Thursday, 29 October 2015

Oona's Law

Oona, a water nymph longed to travel. It was not as her father thought because she had fallen in love with a man. She wanted to see peoples and lands different to her own watery home, but her father was reluctant to let her go for in order she do so she had to possess a human soul and to do that she had to take a husband. Once pledged to a mortal she could never return, and if her spouse was unfaithful she would die; treated badly otherwise she would survive and remain bound. Those were the terms.
How was he to find a man whom his daughter didn't wish to love, yet would care enough to treat her well and stay faithful? He couldn't think of such a man, a human man, and his daughter, although dutiful and kind, was no angel. She had firm opinions of her own and was apt to release these at inopportune times, particularly if she was goaded. She was a tricky one and that troubled him for if a man's needs are not met he'll look elsewhere but knew his daughter would not be prepared to give an inch. She said she would do her best to be a wife in every regard except that one; human love was stifling. He could only comply and hope she did succumb to that someone; grow to love whom he found.
In this her father was nothing but methodical, he made a list according to what he knew of man and what might be a man's employment:
  • Missionary - posted around the world helping others in the name of Christ; usually desire children and a supportive wife.
  • Government Official - confined to a jurisdiction; promotion likely; tend to be corrupt and easily bribed; prefer a stay-at-home wife.
  • Doctor - work long hours; movement within district; prefer home-makers.
  • Farm Labourer - a hard and unrewarding life; restricted to humble living on a patch of land.
  • Sailor - see the world; have a woman of every age, shape and size in every port.
  • Lieutenant - stationed all over; being caught up in war is never pleasant whichever side fought for.
  • Pirate - do they still exist? greedy; can have foul tempers; not to be trusted with loot, alcohol or women.
  • Young Boy – not yet developed into a man and not yet interested in girls.
Of these, the last was a clutching of straws and yet seemed the easiest to bring about and the one that would cause the least trouble. A young boy could be trained, he supposed, to serve and be faithful, but how long before that natural urge would not be crushed? None of those he'd listed were a guarantee and each would no doubt want something else in return once they realised what was at stake.
Was his daughter to die so soon having sacrificed her immortal life for a human soul?
If her motivation was due to love he would understand it better. But distant lands and people who spoke in foreign tongues, no that he could not understand.
Could he forestall this finding of a mate? If he tried, Oona would only take matters into her own hands and 1) that wasn't customary, and 2) she'd likely marry the first man she set her eyes on so desperate was she to see the world.
Would any mortal man be agreeable to marriage and take a vow of celibacy?
The whole impossible situation was a conundrum. 
But it so happened that as he was still trying to find a solution, a man who was a poor swimmer was lost at sea, and so indebted was he to the water spirits that saved him that upon hearing about the father's dilemma regarding Oona he unconditionally offered half his soul. And since there were no clauses that did not state that this was not allowed, the contracts were drawn up and signed: Oona became half-mortal and half-water. This proved so successful it eventually passed into common law and made other girls like Oona free to roam whenever they chose to go without having to sacrifice their life or their natural home.
Picture Credit: Undine by Arthur Rackham

Thursday, 22 October 2015


Some experiences have shaped who I am that I'll have to learn to live with as best I can. Or learn to make use of, channel them into an area of work or creativity.
I had thought that you weren't, couldn't be, defined by events and occurrences, but I've come to realise that you are. Whether you like it or not. Whether you choose to open or bury them. Whether you use them constructively or negatively. Whether you claim or refuse to be a victim.
I've always disliked that word: Victim, regardless of its truth or if the alleged is the genuine article, for its overuse. In one way or another we are all victims. We all hurt one another and seek recompense for that hurt. Life makes victims of us all: the wholly innocent and the guilty offenders. At some point, we all create the cause and feel the rippling effects. There is no escape from that for this is a vast, deep pool, and individually we are only drops. Drops that flow and form a vaster ocean.
Does claiming to be a victim empower or weaken? It can do both, but I fear we are too willing to shout it from the rooftops of our house. Far too willing to use that word as a powerful weapon or a defence mechanism. Neither are easy to do; one demands courage, and the other destroys strength, but both chain you to that title, and once there it's difficult to break those binds.
I speak as I find. I use the 'I' in a sense to hide, preferring it to dreaming up a named character. Yet I know you're trying to guess right now whether this is purely narrative or the real me – the author. That, I am not going to reveal. Fact or fictional, it's observational. What this 'I' sees, how this 'I' conceives it.
Every single one of us has a story to tell, a story that casts our landscape. A tale full of twists and turns that leads us to our present, and where we have suffered crushing blows, euphoric highs and mediocre times. That landscape is our own and like everything surrounding us it changes, but mostly there is a default position in accordance with our outlook. Mine for the most part, and like my vision, is hazy, but is nonetheless rich and beautiful, and when the mist lifts it's glorious. A bright day with blue sky and a few motionless clouds, or a sky that captures my sight as it moves. And of course, the mist doesn't always rise, sometimes it gets denser and muddier; there's a darker mood, a gathering storm sometimes within, sometimes without, or sometimes evident in both. Darkness has to meet, has to kiss the light for they are opposites and equals, and all shades in-between.
None of us are perfect beings; those that shout are no better than those that hide or those that try to cope in a more private manner. My landscape may be ill-defined for the lenses in the vessel lacks far-sight, but the 'I' behind is not unequal or dissimilar to others.
I could play the role of 'victim'. I could wallow in it, pound my fists against a wall and scream IT'S NOT FAIR! Let tears fall unchecked, why me? why me? Or I could use that energy to help others. Or I could find a way for me to live and be at peace, without taking anyone into my confidence. I don't have this overwhelming need to share or to justify my actions to others. And nor do I wish to right wrongs or dole out historical punishments. What the 'I' knows is all that matters, and how that 'I' amalgamates or acts it out.
There is never a slate to wipe clean. What ultimately shapes the 'I' cannot be erased. The 'I' can pretend for an indefinite time that such and such didn't happen, everything's fine, but that can lead down self-destructive paths. There's only one person you have to make it right with and that's yourself.
Talk or don't talk. Do or be. Reform if that's what you need. And realise that the 'I' doesn't have to be a prisoner, a perpetrator or a mute witness.

Picture Credit: Hazy Landscape (view to Faroe Islands), William Heinesen, 1962

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Two is Worth More

My mother claims that whatever she says I always do the opposite. As soon as she agrees with me, I swiftly jump to defend the other option. Champion it with a sharpened sword. Lunge with a babble of barbed words. Immediately see potential rather than danger in the object I had, an instant ago, been attempting to fend off. And yet, to my knowledge, she's never tried reverse psychology because in all honesty I think, and she knows, I would outwit her.
If she tells me what I want to hear, I wonder why she didn't tell me the other. If she supports the opposing view, I think she's criticising my judgement and I question her own. Is she saying I'm not capable or that I'm foolish to consider it? whatever that IT happens to be. But then if she reprimands me for being fault-finding I think she's delusional, clearly playing the Mother card: my daughter's the BEST. There's nothing she couldn't turn her hand to! Refusing to see or choosing to ignore what I regard as glaring flaws, or else giving me the answers she thinks I want, not need.
I dislike having choices and yet I often reject the bird I'm offered, if not in deed, then in words or thought; one not enough, I have to catch another by enticing it to a flowering or fruit-laden tree, then crossing my dry palm with mixed seed and copying its warble. will come...
A flutter of wings, a rustle as it lands in the foliage and studies me with its inquisitive bead eyes, its small perfectly-formed head tilted to one side as it returns my whistle. Its call, of course, much more beautiful and plaintive than my own. Dawn passed a few hours ago and it's well before dusk, why do I sing thus? the notes of its music convey. That much I have learned to read, but some solos have a complexity quite beyond me to which I can't reply.
A soundless language then develops; a comfortable stillness as if I were a statue on a plinth in a peopled square put there to be befriended by lonely or resting birds. The birds gradually cease to be scared, take briefly to the air in a circling flight, flitting across my line of vision to find a lofty spot to alight and settle. Tentatively they will hop from my shoulder, down the length of my extended arm to my open palm speckled with seed, and each time one dares to feed, that seemingly friendly hand closes over their winged body in a lax grip.
My intention not to harm or cause undue stress, but to feel life pulsating for its beat is stronger than mine. Beneath my curled fingers, a tiny bird appears subdued and calm, yields to my touch as if it understands my need. The eyes, like full stops, are firm and trusting, dark dots of compassion, and the heart caged within the warm feathered body has a robust, yet rapid motion. Livelifelivelifelivelifelivelivelive...goes the beat of bravery.
If I was kind, I'd release it, but the urge to collect, to keep for a short time, has a will of its own, so in it goes into a grey shoebox with a crude perforated lid. I had one, now I have two. One, a risk; two, better odds for unfocused individuals who give refuge to the obstinate belief that two is worth more, and little convinces them otherwise. What do I know...should I stay...should I go...should I say yes...should I say no...should I...should I...should I...
To weigh up, to compare, to assess, to analyse gives the impression of autonomy; I have choices I can control, I am the deciding factor. A false notion as the birds trapped are always free, regardless of their marked similarities or differences. I am not their master or their keeper. I can capture but I cannot make them stay. They will fly or fade away at some point, sometimes for good, sometimes to return when the moment is ripe. My ego might like to think I'm the Governor of my circumstances, but outside of my being there's an influence more far-reaching than I can ever hope to interpret.
And yet a hunter will always attempt to make a pair.

Picture Credit: Weaver Birds, William de Morgan

Thursday, 8 October 2015


Paradise didn't come to Sadie, she came to it. And although, when she thought about it, the circumstances were very different, similarities could still be drawn to James Hilton's Lost Horizon: there was a journey which began as planned but ended in an unforeseen destination; there were revelations about her fellow travellers; and there were heated debates over whether to stay or rejoin the revolving world.
Division is never nice, but often necessary.
Some wanted peace, contemplation and beauty, some wanted to be freed from modernity; others wanted all the voyeurism that life had to offer and could barely withstand being without the hurried pace, the noise, the constant distractions, yet among these were a few who didn't know what their Shangri-La was until somehow it came to them or them to it. Providence, Miss Brinklow would have called it.
But then Sadie didn't have a Miss Brinklow in her party, unless she had assumed that character, but she wasn't a missionary nor was she likely to assertively proclaim this situation and her place in it was preordained, even if she did privately indulge this thought. She was the more silent of the circle, only speaking when she was spoken to or when she felt it was necessary, although the latter it has to be said was rare. Her voice was soft and she didn't like to raise it above more assured vocalists or drive inspecting eyes to fall upon her; in fact it caused her much embarrassment if she was asked to increase its volume or to kindly repeat the words she had uttered. Two rose-coloured spots would appear on her cheeks and deepen as she tried to overcome her meekness and comply. Unbeknownst to her, this feature was quite becoming, but it gave Sadie the jitters. She trembled, she tripped over words, and avoided direct eye contact as her face blushed progressively crimson.
A late bloomer was how she would have been described back home, someone who took longer to realise her own worth and beauty, although some to be cruel would say she never bloomed at all like a tight flower bud that despite careful tending fails to open, but here, wherever here was, she blossomed. She forgot about her self-consciousness and just was. Her silences to her felt more comfortable, and her voice when she did speak had a new firmness. And it appeared she wasn't the only one who had noticed this transformation, the others often looked to her for mediation, which as a single woman, who was neither very young or very old and lacked in what could be called standard experiences, she greatly appreciated.
In this restorative place, new as well as more established residents, just liked to be near her; a small band trailed in her wake from one communal room to another which at times she found rather bothersome. In spite of how she truly felt, the Master Healer said, she exuded calm in her aura. And yet she'd only just found this inner peace for herself.
It had been there all this time and she hadn't known.
If the sleeper train hadn't derailed, if she'd chosen to stay put and wait for help, if she and the others she left with hadn't met the John Lennon hippie, if he hadn't led them in single file over a viaduct and into the hills, if they hadn't been cajoled into being winched up the dizzying height of a redwood tree to an oriental tea house in its boughs...
Then where would she be right now? Still trying to make sense of her drab life?
That's how Sadie used to think; now the ifs, hows, buts and whys have receded over the course of time, along with time itself. Nothing matters here where the air is fresh, where all species of birds wheel overhead or sing the dawn chorus, where nature strips you of any false or protective identity. From this imperious height everything you once worried about falls away. Decays. A chrysalis turns into a butterfly. A snake sheds its skin. Seeds sown long ago are finally watered.
In this tucked away Shangri-La, true nature shines.

Picture Credit: Vintage Travel Japan for Kirishima in Kagoshim Prefecture, The Retreat of Spirits with Japanese Railways c1930s.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Flame Without

Night after night she held a beacon; held a flame over the waves crashing against the rocks, mimicking what Hero had once done for Leander, except this was centuries later, and she wasn't acting as a guide, but as a seeker. Trying to throw light in dark inlets hoping for a sign, or that she'd recognise exactly what it was she sought.
At first sight, like the love some people claim they've felt for another.
The blindfold would magically lift from her eyes as she realised what was truly in front of her, or she'd feel the pull like that of a magnet and be conducted to the part of her that she knew had for a long time taken leave. The re-discovered piece slotting neatly into her person and not jammed into the chasm. Like a black sheep coming home, assimilated once again into the fold as if they'd never been away.
Gone would be the repetitive Ugly Sister moments where body parts were butchered with a paring knife or cut with a pair of nail scissors so that found donor flesh could uneasily fit and reside on borrowed time. Borrowed because patch jobs only mask the pain of the search, in spite of the faint glimmer of hope they provide at the beginning. A hope which dies when the body refuses to accept the donor flesh, shakes it off as it were a parasite riding uninvited, although in the short-term it's better to be patched than have large black holes of nothing.
Knit one, purl one, drop stitch, drop stitch, drop stitch...
Dark matter, everyone can see and intrude into without asking; conjecturing as they do so as to the cause of your emptiness, your melancholia, your dissatisfaction, and as they probe the openings get bigger and bigger. There goes a kidney...the spleen...part of the intestine...a section of the stomach...a fallopian tube...a lung...a sliver of the heart...a whole breast. The small spaces of flesh lying in-between look like tropical islands. Their jagged shores surrounded by dark vacuous pools, an inky sea that a pen might dip into and write with.
But who, in this case, would be the writer?
Her? The missing part of her? Someone removed from her story? Someone who wanted to write her a new one?
A tattoo of spidery words spilling across her remaining skin and people studying them as they do passing clouds; the pictures that appear compared and analysed. Look, there's a huge somersaulting fish, over there a palm tree and in that hollow a camp fire.
What does it mean?
Why does this person have words materialising as pictures on her body?
Not one of them considering if she wants them to read or stare. Didn't anyone ever tell them it's rude?
But that's just how it is if like her you feel in some way incomplete. You come to accept it and long for a day when temporary fixes will be a thing of the past. You hope, as she faithfully does, for a gradual restoration or a sudden solution, sharp and clear, and when the fog parts, the calmer breeze will blow out the burning light. That eternal flame that was without will finally be within, and nothing how she saw it will be as it was as the time for numbly seeking will be over.
Beings having a human experience call that hope for there is never any assurance that what we think we want will come to pass. Nor is there any certainty that we will know when it is within inches of our grasp or if we will ever attain it. To search is a fickle thing...
And until that search has died a natural death, her light will waver and disorientate men; quite a few will lose their way, entangled in seaweed or dragged under by her tempestuous current, for the flame she holds is not a beacon for mankind but a self-seeking, flickering light.

Picture Credit: Hero Holding the Beacon for Leander, 1885, Evelyn de Morgan