TiaTalk











The Loquat Tree

Following the “film of  your life” exercise in our Memoir workshop with Jonathan Taylor, one of the next instructions was to create ” the photo of your life” by choosing one of the memories to “write a passage describing minutely where you were, what you were wearing, what was around you (scenery, furniture, wallpaper, carpets, flowers, etc.), who else was there, what happened, what was said, and so on. Be as detailed as you possibly can. If you can’t remember details, make them up.”

I found this exercise interesting  because it caused me to doubt the accuracy of my memory, and also because it engaged my interest in research!

One thing that struck me as I read the question and looked for instances in my descriptions to answer it, was that I have absolutely no memory at all of what I was wearing at any point.

I had decided to write about climbing the loquat tree, but as I tried to describe the texture of the bark, and its smell, I suddenly wondered whether I was remembering it correctly, so I looked it up on Google. I found very many sites giving descriptions of “Eriobotrya japonica”, with varying assessments of the size of the mature tree, the number and prevalence of its varieties and fruit colours, and contradictory descriptions of it as a “shrub” or a “tree”.  I am sure that the tree in our garden in Northcliff was very large; clearly it had been there for many years (although a smaller tree may be “large”, when one is seven years old, of course, but I know that it was climbable).  I am also sure that it was not a “shrub” – I remember a  large single trunk, although it was vertically ridged, so possibly the individual “shrub” branches had grown together over many years. This is possibly why I found hand- and footholds to enable me to climb. The shrub-like growth of the higher branches may also be why I remember that it was not very comfortable to sit in the tree for long periods of time (as I sometimes did in other trees).  Suddenly, simply “remembering” is not very simple at all! But the discoveries I make during the process are intriguing, and I see why it may be necessary to “make things up”. Even if I base my descriptions on research, so that they are “likely” to be fairly accurate, that does not make them into my own memories.

Anyway, here’s what emerged:

————–

My hands slid over the bark of the tree, seeking purchase. The bark was smooth over the sinuous vertical ridges of the separate boles that had grown together long ago to form this wide trunk, but split in places by small lumpy outcrops or the base of a broken-off twig.  I loved the occasional harshness that pressed against my skin, and the smell of the dust disturbed by my hands as it mingled with the strong oriental perfume of the few white flowers that had not yet given way to fruit. As I found a handhold, then another, then a foothold, I entered the world of the tree, leaving sunshine and everything else behind. My goal was the sweet orange-yellow globes that I could see hanging amidst the shiny dark green leaves above me. I heaved myself up, scraping my tummy against the cool wood as I stretched for branches small enough to hold onto securely. It was only when I had settled, breathless, into the sharp fork between two of these branches, that I noticed I had grazed my knee. It wasn’t sore. I studied the greenish-grey dirt around the broken skin. It must have rubbed off the tree bark as I climbed. Then, as a shaft of sunlight played across my shoulders, I lost interest in the wound and looked again towards the golden fruit. Placing my left foot uncomfortably into the sharp fork beneath me and the right on a knot in a neighbouring branch, I seized the branch in front of me with both hands and stood up. From this position, I was able to reach up and break off a cluster of the fruit. I had done it! I noticed that I could now see through the leaves into the lower garden. Apart from the fact that the grass was fairly short, there was no sign of human habitation or civilisation. Inside this tree, clutching my prize, I was king of my own wild world.



{Mon 2 February 2009}   Seeking the ideal daily routine
Seeking the ideal daily routine

Sue Thomas posted this question under Talking Points in our Creative Nonfiction module today:
I came across this very interesting website http://dailyroutines.typepad.com/ which prompted me to ask – what is your daily routine? Do you have one? Do you wish you had? What works for you?

I found this website fascinating. One thing that struck me particularly was how few writers write for more than three or four hours a day. Another was how many of them write in the morning. I am also a morning person. Sometimes, I jump out of bed with a huge sense of urgency at 3, 4, 5 or 6 and head straight to my computer. If I do start writing then and if nothing else actively demands my attention (I am very good at procrastinating about things that should be done but aren’t actually shouting at me), then I can write or design projects easily until 11 or 12 am.

Usually, though, I have a much more disciplined routine which results in far less writing! This is because I’m married. Because I currently work and study from home and my husband has to travel to work, all the housework and catering falls to me. His necessary routine dictates mine. We rise at 7 (if I’m not already up) and I must have a cooked breakfast on the table by 8am at the latest so that he can be at work by 9. I usually fit in some housework and about 45 minutes of exercise between 7 and 9 as well. I am much more regular about exercise if I do it in the morning. If I miss, sometimes I can persuade myself to get on the stepper in front of the TV in the evening, but I have to talk to myself sternly to make myself do this!

From 9 I’m back at the computer and work through until 12 or 12.30, when I break for lunch for an hour (in which time I’ll do some laundry and possibly get onto the stepper in front of the TV if I missed it in the morning). Then at 13:00 or 13:30 back to the computer until 6.30 pm. I often have a concentration slump somewhere between 2 and 4pm, so I might read online news, answer emails, browse websites or even watch TV then. At 6.30 I start preparing dinner to serve at 7pm (I don’t do fancy cooking!). By 8pm I’ll finish clearing up, laying the breakfast table and preparing my husband’s work lunch for the following day. Then it’s time for any collaboration with him on online projects or domestic issues, or if we don’t have anything pressing, we’ll both return to our computers until 10pm (well, we always say 10pm, but inevitably end up only getting into bed by 11 or later because he’s a night owl).

I deal with household admin and finances – property, banking, insurance, investment issues, etc. for at least an hour a day. Most of this is online or call centre work which I dislike intensely, and some letter-writing, and it usually goes better if I do it in the morning, but I often leave it until late in the afternoon.

Unfortunately, I don’t function well on less than 8 hours’ sleep, or if I get to bed any later than 11pm. I would so love to be one who could manage on 6 hours!

Sometimes, when I’m deeply engaged in a project or piece of writing, none of the above applies. I’ve been known to spend 12 to 18 hours solid at my computer, only drinking or eating when my other half realizes that I’m shrivelling up and brings me something.

So, that’s my reality, which doesn’t really work for me. One possible improved schedule would be:

06:00 Yoga, self-care, planning
07:00 Light breakfast; read
07.30 Write, study
11:00 Online chores
12:00 Lunch (main meal); read or walk
13:00 Write, study, work
17:00 Housework, dinner prep with music
18:00 Walk or read
19:00 Light dinner and clearing up with music
20:00 Read, play games, collaborate, dance, singing, drawing or music practice
09:00 Prep for sleep
09:30 Read in bed
10:15 Sleep

Seems so simple…. why is it so hard to make this happen regularly?

One answer: Csikszentmihalyi talks of the “activation energy” needed to transition into activities that produce flow, and of the dangers of the lure of passive activities like TV that require very little activation energy. TV is a big problem for me because it’s easier than all the other things. If I could, I would throw it out, but hubby won’t hear of it. Although, recently, I’m glad to report, I’ve been so interested in what I’m learning and doing on the course that I’ve been watching a lot less.

I’d be happy to hear what routines others have or have tried in the past, and especially what motivates you to stick to them.

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{Sat 6 December 2008}   Dawn-Noon-Midnight Quilt

One creative writing exercise we were set for our course (the Online MA in Creative Writing and New Media), a few weeks ago, was to experiment with the Noon Quilt idea.

Prof. Sue Thomas, who sets the exercises, told us that this was originally a trAce writing project which assembled 100-word patches from writers around the world to create “a quilt of noon-time impressions”. Apparently, trAce was later commissioned by the British Council to make two similar quilts—The Dawn Quilt for South Asia and The Road Quilt for Russia and Eastern Europe. Our exercise was: “Look out of a window on three occasions during the week, at Dawn, Noon, and Midnight, and describe exactly what you can see. If you find a story there, feel free to tell it. ”

Living in London, I’m never usually up at either dawn or midnight, (or I don’t notice when I am because there’s usually not much clue from the sky!) but for the sake of this exercise I made a special effort, even going so far as to get the exact rising and setting times for the Sun from http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/astronomy.html?n=136.

I found that doing it all in one day made for stronger links between the patches;a sense of a continuous narrative.

So this was the day:

Date: 4 Dec 2008
Sunrise:
07:48  Sunset: 15:53
Length of day: 8h 04m 53s  Difference from the day before: − 1m 46s
Solar noon: 11:51  Altitude: 16.2°  Distance (10E6 km): 147.428

07:48

Through rain-spotted glass I see, no, feel, a grey sky. I see the white-rimmed eyes of human habitation staring across grim gardens. Here and there, a few glow with manufactured morning warmth. The sun is a secret. Inexplicably, the cloudy canvas lightens slightly. Stark winter trees stand against the grey, shivering in the meaningless wind. The flesh sags from my cheekbones as I imagine the cold wetness of the bark. I look back to the rows of neighbouring windows, but now all are dark and empty. The people inside have also become secrets.

11:51

The rain-spots have dried into dusty acid traces on the window panes. Beyond them, the dawn-dark trees are now shades of green, an eerie moss climbing high over their bare limbs. The day is undecided. Bemused grey clouds scud eastward in ragged retreat, like an army desperate for refuge. Between their broken ranks, blue sky flashes. Sunlight reaches through to caress our creamy walls, but will not stay to be touched. Cayenne chrysanthemums leap with the wind, but the evergreen jasmine next to them clings to the wall, stubbornly still.

23:59

All is still now. With little light behind it to highlight imperfections, the glass seems clear now. Peering through it, I see a calm sky, its starless blackness softened by the urban glow that horizons our silent mews. Nightlights gently bathe the courtyard’s high cream walls and peaceful plants. Some shadows linger, but they do not dart about or threaten. That invisible city beyond our nestling house seems benevolent tonight. It has vanquished the rain. The secret people have lit some lights again. Their warm windows tell me of throbbing hearts and Christmas hearths. Tonight, I can sleep.

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{Tue 27 February 2007}   Song and Dance
Song and Dance

Oh, grey stone steps! My steps are grey;
They heave like schoolboys from their play
When duty, duty, duty, calls
To “brighten lives” in Hades’ halls.

Their lino path invades my shoes;
Its disinfectants now suffuse
My squeamish toes, but measured pace
Seeks out the chair. The audience waits.

A faded circle: knitting, shawls
And blankets shuffle—time now crawls
And settles into atrophy
As, shallow-breathed, I sound a key.

This note-struck hour now adds itself
To sighing streams of time which swell
Past bleary eyes that bloat with tears
And shout at slowly shutting ears.

Stripped to the lip-read sound of noise,
This young and strong and destined voice
Must gentle now to songs of yore
That echo down love’s corridor.

Must stroke and soothe and smile—but, Stop!
What floating muse impels her up?
Urgent, she battles Wheelchair’s clutch:
Rises, surprises me with touch!

Recalling love, her arms wrap round
This startled beau. Thumbs tap: she sounds
The years on me, lifts chin and heart
And cocks her arms for Charleston start!



{Tue 20 February 2007}   Being in the Budding Field
Being in the Budding Field*

Our days flow dateless into nights
whose balm of cool and distant lights
soon melts beneath the searing dawns
of endless thirsty Negev morns.

Our heat-drugged forms ghost languid ways
through hanging dust that overlays
all muscle, feeling, thought and sense
with plodding, peaceful somnolence.

A-dream we walk, our veins shot full
of sun; our brains detach, annul
the links that joined us to the fates
of urgent lives beyond these gates.



{Wed 14 February 2007}   Time Travel
Time Travel

I climbed a long road to a seat in the cloud
Where I watched soft wings beat butterflygold
Across the valley.
Stirred, I sang out for the brush of their beauty:
Might their velvet powder melt merry with mercy
My frozen cheek?

They gambolled in glory, made love to the light,
Wove wandwarm with wonder their way within sight
Of my shady seat.
I longed for their dance, but my shadow held still,
Undefined in the cool, yet preserved in the pull
Of old destiny.

Now it seemed, from the shade, if the line of the sun
Would advance, yes, invade, then they too would come
And gentle me.
Yes! They surged, saviour-sweet, but spattered their dust!
Against Time’s transparent fear-fortress they crushed,
Oh! lavishly.

And sundials spun and seasons were spent
While vision staggered through a veiled instant
Of disbelief.
Soulshaken I shivered: in shadow they’d gone;
My own scornful shade, surreptitious, slid on
Insidiously.

Half-blind I resigned to the dark of the hill
Allcompassing me in green-gathering chill
Persuasively.
But the finger of noon forced a way through the leaves,
My shadow surrendered and the butterflies sneezed
This close to me.



et cetera