You make my neck ache.
You make my arms ache.
You make my back ache.
You make my legs ache.
You make, surprisingly, the arches of my feet ache.
You make aching into a form.
You make aching hold volume.
You make aching move.
You make aching cast a shadow.
You make aching a thing unto itself.
You make aching addicting.
You make aching pleasing.
You make aching worrying.
You make aching gratifying.
You make aching in a way, I’ve never before ached.
You make me want to suffocate.
You did this.
I must apologise for yesterday. It is clear to me now, after a good night’s sleep, that I was rather agitated. Riled up, as it were. And to tell you the truth, I was a little bit nervous. So, as a result, I took my frustration out on you. Which I am ashamed of. Truly. I don’t expect it to happen again. But, if it does, you must promise to speak plainly, and clearly, as I won’t tolerate your dissatisfaction—I don’t want us to drift apart.
Apart, I sigh, before we have even begun.
To begin is often thought to be the hardest part. Part of what, you may ask yourself. Well, part of the whole. And what is the whole? The whole is something which, I must admit, I am still navigating; however, I expect the whole would have a start and an end. But again, what defines the start, and what defines the end. Do you? Do I? Do we? Who shall we turn to for an answer? For a line, clearly drawn in the sand. You, no, you; yes, yes you; line-up, toes on the line, back straight, shoulders back, breathe, I said breathe; on your mark, get set, go!
You bolt from the line.
Or does the line bolt from you?
This part then, is something difficult to define. And whose to stay it goes in a straight line, like our runner, hurtling along the sand. As it happens, this whole I imagine, is not straight, but round, like a circle, or a slice of pie. It actually reminds me of a diagram, of those tedious fractions which we learnt at school. Those fractions, were often three-dimensional, much like our pie. They had depth; their section, their part, travelled up, down and through the whole. And this depth is something all together unpredictable too—depth grows depth, you see.
I sense I have confused the matter.
I need to stop this frantic energy.
Perhaps it’s hard to begin, as beginning means roughly understanding what this thing is a part of: what piece, what fraction, does the beginning mean, to its whole? Anyway, you don’t have to answer that right away. Muse on it. Absorb it. Drink it all in. We have the time—some would say, all the time in the world. And just as the runner returns, to find their line again, we may realise that this beginning has been swept away, by an incoming tide.
I guess it’s up to me, to draw the line again.
Isn’t apart a rather odd thing.
I mean, just look at the word itself.
To be apart, means to be s-e-p-e-r-a-t-e.
But the word itself remains together.
Whereas, to be a part, is to be together: a part of something. But the term itself remains s-e-p-e-r-a-t-e.
You may be wondering as to why you’re here.
And sometimes, I wonder the same thing myself.
Although, you’re not quite here, are you?
I keep forgetting that. There’s here and there’s there.
It might then be best to say, you are approaching here.
To reaffirm our position: you approach here, from over there.
You know me as I know myself.
Or maybe, even closer than that.
And that puts me off balance.
I want to know if you’ll stay there.
Firmly rooted in the ground, so to speak.
As I make my way through this forest, will you stay still?
I’m worried, that if I get to somewhere, I won’t know where to go from there.
Somehow, instead of you approaching me, I find myself reaching for you.
I stretch my arm out, open my hand, and wave it, as if feeling for a wall in darkness. An act of will, but exactly whose will, again, I’m not entirely certain.
I feel an immense pressure rise within me.
My mouth is dry, my knees, weak.
I’m not sure what you meant.
I wonder to myself, whether I should leave you loiter.
Loitering outside, in the rain.
I’m struggling with it.
With this decision I must make.
I do not suggest that I find your demeanour distressing, or even menacing, as if you startle me, by skulking around outside. I am not unsettled by your face, or at least, I don’t believe so. I’m undecided. I have not yet materialised the face of you. And to do so would be wrong, I think. It exists like a crying window, full of distortion and glare. It’s hard for me to explain.
We are close, but far.
I can hear you mumble and murmur.
The thing is, once I let you in—you’re in. There’s no pushing you, our guest, back out into the rain. It’s a one-way ticket. Into this warm, cosy room, I call myself. But this self, at the present moment, is not quite itself, and you may wish to turn on your heels, and go in search of someone else. I give you this warning: go somewhere else. There’s a chill in here too, the fire is struggling, its embers, lessening. Growing cold. I fear to be stamped out.
You seem to be quite enjoying the rain, dripping down your face. You don’t seem too cold either, or discontent.
I shall leave you loiter.
A while longer.
You breathe, heavy, on the window pane.
My sight obscured by your breath.
You’re tapping, tapping, tapping on the glass.
The wind picks up.
A breeze becomes storm.
I can no longer keep you at bay, my arms unfurl, and I bring you into my embrace. You’re wet and cold; I rub your arms, vigorously, igniting your blood, into a dance around your body. Warmth fills your cheeks.
It’s time, I tell you.
Time to tell you.
I’m nervous, and I’m uncertain as to why.
Maybe I seek your approval, your acceptance.
Anyway, dig deep, I urge myself.
I must dig deep.
I’m determined to navigate somewhere; this task you set for me. This arduous voyage across time and chance.
I… I… I decided to plant.
I planted a field.
I say so, with a tremor to my word.
With a crackle and a quake.
I planted it, in order to reach you.
As much as words mean many things.
It is your nature to be many things.
By telling you, I risk changing you.
For the most part.
You are to be an image.
I also planned to not only plant.
But to write to reach you.
To write to you.
I’m sorry, I can’t share any more.
I feel we’ve gone too far.
The more I say, the more I define.
And it’s important that you’re not defined by me.
I’ve been told I’m controlling.
And I know I mustn’t control you.
The seer, sees and in doing so, is seen.
If only seen within himself.
And so my plan is revealed. My intention, laid bare, albeit, only to a certain extent; we still have far to go together; many miles and many pages to cover. Up until now, I hope you haven’t found them too convoluted, my stories and tales I mean. I wasn’t aware of how ambiguous you wished it; how subtle, how direct, how within itself you wanted it. I think as we negotiate what it is, we shall fluctuate from within to outside ourselves. Oscillating between the two. Like air, drawn into my lungs, and blown back out.
I am relieved to start discussing what planting meant to me.
You see, we had chosen the field months prior; selecting it, out of numerous others. It had to be right. It had to feel right. And so we debated, and eventually whittled them down, like you would a block of wood, to find the perfect shape. We settled on our preferred choice and waited. Then, after a couple weeks flew by, we attempted to commence the process: to start planting the field. But, for some reason, you felt it not right, and sent the weather to hold us off; the rain poured, and poured, and the sun didn’t shine; I waited two weeks but you never let up. The soil was waterlogged. I was downcast, irritated and impatient. My concern was this: if not now, then when? I felt you were attempting to elude me, as if I was a stranger, following you down a dark, sinister street at night. And so you made me wait, and I waited and wondered, each and every day.
After six weeks, you changed your mood. The weather lifted and we began to commence for a second time. I was dubious, to say the least, unkeen to set myself up for another fall. But the day came, I arrived, parked, and walked into the field. The sun was bright, the sky was blue, and the earth, the earth was moist—it was just right. The field was unkempt; the grass, luscious, and a vivid green. The stage was set, so to speak, and we began.
First, I watched as my dad, cut the grass. He started from the edge, and made his way up and down the field, slashing at the lengths. Very quickly, variations of shade, colour and tone appeared in the field, along the lengths of grass already cut. They contrasted with each other, depending on the direction of the cut and your position. I walked up the side of the bank, and observed as the final strip was sliced, clean off; separating the image I knew, from its former, unkempt self, to a newer, fresher face. Appearances shifted, like quicksand.
The process did not stop there: next came a breaking, as the rotavator swept the ground, removing what little carpet of green was left. Uprooted entirely, and giving way to a light brown, dry soil, I felt as if we were grinding pigment in a pestle and mortar. The canvas too, was being stretched and defined, its dimensions becoming clear. I’ll forgive you for thinking that the boundaries of this task were a comforting sight. It is true, knowing the distance you must travel, does indeed help support your confidence in the journey. But here, here the distance was to the horizon, and I could not see to the other side. My body was confronted, with the scale of it, with its own minuscule nature against the expansive, devouring space of the field. I stood face-to-face with it, trembling.
The following day, I returned to the field.
Today we were to plough.
The ploughman arrived. I observed a great, curved, metallic toothed monster, following behind him. I spoke to him briefly, before he set off. He seemed confident he’d make short work of it. The plough dug into the ground, penetrated it, and dragged. The tractor at first jolted, digging in, pulled back slightly by the unrelenting grip of the soil, it was hard, solid, iron-willed too. But alas, it gave itself up, and the ploughman started his way up the field, carving the soil. Turning it over, and over, and over. I could recall the soil very well, how dark it was and the smell of it—as if it had never before been opened up. The scent was like a forest of trees, ground up, layered and squeezed together. It was like time itself had released an aroma. Watching soil, deep, nutrient rich soil, being summoned from the ground, was like seeing waves appear, when the ocean was nowhere near. It gives you a sense of something essential, or fundamental, when you’re near it, as if the balance of the universe relies on it.
Tumbling, tumbling, tumbling.
The plough, in its wake, formed a landscape within a landscape. A thousand landscapes. The slopes and jagged edges shimmered. Angle, surface, texture, size, scale, depth, width, height and length, all paraded in front of me. I felt a sense of vertigo from the infinite. Perspectives bred like rabbits in the hedgerows. And it was then, I formed the realisation of what the world is made of: earth. I saw what God must have, when forming tectonic plates, and compressing them together, to force a surge, an uplift, of boundless energy. An endless mountain range appeared before me. And I fell before it, onto my knees. It multiplied inside of me and I inside it.
Crumbling, crumbling, crumbling.
As the ploughman progressed on, field turned into battlefield. The enemy approached from the western flank. I arrived in fallen worlds, only to stagger, clumsily, into another. My feet were alien to me. I pressed on. The sun in my eyes, sweat at my brow and a pounding in my chest. I felt a kind of catharsis in seeing something ravaged other than myself. These craters, these edges, extended out of me. And to move through them, was as if to come to terms with them, to map them, inside myself. Art is like the traces of wounds ploughed into the field. Ploughing reveals more than it hides. It digs up the root of things. It mixes in, parts of me, reached by light, and those untouched by it. The field eats itself. To produce from itself. You fuel yourself in ways unknown to yourself.
I waved goodbye to the ploughman, as he left, for another field.
A job well done.
The field was being realised, ever so quickly, in front of my eyes.
Once I triggered the start, every stage seemed to be upon me.
The fertiliser rained down, like hail stones. Little white pellets of sustenance and energy, scattered: left, right, up, down. They filled the air and settled on the soil. Slipping into every crack and crevice produced by the plough. I thought it would take as long as the other work, but then the driver, promptly positioned himself in the middle of the field, fired up the machine, and commenced; within two minutes, the work was done. I was surprised at the speed of it, at the efficiency of the process. I merely blinked and he was gone.
We called for the power harrow, and soon enough, within an hour or so, it came billowing up the lane. I thought this machine similar to the rotavator, but it was heavier, stronger, with far more brute force. It started, like the others, by travelling up and down, moving right to left. It sounded like a high pitched wail, escalating, as the circular drum with blades spun, gaining increased velocity. A pummelling. A battering. It crushed and compounded. Ushering in, wherever it went, a uniformity. It levelled the earth. My sea of mountains became a mill pond, gently undulating. Behind the machine, from the right angle, you could see these cliff like edges being funnelled in. After, I was left with a smooth layer of finely prepared soil. I ran my fingers through it.
As we were pressed for time, they sent the crawler out too, whilst the rotavator was still completing the remaining half of the field. The crawler is a funny, little, yellow, aged machine. I remember it from when I was a boy. Over the years its parts have been removed, adjusted, fixed or replaced entirely. So much so, I wasn’t completely sure if I was looking at the same machine, or a patchwork, made of metal. And as its name suggests, it is a thing that crawls, on caterpillar tracks, thereby moving at a slower pace than most. It gave me a sense of something prehistoric, unleashed from a cage, as it groaned its way up the field. The crawler is tasked with directing the soil, balancing the flow, to create perfectly proportioned rows, or furrows, as they are known in the trade. These span the length of the field in parallel lines. These too induce vertigo, from a ceaseless progression, of up and down.
To observe both machines move around each other, on the same stage, was like watching a carefully choreographed dance, between two people. They sped up, they slowed down, they moved over, around and across each other. Each added to the other’s work, to the other’s movement. They pushed forward, together, and before long, the field was done, prepared, ready for another’s entrance.
For the final act, they brought a tractor and a trailer, carrying boxes of seed for me to plant. Thankfully, they placed these boxes along the furrows, at intervals twenty meters apart, to help my progression, along the field. I thanked them and they departed. They seemed to laugh between themselves, again, in disbelief. I was at last alone with no more distractions and no more observations. The task now fell to me, onto my shoulders.
I am tempted to continue, to continue speaking like I have, over the past few days. But I think describing how I did this, or how I did that, may get slightly tiresome, for both you, to read, and I, to write. I also feel we’ve reached a point in this narrative, a juncture, where an attempt to convey, or interpret the nature of my planting, in its entirety, would be futile. I’ve learnt there are a few things beyond the reach of language, and this, in fact, might be one of them. Furthermore, somethings, after all, must be kept for myself. And so, rather than trying to climb a slippery, muddy slope, I shall merely stand at the bottom, and observe one or two things which crossed my path.
My first observation, was actually a sensation, or to be exact, the lack of sensation. I had spent my first day in the field planting by hand. And as promised, I shall not bore you with the details. But you should know, I had committed myself, in body and mind, to the task at hand. I was planting as directed, up and down the furrows. The phrase back-breaking is often bandied about nowadays, but truly, I speak from a place of experience, it was indeed, back-breaking. I continued on, completed twelve rows, and headed home. I was exhausted. Spent. For the remainder of the evening, I was incapable of moving; my muscles ached, throbbed, burned, and at times were agonising and tender. I positioned myself in bed, moaned as I lay my body flat, and attempted to go to sleep. I felt my blood rush around my body and heat radiated out from me.
As I lay there, willing myself to sleep, dreading the following day, I noticed I could feel the weight of my body, more than ever before. The body declares itself subject! It made itself known to me, as an object, one with its own limits, boundaries and intentions. It had been thrown, you could say, by me, the pilot, into a nosedive, hurtling towards the ocean. It was alarmed, and alert. I realised then, it’s not normally one for my attention. I guess, I use it, without really considering it. When I was there, contemplating this new found knowing of myself, I located a place I could not feel, it was numb, and cold to touch. My left hand—to be precise, the right side, of my left palm—did not ache; truth be told, it did not feel anything at all. I squeezed and massaged it with the fingers from my other hand. It was lifeless. I had a strange sense of doubleness wash over me, of slippage: that feeling which occurs when your brain stumbles, trips over itself, unable to discern what it thinks it knows, from what it feels.
I ascertained that there, here, that padded piece of flesh, was where my weight rested, when traversing the field. I learnt that, to plant properly, you must hold the box with either your left or right hand; and instead of carrying the full weight of the box, constantly, you must channel your weight; support it, when bent down, through your hand, arm and shoulder; by doing so, you help support your back. Once your back goes, you go.
The human hand is commonly known as a grasping organ; it is so familiar, and so essential, we often overlook its importance. Its meaning can range across a variety of subjects too: in the hands of, implies the holding of power, wealth and authority; a helping hand, suggests the giving of assistance, aid and support; a big hand, often leads to applause, praise and adoration; to hand off, is to offload, or relinquish responsibility; show your hand, leads to the revealing of not only cards, but intent; by my hand, is literally, made by my hand (handwriting); a hand, is four inches, and a unit for measuring the height of a horse; may I ask for your hand in, is of course, marriage; and finally, although I’m sure there are many more, a hand, is a sailor in a ship’s crew, and by association, a labourer. This odyssey of meaning brought me to the word manual, which comes from the latin manus, meaning hand; and so, we arrive at manual labour, and everything, by extension, that uses a hand and the body.
As those thoughts whirled around my mind, I began to drift. You know, often, before having the courage to go toward the greatness of sleep, I pretend that someone is holding my hand and I go, go toward the enormous absence of form that is sleep. And when even then I can’t find the courage, then I dream. In your hands, you carry me.
My second observation, was that of rhythm. It’s an interesting question, isn’t it: how to move? A few weeks ago, I found I had to learn how to travel over the earth, in a way unfamiliar to myself, but not too dissimilar to a rock climber, ascending a cliff face: grappling with the surface, weight forward, constantly in motion, building momentum and crucially, never looking back. I was, of course, moving horizontally, but I had a strong suspicion that the surface, and the direction of my passing, defied one another, just as though they knew our relationship was out of whack, unnatural, much like a climber, five hundred meters high, hanging on by their fingertips.
Out of place.
Out on a limb.
Dislodging rocks as I went.
I moved like so:
step step step
place place place
step step step
place place place
step step step
place place place
step step step
place place place
step step step
place place place
step step step
place place place
step step step
place place place
step step step
place place place
step step step
place place place
step step step
place place place
step step step
place place place
step step step
place place place
step step step
place place place
step step step
place place place
step step step
place place place
step step step
place place place
step step step
place place place
Does the word become the act?
As I traversed the field, diligently planting, what I thought I knew annulled itself.
It stirred and revealed itself to me, as I shall now reveal it to you.
I realised that rhythm is one of the hardest things to learn, and one of the hardest things to gain. You see, I was never much of a dancer, or a musician, or a sportsman. I was never much of anything. And I’d be lying if I didn’t somewhat resent myself for that. They say you are born with rhythm. They say you are born with or without it. It is just one of those things, one of those many, many things, which we add to our long list of things we choose to live by; preordained, predestined shackles, heavy around our limbs. Me? No. No, I can’t dance. I never have. And I kind of always felt, if I did have it, I wouldn’t know where to place it. Take your good intentions elsewhere. Climatically: to gain rhythm is actually, to gain acceptance; to be rhythmic, is to know yourself.
I now suspect it, rhythm that is, as something extending out, and proliferating the world around us. Hidden behind shadows, doorways, laying under the earth. It appears like low lying mist, in the early morning air, the weight of gravity holding it down, making it a part of this world; it is so precious, so unique, it would depart us, should it get the chance. A flutter of golden butterflies. A splash of light. A breath as deep as the sea. You find rhythm in more ways than you know. In the words I use to write to you. And in the sentences I cobble together. I feel, sometimes, like I dance through letters and words. They carry us through the rhythm of the page. Much like music, building, growing, successively following itself, existing in and through time, the effects of which are at the mercy of experience and duration. I think I’ve found it. And I now point you towards the essence of music, dance, sport, and writing, as I now know it, and dare I say it, life, which I feel, deeply, in my heart: rhythm.
Oh honey, put on your dancing shoes.
Let’s hit the town.
buried with me,
out of me,
into the ground.
spinning the Earth.
These pages, topple, like dominoes, threatening to crush me.
I held the stone and it held my gaze. I moved it around in my palm, spinning it, overturning it, tracing and recording every inch of its surface; I noted its shape, dimension, colour and outline against my palm. By all appearances, it seemed ordinary. Ordinary like the rest. Ordinary like a stone. And much like the others, that had passed through my hand, it was smooth, greyish, dirty in places, and cold, cold to touch. But somehow, this one appeared different to the rest; it was out of the ordinary. Wherever the ordinary was, it had emerged from it.
It was heavier somehow. Heavier.
Or was it lighter? Lighter.
I glanced back, back over my shoulder, to see a line of stones following me to where I stood. Their length was far, their width, narrow. I felt like a celestial body, as constellations of orbs, of stones, circled and circled, orbiting around me. They grew, gargantuan, like snowballs, running down a great snowy hill. They lifted off and departed this world. It was then I became a stargazer, observing clusters of them, of stars, of stones, millions and millions of miles away; flickering, glinting, twinkling, their luminescence was sent back to Earth; they penetrated the atmosphere, and entered me. I was filled by their message and it was their message I did hear: they had come to lift me. And so, without hesitation, I went, beginning slow at first, but levitating nonetheless. I disobeyed gravity. Drifting far and drifting wide. Rolls reversed. Positions eroded. Now, it was I, orbiting the stones.
My stones are like grains of sand in the space of the landscape, I thought, as I soared and soared, high above. They were almost amorphous, transmuting themselves. If I’d looked away I would have lost sight of them. Perhaps, my talent as an artist is to walk across a moor, or place a stone on the ground. That would be a noble, simple life: I dreamt it, I believed it, I lived it, and it was done. Milestones are like chapters, spinning out from underneath me. Let’s be pragmatic about this. A precise thought, logical, crystalline like the material of the stone. A stone is a stone is a stone. Much like a waterfall is a waterfall is a waterfall. Is a stone just the idea of stone? There are parts of me, and parts of you, which become, parts of us. I gasp. I was mortally open, filled with groundlessness. I sensed my own finitude. A crack in reality had sent me into a spiral; the spiral begins, the spiral ends, the rest is a curve, much like a stone. I did not wish to depart this world without you. I struggled, kicked and cried, to turn the tide of my momentum. I wanted to return; to return to the field, and to you.
I was brought crashing, crashing like a meteor, back down to Earth.
I snapped back inside myself, and dropped the stone.
It landed, with a thud.
Indenting the earth.
The eyes of the stone stared back at me. I could not plant it, I sensed that, deep in my gut. It was a ringleader and it would intoxicate the others. It seduced me. What’s more, I had an overwhelming urge to walk; to walk with it. And so I bent down, picked it up and placed the stone into my pocket. I gathered myself, and collected those little pieces of cosmic dust that had ricocheted around me. I calmed myself—deep, deep breaths—and began to walk. I took this route: straight on, out of the field, and into the lane; left, along the lane until I got to the T-junction; right, down into the valley, past the duck pond, and then up the hill, back out of the valley; right again, and onto the main road, I travelled along here for a while, passing the garden centre, passing the petrol station, passing the shop, what a lovely day for a walk; I shot a left, following the winding lane as it moved like a snake along a forest floor; I stumbled down into another valley, and immediately, headed straight back up, my legs burning from the height of it; next I went along the lane, until I met the greenhouses, and stopped, on the yellow line; right, past St John’s manor; left, down that grand boulevard of trees; I continued on, passing the occasional house, and farmland; after some time, I arrived at St Mary’s village, walked past the pub and the church, and pushed on; this is when I almost lost sight of it: why I was walking; devouring trees, devouring leaves, like air; I like the simplicity of walking, the simplicity of stones, I murmured to myself, as if trying to convince myself to continue walking; I did not deviate from my route, I persisted with it, along the same road, past the windmill, and then the road took a sharp right; I stared at the pavement, hypnotised, watching my feet, and my shoes, march on, as if they were possessed; a walk is just one more layer, a mark, laid upon the thousands of other layers of human and geographic history on the surface of the land; I considered my mark, and whether a mark was necessary, mark my words, you said to me; I took another right, so many, many rights, and eventually arrived at another yellow line, I waited, paused for the traffic, and travelled over the road and into the lane; I passed the pink house, and then I past Gran’s house, I poked my head around the gate, but she wasn’t in; her garden looked tranquil, sheltered and serene; whereas, on the lane, the vegetation looked barren, beaten and weathered by this stormy position; I felt that stone in my pocket, bouncing against my thigh, a tinge of sadness spread from my leg, and up into my heart; walking presupposes that at every step the world changes in some aspect and also that something changes in us; uncertain, my intent wavering, I became like that old tree, over there, creaking in the wind; at last, the road ebbed and flowed its way to a sweeping vista, overlooking the sea, and I emerged, high above the shore, on a cliff face; the air was fresh, and I filled my lungs; I followed the twisting, looping, bending road down to the beach at L’Etacq, and took the coastal path across the bay, along the sea wall; the curve carried me a great distance; the waves rolled in, and rolled out, as if pushing and pulling at my body; it was as though, I wandered, in and out of consciousness; I lost my balance, and was carried close to the edge of the wall; I peered at it, teetering on the brink, tempted to succumb to the vastness, to the sublime terror of height; I no longer sought to contain myself; my body demanded a metamorphosis, to transcend, to escape itself; my grip on the present and the past slipped away, time departed; my thoughts were flooded; the waves crashed, pounded, against the wall; I felt it, as if you were banging on my skull, cracking my head, like a stone in two; I stumbled on, and at times crawled, scraping my knees, cutting them, on the rough concrete; blood out of a stone; as I staggered to my feet, on my left, the white house floated by; the seagulls cawed, following me like scavengers, picking at the weak; the sun was bright, a bright, white light, and the swell shimmered and barrelled; exploding stars in its wake; I was nearing my end; I was nearing the slipway at Le Braye; words carried me the rest of the way. A thought enclosed in a stone.
I reached it, not it…. don’t be foolish, not you, but something else; I jumped off the wall, onto the granite slipway, kicked off my shoes and removed my socks; I stepped off, my feet touched the sand, and it spread between my toes. The sound of the waves gently crashed as I walked further out onto the beach. A sense of relief pervaded and comforted me. I felt that I could swim for miles, out into the ocean: a desire for freedom, an impulsive to move, tugged at me as though it were a thread fastened to my chest. I released myself and sang a melody, it rose and fell, like light, dancing across the waves. A spirit filled him, pure as the purest water, sweet as dew, moving as music. As my song moved through the air, I scanned the horizon and noticed a figure, a lone figure, moving frantically along the shoreline. It was, alas, our runner, circling, searching for a line. A line in the sand. The line I had promised him. I was disheartened to see this, to see his madness creeping in; he should have begun, many pages and pages ago. I thought, perhaps, he may have lost sight of himself. It’s easy to do so, as you know. Especially in a place such as this: an abyss of sand; an abyss of you. I need not tell you what happens when you gaze at it.
I placed my hand into my pocket, grasped the stone, and lifted it out. When does a stone become a pebble? When does a mountain become a hill? It was slightly lighter than before. Our walk may have resolved it somewhat, but the stone trembled in fear, it was like an earthquake, the size of my palm. The trembling became an image, or rather, a fragment of it; it dug in, sunk its roots down, and burrowed into me; my soul separated itself from my skin, outraged, that an image had replaced it. The stone gave birth to the present. And it is the here and now where we find ourselves. I thought about throwing it at the rocks, catapulting it, to see it land, with a clap, and a thunder. Could I destroy this image; shattering it, into a thousand pieces? Does it have a fossil inside? A fossilised event, like a book, or a poem. I hesitated; I could not destroy a book, no more than I could destroy a person.
I wondered if the stone could grow into a tree of coral under the sea. A beautiful, kaleidoscopic world, a world where mirage becomes reality, where sight itself is not as distinct as it ought to be. I walked a little further, down to the water’s edge. The tension between me and the water grew, closer. I waited and as the wave broke, the sea came rushing up to greet me, like an old friend, long separated by time. What is the sea, the ocean, if not a giant basin of rock, an expansive network of shelves, surfaces, holding the water above it, in its hands or on its shoulders. I saw life made up of material, such as words, which I harness, alongside stone and water; permeating, spreading, or holding on, and standing firm. Breathing the air of the sea is like breathing the light. A clarity as fresh as the day. I was tempted to drop you in, to make you a part of the sea of stone. You’d be a drop, a drop in the ocean of stories. And maybe, that was that; these stones are like tales, whispers in the wind, departures, waiting to be nurtured and dropped into a melting pot of that which makes you. They are the things which direct, lead, and help you arrive. Like a blustery day, and a sail full of breeze.
The sun began to fall, the light, with it, and so the world did too, falling, falling around us. You were not an ordinary stone after all, but a curious one, from a family of living stones. I bent down, with the stone in my hand and drew a line, a line clear as crystal, unmistakeable, along the sand. The runner looked relieved, thanked me, from the bottom of his heart, and went on his way. I placed you back into my pocket, turned, and headed home. A living stone, I sang and sang. The stone and sea merged together and became me. A body of sea and stone.
Outline of the stone, with the page, as my palm:
What age does that feel? You asked me, some time ago.
It provoked me, in more ways than one.
You have a different way of knowing yourself, you also said to me.
As luck would have it, it is now, and only now, that you join me in the present. The present, whatever that may be.
It will come as no surprise to learn that I have been reaching for a while now, but whether it was towards, or away from you, remains to be seen. But, for some reason, it is now I feel we are on the same page. And I get the impression you’re growing impatient, as you’re endlessly pacing, like a bloodhound, restless to uncover the truth. To sniff it out, as it were. And after our walk, it pleases me to say we’ve bonded and grown familiar; and doesn’t it feel nice to lean closer, to lean on someone every now and then? Anyway, you don’t feel like a stranger anymore, that was my point, you’re more like an acquaintance. But an acquaintance I’m interested in understanding further. So that’s a good thing. That’s a good position to be in. I’ve noticed there two types of acquaintances: those you have polite conversation with at a bus stop, and those, who for some reason, you can simply slip into getting blind, raving drunk; speaking for hours and hours on end. I suspect, and hope, you may be the latter. At present, I am comfortable to share it with you, the truth of it, or, as far as I know it to be.
To help us on our way, may I point something out: you have asked me what and why, but you haven’t asked me where. And it is the where where the crux of this story lies; more so, it is not only where but the who we find there. I postulate that there’s something lurking in all stories, in all names, and in all people, and often, it’s telluric: it’s from the soil and it’s from the earth. What I mean by that is this: the where, from my experience, tends to be where most of you are found, nearby, deeply buried in the earth. And who are these you I speak of? Well, please don’t think me morbid, but it’s your family. Or perhaps, it’s just the case for my own family. Nevertheless, I believe it’s the who who dictates the where, and it’s the who which often ends up in the dirt of the where, and therefore, the who becomes inseparable from the where. And just because the who are in the dirt, doesn’t mean to say their value is worthless, far from it, in actual fact, their value can never, truly, be measured. These pieces anchor you to a place. To the where. Well, they do for me. You can choose to believe me or not, but that fact of the matter is, you never control it; it’s that place you first walked over, and in some respects, it walked over you. I’ve discovered, that over time, it can hinder, contain and control you; or it liberates, supports and ignites you. Its agency fluctuates. Its nature changes. Much like your passion for things. And whether it’s one or the other, it forms you, like a sculptor handling clay. The creation of life from clay. It’s known around the world as something to long for, or something you long to leave. It’s hard to make and easy to destroy. It is, of course: home.
It may also be prudent to point out: all the names mean nothing to you, and your name means nothing to them. And so, this journey into where and who, shall be, somewhat, a self-fulfilling exercise, an exercise for me to enjoy, and perhaps, you too, if you’re a person who can tolerate those utterly tedious stories, about other people’s families. I do often ask myself: is there anything more dull than feigning interest in Great Aunty Fanny? I think not; if there is, I haven’t found it yet. Needless to say, I will not be disappointed if you leave now. But if you choose to, if you will it so, we shall cast our minds back, back to the people and places that made me. Look at it this way: it might influence your form, or your shape; you may gain an aptitude for it, for recollections and for memory. After all, it’s in your nature to be nostalgic. To muse on the past, and to feel it in the present.
If you flew, like a seagull, due south from Poole Harbour, at about hundred miles into that tempestuous sea, you would come across a scattering of islands, which can be seen, on a clear and sunny day, from each other. The place I call home is an island that sits in the Channel, the English Channel. They are positioned near the coast of France, but not too close to be France. Interestingly, they are the oldest possession of the British Crown. In the past, I have counted many acquaintances and friends, who have brimmed with joy, in mockery of us; and their comments usually go something along the lines of: Are you French? Is it just you and ten other people? Really? Do you really live on a rock, in the sea, with just a cow and a tree? As to why mainlanders find this idea hilariously funny still eludes me, to such a degree, I believe the island remains my secret. A secret from all those who are ignorant. In spite of this, the island which we are concerned with, is the largest, and has known many names throughout its time, given to it by its inhabitants and passers-by. Settle in. Sit around the campfire, and let’s begin.
It started with a rumour, amongst historians and writers, that the first name was once Cæsarea; believed to be given to the island by the Roman Empire, to help guide officials on voyages; however, in recent times, there seems to be no proof in such claims. During the 6th century, and coinciding with Christianity, it is thought the island had taken a new name; found during the Early Middle Ages, and located within the small chapels on the island, such as Fisherman’s Chapel; it was recorded as being either: Andium, Agna, Augia or Angia; some propose that Andium, roughly translated, could mean “large island”. Next, and perhaps pivotally, it was only after the invasion of the Vikings, or the Norsemen, between the 9th and 10th centuries, did a new name emerge; the one which would last to the present day. As with most things, this too is debated, but popular theories suggest that the Normans named the island Gers-ey. The reason as to why, again, remains unclear, but it is thought that the suffix “ey” is Norse for either “water” or “island”, and the meaning of “Gers” could perhaps be from the Frisian, which means “grass”, thus leading us to “Grassy Isle”. It is also popular belief, and my favourite interpretation, that the name hails from the Norwegian Viking who first seized and claimed the island, as Geirr is a personal name, resulting in Geirr’s ey or “Geirr’s Island”. Whatever the route, it is now, we arrive at Jersey, the island of Jersey.
You should note, Jersey has not always been an island, in fact, studies prove a great forest once grew between Jersey and Guernsey, stretching out from where the beach ends and the sea begins, across the water, to where the sea ends, and the beach begins. As sea levels rose, so too did the island’s tendency to dip its toes, then a leg, then a torso, and lastly, its whole body, into the tide of history: it has seen Palaeolithic hunter gatherers 250,000 years ago, the Neolithic period, the Gallo-Roman era, the Early Middle Ages, Vikings, Normans, the Hundred Years’ War, the Black Death, the War of the Roses, the English Civil War, the Battle of Jersey, World War I, World War II, a five-year occupation from German forces, and finally, its liberation on 9th May 1945. It is then an island drenched in history. The scars of which appear, intermittently, throughout its landscape. And as I stand here, in my field, surveying the land, I notice a block like structure emerging, disrupting my view, interrupting the sea of green foliage. It is a concrete, distressed, box shape. Something which I’ve always overlooked. My grandfather told me the other day, he use to play on it, when he was ten or eleven years old: on the German gun emplacement, he said. The sky above, is in the centre, or rather, this field is in the centre of the sky (in prime position of the flight path). It sent a chill, spreading down my spine. It dawned on me: it’s here history can be seen and felt.
Image: Claude Cahun
I could continue to select moments of history to regale you with, but it wouldn’t serve us well, as although we are indeed concerned with the distant, it’s the distant which grows near that captures us. And for me, no, for us, I should say, this exercise is not just about what happened when, but the nature of who we find there, and how they came to be there. Jersey has seen an array of notable inhabitants, and to name a few: King Charles II (1630-1685), the dethroned king, whilst in exile, sheltered on the island twice, during 1646 and 1649; Victor Hugo (1802-1885), the famed poet and novelist, also moved to Jersey whilst in exile from France in 1852; Claude Cahun (1894-1954), born Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob, was an artist, at the forefront of surrealism, who originated from Nantes, but later settled in Jersey; and lastly, Gerald Durrell (1925-1995), author and conservationist, settled here after life in Corfu, setting up the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust and zoo. These are names known widely on and off the island of Jersey. And why should you care? Well, that’s up to you. I sometimes find it insightful to learn which bodies have moved through this air. And those who have felt the island dwell inside of them. As it dwells inside of me. History is a place, a cave, which wraps around me.
I shall now attempt to follow the lineage of my family; for arguments sake, and for the sake of paper, I will only follow my paternal line, as best I can. It is believed the Mourant family, also spelt Morant and Moraunt, arrived on the island of Jersey as early as 1309. Research into the family has suggested that we are possibly descendants of the de Morant family of Normandy. As the story goes, the Viking, Rollo, landed in Normandy in 911, and signed a treaty with the then King of West Francia, Charles III; the king bestowed power and land onto Rollo, who became the first Duke of Normandy. The Duke’s fief (an estate of land), was known to be called either “Les Cours Morant” or “Morantsgaard”, which is thought to have originated from “morant” meaning “seamen”. As a matter of fact, it was not until Rollo’s son, William Longsword, previously Count of Rouen, seized the Cotentin Peninsula, during an expansion of lands in 933, did the Duchy come to possess the Channel Islands. The ancestors of Mourant, or the de Morant family, are recorded as being mainly members of the landed gentry or nobility in France. Historical references place the families presence as far back as Pierre Morant (1155), Olivier Morant (1195) and Raoul and Guillaume Morant (1195 and 1198), all residing in and around Normandy. The first mention of the family actually in Jersey, comes regrettably, in the form of punishment, as in the parish of St Saviour, in 1309, Ralph (Radulphus) Moraunt was punished for breaking a law governing bakers and taverners. Following this, there are the occasional records where the family name appears, such as in land transactions, legal documents and court appearances, all the way through the 15th century. The family seems to fragment during this time, with lines ending, and daughters being prominent rather than sons. Nevertheless, what is agreed upon as the strongest, longest and continuous line, begins with the birth of Drouet Mourant (1500-1580), or Morant (depending on which source you consult), who was baptised in St Saviour’s parish church, in 1500. Where the “u” came from in our name, still baffles and remains a mystery to me; as the name grew so did its meaning, as the “u” brings us to “Mourant”, meaning “dying” in French. However, it is from here, from birth rather than death, of Drouet Mourant, that a line emerges; or should I say, a tree, which we can follow; look, look up there, as I climb down from the highest most upper branches, descending from the zenith, making sure, carefully, to step lightly, as I move to the lower branches, and then onto the trunk, shimmying down, to the base of the tree, and onto the ground, down to me. You could say, he was a grand, old oak tree, and me, a sapling, slender and immature.
What was our life like?
How kind of you to ask.
Our life in Jersey, over the past five hundred years, could quite accurately be summed up over the following lines: we were, and for all intents and purposes still are, quintessentially, farmers; our life was out on the fields and in the barns; it was about getting your hands dirty. And this was not unique to us, but to the island itself; Jersey had its cornerstone in a prosperous agricultural industry. The task, at first, was to grow enough food to survive, to feed a family of eight to ten children. But it soon grew into a prominent industry. The island had, and still has, rich fertile soil, and a favourable climate, which brings its crops to fruition a couple weeks prior to that of the mainland. It brought the island fame, and crucially, wealth. There are tales of farmers who produced their crops early, sold them to merchants down at the harbour (for a mind-boggling price), and then laughed, as they walked home, with a spring in their step, taking early retirement. Those were what you’d call the good old days. We were famous for four main things: cider, tomatoes, cows and Jersey Royal Potatoes. Two have died out and two remain.
We were, and again, still are a family, who pride ourselves at breeding prizewinning cattle and growing Jersey Royal Potatoes. The potatoes, started life as a bit of a fluke, and for a time, they were known as Jersey Flukes. As my father said to me once, it was Hugh de la Haye, who one day came across a potato growing which had sixteen eyes. The eyes of which we speak are actually sprouts; shoots from which the body of the plant grows up, out of the earth, towards the sun. This was extremely abnormal, and after Hugh showed this to his friends, they decided to cut it up, into pieces, with a stalk each and planted these into a cotil. A cotil is a Jersey term, for an early, sloping field, which is very small and difficult to manoeuvre around. They are south facing and experience maximum warmth and sunlight. After a heavy and early spring, Hugh noticed how one plant produced unique, kidney shaped potatoes. He continued to cultivate these, over the years, until there was enough for an entire field, crop and harvest. They tasted delicious, and popularity quickly grew; thus, a tradition was born. It may come as no surprise to you, but, at last, I can tell you: I planted potatoes too. I did that! I took to the field and placed them, one by one, up the furrows. They are what grow out there, on the land. And, they are what grow inside of me.
Lastly, our place within the place, had been the parish of Grouville, St Saviour, and St Helier. These parishes are closely knit communities, sharing boundaries with each other. So, over time, we did not travel far. Far in Jersey is about two miles, and that’s about the distance, if not less, that the majority of our family moved. You have to reorientate your sense of what is close and far here, both physically and metaphysically. The year was filled with tradition and hard, gratifying work. The children would walk to school, and walk back; the neighbours would know you, and your father, and your father’s father. You’d grow apples for cider, make black butter in the winter, make Jersey Wonders in the spring (as the tide went out), plant the fields, tend to the cows, harvest the crop, even the schools would close during the height of the season so the children could farm too. That was their life for generations, and of course, it was back-breaking and strenuous, and perhaps I’ve romanticised it, but it appears to be a good life. As much as there is unhappiness anywhere, I get the sense it was a better place than many.
My search has unearthed talent, notoriety and sadness amongst the family line. For a pastoral idyll, regrettably, is exactly that: an idyll; it is not realistic, or achievable. It lives as an idyllic image, in my mind, rising and setting, like the sun. The sum of it reads as a mixed bag; as with most families, there is lightness and darkness. For us, there was rampant alcoholism within our ranks; an infliction helped along by strong home brew cider. And in the 17th century, Jean Mourant, became known for witchcraft, and as a consequence, was hanged. However, happier revelations include: Rev Philip Mo(u)rant (1700-1770), a celebrated antiquarian and researcher into the Norman conquest; Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896), the Pre-Raphaelite painter of the 19th century, who was a child prodigy, gaining entrance into the Royal Academy Schools age 11 (at the time of writing, his palettes are on show in the vaults); and, last but certainly not least, Dr Arthur Ernest Mourant (1904-1994), who was a highly skilled individual, recognised as a geologist, haematologist, chemist and geneticist. It would now be apt to reveal to you Dr Mourant’s book, Blood and Stones, which is the text I currently consult about who and what we are. Besides the fabulous title, which I envy, I shall forever be indebted to him for discovering our ancestry. His death, was in 1994, which coincidentally, was the year of my birth. He was also a lover of photography. Although, I do not for one moment attempt to draw any similarity between the little I know, and understand, to the seemingly stratospheric intelligence and wisdom of this man. But I’d be crestfallen if I did not declare the kinship I feel towards him; and despite the fact our relationship is one through a tenuous link, it is a link nonetheless.
Right, with the help of Dr Mourant, let me attempt to break this down: the man in the picture I showed you yesterday, to the left of the horse, is my great-grandfather, Edgar Reynolds Mourant (1909-1971), the man to the right, holding the plough, is my great-great-grandfather, Philip Chevalier Mourant (1875-1967), and Philip’s father, was my great-great-great-grandfather, Philip Joshue Mourant (1831-1892). With me so far? Great. Next, Philip Joshue Mourant, was the brother of Charles Mourant (1840-1920), and Charles’s son, was Ernest Mourant (1872-1958), whose son was our Dr Arthur Ernest Mourant (1904-1994). It’s a delirious and tenuous link, like I said, but we both share a love of blood and stones, so I shall carry on. When reading Dr Mourant’s autobiography (the aforementioned title), I came across an interesting piece of history which was unknown to me. He writes: I cannot trace my own ancestry in the male line beyond my great-great-great-grandfather, Jean Mourant, whose son Philip in 1818 bought the farm at Haut du Mont au Prêtre in the parish of St Helier, which has remained the home of the senior branch of the family. He goes on to mention that his grandfather, Charles Mourant, lived there too when he was a boy. This was enlightening, because, owing to the fact Dr Mourant’s grandfather grew up in that house, it would also make sense, that Charles’s brother, Philip Joshue Mourant (my great-great-great-grandfather), did too. Again, this may be uninteresting to you, dear Reader, but it was on the 10th August 1973, when my own grandfather, Stewart Mourant (1940), purchased Haut du Mont, from a close descendant, Philip George Mourant (1919-1988). After my grandfather lived there, some years later, he moved next door, and my own father, Nick Mourant (1964), came to live there, and brought up four children: Georgina Mourant (1989), Stephanie Mourant (1990), Bryony Mourant (1992), and then myself; which leads me, and you, to this wooden desk where I now sit, writing these words, in that very same house. I gaze up and stare at the surface of the granite walls, weathered by hands over the years. If these walls could speak, I thought. How bizarre it feels to write history when I’m not only touching it, but sitting inside it. Words welcome us; we inhabit their walls.
The reason why I brought you here, was not only to visit my house, or to meet Dr Mourant, but to speak of our ancestors, Charles Mourant, and my great-great-great-grandfather, Philip Joshue Mourant. You see, about a year ago, I learnt of their tales and exploits. And at the time, it seemed like quite a grand and exciting story, something which I thought you’d be interested to hear. Indeed, that was the plan, until I learnt of how the story ended, for Philip at least, and then it became achingly sad and troublesome. It became a story I wasn’t sure of how to handle; how to spin or weave it. It felt wrong, but it also felt essential to this, to our story. And I had to judge what was best for you and for us; to weigh them both up. I decided, as I was sucked in by this story, enthralled by it, I should attempt to recall it, no matter how shameful it feels to be doing so. In terms of records, or factual basis, time has done away with most of the details, as time often does, and my family holds hardly any documents. And so, what I tell you is supported by what was passed down, by what was disclosed; and I’m certain, what was spoken, was affected, by what was unspoken. It started as a family rumour, and the more it was said, I guess, the more it was said to be true. Like liquid cooling, through the generations, to become crystal inside us.
I’ll stop beating around the bush: as I mentioned, they were brothers, and Charles was the younger. They grew up at Haut du Mont, as I did, became young men, and followed their own paths. Philip, being almost a decade older, was expectedly, the first to marry. He married Mary-Ann Le Gallais (1829), who bore three children: Philip (1859), who sadly died in infancy; Mary Ann (1860) and Emelie Rachel (1861). At this time, Dr Mourant speaks of Charles travelling: he headed out by sea, sailing far and wide, reaching as far as Barbados. Upon his return, he too married and continued to farm at Haut du Mont. It would seem, after a while, he decided to move to his own house at Croix ès Mottes, St Saviour, which is nearby to La Hougue Bie; shortly after, Charles had his first child, a son, Ernest Mourant (1872), and it was there, at Croix ès Mottes, where he spent the remainder of his life. Unfortunately, in the 1860s, Philip’s wife Mary-Ann, died, as to why, I could not find out. It was then, in the late 1860s Philip remarried, to Mary-Ann’s sister, Louisa Le Gallais (1839), who bore five children: Louisa Alice (1870), Clara Jane (1873), Philip Chevalier (1875), Harriet Vivian (1880) and Eva Ann (1882). A census of 1891, puts Philip’s family all in residence at La Commune Farm, St Saviour.
Professionally speaking, their life was quite successful. Both brothers became notable farmers on the island. I believe they grew crops, but their mainstay was cattle; they bred, prizewinning and lucrative, Jersey cows. For those in the dark, the Jersey cow is a unique, purebred to Jersey, becoming recognised as such around 1700. They have a golden coat and a friendly, docile temperament. They produce sought after rich and creamy milk. There even exists the Jersey Herd Book, founded by the Royal Jersey Agricultural & Horticultural Society, as a record of the Jersey cow’s ancestry (its pedigree), much like a family tree, dating back to 1866. In fact, so great was the interest in breeding and showing cows, that still to this day, Jersey holds a biannual show, of which I remember my sister, Georgina Mourant, competing and winning a rosette when we were kids. And when I recall our childhood, it is one of cows in the shed and in the fields. Just before the turn of the millennium, we had around five hundred head of cattle. And once, to mark the occasion of Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding, my grandfather’s cow, named Regal Absorbine Dream, was selected and gifted from Jersey to the Royal Family.
Anyway, I digress. Let’s return to Charles and Philip. Their reputation had grown over the years, but, more so Charles, who became perhaps the most successful of all island breeders; they exported cattle to the mainland and further afield, such as America. What quickly followed, I trust, was a sizeable fortune for the time. In one particular case, in 1919, a bull named Sybil’s Gamboge (bred by Charles Mourant), sold in New York for a world record of $65,000, roughly a million dollars in today’s money. This sale caused such a frenzy that the bull, later, was transported to New York City, and paraded down Wall Street. This was the first case, I imagine, of a bull actually being on Wall Street. Furthermore, the bull’s daughter, Bagot’s Gamboge Crocus, sold for $10,100, and fifteen other daughters brought around $3,000 each on average. By 1921, the bull’s offspring had culminated total sales of $500,000. It was like selling racehorses. And although, it must be said, Charles Mourant experienced this grand sale in the final year of his life, I believe both brothers had good fortune in their exploits for most of their life. It was said they were able to purchase farms, early land and build multiple barns for their herds of cattle.
It is with a heavy heart, that I inform you, this good fortune came crumbling down in 1892. From here seeps the darkness; the darkness of this tale, like a pool of blood, soaking into the page. In the early morning, on the 29th of October, a servant, called Louis Allouis, rose to attend, as with each day, to the cattle in the stable; as he walked in, he found his master, Philip Joshue Mourant, hanging from the rafters by his neck. Allouis immediately called for help and attempted to lift Philip’s weight. Only when joined by the other servant, Jean Baptise Martin, could they lift him, remove the rope, and place Philip on the floor, outside the stable. Life was extinct, but the body was still warm. They rushed off to get assistance. But it was in vain, as he, most definitely, had departed this world.
Mystery still surrounds the exact circumstances which lead to Philip’s actions that morning. He did not leave a note. Witnesses in the inquest said they had seen Philip become elusive, disheartened and distant over the past few weeks. His brother, Charles, also commented saying he had noticed his brother was low-spirited, upset by the loss of his cattle and a poor year on the farm; however, Charles felt although downcast, Philip never insinuated anything which would lead him to do such a thing. He was reticent, and plagued with worries, which rattled around his head; people close to him, such as the stablehands, had seen him speaking to himself, in the weeks prior. Muttering. Muttering. Muttering. I would say then, he tried his best to conceal his desperation from others. Bottling it all up. And as our family stories now suggest, it was not just a poor year on the farm, but a bank collapse, which had absorbed his life savings, and left not a penny to his name. Others propose, as I had mentioned before, that alcoholism had a part to play. Whatever the story, it seems dear Philip was suffering from an intense depression. A great sadness which must have welled up inside of him, like an incoming tide, raising a boat, and taking him out to sea. I think he was concerned, most of all, about not just the money, but the loss of his reputation: about what the family would think, and how they would feel. You must not forget, this would have caused quite a stir at the time; there was utter disgrace in bankruptcy. A stir which he felt, would have been too much to bear. It weighs down on me, like large, ever filling anchors, to picture him there, on that fateful morning, aching, as the image of himself, that boulder of all that you are, resting on your shoulders, was shattered, crushed, ground away, into a pile of sand. Was he on his hands and knees, as his image, severed from him, became sand, and slipped through his fingers? Perhaps it’s the sheer weight of it: the weight of history. It pulverises.
Suffering, like a stone…
(around my neck,
deep inside me)
As dust or ash, floating in the wind.
To learn of Philip Joshue Mourant’s demise, was to learn of something fundamentally absent. I use the word demise, as in a sense, it was. And I can see how that makes him somewhat mythologised. As if he was a character: characters don’t just live and die, they are born out of suffering, they ascend to vast heights, and they fall, like Icarus, into an ocean of demise. Often we’re told as readers, the reason for a fall is excessive hubris. To become the fallen you must believe, that your means are over and above yourself. And it’s the universe’s way of levelling the playing field. As life is a game. A terribly sordid game, which you can quickly grow tired of. It reminds me of what is veiled, behind writing and photographs: suffering. We are bound to suffer through them, to open ourselves up to the unfathomable depths of them, as although they teach us, and introduce us, they often take more than they give; we’re reminded of all that we don’t have. And that’s mourning too: the expanding absence of the heart, the knowing that chance, choice and destiny no longer remains. It is set in stone. No more throw of the dice. And that’s when tragedy occurs: when the one who grows absent, abandons chance, too early.
In the wake of discovering Philip’s death, my grandfather and Stephen Mourant (1954)—another relative who is a keen researcher, and architect of our extensive family tree, and again, must also be thanked for his assistance—together, set about locating his remains. They drew a blank when attempting to locate his burial at cemeteries in both St Helier and St Saviour. It seems, as a result of his suicide (his blasphemy), the church did not allow him to be buried as tradition would have it, in the family plot, or recognised, for that matter, on the land of the church. Therefore, he went into town, which is now by the police station, and was laid to rest in what is known as Green Street Cemetery, or Stranger’s Cemetery. It was a place for those, as the name suggests, who were lost in some way; wanderers without a home. And after some back and forth correspondence, and digging in the archive, he proved quite hard to track down, but, eventually, they found him, and they learnt his burial was recorded, on the 31st August 1892, on the east side, in a grave with no markings of any kind, just a number: plot 345.
It was in early October, when I set off, with my father and grandfather, to visit Stranger’s Cemetery. We had the map from the archives, the plot circled, and we were going to visit the man who, to all of us, was a great-grandfather. There was an air of unreality. The day was clear, with gentle, soft sunlight, dappling on the surface of things, highlighting overgrown grass, trees and ivy, which felt as if they encroached further, as we stood there, threatening, or inviting us to become them. And after some confusion, misdirection, and the occasional frantic turning of our map, we eventually found plot 345. As promised, there was no headstone, just a little block of granite, with the number engraved, worn by time. The ground was patchy, with clumps of grass, but mainly, it was a blanket of dirt. There were the occasional specks of yellow and orange, colour from the fallen leaves of autumn. All three of us stood there silently; musing on what it is to become just another number, in a field of unknown people. It stayed with me, as things occasionally do. And with that, it felt like another tale was laid to rest, in the ground and on the page. And perhaps, as memory attracts memory, it grows anew.
A letter from my grandmother, Rosemary Mourant (1940), pertinently titled, Life on the Farm:
I am Rosemary Querée, am one of six children, we live on a farm down Rozel called Hillside, my parents are Wilford and my mother Lilian. I was able to leave school at the end of the spring term 1954, as my 15th birthday fell during the school holidays. My mother was not keen for me to stay on the farm, preferring I follow my sister Doreen who was a medical sectary at the General Hospital, so for a week or so I had to learn 10 medical words and their meanings, as I had no intention of going in an office I just didn’t learn them!!!!! So my life on the farm began. The days were long, but as long as I was outside I was happy. Dad would call us about 6:30am, had a cup of tea then out to the cow shed to milk the cows by hand, after that clean the stables, then take the cows out to grass, they were all pegged individually, someone had to come and move them onto new grass at least twice a day.
When it was a planting day, Dad liked to be in the field by 8:30. Dad sowed the fertilizer by hand, so Muriel and I had to keep him going by running on the ploughed field with a galvanised bucket so he never stopped. It was one of the hardest jobs we did. So my dad would make the furrow with the horse (Bella) and plough and the three of us would plant the potatoes in the furrow making sure we were finished by the time Dad came round again, we were always pleased to see Mum around 10:30 bringing us a sandwich and hot coffee made with boiled milk, it was really good. If after we finished planting it was still daylight we would pick up all the empty boxes carrying 8 at a time to the end of the field. After the days planting we had to milk the cows feed them etc then come in for our tea, then wash and bed.
We didn’t work like that two days in a row, as Dad had only one tractor, he would plough the next field while we would look after the cows and load the trailer with the seed potatoes ready for the next day and take care of the cows, few pigs and about 30 hens. Muriel and I were known as the ‘girls’ and for several years when we had finished planting on our farm, we were in great demand to help others, the trouble was when they knew we were there they would have a really busy day, we both worked very hard. We must have been rather naive, we never thought of being paid, so you can imagine when our grandfather came home and gave us each a £5 note! We thought we were millionaires. We had done two days planting for him.
As I have said before I just loved being in the fields with my dad and Muriel and Graham, although going to the other farms was really hard work. So I know how hard it is to plant by hand, I wish you all the very best, just for giving it a go. Will be there with a hot drink and some goodies to keep you going. I have asked M and G but we don’t have any photos planting, but we do have 2 digging.
Love Gran x x
Emailed: 5:07pm, 15th January, 2020
In the spirit of wholeness, I thought I’d share that my mother, Andrea Mourant (1959), also has farmers on both her maternal and paternal lines, as do my grandparents Pam Labey (1933) and Roy Labey (1932-1986). So, rest assured, whichever road we were to take, across this landscape of who and where, would have led us to the earth. I have learnt we are inextricably linked, bonded, to this island in the sea, and to its soil. Tomorrow, I shall leave you with a photograph of my great-grandfather, Stanley Alexander (1905-1985), furrowing and planting potatoes down at L’Etacq, where we walked, if you cast your mind back, with that heavy, curious, little stone, in my pocket. I have discovered the mixture we all carry, in one way or another, inside us: blood, stones and earth. Endlessly.
We have now learnt about the past and the past has learnt about us. And how does that make you feel? Do you have a renewed sense of purpose? Do you feel assured within yourself, by a grounding; or, like me, are you adrift? In-between: here, there, somewhere. Who knows, and at this point, who really cares? May I share an observation about writing historically with you: it felt dry; really, really dry. It was as if those words were heavy, cumbersome and featureless; and I could not mould or sculpt them as I usually would. They lacked plasticity. I was honestly struggling to pull those threads out, to join and weave them. It was extremely frustrating and I’m unsatisfied by the mess I have made. I was sure of it, you know, that they were betrothed, destined to dance: meant to be; to be here, with us. And perhaps, it will come across as a failure on my part. When we both stand back and look at you from a distance; from a place of clarity and objectivity. Remember: you must never force things into place.
They just didn’t want to fluctuate, or move, that’s what I’d tell or beg the officer; they exuded a certain inertness, an inhospitable nature engulfing the page. I had to be done with them. Like cracked clay along a river bed; or stretches of sand in a desert; or this earth across my field; or this dryness in my eyes: thirsty, parched, gasping for a drink. I’m wearing contact lenses today, as my glasses snapped last night. I’m not fond of them, contact lenses that is. They make me squint. They make my eyeballs squirm. It’s an addition to the daily torment I must endure. They make me see through dryness, and in doing so, they distort my sense of things. I catch myself looking at opaque forms, as globules of glare, float through my line of sight—the lenses, catch on my skin. It’s like smearing Vaseline across glass. I’m hallucinating. There are animals with dry eyes, like the snake, and those, like us—yes, yes indeed we are animal—who have, what you’d call moist, wet eyes. I wonder, as the snake, often deceives us, is it not then the nature of dryness to fool and trick us. To encircle us. To constrict us. Is it the nature of water to be truth: to sweep us away down the river. Is dryness a form of blindness? Do my eyes weep to seek the truth. They weep, as they learn the truth, I know that to be true. And hasn’t the eye often betrayed truth, or, rather, escaped it. Like the fugitive, spinning a web of lies. What then is the fate of words, or writing, which feels lifeless and dry, like my eyes. To write, is to give it form: a body of truth. It’s the texture of truth which makes us believe it.
A storm brews, there is thunder and lighting in the distance.
A clap of thunder.
You’re not far.
I think the closer I get to things, things which matter, then the harder it is to form. To form the words through which we speak. The rains come, and I shall quench my thirst. The truth of the soil. Weeping eyes, beckoning.
It will come, writes Rilke.
As to when, well, that’s another matter entirely.
I sheltered at the base of a tree. The tree I mentioned before, that grand, old oak tree; I stood there hugging its trunk. It helped me endure the storm. And you should know, if you choose a tree large enough, one with a large enough wingspan, not a drop of rain will touch you. That’s a funny idea, isn’t it? The idea of a tree flapping its branches with such a force, it were to uproot, and transport itself, like its seeds, catching the breeze, and floating in the wind. A reversal of roles. But the wind does not stop for my thoughts. I’m not sure what the terminology would be for that: for the area covered by the branches and leaves of a tree; how it occupies the sky; and how it fills the air. There must be a cumulative name for its radius, circumference, perimeter; for its volume. More so, imagine a flock of them, a colony, a congregation, a murder, or whichever name it may take, flying high above us, casting shadows the size of a field. We’ll have to find another word for that too. We seem to be in the business of naming at the moment; the storm blew itself out, and with it, our grasp on the formation of what-d’you-call-it, oh, what’s-its-name, oh yes: things. Time is scattered, the past and the future, the future past and present. Blowing.
I sat on my haunches, with my back leaning against the bark, panting, slowly catching my breath. I collected myself and gazed out of the shadows. The clouds appeared to dissipate, moving on, and the sun emerged, triumphant; streaming light, glistening across beads of water, on the field, on the grass, and on the plants, like diamonds, falling and spreading along the floor, from a hole in your pocket. In front of me a jade sea is running wild. Waves crashed, virid spray. I had not yet told you: you have emerged. You broke through the surface a few weeks ago. And how I welcomed you to us. But it was then, after the rain we just had, that you looked vibrant and full of youth; luscious and green. Your leaves had grown and the sunlight, bouncing off the earth, radiated out through you; it was as if I stared into an X-ray, observing your arteries and veins. And the earth looked relieved too; the soil, which was almost dust, had returned, a dark, fertile brown. I thought: what makes the colour of soil? Even the ravines on its surface, those dry, barren cliffs, transmuted into gently rolling hills. Everything seemed to expand, in relief, in the pleasure of water and the waking of sunlight. An aroma of petrichor filled the air; it was intoxicating. A scent so sweet, it flowered inside my nostrils, as if Demeter herself, breathed it.
I contemplated the field and curiously, it was only then, not during my planting, or my resting, but in the aftermath of a storm, did I notice it. Upon first appearances, the field is stationary. Anyone would tell you so. It does not move like a car or a train, it is immobile. Surely that’s matter of fact? No, not exactly. In actual fact, it moves, slowly, growing up, towards me—it moves, but it moves at a pace we tend not to consider. Too fast or too slow; we human-centrically understand movement. But that’s not simply all I wish to say. If you blink, you miss it. What I’m getting at is fundamental, it’s a spontaneously inner feeling. It’s like when you notice yourself breathing. Or when you catch yourself thinking. There’s an excess of unconscious behaviour running parallel to us at any one time, and I guess, the field acts like an unconscious event; a reflex: reaching for a falling glass, tapping my foot to music, or even, retrieving words to write. It is kind of autonomous, but when you recognise the autonomy it stops in its tracks. Much like good writing, when you realise you are writing, and the words lose their kinetic energy. My epiphany is this: the field is literally and symbolically the ground of the events which are taking place within it. It occupies, divides and produces events. Everything leads from and to it. All paths are the same: they lead here. It was then I heard it: a voice calling. A man, in the distance, waving; he had followed the path here too.
He joined me, silently. We nodded without exchanging words, and stood together, side by side, facing the field. I was tempted to speak, to interrupt the silence, but it felt like such a rupture would unsettle him. It did not feel necessary to introduce myself. There was knowingness in his demeanour. He seemed content enough to be in my presence and needed nothing more from me. And so, we stood together, patiently, allowing it to flow into us, the vast tranquility of sight. It was as though I were tethered to him; as if he had materialised, for a lesson in seeing.
As I thought on his appearance, the hedge rustled, and on the directly opposite bank, a blue neck, with a bright crimson face peered out. It was a pheasant, and a plump one at that. It peered out, looking left, and looking right, hesitantly, deciding whether to stay or go. It must have felt brave, as it darted out of the hedge and disappeared beneath the plants: diving in. It was indistinguishable, concealed below the shelter of leaves. I wondered if my eyes had deceived me, tricking me into believing I’d ever seen such a bird; its movement was so sudden. The man too softly sighed, disappointed. We watched in hope but all was silent and still. I thought it was over until the man calmly pointed towards the centre of the field. He was not mistaken. There was movement, a subtle shuffling of leaves. We saw the pheasant, or, to be precise, we saw the repercussions of its path, as it meandered its way through the field, brushing against plant stems; its tail, followed, occasionally poking out wherever the bird stopped to check its route, popping up and down. Little did the pheasant know of its obviousness. It was amusing and reminded me of whack-a-mole. I could not help but feel a smile creep across my face. When doing so, I happened to glance up, as I did, I noticed a hawk hovering, directly above the pheasant. Wipe that smile off your face. The hawk was at first threatening. Looking poised and agile; attuned to itself. It was mesmerising; an illusion, suspended by strings, with invisible threads, fluttering its wings, while its body remained perfectly flat, and motionless; like a puppet, or an animatronic. The hawk suddenly dove, drastically loosing altitude, and as quickly as light bounces off it into my eyes, it was again, stationary, hovering, slightly lower than before. My heart plummeted with it, to the corresponding depths of the hawk. Before I had a chance to observe it strike, the sun appeared behind a distant cloud, overwhelming my irises, and forcing them shut. I had to raise my hand to use as a shield, protecting my eyes in shadow. In the confusion, I lost sight of it, the hawk, and the pheasant. The man chuckled to himself; he’s well versed in the art of light. And the surprise it often brings to the open landscape. I had an inkling he had watched the outcome. I turned to look harder at the man: he had wispy white hair, a large nose, and his eyes, were worn, like a stone in a river, they seemed weathered, and swirling with blue. I do not infer weathered, as in degraded, rather, broken-in, skilful, trained by the intensity of seeing. I turned back to the field. I observed less dramatic events, yet, they felt of equal importance: two horses grazing; an old woman looking for mushrooms; finches chasing each other from bush to bush; a voice calling down in the road. As the flame of such an instant, the immediate now, flickered, luminous and bright, gazing at it, what I knew of myself (the story I tell myself), lost traction; moreover, I could only vaguely recall it. It became stretched out to the point of being so thin I could barely see through it. What was real, crumbled, and the imaginary, sprouted. I considered the actions I make, the words I write and the pictures I show: how they exist and are defined by their relationship to the field. The experience of the field is to be the field. The material is the process, the process is the art. The field that you are standing before appears to have the same proportions as your own life. The distinction between the two, life and field, blurred, or perhaps, it was life and art, for me, it did not matter; each embraced and supplanted the other.
We stayed like that for most of the afternoon. Just observing, and simply feeling the experience. Which I’d suggest, is a revitalising way of spending your time. My advice to you is simple: just be in it every once in a while.
Anyway, towards the end of our meet, the man spoke, and he implied that this field, upon entering, was not ideally suited to his way of seeing. You see, he preferred a clean, grassy field, without too many obstructions (distractions). Whereas here, we had plants growing along the furrows, and almost by the hour, the leaves seemed to spread further, thwarting our sight of the ground. He was disheartened by its appearance; however, begrudgingly, the man still entered the field, and resigned himself to the fact that seeing something was better than not seeing at all. I hate to say it, but we promised to be honest: he felt the contained and openness of the field was hindered by you; you reduced the experience, he said. The democracy of sight escaped us. And it is not lost on me, that in the past, people have often accused you of doing that very same thing: distilling it, crystallising it; retracting, rather than adding. And I know you’re sensitive to that. To that grand, misunderstanding of your past. Like a poor misguided orphan, out on the streets. In the face of it, I was prepared to fight your case, puffing up my chest in anticipation; you lingered in the shadows, elsewhere, silently watching and acting through me; I protected you, as a father does his child. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised, when the seer, the old, blue-eyed man, mentioned that he’d like to thank me. I said the thanks was for you and not for me. For once, it felt as if someone knew what I meant, and he nodded, but insisted on elaborating further. I had the sense these moments hit him, every so often, like a bundle of energy he needed to share. It lead me to imagine a writer, frantically searching through his desk draw for a pen and paper, as a flash of recognition, of remembrance, gradually leaves him. He explained that the field (for him at least), began as a veil, shrouded in what he thought would be a half-light, a place where to see was not necessarily to believe; everything was not laid out on the table, so to speak. So he felt unsteady, unsure of his footing, askew, off-kilter, placed off balance by your abundant growth and your stems who bend, to join, forming an endless emerald arcade; a surface impenetrable by light, and by consequence, sight. It would seem, the man only changed his mind, about your apparently deceptive nature, when viewing our hawk. I was right! When I glanced away, blinded by light, he had indeed seen it unfold: when the hawk dove, like an arrow fired into the earth, cutting through that carpet of green, it was in fact, not after the pheasant, but a little mouse, which he saw clenched within its talons, and carried off. This changed his opinion of the field, not merely due to the dazzling display of stealth by the bird, but because in this narrative provided to us, by the field, on that particular day, he had not foreseen it. The hawk preyed on the mouse not yet seen by the seer. And it lead me to think of you dear Image, and those who look at your surface, without considering the depths of you. The man suggested that through veiling, the field did not detract from seeing, rather, it supported a seeing through belief, and propagated a subversion of belief. Paradoxically: the flow of the field, cements our understanding of the event, that is the field, placing us within it, whilst, simultaneously, it arrests our own understanding of events; how we string it all together. Not only that, it’s the nature of the field to breed and conceal fragments, like the mouse, which are protected by the field, and by the event of the thing itself; they inhabit, silently, scurrying along the ground of it. Occasionally, they are revealed to you, and you catch them, in the shadows; piercing one, lifting it off, like the hawk. It is only then, after we have picked at it, do the leaves return to their position, brushing over the presence of us, allowing others to be lost in the sea of appearances. The field grows deeper.
Who are we, I asked him: the seer, the pheasant or the hawk?
He winked and said: the mouse, of course.
Devoured by it, by what we find in the field.
He left, and I have not seen him since.
Imagine this: the romanticised, mercurial, experimental artist, returns to the studio, after a late night drinking. He’s rampageous, outraged by the injustice of it all. His fellow artists just don’t get it, his gallery is ignorant, and his collectors wish to return what they bought, as the work changes. He’s gobsmacked by it. He paces the studio, pushes books off shelves, throws paper in the air and smashes glasses on the floor; then, he turns to it: to the canvas in the corner. The artist, with his sight set, races over, like a bull, over a groaning wooden floor, to the pure, white canvas; he grabs it, off the floor, and forces it onto the easel. It’s now we learn where our perspective lies: not a fly on the wall, but the paint in his palette. Oh how the paint trembles in fear. Quivering at the presence of the artist in such a foul mood. The red is scooped up first, large globs of it, the colour of blood, absorbed into the brush. And as the artist throws his arm back, the paint lifts—as your body does, in turbulence, feeling light, with a tingle of nerves—before being thrown, hurtling towards the canvas. Splat. Splat. Splat. The other colours, quaking, see this anger, transferring through his arm into paint. Dissatisfied, the demon inside him cries out for more, more, more paint! He discards the palette, much to their relief, and goes for the bucket, prising open the lid; in one fluid motion, he chucks it on, the whole bucket, a waterfall of blood. The paint rebounds, covering the artist in his own efforts. He stands there panting, eyes closed, listening to drops of blood fall off the easel’s shelf.
My afternoon slowly dwindled away as I stood, sat and lay in the field. My skin turned a light pink, burnt by the blazing sun. I noticed how the shadows began to lengthen around 5 o’clock, stretching out, like a cat on the floor. The heaviness of them grew deeper too. On their edges, a clear, yellow light, still fell, illuminating the world a while longer. Once it had begun, there was nothing I could do to stop it: the falling of the sun. I had enjoyed our day so much I did not wish to see it end. And so, I attempted to lasso it, the sun, with my trusty old fibre rope. I spun it, around and around, above my head, my arm whipping it, faster and faster, until it felt right, then loose; she travelled up into the air, like a rocket out to space, heading for the sun. Many times I tried and failed, falling short; I thought it not long enough. But, on my last attempt, it made it, and my rope landed snug around the sun. With haste, I dug my heels into the earth, bent my knees, and prepared, concentrating all the energy I could muster into a great, big, heave-ho. The rope went taut, my muscles strained, and the sun did not budge an inch. It continued to fall. I gave it one last go, and bellowed out in pain, as my veins, raised, surged with blood, and then, helplessly, I fell with a thump, onto my back; the rope had disintegrated, scorched by the sun, like hair, singed in a flame. The yellow light, turned gold, and moved like syrup, spreading over, covering the earth. It was not just the sun, which lowered, at every passing minute, but the world too, which was falling around us.
Gold gave way
to a grey, dusky blue
as we entered twilight.
I’ve always marvelled at blue. And if you know me at all, you’ll know that to be true. It moves me in a way unlike any other. I’ve never tried to put it into words, instead, I opted for other people’s. Now, if you forced me to produce something, I’d say it’s something about its personality, its aloofness; though, it’s incredibly intimate at the same time. I think that’s why I’m drawn to it: to the blue; it’s like an oxymoron: cold burning, heavy lightness, bright smoke, cruel kindness, living death. It defies itself, resisting categories. The way true artists do.
That evening, the blue arrived, and it did so quietly, like sneaking on the landing at night. Blue is light on its feet. It slipped in, and before I knew it, it pervaded my sight: the blue hour. Twilight is that time when the sun has finished its show: the sunset spectacle of purple, orange and gold; beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but it contains a vivid sense of theatre, which lacks subtly, unlike twilight. Twilight, you could say, is when the show is over, and you start, wearily, heading home; you’re calmly travelling on an empty bus and the feeling of it, the show, begins to percolate. It filters down through your organs and into your bones. Forming, what I’d say is your impression of it; your lasting impression. The world as we know it is built on a series of expressions and impressions. And its often the in-between places, or states, very much like our bus ride, which help us understand those expressions. Those that bombard us, each and every day. Surrounding us, like a pack of dogs, barking.
There are three types of twilight: civil, nautical and astronomical. They follow that order as the sun dips below the horizon, and continues to curve beneath us, until eventually, the last of its rays, the stragglers, on the voyage simply known as The Day, dissipate, marking its end. There’s a pathos to it; to the light of time gone by. A lament for all that you were meant to say and do. Many are the people who claim to be in the twilight of their lives, existing for a brief, self-reflective moment, in twilight years. I sometimes wish I could live forever, in the land of twilight. And perhaps that’s the artist’s blessing, or their curse, to be neither here, nor there. My impression of it was one of emergence and dissolution. And like twilight, my impression formed in the liminal, and liminal’s good friend, solitude. The trees reversed, becoming silhouettes of themselves against a backdrop of powder blue. Blue against blue. Blue on blue. Blue wrestled in front of me. The clarity of sight I’d spent so long cultivating that afternoon failed me. Everything slipped into being everything else. Close, became far, and the distant, near.
The landscape took this time to muse on its impression of us; how we had expressed ourselves thus far. And I could not tell if it was excited, tender or scared. The land had much to think on, to deliberate, between the grasslands, tundras, deserts, forests and mountains; we squeeze and wring ourselves out on it; much has been said and done. It even reminded me of another: the camera; more so, the children of it: photographs. Existing in a space of neither day nor night. Of neither life nor death. That thought, a living death, echoed around me, as if my body were a cave, a cavern, beyond time and space itself. Photography is an elegiac art, a twilight art. Like the landscape transforming around me, the image I stood within, was a vehicle, moving, at a velocity beyond all which we could see and know. It’s that edge, that life death edge. Pulling at me. And when you’re not quite sure of what you’ve seen, and you’re not quite sure of who you are, reality seems not so important, and if we were to step and live through the experience of an impression being formed, it may, perhaps, be best found in twilight.
Night bloomed, flower of the night.
It smelt of stardust.
I’ve noticed things reveal themselves, and people, who utter them, when they are hidden. When they are at ease within themselves. Like those who speak the truth at a masked ball. Or to be sinister, those who write threatening letters out of cuttings from a newspaper. And you’ll find no greater disguise, than the presence of the night. There, you and I, needn’t have a name, as we exist in the realm of the indistinct; and names do not pass the gate.
That night was a rapturous tale of terror and fright. I found it slipped out of me, the beast with no name, as my mask, pure and visionless as the night, grew the size of my body, and merged with all that surrounded it; darkness became me, and I, the night. In the absence of it (the light), it slipped out: the nature of my desire; my wants and my yearnings. The light, normally my keeper, had scarpered, stirring my loins; and it was darkness, who struck at my chains, and urged me to rise. I heard you whisper into my ear: what appears in the night is the night that appears. It repeated as an enchantment, seducing, surging through me: I wanted it, all that it revealed. I stripped naked and bare, and ran through it, through the night, toward my dark and throbbing heart. I swam in deep, reservoirs of darkness, the lake of my own unknown. My skin turned numb, and my eyes dulled; I could see clearer and further than ever before. It awoke from the deep and rose to the surface: the sensuality of night had never been so clear to me, darkness descending like velvet to wrap around you and enclose you in its black cocoon, to take you to your other self and others. A chrysalis of black glass, cracked, and bore a black-winged butterfly, its wings were made of coal. It fuelled a passion, a source of searing heat, blazing inside of me.
It caught my eye, as I stared down towards you: a bright, white orb, suspended in darkness. How strange it was to see it there, so out of place. I was curious and bent down to pick it up, stretching my arm out in reach of it. My fingertips glided across a cool, silky membrane, and I felt a hunger, a need to enter it—sinking, sinking in; it passed through my fingers, glistening, and distorted the shape which was once the orb. I felt satisfied but cheated. The moon rippled, in a pool of water, a puddle, made by the storm. Reflected, as if by a magic mirror, carved into the earth. I watched it undulate; rise and fall. It beguiled me. And though it moved akin to water, I was not certain it was, it shone like mercury and danced as quicksilver; I thought it fluid extracted from Beauty herself. Above me, the moon had risen, and its rays, gently floated, descending from space. I could see them streaming down, as sunlight does in a forest. They landed all around me, bringing us to a time just before black, but it was not grey, no, more like silver, a sparkle on the surface of the earth. The silver caressed my skin. And I felt a need, a want, a desire for it; the water sloshed as I dug down, desperate to uncover the moon beneath the waves. Love for the moon often has its double in love for its reflection, as if to stress a vocation for mirror games in that reflected light. Its image flashed and flickered, violently stretching, shapeshifting, into a shadow of its former self. I was moonstruck, and desperate to see it again. I had contracted it, a disease given to me by the moon. An obsession to be with it. I was overcome, and I fell to my knees, a lunatic. The waters of my body, were pushed and pulled, like the tide, along the shore; consciousness drifted in and out. I coughed, and coughed, spluttering, into my palm. I drew my hand from my face, and saw it, quicksilver, dazzling, beads of it, shimmering in the moonlight. I had never considered the when and where of this. I was a child, wishing to be held. I was certain we had more time. Alas, it is one of the great facts of the world, like sunlight, or springtime, or the reflection in dark waters of that silver shell we call the moon. It cannot be questioned. The inevitability of it: the swift, decisive wings of death.
The moon has sunk and the Pleiads,
And midnight is gone,
And the hours are passing, passing,
And I lie alone.
I went on, sinking words into the pages, perhaps wondering what or who was taking them in. And then, for the first time that day, just as it was ending, I knew where I was—I was beneath the ground. The image grew around me and I was absorbed into the earth. Death acquainted itself with me; I found it eternal, a stone-fashioned dream. The most I feared about it, was not the quietness (I revel in the quiet), but in the loneliness I’d find there. You should not confuse that with solitude either, another which I hold dear, as they have very different natures; no, loneliness, rather than a choice, a spiritual route, as it were, is often a curse laid upon us: you seek solitude, but avoid loneliness. There, I was not lonely at all, but surrounded by stones, my stones, skulls, cracked, with stalks protruding from them. Although I could not see, I felt their presence, encircling me, patiently lying where I had placed them. My skull is a suspended stone. They levitated, pulsating, defying gravity in the darkness of time. And it dawned on me then, in the black, moonless night, in the earth of time itself, that I was no longer playing to the night, but I was amidst a darkness deeper than the night’s. My one true slumber; the endless night.
Earth, isn’t this what you want: to arise within us, invisible? The invisible force beneath our feet, guiding us along. But I was not steered, I was held by it, by the earth, and it did not stifle or suffocate me, but assimilated me. It fed off me; and I wilfully gave it. I first thought us living in obligate symbiosis: one could not live without the other; now, I see it, as clear as day: one of us must take leave, depart this life, meet Charon and cross the river Styx, for the other to walk amongst the living. Was I, in reality, the host, and you, the parasite? The energy of my life transferred into you, through the transmission of words, over the air and onto the page; and I offered it to you, for my final act: my flesh and my bones. Your roots received it in thanks. And I watched as you digested me, to become yourself. I could feel them, the images inside of me, floundering, keen to escape; they became fossilised, petrified into sculpture; no longer growing or ever turning. I had given them to you, given them all to you.
I thought you worth dying for.
You will be forever ingrained in my memory, my poetic memory, carved in a stone that is a tablet, a place where love herself begins. A place both smooth and untouched and yet to know many names. As Orpheus, in the eleventh hour, I descended to the depths, in search of my love, Eurydice; I traversed the landscape of the self, encountered the labyrinth known as doubt, and retrieved a bucket from the well, which I sense was my soul. And at last, after my tiresome journey, with my feet bloody, and my body aching, I was, reunited with you.
That night they would be alone, surrounded by darkness and silence: and in that moment of supreme tenderness he would be transfigured. He would fade into something impalpable under her eyes and then in a moment, he would be transfigured. Weakness and timidity and inexperience would fall from him in that magic moment. God split them in two, and they fought to return as one. Their darkness formed a vortex of radiant lightness. A portrait of one or the other, our two narcissisms drowning there, it was the impossible realised in a magic mirror. Against nature, I planted you inside my heart, and within the doubleness of my world; as the tryst elapsed, a cadaver remained.
We are involved with flower, leaf, and fruit.
They speak not just the language of one year.
From darkness a bright phenomenon appears
and still reflects, perhaps, the jealous glint
of the dead, who fill the earth. How can we know
what part they play within the ancient cycle?
Long since, it has been their job to make the soil
vigorous with the force of their free marrow.
But have they done it willingly? we ask…
Does this fruit, formed by the heavy slaves, push up
like a clenched fist, to threaten us, their masters?
Or in fact are they the masters, as they sleep
beside the roots and grant us, from their riches,
this hybrid Thing of speechless strength and kisses?
earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth burial earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth earth
The sun rises,
I have burnt myself out through the pursuit of words and the conjuring of images. It often takes a dark magic to tempt them out, to make them feel welcome and safe. And that’s obliterated me. Truly. Whichever part of my brain controls images seems to be in total disarray. I’ve been overwhelmed by not just the realisation of my own limits of artistic expression, and what I feel are cliché, naive, and gaping holes in my logic, which riddle my text like pot holes along an old worn out road, but by the fact I can’t bring myself to say what I thought I needed to.
I wished to bring you out of the ground slowly, resurfacing, contemplating much along the way, and to do so in a manner which would bring us to the sky, and the notion of it being the first image: the image comes from the sky: it does not descend from it, it proceeds from it, it is of a celestial essence, and it contains the sky within itself. Every image has its sky, even if it is represented as outside the image or is not represented at all: the sky gives the image its light, but the light of an image comes from the image itself. The sky is: itself distinction and distance, which analogously, are the attributes of an image. I’ve butchered the poetics of his explanation, but there, I’ve said it.
You would not notice this, of course, but I can barely copy out quotes, having to recheck them over and over. I miss words, I miss grammar, and I reconfigure letters to create words which weren’t meant to be there. For example: every time I wrote from above us, I wrote form. Why? I’m not sure. I literally did it four times. Each time it appeared as form, I had to consult the source, again and again, thinking myself mad to have done it over and over. Probably it’s something to do with the way I’m typing this. I’m being lazy and my fingers are lazy too. My brain which in a sense is a creative muscle, is stretched, overstretched, or even torn. Definitely it’s fatigued. My self-diagnosis is simple: overreaching; my treatment: resting; but, believe it or not, that’s all I’ve done, over the past three days, and now I’m concerned that the muscle won’t ever repair itself. And I’ll just be a child again, having to learn to read and write. Which I was never any good at in the first place. I feel it: a hatred of writing.
Someone once told me, that my writing is like a tableau: a stage, a play, so to speak, where I direct actors, and not just actors, but inanimate things too. The stool moves, with a table and the glasses clink on top of it. Or perhaps I am that nondescript person, the puppeteer, who pulls at strings. Nevertheless, I just hope, whatever it is, it isn’t one of those plays which I find, with every fibre of my being, loathsomely boring. Those ones where the interval never comes. Where the actors lack conviction, and you too, lack the strength to urge them on. Dullness and co-star boredom sweeping the stage. And I’m stuck in the middle of it, of my row, needing a piss.
I am now anxious about all I have written and how I can’t go back and change it. I stupidly decided to print each day off as it comes, to instil it with the gravitas of time. I’d liked the sound of that; thought it was ever so clever. Not only are they marked with a date, you see, but they are also from it. That’s it: from; or was it form: they are both from and formed by time. That was the whole idea of it. I’m muddled by whether that was necessary at all.
I’ve listened to the same piece of music (on repeat) every day since I began to write. It controls my internal weather. This music, at first, building, into a rhythm, a space itself where I could coax writing to fall from the sky, and land onto my page, has become a sequence of scratches, both jarring and unsettling. Nothing sounds right, and nothing gives me tempo. My weather is changing, turbulent, but not in a good way, it just lacks consistency.
I write with the window to my bedroom open, and usually it’s left ajar by three pegs. Today it is hot and sunny, but it is windy. And it is only warm in the sun. My room is sheltered from the sun most of the day, other than the morning, and in the morning when it’s hot I normally, usually, have the window open. Today, as I mentioned, it is a hot, sunny day, but it is a windy day. And being sat at my desk with the window open is making me cold. The cold wind is not heated by the sun and gusts through my window like an icy breeze. I have no socks on and it’s chilling my feet beyond what I find comfortable. So it’s distracting. And I cannot be distracted. So what I keep doing is getting up and closing the window down to just one peg. But inevitably, in the space of around five minutes, the room heats up, and my thighs begin to feel rather warm, so I have to get up again and open the window to three pegs. Repeat and repeat. Stupid thing. Cold breeze or hot thighs. The only thing that is keeping me talking to you now is the fact I get to express this internal rage or ambivalence I feel towards this whole process. To sitting down every day and writing to the image. I wish to sack it off. It’s so hard, so fucking hard.
My sister just suggested I stop it then, I can’t do any more and no one will know if I pretend to arrive at the image earlier than expected. And I guess you wouldn’t know. Actually, thinking on it, there’s no way you could tell. And even if I did the project properly, there’s no way you could tell if I did it right anyway. So what’s the point of any of it? It’s my word against yours. But, we are forgetting there’s one person, crucially, who’ll know: me. Yes, me! I’ll fucking know and it’ll piss me off. You can’t go this far and not end it right. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.
Things I’m worried about today: my overuse of the word like; relying on other people; the beeping of the washing machine; the cushion I sit on slipping; my coffee isn’t on a coaster; the lightbulb above my desk has blown; my desk is creaking and it never has before; I haven’t got a glass of water; I need a wee every twenty minutes; my avocados on the windowsill still haven’t grown any roots; my to do list of stuff that isn’t writing; my to do list of stuff that is writing; searching for something interesting to say; time is running out.
Top tip: if you’re stuck about what to write, write about where you’re sat. The audience loves it.
Let’s get down to brass tacks: if I’m being honest, I’m insecure about what I’ve said, and how I’ve said it. That’s where all this volatile energy is coming from. Why I’m flustered and red in the face. I think, I’ve written it in a very romanticised style, which, I’ll put up my hands, is me, and as much as I try, I cannot escape myself, but what may linger around this, is an aftertaste of pretentiousness, for thinking that my words can do more than they actually do. Failure makes me uncomfortable. And here we hit on my true concern: is it any good? I know for a fact that this group of people, over there, won’t like the lyrical nature of it, and this lot, over here, won’t like the historical nature of it; and, there’s another group, far away, sat way over there, who will resent the fact I’ve even tried to define it. Different groups all steadfast in their separate opinions; and by the way, each has the right opinion too. In this respect you can never win, whatever you do. I know I’m being irrational, but that’s what you do to me. I’m nervous to disappoint you. And what I want is for other people to learn how you do things too.
Is it earnest, is it profound, have I caricatured myself, and have I convinced myself to be moved by it in a prescribed way? Forcing myself into being an artist, the Artist, in a fashion everyone expects an artist to be; formulating, misconstruing, reinforcing, lies after lies. Am I even an artist? How do you ever know? Do you just wake up one day and feel it, the calling? Maybe I’m someone who likes the idea of art, who likes being near it, who regrettably, doesn’t have the qualities, the gumption, the know-how, to actually make something worthwhile. I’m definitely not a writer, I’ve learnt that so far; I can’t find the reserves in me anymore; the metaphors, the similes, and the analogies are all used up. It fades, my energy for it. It’s an itch that has been scratched. Maybe that’s to do with the experience I carry, or rather, the lack of it; that which is needed to write for such a distance. You need a deep, deep well, to draw from. And there’s also a glimmer in me that likes the idea of starting afresh. Returning to the 2nd of April, and starting again. But this time, let’s do it from a position that denounces any other, that doesn’t feel constrained and dictated by all that surrounds, and came before it. I deeply mourn the impossibility of it all. The inability to calmly navigate art, and give whatever you make a home within itself.
You know it takes a very skilled wordsmith to create motion in a sentence. The right kind of movement is hard to come by; you don’t want to be jolted and you don’t want to be lulled asleep. And I think perhaps the intensity of my reading and seeing, has outweighed my listening to it. To the ebb and flow of words. I never paused to hear them, to listen to the wind blow through the gaps of them, to hear the way their white space, their nothingness, whistles. The pauses and spaces between them. And this, ultimately, may be the downfall of you. To reveal my thoughts about writing whilst writing feels a bit like the alienation effect. And to use an analogy previously levelled at me by another: it’s like giving each member of the audience a script describing all the entrances, cues, dialogues, transitions and exits of a performance. The medium confronts itself. Paint seeing itself dry and clay’s awareness upon entering the kiln. Does it remove the aura of it? Perhaps, we’ve not been reaching at all, but leaping onto the stage, and gallivanting around. There’s an artificiality and theatricality to it all. Don’t you find that, looking at it? It’s hard to get beyond my sceptical nature sometimes. And that nature, isn’t at all romantic.
What I bring us to, is the peculiar otherness I feel when writing. Moreover, the sensation of making anything at all. There lives inside me two others, like brothers, who reside in a house made of doubleness in a world of direct opposition. I say that, you say otherwise. You saw that, I refuse it. And what I’m trying to work out is whether that’s an essential characteristic of being this person. This person who makes things usually out of light, time and minerals, has recently, made things solely out of words. And it’s the words that have brought it out.
To meet your maker, is to meet God. But we are made by numerous makers who ironically, do not themselves, consider themselves, to be makers. So we’re a world of objects and makers who do not know they are makers. Imagine a factory of people working, where the workers did not know they were at work, their materials did not know they were materials, and the things they made, were barely recognisable as things. They were so beautifully crafted, effortless in their making, the finest in all the land, that our awareness of them fell from our perception. The makers worked on objects who in turn, and in time, became makers too. And what was it they were making? They worked on a line of expressions, some new, some old, some in for repair, but the cleverest thing about them, was they lay inside us, as letters, then words, then sentences, then pages, then writing, until images were born. Words are the materials which lay ready and waiting in the mind of the Reader. They are the dirt, ground and earth of it; the bottom or the basis of a thing. From this they root and fertilise images. They are in all of us.
Now, negotiating which images and which words shall be used, when, where and why, is another task entirely. Initially, I felt it to be a task quite straightforward, a-b-c, simple and ordered, like the alphabet. But when you get into it, words are not so effortless as they’d like you to believe. I think that’s why they remain so elusive to us; they hide in plain sight. And the feeding of words, and the images that follow, requires a colossal amount of energy. They do so because often, images, pictures and ideas, are so easily stuck, sinking, into the marshlands of our minds. Here they can breed like reptiles, which estrange us, from ourselves, and others, and from whatever the truth may be. Thus, the importance of not only navigating, but steering images, comes to the fore, so we are not mislead by them. This is where my otherness helps. And it only makes sense to me if I put it into words: have you ever tried to catch something? Well, it’s like trying to round something up, whether it’s a ferocious animal, or a tame little creature, it helps to have two of us. If I go on my own, it’ll slip under the hedge, jump over the wall, or dart between my legs. But together, if we approach it, considered and balanced, mutually reaching it, it sees no way out and it sits calm and still, for a brief movement, to allow us to touch it, before it jumps, and runs off.
The energy I exert through writing, is the simultaneous entering and leaving of myself, into my otherness and back out; it relies on doubleness. And when you successfully travel between the interior and exterior of things, you begin to see not only what is grey, and in-between, but what they are and what they can be, whether they are pushed over the line this way or that. You must, however, be waiting there, either side of the line to greet them. Like today, I filled a glass with water at such a speed, when the glass became full, and I quickly turned off the tap, the water continued, swirling, contained by the glass, generating a miniature whirlpool; it feels like that, when you allow the outside in, and you hold it right: a spinning, vertiginous descent. And sometimes, when you take a warm glass and fill it with cold water, it fills slightly, before cracking in your hand, and cutting you.
If I continue to oscillate between the interior and exterior nature things, not only do I become acquainted with their nature, but I radiate energy, in the transfer between the two. Actually no, that’s not quite right, it’s not the living as another which drains me, it’s the standing on a tightrope between one and the other. Writing pushes me there, right onto the edge. The path we take is on the verge of the surreal. Writing itself shares in this doubleness, for almost every word, there is an antonym: white/black; fire/water; sky/earth; love/hate; hot/cold; life/death. But to understand both, you must come to understand it, you must live it, and if you live it, you learn it, and to learn it, is to experience it; not just for what it is, but for how it differs. To stand on a wall and look at both sides.
When I speak of writing, I do not mean, for example, writing as systematic note taking, but writing as being; to employ images, sensation and slippery meaning. Though, what we may call true writing, isn’t only an act of manifesting experience, either; no, not at all, there’s something further at play between ourselves and the work. Writing in the context I wish to propose, is not just an exercise, it is becoming. An experience through which you enter an intangible, liminal space; an ungraspable event which sneaks up on you, is incessant, fragmentary and neither here, nor there. There’s a pushing and pulling here. There’s a tension, in the place where emergence begins, and form is shaped. In order to emerge, one must distance, and through distancing, one becomes. It is a process, that is, a passage of life that traverses the liveable and the lived. This experience, I now realise, is the process of othering oneself; this otherness writes through the author. And paradoxically, it is the revealing and hiding from oneself, which is the essential quality for the formation of characters, like those found in a novel. And sometimes I feel I have written myself into a novel, a story of that which is you; a novel inside a photograph.
I acknowledge this is a deeply ontological transgression, something which verges on delirium, and would warrant a space entirely on its own to further disseminate. However, the subject of othering oneself, in order to create a character, is a fascinating idea. I’ll put it simply now: to write requires you to become two characters: the Writer and the Reader. You must learn to absorb and emit impressions and expressions in tandem. And if not done in life, it requires you to imagine it; to image it; the image becomes idea and reality. And how one plays, tricks and adores the other, becomes what I think is the beginning of stories, tales and adventures. This distinction between leaving yourself, and entering another, is what brought us images: tapestries of knights; frescoes of angels; and hanging scrolls of pine trees and mountains. The narratives we often tell ourselves, require us to wish, or to become, someone or something else; again, we crack ourselves, like a stone in two.
Lastly, this process, although underlying and carefully camouflaged, so much so, I nearly walked straight over it, is found in many other relationships; namely, the artist and the viewer. The contemplative gaze which is viewing, is a kind of reading; it’s a language which is also learnt. But it is why, perhaps, when reaching or making an artwork, the artist, no longer in charge of stirring a boiling pot of impressions around, has to themselves become a vessel. To become a viewer in order to be estranged from that which they are so close and bore. Is that then the role of a critic? In any case, they must penetrate that wall of flesh between one soul and another, not by hacking away at limbs, but by becoming water themselves, and entering, permeating, every vein, duct and crevice of the viewer. Art is a circuit, a spiritual necessity, a continuum; art and life, life and writing, writing and art; ceaselessly.
I believe a problem only arises when you become so familiar with the annihilation of your self, you can’t find your way back. And sometimes I feel that too; I think most would be lying if they said otherwise. It’s a process which forms continuously, not only in things which we make outside of us, but in the thing which is us, that fragile piece of flesh. And occasionally, I’ve observed some of us get lost in it, in descending to the greatest depths, or ascending to searing heights, in ecstasy, high off of it: obsessed, possessed, hallucinating; stoned, tripping, hyped up, freaked out, spaced out, zonked, wasted, wrecked. I hanker and yearn for it: it is as addicting as any drug, that experience of getting away, away from it, away from myself, and that vacuous shell. On a passage heading for nowhere. I desire to be displaced, to be nobody. And I think it’s the artworks which are what remain, after the dust has settled, as you return, re-entering the atmosphere, with a sore and throbbing head, your body depleted of vitamins and energy, after a sweet sojourn, elsewhere. In the distant stars and the cosmos.
It’s the art of pilgrimage: a religious, holy journey; a crusade where the artist seeks to concurrently capture and evade himself. And it’s this energy which brings forth a lightness, a space for fruit and birth, a glade, or a field. In doing so, and to all appearances, the artist acts like a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing. It’s a twisting, winding road, through a dense forest of doubt, which lays before each and every one of us; one which is very tricky to overcome. But if you’re lucky, and if you’re worthy, if you pay homage to it, and give yourself over to it, the path may lead to the Lichtung, the clearing whose very space, open to light and vision, is the most surprising thing about existence, and is the very condition of Being. In this space, of infinite light and vision, it is revealed; we find it nestled there, in the earth: a presence in the enduring absence of us; we have finally, reached it: a revelation, an archaeological find; poetry as a dig, a dig for finds that end up being plants. Growth from the fossils buried deep inside us; from the stones and stories in our gut.
The artwork is the artefact from the extinct civilisation now known as the self.
If writing is living in the heads of others, is making images, the world of seeing as, or with others?
Isn’t it interesting how films have interludes, and writing has too? It’s like we can’t be on all the time.
Imagine we’re a paddling boat interlude.
Imagine we’re a bird on the rocks interlude.
Imagine we’re a church, mill and stream interlude.
Imagine we’re a waterfall interlude.
Imagine we’re a ploughing interlude.
Imagine we’re a bonfire interlude.
Imagine we’re a palm beach interlude.
Imagine we’re a potter’s wheel interlude.
Imagine we’re an angel fish in a tank interlude.
Imagine we’re a spinning wheel interlude.
Let’s rest here awhile.
Before our final leap.
Where does a story begin? Asks Rebecca Solnit. It’s a funny thing to mention, or ask, especially now, as we draw to a close. But recently, I’m not afraid of asking or answering the difficult questions. And I like the idea of closing with the beginning. Or opening with the end. I’m not quite sure which it is. Solnit’s question makes me think not just of stories, and ours, to be precise, but where, indeed, do artworks begin? Where are they seeded in order to germinate? Moreover, I thought beyond this, to a place more elusive and harder to understand: where does the artist begin? When I come to think of it, it’s an incredibly hard thing to place, and I can’t quite put my finger on it: to where it all began. It feels like a moving target. And if I were to trace it, to attempt to follow my own footsteps, outside myself, like a tracker, into the wilderness, I’m uncertain if I’d ever return. Lost in the Wilderness, it would be called, the first and last novel of this particular author. And it’s not a very good one at that. They called it all rather indistinct and monotonous; lacklustre, I believe, which for me, was the final blow.
No, there’s something about working out where it started, especially for artworks, and artists themselves, which is often a taboo subject. People guard it, and in some respects, I think you should too, to a certain degree; the work should foster, and nurture a part of you, which isn’t already a part of the world. You must, sometimes, keep the fuel of it, the core, the stones you use to feed it, and let others bask in the secondary element of it: the warmth and light it brings. I think if some of it is kept, in the stores which make up your self, then the fire continues to burn, and it does not risk being extinguished. There may, however, come a time, in the not too distant future, when you feel like sharing a piece of it. This only happens when you encounter a unique, special case, or perhaps, special individuals, who make you feel confident enough in your efforts, in your thoughts and dreams, to make you want to share it; which you’ll find, does not lessen the blaze, but incites the flames into an inferno. This, in fact, may be one of those fearless days, an event, where I now find myself, wishing to share a piece of you.
As Solnit continues through her story, enlightening us with how and why stories occur, how they rise and fall, like the tide, we feel witness to the author traversing writing itself, and reaching towards, to touch upon the essence of why it is she became a writer, and where her own story lies. It is powerful, personal and honest; lyrical but deeply intelligent storytelling. And at one point in this narrative, Solnit is in Iceland, occupied with being a writer in residence at the Library of Water. It is here, where personal revelations, do not just echo, but reach apotheosis for the author, and I felt as if she had reached through the page, and dragged me into the ink. It was not fire which drew me in, but the coldness of ice. Solnit retells, and muses on, a well known fairy tale: The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. I shall not recount all she has written, but merely mention the origin of the story: it pivots around the creation of an evil looking-glass, a mirror made by trolls, which shatters, and a shard of it, unfortunately, finds its way into the eye, and eventually, the heart of a little boy named Kai. This little boy is swept up in cynicism, in a flurry of snow, infected by a mirror, and perceives the world without a hint of empathy. It takes his friend, Gerda, a brave little girl, to travel to the Snow Queen’s palace and liberate the boy, by melting his cold, icy heart, with her warm tears. The corrupting splitter of mirror dissolves in her love for him. For Solnit, crucially, it’s a narcissist’s and cynic’s mirror that freezes the heart and distorts the world. It is more revealing than any story we’ve discussed so far, insofar as we speak of being another, of departing ourselves and entering an otherness, here the doubleness of a little boy fails, thereby revealing to us its antithesis: a resolute, singularity.
You could read The Snow Queen, writes Solnit, as a story about primordial forces versus animal empathies or even cold versus warmth. For me, it’s a story and an analysis, which has an underlying importance, towards the doubleness we must endeavour to feel, in the pursuit of not only ourselves, but in tending to others. It unearthed a deep sadness within me, a recognition for what I feel is one of my greatest ever failings: a lack of empathy. I despise how, through this writing, I’ve proposed myself to be some kind of bilingual being, adept at being within and without, by speaking of doubleness as if I’m comfortable with it, masquerading as a capable guide; whereas, in reality, in the place I live outside of here, nothing could be further from the truth: I’m scared, as a lost boy, wholeheartedly, in entering the other. Sometimes I just don’t get it; I’m devoid of feeling, and my whole body is desensitised to life. In actual fact, I torment myself for it, appalled by my inability to take on otherness. Often, I stand in dismay, repelled by my careless actions and hurtful words, as if a crime has taken place. But what troubles me more, is how, at times, I may feel the smallest things greatly, and the greatest things, as if they’re a crumb of bread. Why that is, why I to feel so much, and feel so little, is my nemesis; and, truthfully, it’s my curse.
When I was a boy, I use to act, and in some respects, I guess, you could say, I never stopped. I was driven down, every Saturday morning, by my grandmother, in her little, green Rover, into town and to the arts centre; there, she’d drop me; I’d jump outside, onto the pavement, and make my way into the café. Once there, I’d follow the corridor around and make my way up the stairs. I’d take a left directly at the top, and enter the first door on my immediate left. It’s here where lessons were taught and where I began to learn my lines. The scene was carefully plotted our for me, we selected props, and it was up to me to go home, rehearse, and practice my monologue. I cannot for the life of me remember what lines I had to say. What I do recall, however, is using a white wicker chair, as a kind of raised platform, where I’d place my knees and gaze up, as if looking out of a window into the night sky. I was given, as you may have guessed, the part of Kai, during his pivotal scene, where in his attic, whilst enchanted by the snow, a splitter enters his eye. I rehearsed and rehearsed it: over and over and over and over and over and over and over. I practised it, the performance, the act, until I was dizzy. It was not so much a monologue by the end of it, but an experimental dance, of spreading my weight on and off the chair; of hurtling, staggering around the stage, clutching my eye, and harbouring a resentment, a stern coldness towards the world. I believed with every fibre of my being, that a shard of glass, had travelled through my eye, to dwell inside my heart.
It leaves me now feeling distorted, and scattered out of my body, as if I’m loose with wires and circuits which aren’t properly functioning; the current which is meant to move through my eyes, to my brain and into my heart, sometimes jumps. The circuit, surges, desperate for a circuit breaker to absorb, and channel my unstable energy; and maybe that’s what an artwork is: when my circuits are flooded with energy, it holds it, otherwise, my whole system blows. My body may suffer from permanent damage, from the early days, in parts of me, which cannot be replaced. I think it may be from the time when I wasn’t making. A time when I had yet to know what making was, and how it moves me. I sometimes find myself believing my act, my performance, as a repetitive chant, or a curse, that I enacted and laid upon myself; solidifying the character I would become, and the monster, which dwells inside my cold heart. That internal dialogue, tears at itself, struggling, into a body of numbness. The burden of feeling it both sides, is my dissolution and my beginning.
I’ve laid it bare the best I can.
I cannot go any further. I am anxious and fear I’ve said too much. I’d like to pretend that what I’ve said is universally felt, that everyone struggles to traverse that fine line between who they are, and who they should be; but most, if any at all, would ever admit it. So, I shall take a big gulp, and trust no one has read up until this point. It’s raining and the pitter-patter of drops against the windowpane are, ever so slightly, calming me. It’s like the sound of waves breaking in a distant dream. It’s the sound of memory knocking. A dream where everything is whole, and we are no longer plagued by swapping masks and changing faces. The image of ourselves is comfortable, and not just on our skin, but in our bones. The image of you is the image I formed of myself.
Stone is made by compressing crystals. Crystals are analogous to glass, ice and mirrors. Crystals are molecules, atoms, which make up cells, which come together, through intense pressure to make stone. Stones are made by separation from the whole; from breaking apart from one stone to become two stones. The stone is a material of multiplication, they are seeds of things and images to come. The stones are making a rectangle. A rectangle which grows simultaneously out and in, to once again, live inside us; a body of stone, floating, in a sea of crystal.
Showers and a thunderstorm around.
We can’t dig.
Rather cloudy, showers around.
We can’t dig.
Occasional rain and drizzle.
We can’t dig.
A passing morning shower.
We can’t dig.
Intervals of clouds and sun.
Partly sunny and warm.
A gentle breeze draws water out of the earth.
Mostly sunny and beautiful.
If the weather holds, we’ll dig soon.
Today the sun shines radiant and hot.
I can feel it in my bones: tomorrow, we will dig.
With that recognition, and that knowledge, crystallising inside of me, I’ve realised our great voyage through somewhere, draws to a close. It is one I lament, as I sense, given time, I could say so much more. I’ve written on the time you afforded me, through the space you graced me with, and now I can feel your eyes, like my words, are tired and overused. As I reflect upon it, re-reading some of those peculiar pages I wrote, many, many weeks ago, I find myself questioning myself; it’s as if I’m not the person, the man, I once was. And, you know, I don’t find that discomforting in the slightest; I don’t seek in frustration, to form in the present, times past. I’m not a man frantically placing sand into a glass jar. That sense feels fresh at my fingertips, and around my body, as though I had not found rhythm, but learnt of its growth inside of me. I do, however, only vaguely understand what it is I have said; I can only say it came from a place of impulse and instinct, a place I’m learning to nurture, as if I’m a parent of my self, watching, as I play from a doorway. I am now not really sure what to say. I am not really sure what you want to hear. I am a doctor in the delivery room, with just an hour or so to wait. You will arrive tomorrow and I, as always, am apprehensive of such a momentous day, and the task which now falls, heavy onto my shoulders. We shall soon depart this form, join each other, transfigure, and enter our something other.
In the beginning, Art was said to embark across our lives at the very moment two lovers were separated, because, at first, it them who conjured it, motivated by an intense absence, a longing for the other, and in the face of their desperation, an outline was drawn, millenniums ago, of each lover’s silhouette, on a wall, which grew, through all our longings, into an image. It was the birth of the image. And some reckon, art itself, which came through a wish, a desire to be together. I falter, as I imagine meeting you, tomorrow, in your wholeness, in fear I may have misjudged it; perhaps, instead of filling me with vigour and euphoria, as you enter into my cavernous absence, I will just as quickly feel bereft, stripped of the knowledge that we will meet, for the reality that we’ve already met. Before I can even blink, my back, not even turned, you will flee, a fugitive from my grasp. I’m scared to feel my absence grow larger, having felt myself, deepen, by the promise of your presence. I hope it won’t be true. It pains me to continue searching, moving through others and discarding them along the way. I’ll have to wait to hear the verdict. I shall attempt to unearth the truth of it: the nature of the work, and what is concealed beneath the surface (if that’s even possible); it will be, only then, at the dig and at that epoch, when I’ll know whether to cling to you, or to pull a new stone out of my pocket, and strive for something, or someone else.
We have reached the end.
This shape of us, and this iteration, has at last, been laid to rest.
Love the questions themselves, Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Part of it may also be part of something else, Robert Barry, Art Work, 1970
Its boundaries are not fixed, Robert Barry, Art Work, 1970
I could recall the soil very well…, Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond
Art is like the traces of wounds ploughed into the field, Günther Uecker, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen
The body declares itself subject! Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler
often, before having the courage to go toward…, Clarice Lispector, The Passion According to G.H
My stones are like grains of sand in the space of the landscape, Richard Long, Five, six, pick up sticks, 1980
my talent as an artist is to walk across a moor, or place a stone on…, Richard Long, Five, six, pick up sticks, 1980
A precise thought, logical, crystalline like the material of the stone, Giuseppe Penone, Writings, 2006
a waterfall is a waterfall is a waterfall, John Berger, and our faces, my heart, brief as photos
I like the simplicity of walking, the simplicity of stones, Richard Long, Five, six, pick up sticks, 1980
a walk is just one more layer, a mark, laid upon the thousands…, Richard Long, Five, six, pick up sticks, 1980
walking presupposes that at every step the world changes in some aspect…, Italo Calvino, Collection of Sand
I felt that I could swim for miles, out into the ocean: a desire for freedom…, Rachel Cusk, Outline
A spirit filled him, pure as the purest water, sweet as dew…, James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Breathing the air of the sea is like breathing the light, Giuseppe Penone, Writings, 1990
all the names mean nothing to you, and your name means nothing to them, Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond
I cannot trace my own ancestry in the male line beyond my…, Arthur Ernest Mourant, Blood and Stones
perhaps the most successful of all island breeders…, Arthur Ernest Mourant, Blood and Stones
Suffering, like a stone… (around my neck, deep inside me), Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary
It will come, Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
But the wind does not stop for my thoughts, Derek Jarman, Modern Nature
Time is scattered, the past and the future, the future past and present, Derek Jarman, Modern Nature
In front of me a jade sea is running wild, Derek Jarman, Modern Nature
catch yourself thinking, Alan Ginsberg, The Essential Ginsberg
is literally and symbolically the ground of the events which are taking place…, John Berger, About Looking
a voice calling, John Berger, About Looking
two horses grazing; an old woman looking for mushrooms; finches…, John Berger, About Looking
The field that you are standing before appears to have the same proportions…, John Berger, About Looking
Photography is an elegiac art, a twilight art, Susan Sontag, On Photography
It’s that edge, that life death edge, Dennis Wheeler with Nancy Holt, Revolve, 1977
what appears in the night is the night that appears, Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature
The sensuality of night had never been so clear to me…, Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby
Love for the moon often has its double in love for its reflection…, Italo Calvino, Collection of Sand
it is one of the great facts of the world, like sunlight, or springtime…, Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
The moon has sunk and the Pleiad…, Sappho in Karen Blixen, Out of Africa
I went on, sinking words into the pages, perhaps wondering what or who…, Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond
a stone-fashioned dream, Charles Baudelaire, The Flower of Evil
My skull is a suspended stone, Giuseppe Penone, Writings, 2005
a darkness deeper than the night’s, Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler
Earth, isn’t this what you want: to arise within us, invisible? Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies
they would be alone, surrounded by darkness and silence…, James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Portrait of one or the other, our two narcissisms drowning there…, Claude Cahun, Aveux non avenus
We are involved with flower, leaf, and fruit. They speak not just…, Rainer Maria Rilke, The Sonnets to Orpheus
the image comes from the sky: it does not…itself distinction and distance, Jean-Luc Nancy, The Ground of the Image
It is a process, that is, a passage of life that traverses the liveable…, Giles Deleuze, Essays critical and clinical
to all appearances, the artist acts like a mediumistic being who…, Marcel Duchamp, The Creative Act
the path may lead to the Lichtung, the clearing whose very space, open to…, John Berger, About Looking
poetry as a dig, a dig for finds that end up being plants, Seamus Heaney, Feeling into Words
Where does a story begin? Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby
it’s a narcissist’s and cynic’s mirror that freezes the heart and…, Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby
You could read The Snow Queen as a story about primordial forces…, Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby