Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Take a letter

Thoth, from AncientNearEast.net

I drifted into being a secretary as an aimless young woman, and to my surprise became quite good at it. But I am over-conscientious and easily stressed and do not flourish in offices with unreasonable deadlines and pressures, so when I really started growing up in mid-life I looked around for something else to do. I trained in various types of massage, loved it, and now have a handful of clients.

It takes a long time to build up a massage practice however, and I've needed to keep up temporary secretarial work in order to have a steady income. Plus, if I'm honest, I've become institutionalised. I'm used to the structure of my life as a salaried employee, even if I often don't like it. I've never worked for myself full-time and up till now I've found the prospect too daunting to take the plunge.

I met a woman socially sometime ago, a therapist with a Jungian bent. She was probably about 60, plump, a kind face, long grey hair, long flowing dress. The usual getting-to-know-you chat followed.

"And what do you do?" she said.

So I launched into my standard massage speech, and added the usual rushed couple of sentences at the end. "... and to pay all the bills I work as a temporary secretary". I get faster and faster at this point, gabbling my words, wanting to switch the focus of the conversation onto the person I'm talking to and away from being a temp.

She wouldn't let me.

"You know, you must remember your archetype," she said.

I looked at her. Then she started to tell me about Thoth. That in Egyptian mythology he was the secretary and counsellor to Ra, and sat beside him in his chariot as the Sun God made his journey across the heavens. He was a major league player, in other words. The god of wisdom and magic, of the written word, of transcribing one's own words and also those of others. The secretarial archetype, she said.

She told me, nicely, that I needed to respect what I do, and my skills. That the ability to use, and to transcribe the written word, wasn't something to be ashamed of. In Ancient Egypt, writing and communication, being a scribe, was reverenced, and I needed to accord similar value to this part of my work life, and to ignore any messages to the contrary from society as a whole.

Something of what she said has stuck. I can respect what I do even if others don't. Temporary secretary, massage therapist - one isn't intrinsically superior to the other.

Taking it a step further, it's always the same lesson, of course, it always comes back to staying fully aware and focussed on what I am doing at all times - massage, typing, whatever - and not being distracted by my perceptions and preconceptions of the task in hand. It doesn't mean that I have to carry on doing the same thing for the rest of my life, only for this moment, this hour, this day.

And yet, and yet, the feelings about it all don't go away. I'm seeing a massage client tomorrow and my next temporary secretarial job begins in a few days time. I'm really looking forward to one and would prefer not to have to do the other, even though I'm grateful to have the work. New assignments are frightening at first. But this is not important. What matters - in both situations - is to show up, accept, do my best, breathe, smile.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


The space between
my invitation

and your reply

so small, yet
stretching beyond the edges
of my universe.


Click to enlarge

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order we have not yet understood.

Henry Miller

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A short break

There'll probably be no more posts until at least the weekend. I've got some matters to sort out and things to do (some of them nice). See you when I get back.

In the meantime, here's a lovely link for a spare five minutes or longer, the poetry section of the writer Jeanette Winterson's website. She shares poems she has come across and enjoyed, and I have found her taste and mine are very similar. There are some old friends and also new ones I am very happy to have met and look forward to getting to know better. (Why am I talking about poems as if they are people?).

The current featured poem, The Ball, is by the Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska. Here's the last few lines. The whole thing can be found at the first link above.

... let's act like very special guests of honour
at the district firemen's ball,
dance to the beat of the local oompah band
and pretend that it's the ball
to end all balls.

I can't speak for others -
for me this is misery and happiness enough:

just this sleepy backwater
where even the stars have time to burn
while winking at us

Monday, February 20, 2006



Sometimes, just walking down the street, running errands, thinking of nothing in particular, you suddenly see the familiar and mundane on a different level.

Blue evening skies, wisps of cloud and sunset reflections in shopfronts and windows, scruffy, valiant trees ..... for a moment or two it all comes together, and sometimes in the most unlikely places.


I've recently been making several happy discoveries in blogland that I know I will be revisiting regularly, one of whom is lj in Canada. Everyone should read this series of posts in her archives. You won't regret it.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Perfect pitch

True note

I' m finding blogging a fascinating business, and a far more profound and searching experience than I had imagined. There are now four or five pieces of prose sitting in my Drafts folder that I've been on the verge of putting up at various times over the past week or so, the most recent one being on loving kindness. But none of them are right. They don't sound the true note, they don't have perfect pitch.

How do I know when the pitch is perfect? I feel it in my gut - literally. It is not a mental decision, it is not necessarily to do with the quality of writing (though that plays a part). It is about truth and self-honesty. Working out what I really need and want to say is the key factor - and this can be a remarkably difficult process. And then putting together the words to say it. Intuition is perhaps what I'm talking about. I just know.

I was thinking about this on the Tube this morning, and the image of the piano tuner who used to visit the house when I was a child to tune the old upright piano flashed into my mind. He would spend a good two hours at the instrument, testing and tuning each key, often coming so close to the true note, but until he had got it exactly right he couldn't leave it and move onto the next.

There are paragraphs, lines, in these drafts that are on pitch, that are what I need and want to say. Some drastic cutting and pasting, perhaps? Just post them as they are? I don't know. Looking back at the archives over the past few months, I think the photos hit the right note more often than the written material, and some of the poetry comes closer than the prose.

I'm not a good conceptual thinker. I am enjoying starting to write poetry. I can report conversations or events reasonably fluently and accurately, but don't put ideas together well, and I'm not very good at writing about emotions (I find the latter really frightening, to be truthful). And this is fine. Part of the blogging process is to learn what I can and can't write, and I am finding the whole adventure both intriguing and rewarding. It is teaching me to listen for and to recognise perfect pitch.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A shopping trip

I think this fellow, spotted from the top deck of the bus in Sloane Street,


close to shops like this


and I have similar views on shopping in the West End, particularly when you are in a financially challenging period. To be avoided if at all possible, but sometimes there is no choice.


Crowds, noise, dirt and grime ... the secret is to know what you want, and the location of the shop that stocks it, go directly there, buy it and then leave immediately

but on the way, particularly if you have a camera, you can get distracted ...


whether by colourful scarves ...

Red reflections

or a colourful hairdressing salon ..

Oxford Street lights

and by interesting shapes and light effects ...


and there is even a moment of calm and beauty, looking upwards at Oxford Circus.

View from the bus

But it is still a relief when it's over and you're going home again.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A wish

for SH

There was a chasm
dry and strewn with rocks.

Neither of us
could throw a rope
or build a bridge
to meet half way.

You tried once
but by then
I was barricaded
into my encampment
on the other side

of falling and being broken
beyond repair.


May it not be
too late
for an unfamiliar grace
to melt away
the illusion
so fiercely grasped

and to learn
that weakness and fear
can only hide
a luminous reality
for a little while
(maybe not even a lifetime)

then to soften and
to heal
and finally
to understand

to let the waters flow and
to watch the desert bloom.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006



Sunday, February 12, 2006

More dogs ... and their owners

One of the (very few) pleasures of travelling on the Underground recently has been seeing this photograph in poster form on station platforms. It is one of ten portraits by photographer Suki Dhanda, who was commissioned by Transport for London Platform for Art and the Photographers Gallery to take a series of photographs of dogs and their owners in celebration of the Chinese Year of the Dog.

Asher, Cassie, Harlem and Blaze (c) Suki Dhanda. Click on link for larger photo.
Transport for London - Platform for Art
The Year of the Dog

Members of the general public have also been invited to send in photographs of themselves with their canine friends. Browsing through the submissions I was struck by the faces and the body language of the humans in the pictures - smiling, relaxed, peaceful. Our pets seem to allow us to lighten up, to play.

All in all, a treat.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Night haiku

The summer evening
caresses my senses; how
can I sleep alone?

On a night like this,
lying in the long grass, he
turned to me and smiled.


Clouds hide the full moon,
the cat creeps slowly towards
her prey: life or death?

Midnight: caught in the
headlights, an urban fox slips
between the parked cars.


Still dark, yet nearby
a blackbird sings; liquid notes
spill into the dawn.

At sunrise the breeze
stirs the windchimes; there is
laughter in my dreams.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

An encounter

Conigar Point looking toward Emsworth

Absorbed as I was in photography on the early morning walk a couple of weeks ago, I didn't hear the elderly man's approach and was not aware of him until he spoke. Tall and white-haired, with his upper middle-class accent and casual country clothes, and accompanied by a dog, he could have been a retired accountant, or maybe a former solicitor or GP.

"Wonderful morning", he said.

"Yes, isn't it", I responded and then, partly to make conversation, added: "I'm just trying to figure out how my new camera works".

"Ah", he said. "Well, when you come to look at your photographs later on, somewhere in there, in one of them, I guarantee you're going to find God. He lives here, you know".

This totally threw me. I didn't know if he was joking or not. "Really?", I said. Did he mean in this area exclusively? Or here, but also everywhere else?

Then I decided to go with the flow and follow my instincts. I felt I wanted to make a connection with him, and wherever he was coming from I admired his lack of small talk and willingness to tackle the big subjects.

"Yes, I'm sure you're right", I replied.

He said something else I couldn't catch but his tone remained cheerful. I wished him a good day and we both moved on. He took the path to the shore and I headed back across the fields, clutching the camera.

The photographs I took that morning are here.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Anonymity quandry

I am running into the difficulty Jean blogged about here, albeit in a different context. I went with a friend I met through work, her husband and another friend, to see a one-woman show last night at a fringe hang-out not far from where I live. G, the performer, when she isn't singing, is a temp secretary in the organisation where my friend works and where I was employed until a couple of weeks ago.

G was stunning. A voice to die for, wonderful choice of songs, good patter inbetween. The evening was a total eye-opener for me who had previously only known her slightly as a rather quiet temp in her other, office, life.

I would love to shout her name from the rooftops here, put links up right, left and centre, and urge any theatrical agents who happen to come across this blog to book her IMMEDIATELY. But I want to keep this blog anonymous and I don't want my cover blown. Quoi faire?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Who are you calling a fake?

Who are you calling a fake?
Click to enlarge

Yes, I know this is becoming an animal blog, but I saw these two today and couldn't resist ....

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Living in the present

Click to enlarge

Up until last November I hadn't given much thought to the fact that I will probably outlive the cat. Then he was diagnosed with the beginnings of kidney failure and suddenly reality hit and I've needed time to readjust. He's on a special diet now and has to go back to the vet in a couple of weeks for more blood tests to see if he's responding to the treatment, and if not to start him on a course of drugs. As well as drinking large amounts of water, he is slowing up and sleeping a lot more. Tempus fugit for cats too.

We've been companions for almost 9 years. He arrived in my life in July 1997, the same month that, with a huge amount of stress and anguish, I ended a relationship that should have finished at least two years previously. In retrospect I think of his arrival as new light shining in a dark place, and since then his gentle, affectionate, quirky presence has been a source of comfort and delight.

Being a rescue cat, we're not sure exactly how old he is, but the vet's guesstimate is 12 or 13 so I shouldn't perhaps be surprised that his health would start to become an issue around now. Fortunately his physical problems haven't affected his sunny nature and he is still seemingly enjoying life.

He is beautiful. Slim, with a long oriental body, his yellow-green almond eyes, like agates, regard the human goings-on around him with what seems to be faintly amused tolerance. Purring - something he does frequently - is a whole body experience, he simply vibrates noisily from top to toe. And that soft, thick fur is just made for stroking and burying one's face in. Opinion is divided on whether his colouring is pale ginger or red tabby, but frankly neither he nor I care too much.


He has never had any problems with living in the present. I aim to follow his example.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

.. and see nothing

Night trees

The breath of life is in the sharp winds of change
mingled with the breath of destruction.
But if you want to breathe deep, sumptuous life
breathe all alone, in silence, in the dark,
and see nothing.
The Breath of Life - D.H. Lawrence

When I read Beth's clear and lucid post at Cassandra Pages on the via negativa I was reminded of this poem.

In explaining the meaning of the term Beth writes:

"One throws out previous conceptions and approaches "God" in what can NOT be seen, felt, touched rather than trying to define the Holy in normal terms related to everyday life. ........ The via negativa does not negate beauty, light, life and love; in fact it is a way to begin to see and embody them as they really are, existing side-by-side with their opposites, no longer denied but accepted and held, gently, in the other hand. "

This post, and the one which prompted it, are well worth the read.