Thursday, 28 April 2016

Drought and Flood

Dried up. That's how I feel. I've drained my pools of creativity. Like sponge fingers soak up hard liquor, or earth when it's parched and the first rains after a dry spell fall. A drought, not one brought on by climate change but of my own making, which came on too sudden. I wasn't prepared for these arid plains. And yet I could, at any time, have slowed my pace, locked in moisture.
I might have foretold its coming...
Instead I strode ever onwards until my brain was a fevered hive and my body cried for water. The last drops gone. All gone. But to make it clear you tell yourself so in a loud firm voice “All Gone. No More.” The small child dismissed, the still staring dog less patiently told “Be off with you.”
The child will forget immersed in play, the dog will pass the hours in sleep then wake and again pad to the kitchen for scraps, but when the drought is within the dryness lasts. And lasts...and lasts. It is not dispelled by external hands, nor by substituted juices. Nothing abates this thirst except knowledge. The knowledge that most often comes unexpectedly, the unlooked for moments that causes questions to flower into a bed, a lawn, a wild meadow, which you admire like a painting from afar, or twirl in the centre with one arm outstretched, and the other bent so your hand keeps your straw hat from flying off, as your skirts flap at your ankles. The mental image that of a combined Monet and Degas.
Giddy and drunk on the sight and scent of flowers when your land before was stark, do you pluck and try to keep them alive, or let them wither and die naturally? A profusion gathered in your arms must be arranged in a vase and placed in a sunny spot you can see, whereas those in a meadow must be walked through as much as convenience allows. With either you never know when the bloom will fade, when the petalled heads will wilt. Nature, especially that of the mind, is an inexact science.
Areas can flood. Abruptly. The dripping tap becomes a tap you can't turn off; the trickle then turns into a steady stream, and when turned on full to a ferocious gush that sprays. This is the peak of creativity, and as the feeling is one of ecstasy you lack foresight. The moment is all that matters and being in it. Nothing is allowed to interrupt or slow that frenetic flow. The deluge lights wild fires rather than douses their potential to ignite, which goes against logic and chemistry, and you so enjoy the rush you don't think to build a dam or moat, or even to collect some in a pail for lean times.
You burn: your face flushes, your lips redden, your eyes sting, the heat seeps through and engulfs you, but you don't stop. You would rather drown in this body of fire-water, than let its tide go out. But it does go out, like a light, not like a flood. There's no standing stagnant water to be bailed. Nothing needs to be aired, there's no dampness anywhere nor any signs of rot which in extreme weather-related floods would be a relief. The overhead blazing sun would also be a welcome sight but here it is prophetical, though too late as always in its warning, as when you try to fetch water from the pump none comes.
Moisture. None. Not in the air, not in the usual crevices. Areas that were previously plump are deflated and shrivelled, and incredibly dry and flaky. Everything works but at a tired befuddled tempo. What organ am I? What do I do? Even those that have autonomic functions, that work independent of thought, now require belief in their existence. Your liver makes you feel sick, your kidneys don't give you the urge to pee, and your heart pumps the blood around so sluggishly that your toes develop chilblains and itch. Your pallor has turned a pasty grey with a tinge of yellow, and your eyes are so dry tears cannot be made and so cannot fall.
This will pass, or so you tell yourself, and it will as all phases do, yet the cycle must repeat.
Drought, meadow, flood; drought, meadow, flood. How I long for a meadow, meadow, meadow!

Picture Credit: Field of Wild Poppies, 1873, Claude Monet

Thursday, 21 April 2016

On the Subject of Love

What can be greater than loving someone from a distance and letting them be free?
That question was the first to form in my mind when I read the words platonic love. A love without physical consummation: feelings divulged but not acted upon, shared but unification undesired. And when I say distance it might be just an arm's length, a person you may see or be in contact with regularly. A relationship which some might define as a mutual regard, but platonic love is so much more than that, though the thesaurus suggests passionless as a similar term. How can that be the case when its equivalent is the non-reciprocated crush?
It's by no means passionless: the shared passion is just directed elsewhere, in the love of similar tastes, intellectual debates or even in admiring looks. It's more head and heart than loins. Each the muse to each other's life-affirming endeavours. Each providing a way for the other to live, to survive, to cling onto a semblance of life they foster secretly, or to give them the stamina and the determination to push that same rock upwards though it repeatedly tumbles down. This admiration of another fortifies and inspires the will of men and women-kind. It gives rise to confidences, those things you might not utter to a lover until it's too late or they're left unsaid forever. The unspoken hanging in the air or locked away.
Why then is this kind of love deemed to be lesser? Less desirous, less potent? For what could possibly be more romantic than a meeting of minds? A relationship like that has longevity, as can a relationship based merely on the sight of each which induces a steady fire rather than a burning flame.

In 1855 Robert Browning, a Victorian romantic poet, wrote a poem about this very matter: The Statue and the Bust, where a Duke falls in love with a bride on her wedding day. The jealous husband learning of this confines his new wife to a room from where she watches the Duke ride by every day. As her beauty fades she has a bust made of herself which she places in the window; the Duke has a bronze statue made in his likeness which he erects in the square outside. That's the heart of it: nothing ever comes of this affair, and yet there's a constancy there. Yes, there's a vainness there also, a wanting to be seen as the best version of themselves like a portrait that though the colour might fade the light of the captured person never dims and their appearance never ages, but with an acceptance of how the situation stands and that their feelings will remain regardless. They build monuments to their suppressed love, elevating that unconsummated bond to an unattainable level.
An impossible love, one without stains! But I'd rather that than a possessive love or an uncaring one as both extremes are equally dispiriting. Why do we wish to possess, to grab? Why do we confess to love when it's not how we honestly feel? We think we apply unconditional love to family, sometimes close friends, but does it in reality exist? Because even in those relationships you often find struggles; there are conditions which if not met can result in love being withheld. Maybe unconditional love, despite our intentions, is not practised at all.
Ordinary love, ordinary in the sense of the usual formula, can be manipulative. Or even turn violent. Platonic love poses no such problems because it never progresses beyond a certain boundary. It's deeper than a friendship, but yet doesn't require an culmination which is where the normal spheres of love always veers. Both parties are satisfied with the companionship they provide to each other. Disappointment is rare as are the demands made. There are expectations, no dizzying heights and no crashing lows. Some would say that's not love at all since it doesn't involve the risks or fears that can make you soar or plummet.
I dispute that. What's wrong with a love that's comfortable and doesn't necessarily have to go anywhere? Far far away from the Fifty Shades of Grey territory. I think we've lost our real sense of romanticism and no, I don't mean in the dominion of Mills and Boon either, but an even more chaste version. Rewards, and sometimes more of them, can be found in a platonic form of love.

Picture Credits:
The Love Philtre (Study), circa 1914, John William Waterhouse
Photograph of an unidentified bust, circa 1951-1952, taken in Italy by Nigel Henderson

Thursday, 14 April 2016

We're Not Odour Compatible

...and so I said...
What? I interrupted impatient to get to the heart of this meandering story. There followed a brief silence, like the kind you used to find in a doctor's or dentist's waiting room where everyone idly flicks through dog-eared magazines as they strain to catch the crackly announcement of names over the loudspeaker. Would so-and-so please go to room 5.
I made the other tea and coffee drinkers jump with my next exclamation: You didn't??
I did, said my friend, nodding sagely like the Churchill dog, I told him he smelt of meat and so I just couldn't. I mean I couldn't just keep fobbing him off, inventing excuses or putting in obstacles. It was wearying, you know, withholding intimacy. It's not like I didn't like the guy, but physically the stench proved overpowering. I mean he really reeked of meat. I was convinced if he invaded my space I'd pass out.
Quite, I said, but couldn't you have let him down gently? I don't know, made up something. Told him you'd taken a sudden vow of chastity.
How's that better? If anything that would have been worse.
She gave me that defiant look, daring me to rise to her bait. Instead I played the stubborn card, much to her annoyance.
Oh, come on, what about that guy you said leached yeast though his pores like a carbohydrate-fuelled brewery. Once you discovered that you avoided all bodily contact. How's this different? She challenged me.
Yeah, but I didn't tell him I was repulsed by his odour! Or that we weren't odour compatible.
Maybe you should have. I mean what's wrong with saying that? I quite like that – we're not odour compatible... That's a great line, do you mind if I use it sometime?
Perhaps she has a point. Or perhaps without realising it I did.
And there will be a next time. Another reason to give – be it false or brutal in its honesty – as to why you don't think you're compatible with somebody if you're a serial dater, which I hasten to add I'm not; not that there's anything wrong in taking this approach, but I prefer to be a voyeur of other people's attempts. Witnessing a date a few steps removed is more enjoyable, and brave are the people that agree to be matched, to be filmed.
There are so many issues you can be incompatible on that can be a real deal breaker. Yet how many I wonder consider odour until the inevitable: the first embrace, the first kiss, the sleep-over, the living together. Odours can of course be masked, think garlic with mint or other breath-freshening herbs, sweat with the application of deodorant, or confusing our natural smell with a commercial scent as if we were flowers wishing to attract bees. Could the latter be why we often pull in the wrong sort and repel the right ones?
The question, I feel, is two-pronged: Is fragrance in the nose of the smeller? And is there such a thing as odour compatibility?
Because it seems to me that if science emphatically proved there was it might answer a lot of my revulsions. Unless what I'm revolted by now never used to seem so disgusting. Your parameters narrow as you get older and more wise to your ways which considerably narrows the field. And these constrictions tend to go over and above set tolerance levels, which too substantial lessen as age encroaches. You cannot compromise on a trait, a habit, an odour if it's deeply embedded, and it's abhorrent to attempt change in anybody – get rid of what you perceive to be another's flaws – for if anyone did that to me it would chafe. Create sores and ever-widening chasms.
The import of odour has been underestimated and yes, it can be diet related, but isn't that also part of the person? Nobody should have to give up their likes because of someone else's dislikes, and yet if it assaults one of the senses there has to be a separation.

Picture Credit: The Joint of Meat, 1864, Claude Monet

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Wilde Frau

Deep in a German forest lives the Wilde Frau, in a wooden hovel with a turnkey for protection: hers and that of the nearest hamlet. She has been so hidden because of her fits of madness and of fever, although the Wilde Frau has never to anyone's knowledge actually killed. Murdered a human being, although she may have slaughtered a pig or two, and twisted the necks of some old hens that had stopped laying. But that was years before then. Now.
Her imprisonment although sudden had not been unexpected. Eyes belonging to skulking figures had watched her for months; children at play had run away when they saw her coming, and wives had hurried inside and bolted their doors. Men stood in huddles and talked in hoarse whispers, their backs turned, and glanced round nervously as she strode passed them. Ostracised, though she did not remember the untoward behaviour that caused these reactions.
For a while she thought perhaps she was wrong: it wasn't she they fled from, but some other. A terrifying being she couldn't see, that for some inexplicable reason didn't exist for her. A grotesque beast who hid during the day and disappeared round corners at night, always up ahead and staying out of sight. That was the life she imagined for this being; she didn't think that would be her in a year's time, especially when she had no concept of the threat she posed.
Yet there were malevolent incidents: cottages entered and food deliberately spoiled; animals freed from their holdings; a baby taken and found unharmed on a bed of straw in a pig sty; and tools, mysteriously lost, recovered crusted with rust at the bottom of the well, and as you might expect after such incidents in a close-knit community there were murmurings, which at some point indicated her. An observation she came to as aforementioned rather late.
There goes the Wilde Frau” she'd hear in her passing and she'd follow their gaze, thinking their eyes were directed elsewhere and unseeing who they could possibly be referring to for apart from her the path was clear. The truth dawned on her one sunny market day when the horses and cows were wandering and chickens were scattering the dusty roads, when a scrawny man with bulging eyes lunged at her with his pitchfork shouting “Get thee gone, servant of the devil!”
Naturally, she was affronted, but thought this man with his underfed, desperate look was surely a village idiot; nobody she'd seen before but then brothers and cousins returned from town on market days. However, others soon joined in, surrounding her with their profanities, their eyes blazing with a mixture of rage and jubilation at having cornered her. It was unfortunate that though she had no recollection of having partaken in the incidents much talked of, that she snapped. Seeming to enter into a different state entirely: swinging round and round, her colour rising as her blonde hair came undone, with fits of mad, uncontrollable laughter thrown into the faces of all those that encircled her until her giddiness forced through an exit, whereby she ran into the back entrance of the nearby tavern and armed herself with a butchering knife.
There she stood, wild-haired and having lost her shoes somewhere, brandishing a very sharp knife. There were blood-curdling screams as she directed it at her own laced bosom, but thought better of in a matter of seconds, and attempted instead to shear her loose golden hair with a wicked grin plastered across her face.
It was at this stage that the Landlord having seen enough decided to intervene. He skilfully tackled her to the ground and successfully wrested the knife from her after a determined struggle, whereupon she instantaneously relaxed in his bear-like grip, and her eyes that had previously been triumphant returned to a glazed calm. Visibly wilted, she was dragged up and held in custody in a upper floor room, where she remained passive: awake but in a doped state as authoritative figures decided her fate.
The rest as they say is history. A history that leads us back to the beginning: Deep in a German forest...

Picture Credit: In a German Forest, vintage travel poster