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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stitching a new garment

Iphone, Smartphone, Apps, Apple IncA week ago, my phone pinged.  One of those Facebook PM things.  I’ve been getting a lot lately – little gifs of cute cats, uplifting pictures of sunsets or seascapes, prayers in pretty fonts garlanded with flowers or rainbows, even the annoying ones that instruct you to send the flickering candle or whatever back to the sender and on to all the women/true friends/grandmothers etc. you know…  Kind thoughts, sent with love – people doing what they can to connect.  I send a smile icon back or a heart or whatever I feel will best please the sender so that I can then move on with my day.

Life at LIME Cottage right now is not Netflix, gin and scrolling through social media.  It starts at 8.30 with lesson preparation (daily multi-age primary school phonics and English resources posted online for harassed parents – opentheboxweb.wordpress.com).  God I hate phonics!  A ridiculous system, but that is what the kids have been learning, so that’s what needs to be done.  At 11am it’s a video call with the grandchildren.  Their mum gets an hour to work from home unhindered while I chat, read stories, deliver the wretched phonics and writing, cram in a bit of maths and help the little ones to make some sense of the way the world is now.  A quick lunch, a daily walk or burst of gardening then on to the afternoon job – sewing scrubs and gowns for a local care home.  It’s all very organised in our town.  The coordinator sends out packs of fabric and patterns via masked and gloved volunteer couriers and our team of makers gets to work, each in their own home, just as the spinsters and weavers of yore may have done in this very house before industrialisation came.  My ‘working day’ ends at 4.30.  I check on the salads and tomato seedlings growing around the house on sunny windowsills then put some dinner together.

So it was surprising, really, that I heard the ping.  It was from a lady I’ve been in touch with for many years.  One of those social media friends I’ve never met, and never will, but somehow feel I know.  We exchange messages from time to time and, I confess, as I opened the file I was half expecting another cat picture.  She likes cats.  What I saw instead stopped me dead. Image may contain: text  It was this:

My words reflected back to me!  She had sent me a screenshot of a passage I wrote all those years ago – back in 2012 – in my book LIFE: A Player’s Guide.  No explanation came with them.  Perhaps she had stumbled across the image and found it helpful, or perhaps she guessed that, at a time of such utter disempowerment, they were words I needed to be reminded of.

Either way, they worked.  I was transported back to the time I wrote it, returned to a state of optimism and reminded that what I’m doing now is valid.

 

Let me go a bit deeper here.

You see I’ve known a world-changing disaster was coming for a long time (see last post for details).  Stashed away somewhere in a cupboard upstairs is a rather expensive multi-use survival tool, some packs of waterproof matches and a self-sufficiency handbook.  Their time may or may not come.  I wasn’t expecting it to be this way, but I knew some cataclysm was heading inexorably towards us.  My source was impeccable.

I’d been told that me being a teacher would be important at this time – hence the time-consuming daily lessons.  I’ve been trying my best to follow the scant guidance I’d been given.

I was told more, though.  I was told that although technology would remain in tact and be beneficial, ‘finance’ – the economy – would undergo seismic changes and this in turn would have a huge effect on people.  It would, in fact multiply the changes occurring in society, leading to an attitude of altruism and general goodness prevailing over the cut-throat world of inequality, exploitation and global destruction.

It is that prediction which had been bothering me.  I’d had 15 years to prepare for this.  Now it was here, I fervently wanted to see that change.  I read eloquent passages and watched inspiring videos from people around the world stressing that we must not return to the old ‘normal’, that we need to change and that Covid 19, for all it’s cruelty, was giving us all a chance to stop and wonder and see the disparity, foolishness and waste of our old world.

Sew, Protective Mask, Sewing MachineAnd what was I doing about it?  Making a few bits of PPE for the local nursing home.  Growing a bit of veg.  Liking and sharing the positive ideas on social media.  Tiny drops in the ocean – pathetic!

Reading that message from my friend (and myself), however, helped me to rediscover the bigger picture.

Yes, in terms of the physical self, there are limits.  Once I begin to think of ‘me’ as thought and energy, though, everything changes.  There are no limits to thought or energy.  They are not confined within single individuals.  Thought is a million times more contagious than any virus.  It spreads through the aether, gathering energy and impetus from everyone who acknowledges and shares it.  Once the intention that we choose these beneficial changes in our world has been held, it grows exponentially.  It becomes our creation.

There is nothing – no multinational corporation, no bunch of self-serving policiticans, no reactionary lobbyist who can stand against the groundswell of opinion that is forming as we sit in our separate homes but combine our intent.

As I sit over my sewing machine this week, I will be pondering the deep and abiding changes that are happening in my thoughts, my energy and those of the world community around me.

Sonya Renee Taylor’s words express it perfectly:

‘We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.’

A Window into Consciousness?

There have been two concepts – probably closely related – occupying me recently.

One is the idea that the ‘stuff’ around us, visible and invisible, is all conscious.  That’s a fairly large idea to get my thoughts around.

The second is a wondering about perception – what it is, where it is and how reliable it might be.  I think that’s where I’ll start.

Planets, Sun, Earth, Galaxy, Sky, SpaceHere I sit, pretty much still apart from my fingers moving across the keyboard of my computer, whilst knowing that I’m being held in position by gravity to an oblate spheroid (aka The Earth) spiralling through space at an eye-watering speed.  My perception in no way matches that reality, yet I put it aside and carry on with my daily life.  Why am I not aware of travelling so fast?  Good grief, I get travel sick in a car going round the M25.  Is it something I’ve adjusted to?  And if so, when – at birth, in the womb, at the moment of conception?  None of those seems right.  It’s as if the physical mechanics of the universe and the physical reality of life on the planet don’t mesh.

Of course, as we all know, even physical realities don’t mesh.  There’s a macro reality for the universe, with a set of rules that seem to work fairly well; there’s a micro reality down at the quantum level, that works quite differently but, again, seems to follow its own logic.  The TOE that should be able to combine them is oddly elusive.  And somewhere between the two, there are our perceptions of what-is-going-on which seem quite often to be at odds with both of these realities.

We are a pragmatic bunch, us humans.  Most of the time we are more than happy to bumble along accepting trade-offs – the compromises we make with the world about us so that we won’t be confused and troubled by the way things are.  It’s comfortable to see the sun rising and setting, rather than ourselves spinning around it, or to look out to sea and see a straight horizon rather than a slight curve.  It’s convenient to see a desk or a dinner plate as a solid, static object, rather than as a combination of extremely active (and conscious?) subatomic particles blinking in and out of our reality.

So these are some of the simple concessions we make, despite knowing the physics that gives the lie to them.  Sometimes, though, our perception can get completely messed up, without us having the slightest idea why.  Spare a few minutes to watch this little video.  It may not be the slickest production around, but – if you watch it through to the end – it packs quite a punch and deals a rather crushing blow to our reliance on our senses.

‘Optical illusion’ somewhat underplays what is going on here.  Our eyes and brains aren’t just playing a little trick with us – they are forcing us to believe a completely false set of perceptions.  Certainly it’s harmless enough, but doesn’t it make you wonder about all the other ways we are being lied to by our senses?

I’m not suggesting a Matrix-type scenario, with some evil force going out of its way to fool us for its own nefarious ends, but I am seriously considering the possibility that the everyday world around us is not at all the way it seems according to our sensory perception.  If something as simple as a sheet of card can mess with our minds that way, what else is going on?

I think the only answer is that we have – collectively and individually – a set of perceptual constructs which give us the parameters within which we can view the world.  There are common agreed mass perceptions and personal ones.  That’s why some people see danger and menace where others don’t.  Some see the world fragmenting while others see the dawning of an age of true enlightenment.  Some see ghosts, aliens, the fae…  In other words, perception is subjective.

So if there isn’t any objective truth out there (or in here) what, exactly are we perceiving?  Why are some things the same for all of us, while others differ so much?

Sky, Astronomy, Moon, LandscapeIn The Seth Materials, channelled by Jane Roberts in the 1960s and 70s, we are told that there are Units of Consciousness – CUs – which are the infinitessimal building blocks of physical existence.  (Seth states that to a CU, an atom would be the size of a planet and that scientists have yet to discover them.)  These Units are particles of electromagnetic energy – incipient consciousness, which is volatile and imbued with infinite possibilities.

Now for the really exciting part.  “No objective reality exists but that which is created by consciousness,” Seth tells us.  “Consciousness always creates form, and not the other way about.”
So here we are, us conscious beings with thoughts and ideas of what we are perceiving, and swirling around us is this mass of conscious electromagnetic energy, just waiting…  These CUs coalesce around our thoughts, ideas, emotional responses, reactions and events to form matter.  The stronger and more intense the thought, the faster and more convincing and real (if I dare use that word) the manifestation.

Clearly ideas and beliefs we share have enough intensity to hold true for all of us.  Thoughts of a more indeterminate or nebulous nature, held to be true by some, yet refuted by others, will not result in matter/reality perceived by all.  For some people, though, they will be as real as any dinner plate, any desk, or the sun setting outside my rectangular window.

 

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 Randomness of Bees

I was 17, and happened to be sitting next to that girl – Gail or something – who was generally considered by the rest of the class to be a bit weird.

Honey Bees, Beehive, Honey, Bees“I mean just look at bees,” she said to me.
This was a conversation opener, apropos to nothing.  We weren’t even doing a biology lesson.
“What about them?” I said warily.
“Well just THINK about it!” she exclaimed. “I mean how can anyone – ANYONE – argue that life is random, that everything just happened to evolve the way it did by a series of chances. So stupid!  Think about bees, Janet. (I hate it when people use my full name, but Gail wasn’t the sort to shorten it, the way everyone else did.) Think about the way they live… the patterns… it’s all just SO perfect.”

She drifted off into a blissful reverie, religious ecstasy temporarily quenching her evangelical zeal. Gail was a fundamentalist Christian.
I grunted and began focusing hard on my work.

The fact that I can recall that rather odd snippet of conversation fifty years later, though, goes to show the effect her comments made on me.  I’ve never forgotten that incident and as I continued through my life, my mind often travelled back to Gail and her bees.  Were we, and all that we share our planet with, really the result of some fluke of natural selection?  It merited consideration, certainly.

People, Doctors, Medic, ScientistIf you’ve just done the maths, you’ll have deduced that I was educated in the shiny black and white op-art sixties.  Science was at its zenith.  It was the new religion.  Scientists knew everything.  They could send rockets to the moon.  They could explain anything that needed an explanation.  Other points of view were rudely brushed aside as superstition or ignorance.  To disagree with the concept of life emerging from a rather fortuitous combination of chemicals, temperature, light and moisture in primeval swamps was almost heresy.  It meant you had to be a Creationist – someone who, like Gail, believed the beginning of the Bible contained a factual account of the beginning of the World.

Decades rolled by and I kept thinking.  I became increasingly disillusioned with the pomposity of the scientists who were more than happy to sweep inconvenient truths under their lab benches and persuade museums to hide away artefacts that didn’t fit their version of events.  On the other hand, I remained unconvinced by Gail’s merciful-but-actually-pretty-vengeful God and his six day fix on the bottomless void.

Fortunately for me, life is more nuanced these days.  The growth of digital information, multi-culturalism and alternative ways of thinking and being, mean that despite the continued persistence of some purists and fundamentalists on all sides, terms like Consciousness and Awareness and Intention have gained sway.

It’s no longer either/or.  Even scientists are discovering that we influence our lives, our bodies, our wellness and our experience through our thoughts and expectations.  For me, God has drifted away from being a strict headmaster with a hippy son to become a benign Intelligence, of which all Life is some kind of infinitessimal part.

Understanding the implications of quantum science removes the barrier between living and non-living.  We know, now, how much energy, how much LIFE there is in even the most apparently inert object.  Everything is, well, ert.

So OK Gail, I’ll give you that one.  There is no randomness in bees.  They are a pretty wonderful example of that Divine Intelligence playing out.

Solar Eclipse 2017, Totality, 2017And now, I’ve got one for you:  eclipses.  Is it random chance that when we stand on this one little planet, amongst a mass of celestial bodies, our Moon (which is, in astronomical terms, tiny but very close) can exactly block out our view of our Sun, which is far bigger but far further away?

If Life didn’t randomly evolve on this planet, then do the positions of the heavenly bodies need to be viewed as random, or is there a Divine Intelligence at work there too?

Can we listen again to the music of the spheres?  Can we begin to understand why the ancients built megalithic structures with such care and precision, aligning them to star patterns, compass directions and equinoxes?

We are all hard-wired to love pattern, to reach into it and to understand and reproduce it, whether we are humans or bees.

And there’s this….

 

Loved

Looking at it from a purely personal and intensely human perspective, what I really didn’t need, after the agonies of the past year, was for another horrible, heartbreaking tragedy to affect one of my children.

He’d had a tough few years, with broken trust and unrequited love and affection and then the pain of watching his sister, nephew and niece go through all they’ve been through and by mid summer, he was deep in the abyss of anxiety and depression.  He worked so hard to pull himself out – therapy, counselling, even meds, when all else seemed to be failing.  Then he announced that he’d found a solution.  He would get a cat.

Now we’ve not been a pet-owning family.  There was the rabbit, when they were kids, but none of them took much notice of it, once the novelty had worn off, and it was left to me to care for it.  Still, he was set on this plan and duly acquired the most adorable little kitten.  He lavished money and endless affection on the little scrap and the kitten adored him back.  The pain and darkness left my son’s eyes and he positively quivered with the love he felt for his tiny pet.  We all remarked on the change it had made to his life.  The urge to care for something small and helpless was so strong in him – the parenting urge, if you like – that, once it was fulfilled, he threw himself back into his job and his life again and was the happy, resilient young man he’d been before.

Was there some seed of doubt and concern lurking just below the surface in my mind?  I watched them playing together and thought, “Oh I just hope that cat lasts a long, long time.  He’s such a central part of my boy’s life.”  But as I thought it and willed it to happen, I couldn’t visualise it.  I couldn’t see the kitten as an adult cat and the two of them moving together into a contented middle age.  That was the seed of worry that wouldn’t go away.

Then, last week, my son called to say the kitten wasn’t well and seemed to have some sort of infection.  The vet gave antibiotics, but was concerned enough to do a blood test.  Each day my son would phone me, saying some new problem had emerged; the cat was losing weight rapidly.  It culminated in an emergency night-time dash to a specialist vet hospital, many miles away, where he was told the infection was a deadly virus that was destroying one organ after another.  My son said goodbye to his kitten – only five months old – and embarked on the long journey home by himself.

While the brief illness lasted, I’d begged friends to send prayers, healing and positive, healthy thoughts to my son’s pet.  I’d tried so hard myself.  I worked and worked to visualise the cat healthy, the cat fully grown, the cat alive, but the pictures wouldn’t come.  All I could see was the little kitten, skinny and with huge, wide eyes.  I believe, one hundred percent, that we can affect the future.  It isn’t set in stone.  There are myriad possible outcomes for every situation.  With sufficient focus, we can nudge towards a better-feeling future.  So why, having managed similar things so many times in the past, could I, and all those working with us, not encourage this little creature to live?  Is it that some ‘probable futures’ are just so improbable – like the cat growing wings or learning to play cricket – that we can’t move into them, and an adult life for this kitten was one of those?

I asked my Guides and was told there had been a ‘contract’ between the man and kitten.  It had come into his life to show him that he is loveable and utterly deserving of love.  I asked why that very happy and beneficial set-up couldn’t have lasted longer and the short, brutal response was that it had been achieved and the cat’s job was done.  Now, I was assured, my son would be able to recognise and feel and accept the waves of love that would come to him from others in his life.

I’m trying to take comfort from that.  Maybe my boy is, too.  But it still feels so harsh, so cruel.  Now I’m working on visualising a happy, fulfilled and love-fulled life for this very special young man.  Join me.

 

Musing in Miniature

This isn’t a covert way of publicising my tiny cottage industry.  You’d need to head over to my other blog for that.  It’s just that most of my days at the moment are spent transforming, upcycling and creating tiny objects of various kinds from what most people would regard as junk, and it gives me an absurd amount of joy and satisfaction.

reject purchaseBack in the summer, I picked up this little 12th scale (that’s one inch to one foot) figure from a reject box at a miniatures fair.

Not difficult to see why he was a reject.  He wasn’t, at first sight, the most promising of specimens, with his vacant stare, twisted legs and stringy hair, but I knew his day would come!

In some strange way, discovering the hidden potential in what others consider rejects is what has always given me the greatest pleasure.  I remember the scruffy, fidgety boy I once taught who auditioned for a part in our school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.  I remember my pure delight as the clearest, most beautiful voice drifted across the room.  The head teacher and I glanced at each other and smiled – Joseph!  True, he took up many, many hours of rehearsals – far more than one of the bright young hopefuls who had expected the part would have done.  True, I had to tape the complicated words of Close Every Door to Me to the floor of his prison cell, because he’d never have learnt them, but it worked perfectly and the pleasure of watching that kid revel in his hour or two of fame has stayed with me forever.

It was the same with the shy, quiet, dumpy little girl who produced a beautiful piece of writing.  Before I handed back the class’s work, I read out this one piece and they were all staring round the room, wondering who had written it, mouthing, ‘You?’ to the high fliers and looking puzzled.  That simple act, and then handing the work back to the young author with the words, ‘Superb work – well done’, was enough to raise that child’s self-esteem and status within the class to a ridiculous degree.

upcycled doll by Jan StoneSadly, my little porcelain doll had no esteem for me to raise, but when I decided I wanted to make a replica of one of my idols – Nikola Tesla – he was the one I chose.  I looked beyond his defects to the long face, the high cheekbones, the firm chin and the centre-parted hair.  The face was removed as easily as a spot of nail varnish and painted anew, the hair was cut, styled and recoloured.  A tiny shirt, trousers and jacket were cut out and hand stitched.  The dodgy leg was re-wired and, once dressed, Mr Tesla looked as proud as a small piece of porcelain, foam and wire could hope to.

room box by Jan StoneAnd now, when I look at him sitting calmly in his experimental station, gazing at the coils and equipment I’ve been patiently wrapping in copper wire all week, I feel proud too!

This is what we all do – take something rough and unfinished and inject enough energy into it to allow it to transform it into something so much better.

 

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.

 

 

Your point being…?

Another of those long, rambling conversations I tend to have with Life, usually around 3am.

I’m saying something along the lines of, “So you’ve thrown just about everything at me this year, turned me upside down, inside out and catapulted me from highs to lows and back again.  Could you just run me through the purpose for all that one more time?”

And Life sits there, smiling calmly and replies, “Do you need to have a purpose?”

That pulled me up sharp.

Do I?

It’s a huge, broad, sweeping question, isn’t it?  For me, it touched a raw nerve.  I’m a people pleaser – the sort who always feels happiest when I’m making things better for other people.  It’s what I’ve always done.  That’s been The Purpose.  This year more than most, I’ve been on a mission to do just that.

Oh yes, before anyone feels the need to throw in that ‘love yourself’ maxim, let me assure them that I’ve done the work on that one too.  Took me quite a few decades and the help of a very skilled life coach to get there, but I do now always add my needs into the equation.  Despite that, though, I’m at my best when I’m working flat out to sort out a difficult problem and make life better for someone dear to me.

Such work has totally consumed me since February.  And now – uh – my work is done.  Yesterday I found the vision board I’d drawn back in the spring.  It showed my little family safe in a new home, reunited with all their possessions, after having had to flee for their lives, settled and smiling and happy again most of the time with a comfortable house and tidy garden to enjoy and new friends calling round to visit.

Image may contain: plant and outdoorImage may contain: people sitting, plant, tree, outdoor and natureAlmost single-handedly, and while helping to heal some of the emotional pains and fears of three traumatised people, I’ve transformed their garden from this… to this.  Even finished it on my daughter’s birthday!

So now what?  Is Life about to hurl me headlong into some new drama, so that I can once more prove my own worth and stamina to myself?  I suspect not.  I suspect that I’ve brought myself to this point so that I can stop and wonder whether I need to have a purpose.

Is just being enough?