Monthly Archives: April 2008

I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing.

Today has been much more than okay. I could try to write about it all, try to pin everything down – I could write about laughing in the kitchen, smiling down the stairs at the big blue sky that feels like a promise kept; about getting the best text message and sitting on the bus at a stop light and the shining silver banner fluttering in the breeze from a window, flashing at me HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY. About a little walk all on my own in the Hermitage of Braid where the bottom fell off the heel of my boot and I didn’t mind a bit, about feeling ridiculously, insanely lucky that 15 minutes from my happy, friendly, stuffy, ramshackle old office I could be here in this idyll, sitting high on a hill in the fresh dewy grass with daffodils filtering the light to gold, with the burn glinting as it runs by below, with the beautiful big trees reaching right up to this magnificent sky. About all the songs I listened to, lying there wrapped up in my purple hat and polka dot scarf, my green boots and the green grass, my skirt with the pink flowers on, my bright white legs goose-pimpling and then warming, surprised to feel the sunshine, and how hard it was to not sing along, how maybe sometimes I did a little bit because after all there was nobody else there, just me and the birds. And of course I could write about Helen, and a pat on the back. And about smiling all the way home, and coming home to my boy and putting on Wonderful World by Sam Cooke and dancing with him in the living room in our socks, holding each other close in that special not-shy, easy, supportive way and feeling very beautiful and happy and in love.
But I dunno, I don’t think I could ever really nail the way it just is.
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Raise your glass to change and chance.

All about my mother

here comes the sun

In the middle of every Shabbat service, just before the shema, we read:
Blessed are you God who forms light yet creates darkness, who makes peace yet creates all.

‘The mother is God in the eyes of a child’? Perhaps it’s something like that. She is my creator, after all, and for some nine months (during some of which, it seems, I could have been conscious) she was my world; she is the only constant, the thing that I have known the longest. But with my mother, more than most, I think the dichotomy is relevant and tangible – she brings love, laughter and light into our home, but also anger, pain, dissatisfaction, sadness. She has three living children, three of us who survived infancy, and two who did not. This ratio is about right, I feel: she has always been, and will always be, more light than darkness, more happy than sad. But it’s a close-run thing sometimes; I don’t think I’ll ever be able to think of her without her past, like a cloud, an ache – to see her as my mother without the ghosts.

She always puts flowers in my bedroom when I visit home, and she is always making something: she knits, sews, crochets, lately she spins wool from tops and dyes it; she bakes and she writes. And she has children, of course. She understands fibres and food. Everything is soft and structured, everything is many-coloured, patchworked and warm. Because she always has something unfinished in her hands, and because my parents’ house is so full of her gloriously handmade things, she’s sort of soft around the edges – you can’t really say where she ends and what she made begins.

The scents that remind me most of her are paper and old leather, warm and worn. A battered jacket that she used to wear, I think it must have once been like a biker jacket but time had creased and cracked it until it was soft and supple as chamois. In first year I bought one of my own from Armstrong’s – a subconscious memento? – but it’s different, so thick and solid it’s like a shell. In my mind’s eye my mum’s jacket hangs over the back of an old-fashioned, oiled wood chair in the hazy sunlight of childhood; dust motes dance above it in the yellowish beams that slip through faded curtains, heavy cotton, hand-dyed in yellow, red, orange. Sparkling fronds that we made together from glass beads and sweet wrappers, acetate and foil crinkling and clinking together when the wind blows. The association with paper is obvious, it’s from her many books – literature, poetry and plays, classics, Latin, recipe books and newspaper clippings, paperback novels bordering on pulp fiction, graphic novels, magazines, notebooks, sketches and doodles, diaries, plans – but also from the typesetting job she had when I was little; the clean and slightly chemical smell of her office, the laminators and inks and unknowable machines. She used to bring home little books and folders of paper samples, for me to draw on; neat little spectrums of pastels and brights, assorted weights and finishes, watermarks… how I treasured them! I must have kept some of them, my favourite ones, for seven or eight years. There’s something else: the clean smell of bread dough, not baking, although she is excellent at that; the baking scent itself reminds me of something more vague, a general feeling of welcome and wellbeing, I guess it does that for everybody. This is a scent of ingredients: flour, almonds, cinnamon, yeast. And finally something dark and dry, like dead air in a small dusty wooden box; cigars, unsmoked; the feeling in the back of the throat when you eat good, bitter dark chocolate.

The poems I associate with my mother – Mignon by J. W. von Goethe (her favourite, I think), The Song of Wandering Angus by W. B. Yeats (I remember her reciting it many times to me as a small child; I was entranced and haunted by the image of ‘a fire in my head’; the last stanza’s ‘till time and times are done’. I had only been alive for five or six years, and I suppose self-absorbedly thought that that was all the time in the world – when could this ‘time and times are done’ possibly be? Was this my first glimpse of the idea of infinity… celestial apple-plucking without end?) and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost – all have in common a longing to be somewhere else, somewhere far from the mundane and the colourless quotidian; a restlessness, an insatiable existential itch that I think perhaps I’ve inherited from her and her poems, I feel it sometimes in my own skin. Is it the same as Thanatos, the lust for death? Of course that’s what people say about about Frost’s poem and you could definitely make a case for it in the others too. But I think it’s not quite that simple. Intertwined with the bittersweet wish – not even a wish, nothing so conscious and active… more a gravitation, a pull as of magnetism, something inevitable and slow – to die, there is an inescapable love of life too: not merely an aesthetic appreciation of the intense beauty experienced in our own finite little lives, but a fiery thing, a fightback. In a sense, those poems all seem to me to contain (somewhere beneath the surface) a manifesto for loving: a resume of ‘why I’m not dead yet’, if you will.

If my dad is suffused with a springtime feeling of wholesomeness, freshness and youth, then my mother (in the nicest possible way) is autumnal, elder but not old – she dresses in autumn colours, and quietly she exudes the quality of those days of warm, rich colours and their crisp cold new air that hurts your lungs if you breathe deeply; of the ripeness of red fruit and of bright burning-looking leaves, but tinged with the beautiful spikes and whorls of first frost. A beauty that is inseparable from the knowledge that it’s fleeting; a warmth and joie de vivre that go hand in hand – perhaps closer – with the first-hand experience of random death. She is always somewhat tired, but wholly alive. She will always have miles to go before she sleeps.

You’re my number one guy.


That’s how I roll.

My bike’s name is Leon and he is awesome.