splintered and cracked beyond all recognition.  Horrified, I rushed to help.  I was fearful, and not just for her.  I worried that she would vent all her fury and spite on me and I wondered whether I was strong enough to take it, because I loved her so deeply.  She didn’t, though.  Slowly and gently we worked together to rebuild her life, to protect and nurture her children and to move her into a new and unknown future.  The spite and anger dissipated.  I watched in wonder as she worked so courageously through the pain and anguish and was transformed in the process.

Materially, now, she’s far worse off.  She has a very modest home and has to work ridiculously hard to keep even that roof over her children’s heads.  Spiritually and emotionally, though, her growth has been miraculous.  I watch in awe as she reaches out to help others and to improve their lives.

image 0As well as working as a freelance reviewer and a therapist, she has opened her own online shop, selling beautiful resources to promote mindfulness, calm and happiness for children and teens.  I am incredibly proud, so I make no excuse for promoting her new project here.

I’m proud of all of them, these young people whose lives I’ve touched and I’m so happy when they come back to me and show me how their lives have changed and the progress they’ve made.

I’m looking forward to the days when my sunflowers bloom and pour so much beauty and light into my life and I’m grateful to the lovely young person who put them into my life.

 

 

 

The Impossible Dream

If I had to fall back on accepted logic, I’d say that what happened last week, in terms of dreaming and waking experience and the link between the two, is impossible.

Fortunately, I don’t.

‘There are more things…in heaven and earth…’  And in my philosophy, they are dreamt of.

I’ve written before about some of the odd, precognitive dreams I have from time to time.  Last week, in the latest, I was given a salutary lesson on why I should never ignore them.

Each of us is at a unique place in our journey.  We have read books, had conversations, listened to the wise and received guidance in myriad ways, all of which places us at a certain level of awareness of those ‘more things’ Hamlet was speaking of.  Once we have accrued this level of knowing, we try to move back into comfortable oblivion at our peril.  We simply can’t un-know our knowledge.  That is what this dream experience taught me.

So what happened?

First, some background:
Several times a year, I need to traverse England, from my home in the south-west to be with family living out near the east coast.  I don’t drive and the public transport infrastructure here is expensive and poor.  After much experimentation, I’ve found a slow but steady and inexpensive method.  It involves catching a very early coach (there is only one a day) from my town to Heathrow Airport, where I have time for lunch and a rest, before catching a second coach to my destination.  It takes around 8 hours all told, but it’s comfortable and I can read en route.

Bus Stop, Public Transport, BusThree nights before I was due to embark on one of these journeys last week, I had a dream.

I’m with a woman.  We are travelling together and although we are companions and get along on very familiar terms, she is the guiding figure, in some way.  We have luggage.  We have made careful plans.  We are sitting on a bench and nothing particular is happening around us, but suddenly she turns to me with an expression of shock and says, “We’ve missed the coach!”

We stare at each other with a mixture of disbelief and horror.

I could FEEL these emotions at a very deep and conscious level.  I heard her voice and tone with absolute clarity.  These are the aspects that separate this type of dream – the precogs – from normal everynight dreaming.  I woke knowing I’d had a precognition and I felt rattled.

A brief word about precognition and the future, before I continue to the (almost) inevitable conclusion:
There are, as my wise friend and teacher William has taught me, an infinite number of possible futures for any event.  They range from the virtually impossible to the virtually inescapable and cover all points in between.  A precognition is a foretaste of what is – at that moment in time – the most likely outcome.  It is not written in tablets of stone.  It is still possible to make changes and alter the future event, given sufficient intention and effort.

What I should have done, then, was to check and re-check my travel plans until I found the glitch that could result in missing the coach.  The guide-lady in my dream was providing me with an opportunity to do this and to avert the problems which would follow.  Instead, I merely thought through my plans and convinced myself that as I had only to rely on an alarm clock and a half-mile walk to the coach stop, I had no reason to worry.

So on the day of my journey I got up in plenty of time, prepared myself for travelling, put my folded ticket into the top of my bag and walked the short trip to the coach stop.  I arrived at 6:20, congratulated myself on being ten minutes early and sat on the bench to wait.  At 6:25, I casually took out the ticket and unfolded it, to check what time I’d be arriving at Heathrow.  That was when I saw it:

Coach departs opp. town hall 6:15

Exactly that feeling of disbelief and horror from my dream swept over me.  As in the dream, nothing changed around me, but I knew I now had a huge problem.  I’d been so sure of the 6:30 departure time, I hadn’t bothered to check.  My dreamtime companion wasn’t there in body, of course, but I suspect at some level she was watching to see how I’d get myself out of my self-inflicted problem.

I won’t bore you with all the details of my ensuing journey.  Suffice it to say that every connection (bus, walk, train, second train, race across the length of Heathrow terminal 3) was made with minutes or sometimes seconds to spare.  The mobile website I bought my train ticket on went down just after I’d paid so that I was almost refused entry to the platform and I finally reached the bus interchange at Heathrow seven minutes before my second coach left.

Train, Crowd, Transportation, PassengerThe oddest thing was that all the time I was engaged in this nightmarish journey, it felt as if it was playing out in these very specific ways to teach me a lesson.

“Yes,” I thought ruefully, as I stood squashed against poker-faced commuters on the train out of Bristol, “I needed to learn this lesson. I will make my connection, but none of it is going to be easy.”

Somewhere, in a dimension I couldn’t see, but could just about sense, the guide-lady from my dream watched and smiled, not unkindly, and nodded.

The guides may not be as accessible as they were once, but they are still here, always checking that I have held on to all they taught me, and chiding me gently if I try to put their wisdom aside.

As William told me, when he was just 12, “What’s important is the journeys – all the changes and where we go through and the different trains are the main thing.  You know that really.”

 

 

 

A Man Who Looks on Glass

All those decades ago, when I was in primary school and singing along to rather dreary hymns in assembly, the words of one verse hit me as fascinating.  I think it went more or less like this:

A man who looks on glass
On it may stay his eye,
Or if he pleaseth through it pass,
The Heavens to espy.

Quite why ‘the Heavens’ should be lurking behind each pane of glass this man looked on, I wasn’t sure, but that property of glass – the way we are able to focus on its surface or to peer right through it to what lies beyond – stayed lodged in my mind as one of those Interesting Things about the world.

One of my favourite stories as a child was Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There.  I could easily imagine her drawing-room mirror misting over, becoming treacle-like in consistency and Alice clambering excitedly into the looking-glass house beyond.  The fascination stayed with me, and when I settled recently to write a story, I decided to make one of the principal and most complex characters a glass maker.

Glass Float Handmade Blowing Craft MoltenObviously a bit of research was in order.  I’d been to visit a glass works and watched in awe as glowing globs of molten glass were removed from the furnace on long pipes and blown into huge, wobbling bubbles, ready to be shaped into all manner of marvels.  I knew it was made from sand and soda and various other substances, but I wanted some detail on the alchemy involved.

This is what I discovered.  Maybe you already knew it.  Maybe you had the kind of science teacher who moved beyond the dogma of solids, liquids and gases and explained such wonders to you.  To me, though, it was a revelation…

Sand is heated up and becomes liquid.  It transforms into glass.  This is an irreversible chemical change.  When the molten glass is removed from the heat source, it begins to solidify, but it never quite does so.

Glass, Structure, Abstract, Modern, ArtThat was the part that amazed me.  Glass is not a true solid!  It’s what is known as an amorphous solid, which means it is in the process of solidifying, but still has the properties of a very viscous liquid.  Scientists conjecture, it seems, about whether the cooled (and apparently solid-feeling) glass will ever complete that transformation – whether its molecules will every crystallise into a true solid.  The best guess seems to be that the process would take a very long time – longer than centuries.  Meanwhile, small groups of molecules within the glass are acting like parts of a solid, while others are still behaving as parts of a liquid.  They seem to slither and slide in and out of the two states without (if I can, for a moment, embue them with higher levels of sentience than we normally do) really making up their minds.

Now all that, I think, is rather astonishing.

For me, though, the most amazing part of my discovery is the way these characteristics mirror, if you’ll excuse the pun, the personality of my not-entirely-fictional glass maker.  The man I wanted to portray is a complex individual.  In many ways, he comes across as a normal, functional, middle-aged father.  There are facets of his behaviour, though, that entirely lack the solidity and dependability of such a person.  He is, in some respects, locked in the kind of volatility, fluctuating moods and emotional instability we would more normally associate with the most troubling aspects of adolescence.  If you can imagine the contents of a chrysalis, after the caterpillar’s molecules have liquified but before they have fully re-formed into the adult butterfly (a process I often used as an analogy for my poor, confused young pupils as they reached puberty and tried to fathom what was happening to themselves) that is the state of this character’s psyche.

Flower Honey Nutrition Eat Liquid Yellow EWithout knowing that such a state existed, I was writing about a man of amorphous solidity.  My character slithers, in a more or less involuntary manner, between thoughtful, rational behaviour and a devastating capriciousness and lack of clarity or consideration.  He brings down havoc and disaster upon himself and those around him and – even when all is lost – he is unable, for more than a few moments at a time, to take responsibility for all that has transpired.  Like those glass molecules, his thoughts waver and vaccilate constantly between states and refuse to settle.

How intriguing that my ever-present muse should lead me on this alchemical journey, in order to assist me in comprehending the complexities of the Glass Maker’s personality.

 

 

The tale of the parent – without a storybook ending

My body isn’t used to the time change yet.  We gained an extra hour this weekend, moving from British Summertime to Greenwich Mean Time.

That’s why I found myself wide awake early this morning.  That’s when I found myself half-remembering something from dreams and something from imagination, and I decided to try to turn it into a book for my two little grandchildren – a book in which everyone, even a parent, is fallible.

Not many people dare to write such books.  In children’s stories, even an erring parent usually comes right in the end.  He might be a loveable rogue or she may be scatty and disorganised, but these storybook parents – at least in stories for small children – always put the children first, always redeem themselves, always learn from their mistakes.

Sad Child Boy Kid Crying Tears Sadness MooI wish life was like that for real children.  I wish there hadn’t been so many children in my life who had parents consumed by addictions, parents who turned to crime, parents who ran off to enjoy a new, carefree life without the drudgery of parenthood.  I wish two of those children hadn’t been my own grandchildren.

This sounds harsh, I know.  But life for those children IS harsh.
I remember the child who told me, “If my dad had liked me as much as he liked whisky and beer, he might have stopped drinking it when I asked him to, and then he wouldn’t have died.”
I remember the boy who said, “I can’t wait to grow up and get a wife. We’ll have lots of kids and I’ll look after them properly and never put them in danger, because I know how bad that feels.”
I remember the child who whispered, “I think my new teacher really likes me, so I don’t ever want her to find out what my dad did, because if she does, she might think I’m like him, and then she won’t like me anymore.”
I remember the little girl who would come into class with bags under her eyes, telling how Mum had crawled into her bed when she got back from the nightclub and spent ages recounting all her drunken escapades.
I remember the seven-year-old who sat with wide, frightened eyes, saying, “I don’t really like Daddy as much as I did before. I still love him, because he is my father, but I’m quite frightened of him now.”
And then there’s the little boy who told me, firmly, “Mums and dads ALWAYS argue. They all do.  Me and my sister go and hide in one of our special places when they start shouting. We take care of each other.”

So how to do it?  How to let children with far-less-than-perfect parents know they are not alone?  How to empower them to cope with a life where there won’t be a fairy godmother to wave a wand or a Damascene conversion that will make everything wonderful again?

The answer, so my pre-dawn inspirations suggest, lies in Chemistry (or Alchemy, or Magic, depending how you want to describe it).  So the story – if I ever manage to write it – will show the pure and inexhaustible supply of Magic that lies behind and within everyday changes.  It will show how intention can bend and shift those changes in the structure of life and of lives.  The wayward parent may choose not to change, but the lives of those around him will change.  Small children will become wiser, stronger and resilient.  They will grow as the story unfolds and they will gradually move beyond their fears and forge a better destiny because of the painful experiences they’ve endured.

I just hope I’m up to the task.

Metacogknitting

…Almost the active verb derived from ‘metacognition’, but with a few extra ideas thrown in…

Metacognition, as just about anyone reading this post will already know, is a wider knowing – those inklings, impressions, fleeting ideas and gut feelings that supplement and complement ordinary common-or-garden cognition.

Needle, Knit, Hand Labor, Hobby, WoolAs for knitting, though…  I’ve always loved any kind of textile work and there is something almost alchemical in transforming a single strand of yarn into a complex and beautiful garment, using just two simple sticks and one’s own hands.

For me it can be almost a meditative practice – busying the body while freeing the mind, and creating a unique physical item as I do so.  I like to weave in different textures and colours as I go.  I like to think about how every stitch is a vital part of the whole, while appearing so tiny and insignificant; rather like ourselves, really.  Drop a stitch and the whole thing can unravel.

And how (and why?) am I combining the two into a newly coined word?  you may ask.

Well, for me, the last six months has been a grounding experience.  I’ve been heavily caught up in physical, practical day-to-day matters.  They have taken up almost all the time I might otherwise have spent pondering, writing, dreaming and wondering.  There’s barely been time or opportunity for reading, blogging, chanelling or long, rambling, metaphysical discussions with cherished friends.  There’s barely been time to miss such activities, even.  Instead I’ve been stuck firmly in this mundane human skin-suit, supporting, surviving, problem-solving and grafting away.  (The only reason I’m not digging bramble and stinging nettle roots out of my daughter’s massively overgrown garden right now is the heavy rainfall outside as the English summer fragments into autumn.)

What I have come to realise, though, is that throughout the whole process of rescuing my little family from disaster, helping them back onto their own feet, rebuilding their confidence, dealing with the practicalities of re-homing them and helping to make that home habitable, the metacognition skills I’ve been noticing and developing over many decades have become knitted into the very fabric of everyday life.

Metacogknitting is living human life and grounding ourselves entirely in the physical dramas, effort and heartache that entails, while always allowing those extra strands of ‘Knowing’ to permeate every planned action and thought.

It’s only now, as I reach the final weeks of my stay far from home and see things here settling down and being almost sorted out, that I can recognise how the pattern or blueprint of what I wished for them has come to pass.  It felt absurdly optimistic that I would be able to help to turn a desperate situation around in just six months.  The idea that these frightened, traumatised and hurt people would have a new home, close to relatives, and settle into their new environment seemed next to impossible, but I’ve learned enough, over the years, to know that holding firm to that idea and believing in it was crucial.  With deeply valued help from the wonderful Cheryl and Higgins, I learned to put that Big Dream out there, to trust that it would arrive in time and to focus on the tiny steps we needed to take, to make it a reality.

One stitch at a time, the garment grows.  Every stitch is vital.

Without all those years of practice, I could easily, in all the mayhem and stress, have forgotten to take note of the faint and fleeting metacognitions.  There was so much else to focus on.  At such testing times, though, they become more vital than ever.  I would wake at 3am, Knowing what new fears were surfacing in my little grandson’s mind, and how best to help him with them.  Later in the day, he’d pull me aside and share those fears and I’d have my response all ready and waiting.  A ‘chance’ unexpected meeting with someone would set me on alert, wondering Why now? Why this person?  What purpose do they have in this drama of ours?  There always was one.

Helping the family to integrate in their new community, I went with them on Monday to a village fete.  I managed to resist the urge to brush aside the young man asking me to buy raffle tickets for his stall.  He’d singled me out.  The metacogknitting reminded me that there’s a potential purpose behind every apparently random situation.  Sure enough, he called me that evening.  I’d won the prize.  When I went to collect it, we ended up chatting over a coffee at his kitchen table about his business and my daughter’s.  So many similarities and synchronicities.  They could help each other.  I’ve put them in touch.  Whether they act on it or not is their pattern, their blueprint, of course.  My step or stitch there was just to form a link between the two.

And that, of course, is what metacogknitting is all about.

 

 

Making Peace with the Enemy

Poppy, Flower, Red Poppy, Blossom, BloomNot sure what prompted this – maybe all the poppies and remembrance day events, standing in an entire city brought to silence on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour…

Anyway, this story is about another war – one that raged inside my father until almost the end of his life.

Tony was a young man in his twenties when the Second World War broke out.  He joined the RAF.  He serviced planes and was posted to some little island in the Far East – some little island that the Japanese army overran.  He became a prisoner of war.

I don’t know much about the details of his detainment.  He wouldn’t speak of the worst things to any of us.  I know he saw all his close friends die.  I know the camp staff would open sacks of mail, read out the names of the recipients, wave the envelopes before them, then toss them on the fire.  I know he grubbed in the ground for peanuts to add to the meagre rations of rice they had.  I know when he came home he looked more skeleton than man.  That was where his war began.

It raged throughout my whole childhood.  He was a sweet, kind, generous man as a rule, but if that button was pressed, heaven help anyone nearby.  The fury was astonishing.  Nothing made in Japan was allowed in our house.  Any passing reference to the country on TV or radio was instantly turned off, amidst angry mutterings.  When a neighbour mistakenly referred to my best friend (Chinese) as ‘that little Japanese girl she plays with’ they were shocked by the fury unleashed in Dad.

In my teens (oh, the foolhardiness of youth) I took him on one day.  I tried, calmly and reasonably, to point out that one couldn’t hold an entire nation responsible for the behaviour of a single group of sadistic prison guards.  I pointed out that a whole generation of Japanese had not even been alive during the war.  My mother and younger brother cowered in the corner as he lashed me verbally – and very nearly physically.  I came close to being disowned by him that day.  It took weeks to reestablish a relationship with him and I didn’t try to raise the subject again.

Many years passed.  Dad’s war continued unabated.  He reached retirement, moved to a new area – Glastonbury – and developed the closest friendship he’d had since I’d known him, with a man of similar age.  This man was sweet, wise and gentle.  He invited Dad to visit his home regularly and taught him all about his new area,  He told him legends.  He showed him the wonders of ley lines on maps and walked them with him.  He taught him about Bligh Bond and Wesley Tudor Pole and the heritage of Avalon.  Every time I visited, Dad couldn’t wait to share his new discoveries with me.  It was beautiful to see – like a flower, so long in the bud, finally unfurling.  He was happier and more peaceful than I’d ever known him.

This friend, though, had one further gift for Dad – the greatest of all.

“Tony,” he said one day, “There’s going to be a change in this house.  We’re going to be taking a young lodger.”

He went on to explain, very gently and patiently, that he and his wife had some dear friends abroad – people they’d known for many years.  This couple had a daughter who was very keen to visit England and work here.  Her English was good, but the culture would be very different to what she was used to.  Her parents were worried and had asked if their English friends would take her into their home.  Willingly, they had agreed.

“Well of course,” Dad said.  “I’d have done the same.  Good for you.”

“Yes,” his friend smiled, rather sadly, “But I don’t want this change to drive a wedge between our friendship, Tony.  I value your companionship very deeply and I very much want you to continue to visit our house and spend time with me as usual.”

“Well of course-” Dad spluttered, but his friend interrupted him.

“The young lady is Japanese, Tony.”

 

Girl, Asia, People, Happy, Young, SummerIt took more bravery than he had ever showed for Tony to make that choice.  He, too, valued this friendship and determined, despite all, to continue visiting his dear friend.

I wasn’t there to see how the visits went.  Perhaps he was cold and reserved towards the girl at first.  Perhaps he ignored her.  He was battling an entire lifetime of bitterness and hurt.  All I know it that on my next visit, he described the young lady to me in the most glowing terms.  He praised her gentle, sweet nature, her grace and charm, her kindness towards him, and he shook his head wonderingly.

I hugged him and felt such overwhelming gratitude towards the Universe – and his wise friend – for providing him with this wonderful opportunity to lay down his arms and finally experience peace.