The unedited writings that follow are published here with the permission of the authors. No line, extract or complete piece is to be reproduced in any shape or form without agreement. I would like to thank all the writers for their generosity, trust, investment and talent.
DOTWW online class, November 25, 7-8.30pm
Raising consciousness of this date as WHITE RIBBON DAY (Day for the Elimination off Violence to Women) with a two word prompt.
She sits in the chair, hands bound, bedevilled by the grin that wears away the fear on the young man’s face. He quivers. She watches, wondering who is really torturing who. He stands up, circles the room, his steps a reverberating echo on the hard, stone floor.
‘Weed’ she shouts, ‘you weedy runt’! Her audaciousness shocks herself. He could hit her, do anything but she feels his internal quivering like her own internal sigh, like a sagging into weary depths. One of those where captor and captive enter into a co-dependent relationship and devour each other silently.
He hardly seems to notice her shout. Instead, he stands looking out the clear patio doors, a sliver of moonlight highlighting the crest of his cheekbone, bringing the hollow beneath it into shadow. Along the hollow, she envisages a thousand galloping horses, clamouring to be at the front so as not to get jostled and potentially trampled by other rhythmic hooves, so as not to get left behind. Could there be a worse fate, to be left behind…
(Fiona Catto, Inverness, Scotland)
The sound echoes around the auditorium, the victim cowers in shock, dismay and pain. The perpetrator stands, exuding power and menace.
“Don’t look so smug, Jeremy, it’s not a comedy” comes a voice from the darkness. “She drove you to it – you didn’t expect it any more than she did.”
Once again the crack of flesh striking flesh rings out. “Better, Jeremy – but don’t look quite so remorseful. She deserved it, she had it coming.”
Another, female, voice is heard, “It’s all very well for you guys, but my hands are red raw from all this clapping.”
(Wendy Birse, Balbeggie, Perthshire, Scotland)
Medieval Zodiac – Virgo
Lady in Red is about to beat the seeds out of the stalks of wheat. The face looks innocent, but the intent is violent. Virgo as Dominatrix. The image is framed with a never-ending chain – the cycles of life endure – irrespective of human interference in them. (Wendy Birse)
A scorpion claiming a castle garden as its own. Not at all out of place, as you might imagine if you believe it belongs to a dry sunny climate. This scorpion is rejoicing at the prospect of green grass.
(Mirela McGinnes, Crieff, Perthshire, Scotland)
Weighing up both sides
Considering what’s fair
Poised in balance
Equilibrum and equanimity
DOTWW online class, October 21, 7-8.30pm
Writing about October, leaf fall and possibility
(Mirela McGinnes, Crieff, Perthshire, Scotland)
DOTWW online class, September 23, 7-8.30pm
Writing about the equinox, onset of autumn, hands, and a finger pointing
Back of My Hand
Knuckles that seldom held a duster line up above the cobweb of veins and wrinkles which draw the eye to the bracelet of parallel creases at the wrist. It is a tiny hand, frozen in youth at a modest size – the school-aged pinkie could barely stretch to reach the furthest keys on the oboe. The fingers retained their deftness and clattered over QWERTY keyboards, manual, electric, electronic and digital. Decades of manipulation. Now there’s a thought – a lifetime of manipulation is revealed in the cracks and crevices, the lumps and bumps of my hands.
What can I see, and where am I going?
Tiny red tail lights disappear into the darkness. They are moving along a road I could choose to take if I wished. Will I choose to follow those red lights, take that road? It would carry me away from all that is familiar, all that I have created, collected. Or would it, I wonder? If I followed that road, would I not find myself creating and collecting similar items and experiences? If I want new and different, can’t I achieve that by staying still and doing creation and collection in new and different ways? I am moving forward while staying put.
(Wendy Birse, Balbeggie, Perthshire, Scotland)
ONLINE CLASSES VIA ZOOM were trialled on September 2, 2021. Monthly classes will begin the 23rd (see schedule)
Here are three pieces based on a branch of Rowan berries from a tree outside:
Yummy Berries, yum, yum, yum.
Green leaves and bright red berries.
Red and green.
What is it to have red, green colour blindness?
What do people with red, green colour blindness see?
Red? Green? Something in between?
What is in between red and green?
Would that be brown?
Do they see shades of brown?
Or perhaps shades of grey?
It reminds me of ‘r’s and ‘l’s and how East Asian people often struggle to hear or enunciate the difference. And how before, I went to Japan l and r seemed completely different from each other. How could these disparate consonants be confused or conflated?
In time I came to understand that Rondon and London, Loppongi and Roppongi were one and the same.
Red and Green.
A wreath, a crown, a crown of thorns.
I am rambling.
Rome or Lome,
Lye and Rye,
Lita and Rita,
Light, Right, I need the right light to read right or write or perhaps even lead. But Angela is leading, and I will leave her to it. (Margaret Grant, Galloway, Ireland)
In the boxroom of the old tenement in Glasgow
In the boxroom of the old tenement in Glasgow
Is the rucksack. I pack
The hat, the waterproofs, the mitts, the food
Walking to Govan underground to Buchanan
At Buchanan busstation
I take the bus to Arrochar
When I get off I start
Walking up the mountain
The bracken and herbal weeds at first
Some trees and half way
The stones and the heather
At the top the stones
(Anneke Kraakman, Grantully)
FIRST LEVEL DOTWW COURSE, INTERRUPTED AFTER DAY ONE ON MARCH 15, 2020, BY CORONOVIRUS LOCKDOWN
Better late than never
What’s in my corner? Dust, a few dead flies and a crusty contorted spider, I should have dusted the corner weeks ago, no maybe months. Well, I didn’t feel like it! What’s wrong with a bit of dust and a few dead bodies? Much more important things to do.
(Jane Ward, Blairgowrie)
Decaying building, old stone
Decaying building, old stone. But under the tin roof, evidence of art.
Someone had been carving and moulding wood. Huge blocks, with striations and défiles. But propped up on rollers because ingenious helpers had brought the block and manoeuvred it into the building. Up against the walls were helix-like twisted planks and various semi-totem poles. And great heavy trunks of silver grey with huge mottled imperfections that reminded me of cankers, gangrene, lichen gone crazy, bulbous and growing like cancerous growths. And yet they were dead.
One great block had been completely hollowed out. Was it destined to home plants or something less prosaic?
Next door, the shed with no roof had all the accoutrements of living. And probably in the not very distant past. The main building had a functioning chimney and fireplace at one end and a pink lean-to add-on at the other. The paint looked surprisingly modern. Had this been a late edition bathroom? More detailed excavation might have yielded some recent history. What was definite was that this had been someone’s home.
(Alison Hall, Alyth)
TWO-DAY COURSE, OCTOBER 27 & NOVEMBER 10, 2019
First poems written ever on the first Sunday:
Fire, warmth, heat,
Swish and flick of water,
Creative flow infinite…
Thunder; only happens when it’s raining,
Circle of life goes around and around,
Waves of gratitude,
Never straight, never straightforward, always twisting…
(Lynne Crow, Dunning)
A swan and all that it oversees
A bird at take off;
the crashing of the waves …
a gentle serene flow;
harmony in balance,
a gentle flow though a canopy of leaves.
(Gordon Stronach, Crieff)
Now and Then
graceful movement of a conductor,
the sound of shaking out dust,
red, orange and blue
Mirela Macinnes (Crieff)
Asked to send me the piece of writing they most liked from their notebooks, Mirela sent what follows. Interestingly several of the other participants seem to have caught the poetry bug:
A snake caught in slither,
A tongue frozen mid-flicker,
A rattle released with a shake.
No fear caused,
No nurture given,
But a fine memory.
Two more pieces from an object lesson:
I am black and white, dark and light, dry and bedraggled. I am opposite and yet the same. Softness and strength from different sides. Oh the power of something so weightless! I am made of nothingness, yet everything is here within me; for flight, warmth, protection, renewal. Large or small, plain and patterned. My spine strong, hundreds of shafts of light radiating out to fluffy ends and rounded point. Space to let the air flow through, tight enough to keep in flight.
(Lynne Crow, Dunning)
Fallen But Not Discarded
I am Autumn’s glorious array of colours, smells and sounds.
I am in my favourite season – and with it comes the nakeding,
All my leaf-coverings fallen to the ground, each one with it’s shape,
size and pattern; bearing my unique identity. Having fulfilled their purpose?
But now inevitably to finish their journey rotting underfoot.
They have done their work, left their legacy – been part of the whole story.
(Gillian Joy, Scone)
Two other pieces based on the same exercise:
Where she lives
Between the larder and the wall
Small round body like fuzzy felt
Memories of my childhood
Pipecleaner legs long and spindly
A glimpse of movement
Disappearing into an impossibly small space
Softened by gossamer threads
A hidden life.
A corner that has recently come into focus at the Biodynamic garden…One that has been used to bless the rest of the garden, the spot for a beautiful yellow-flowering rose which in itself has significance in protecting and uplifting the surrounding space in which it thrives. The corner is adjacent to the community woodland and that of the garden, which helps support both entities – namely the essence of the woodland and that of the garden, with the yellow rose acting as the medium through which this sharing takes place. It is also a place where the elemental being reside and, in doing so, protect the garden even more. Unfortunately this this particular corner has been fenced off to create un-necessary boundaries between entities that are in essence one and the same, and so the need for a dividing line is simply out of need for control and maintenance. Which is shame really, because the entities which live in both sections do in fact harmonise with one another, and so shouldn’t really be contained and separated in this manner. Instead they ought to be allowed to develop their own forms of self-expression for the betterment of everything that this corner encapsulates.
TWO DAY COURSE, SEPTEMBER 23 & OCTOBER 7, 2018
They make me smile
It is a very scruffy corner. In the stables next to wee Secret’s stall. It is full of dust and straw that the wind has blown there. There are odd bits of wood and sticks that have been there for years. A plank of wood used to block the lambs in when they were small enough to squeeze past the hinge and run around the yard. A pooper scooper, a broken broom handle, various tools for mucking out the stables, a fork, a grass rake, the heaviest shovel in the world. Some one had thought it was a good idea to weld a metal pole on it when the wood failed … now durable but rather weighty. The broom has disappeared again. At this time of year they are mostly unused. The ponies are living outside most of the time. As the weather turns, they will be in at night away from the cold.
But if you listen you will hear little contented hen noises, and if you look carefully as dusk falls you will see two little red hens snuggled together in the straw. Two refugees from the big hen house … one – there is always one – was being beaten up by the other hens, and was probably going to be killed by them. Hens can be merciless, when there is a weak one. Poor sad little soul was covered in sores and she had lost all the feathers on her back. She screamed when I picked her up and lived in the house for a few days, terrified, but glad to be on her own. Then I brought her up to the stables, letting her take her chances, settling her in a stable, in which she refused to stay. Her feathers have started to grow back, little spikey arrows emerging from her skin. She now runs towards me now when she sees me.
The other found her way down to the yard, quite a long walk for a hen. She’s decided life is better in the stables so she hasn’t gone back.
Somehow they found each other and wander companionably around the yard together, chatting in their henny way.
I don’t know why they chose that particular corner; they have the choice of deep straw in all stables to nest in, but they prefer the scruffy corner by Secret’s stall. Perhaps all the wood gives them something to hide behind and they feel safe.
At night when I give Secret her tea, I lean over the door and see them snuggled together … they make me smile.
(Liona Irvine, Dunkeld, Perthshire)
“Clunie, Clunie, where art thou?” At the end of a beautiful Perthshire Rainbow, huddled and hugging the rolling hills of Perth, awash with sheep, glorious sheep.
Clunie: what a gem amongst the modern take of older and historical buildings.There is a definite whiff of times gone by and perhaps forgotten. Here a redundant village school: I am standing, looking and imagining the playground with 10 or 15 children running, jumping, laughing and enjoying life for all it’s worth.
Voices silent, where are they now? Farmers, teachers, doctors, herdsman, shepherds, tractor drivers, building workers? I fear a modern Highland clearance just on my horizon.
A woodcarver’s shed redolent, a roof and walls a bit like a Highland Curate’s Egg. Like a redundant V&A, with weathered but wonderful giant woodcarvings. Monuments each and every one to the beauty of nature and the creative skills of the craftsman. Full of unfulfilled promise, a long gone Shepherd’s Cottage. Abandoned by an-out-of touch Estate Owner, unaware or uncaring of the rural housing crisis on their doorstep.
Yet as I look up at the rainbow – the beautiful rainbow, shining through the delicate rain – does it drop a pot of gold at its end? No, something more important: the wonder of Clunie, never to be forgotten, never.
(Ian McCartney, Trochry, Highland Perthshire)
TWO DAY COURSE, SEPTEMBER 24 & OCTOBER 8, 2017
It promises so much. Beneath it, whole worlds reveal themselves to me.
It’s just a blank edge where the vertical meets the horizontal on a sheet of paper, but what it conceals is so much more.
I shiver in anticipation; what might lurk beyond?
A smooth swish of paper against paper, in a single Errol Flynn style flourish, and I could be fighting dragons in some far-off fantastical fairytale land.
Taking a deep fortifying breath and a brisk lick of my index finger, I might make a sharp swipe to the left, and find myself entering a post-apocalyptic zombie playground, lost in the chaos of our hero’s fight for his very existence.
I could dive right in, revelling in a debaucherous, daring, dastardly or delightful scene from some crazy Rock Star’s memoir.
With a careful separation of sheets of paper and a crisp fold at the spine, I might be studying the Statements of Standard Accounting Practice, and no doubt falling asleep soon after.
So, what will it be today? As I turn the corner and move the page, it reveals…
(Kathleen Kelson, Comrie, Strathearn, Perth & Kinross)
Presented with white roses for completing first-level DOTWW (Initiation), the four writers (from Glasgow, Comrie, Aberfeldy and Birnam) established a private online writing site on Facebook. The first fortnightly assignment:
It conjures up memories of rehabilitation, lying supine with hips in the air trying to engage the relevant muscle groups, not always successfully. I remember trembling with the effort of trying to control the movement and breathing through the slowly intensifying discomfort in the injured hamstring. Ah yes, the bridge is an old favourite exercise that can be performed by the hundreds or held for ever by a strong and healthy body.
However, the minute you bugger yourself up, tear a hammy, break a leg, or develop a gluteal tendinopathy, the bridge becomes something of a metaphorical obstacle. And that’s the easy version of it. Just lay on the floor, plant the feet, and push up the hips. Nothing more straightforward than the humble bridge. But then as I cast my mind back into the far distant past to when I was at junior school… I did gymnastics and when I did gymnastics, I could do a “proper” bridge.
So, I tried it.
Well, to be fair, it could have gone either way. There was a slender chance that the surprise would be pleasant and I would execute the move as perfectly as I could all those years ago. But the reality was quite different. The wrists aren’t quite flexible enough, the elbows don’t bend that way anymore, the shoulders have suffered too many bike crashes and are no longer willing to cooperate, but the most worrying “decline in performance” was the rush of blood to the head which resulted in a pounding head ache and a heightened awareness of my own mortality.
Thirty years of injuries have taken their toll. Let’s leave it at that.
(Alison Annison, Birnam, Perthshire)
TWO-DAY COURSE IN JULY, 2016
Through a series of exercises, Jane became the poet she had always dreamed of becoming:
Two walls painted white
white made of many whites
tones built of smudges, light, dust and time
In the corner, life is private, life is reduced
reduced to a collection of surfaces and subtle shifts of light
to the sensation of your blood pulsing
Cradled by two walls
your body protected
your presence reassuringly fed back to yourself
It’s limitations give comfort
there’s no way through here – decisions and challenges are redundant
being in the corner is as simple as staring into the flame of a candle
But things start changing from the inside
comfort edges towards spikes of entrapment
stillness to a numbing lack of consciousness
the walls turn into two overbearing aunts
a purse of velvet
pointing like a nose to the sky
layers of colour and scent
tightly embrace one another
up by a slender stem
waving gently, this beacon
edging closer to opening
into a bowl of scent
It’s the one thing left intact
slightly discoloured, the weather pitted into it’s surface
a broach mounted onto decaying wood
it speaks – this was once a door
a door between me and knowing more
this building tells stories
stories of simple work, solitude and shelter
it also asks me in
inside – what a den!
one window, one fireplace, one set of stairs
a rotten floor holds up a rotten deer carcass
its death doesn’t interfere with the life this room offers up
I want to fix all I see – mend windows and floorboards
but not too much
what’s upstairs? A bed?
I can’t see, the stairs have collapsed
I’d sit here in front of a fire
In a place that felt like my place
listening to the wind, my cheeks still stinging
from the snow firing over the cairngorm mountains
I’d relish the bitterness I knew of outside
An environment to pitch myself against
whilst knowing I can retreat inside to a beautiful simplicity
built with purposeful hands and of honest materials
granite, wood, glass and a brass door knob
(Jane Noyes, Spittlefield, Perthshire)
Wendy’s final Proprioceptive Write:
Dig deep, go for it. Till that soil, mine that shaft. Dig – what do I mean by dig? Archaeology – what we’re doing is excavating the layers of historic strata which underpin and inform our present superficiality. What do I mean by present superficiality? What you see is not what you get. What you see is indeed superficial. What you get is the sum total of layer upon layer of influences. When we dig into our personal soil and sow seeds of creativity what feeds them is not the surface layer but the compost of history. When we mine the shaft we’re not after the newly formed chips of stone but the jewels forges by aeons of pressure and high temperature. What do I mean by pressure and high temperature? Adversities. Heat and stress bring about change. So does movement and flow. Change is eternal and omnipresent. So is creativity. There is nothing without creativity. What do I mean by creativity? Making things – but not only in a construction, crafty, building way but in ways of expressing things, depicting things, re-visioning things. Status quo is my least-loved Latin expression, because it is meaningless. So, I like things to have meaning? What do I mean by meaning? Significance, purpose, relevance? But not permanence. Nothing is forever. What do I mean by nothing is forever? Nothing is the only permanence? Is that nihilism? I don’t know. Nothing is forever is more an observation of the fact that all matter has the potential to change from one form into another. These changes are sometimes known to us and can be predicted. Some are not but they are still inevitable – we just don’t know enough about how matter works to be able to predict them. So we dig, we till, we mine, we excavate – we are constantly disturbing our environment with the intention of growing or causing something new and different. But there is no new and different. There may be an adjustment to the way things are presented or appear but the essence remains – the core energy is immutable. We are allowed, or are able, only to tinker at a relatively superficial level – we can only dig, delve, mine or excavate so far and then we draw a blank. What do I mean by draw a blank? We reach as close to the essence as we can get – we can’t see, hear, touch, taste or feel anything at all, and we don’t know how to craft anything new or different out of this essence which appears to be nothing. No matter. When there is no matter, all that is left is …. I aspire to nothing. Nothing is my goal. When I’ve reaching nothing I’ll know I’ve arrived. What do I meant by arrived? Will I have accomplished something or will I just have talked and worked myself into the zero point of nothing? I’d rather be a blaze of glory – I hesitated as I wrote that and I don’t think it’s true. I’ve done blaze of glory – ticked that box. I’m digging deeper – below the superficial is the archaeological – where we have come from is where we are going. It may appear to be below, dark, nothing but that is the way we see it from our present position of superficiality. I choose to know that the destination is above and light.
(Wendy Birse, Balbeggie, Perthshire)
TWO-DAY COURSE IN MARCH, 2016
My Monday morning walk
I awake on Monday morning feeling the same way I do every morning, despite having ‘slept for Scotland’. Groggy and loathe to begin the day. Hair a mess. Bones a bit achy. No point in slobbing around in the dressing gown however, moaning about the weather. Monday is a running day. I know two things for sure – if I don’t go out first thing I will put it off for the day but if I force myself out of the door, then by the time I stop running and start walking home I will be feeling much brighter and more energetic. Delayed gratification and worth the effort.
I decide to take a different route today, avoiding the hard frost I know will be covering my usual path. I will walk to the T junction and then run along towards Coupar Angus on the footpath adjacent to the main road, turn down the Camno road and then walk back home along past the park.
The run goes to plan. The music helps with the pace. The traffic is a damn nuisance – noisy and speeding close, but things quieten down on the ‘B’ road to Camno. I focus on placing one foot in front of the other, looking out for any obstacles or potholes on the way. Breathing rhymically and puffing out with the effort of my very slow pensioner pace jog.
Then suddenly I hear in my ear the familiar and very welcome words, ‘Well done. You have finished your 30 minute run. Now time for your cool down walk.’
I take the headphones out, slow down the pace and start looking around me. It’s a misty blue- grey day. I notice that all the natural colours are dark or muted. No brightness anywhere. And yet the effect is not displeasing in its own way. And what surprises me is that colours I wouldn’t normally put together in my own home, blend comfortably in the countryside. The brown of the earth, the grey of the sky, the faded yellow of the remnants of the harvest.
It feels like the fag end of winter. The streets are empty, the gardens a bit unkempt, needing weeded and pruned, assorted pieces of litter lie in the gutters. My mood begins to match my surroundings. And then it strikes me – not for the first time – that there is so much more to mood than that which we can control. Hormones, lux levels, colours, sounds, the noise of traffic and people, sunlight, triggers from past experience. And still I act as if I can think my way out of depression or low mood.
As my friend Caroline who is a psychic said to me, ‘Your father (deceased 1992) says you analyse the arse out of everything.’
On my next walk I will try simply to observe.
(Marion Duffy, Meigle, Perthshire)
Kelly’s first poem ever
On the hilltop the windmill sits
dignified against Asian coloured ridge
rainwater slaps it’s mighty blades
besieged by the bad spanking weather mistress
imposing metal form a grand supreme fist
Misunderstood on nature’s landscape
THE CASH BOX
It’s a large heavy metal tin, weathered and worn, lock broken a long time ago. It’s getting rusty now and hard to read the names scratched into it. Unfortunately dad’s is nearly gone. I can see my own and my brothers, Conall’s dad’s and random people from the past that I don’t know.
The cashbox was my Papa’s. Dad paid out at the berries as did all of us. Conall was the last kid to have the privilege.
But berries no more, consigned to the past. There’s no cash paid on the field now, it’s all minimum wage, holiday pay, NI and bank transfers.
It was a great privilege being delegated from berry picker to payer-outer. No more scratchy hands from picking in the jaggy Clova bushes, competitions to see who could pick faster, earn more, day’s spent hidden up hinging, towering dreels of Jule. Instead you sat above everyone else on the weigh bank, the odd skelf in your arse from the bogie, proud of your basic arithmetic. Giving out the money bags to hold folks hard earned cash instead of asking for one. Making sure you had enough pennies and pounds, fivers and tenners if you were lucky! You’d get manky hands if there was a sudden downpour and everyone made a rush to get their berries weighed in. Rain mixed with rust mixed with copper coin grime. Numbers getting hurled at you, can’t make a mistake, nobody would let you, every penny and pound accounted for.
Feeling important, The Farmer’s Daughter.
(Kelly McIntyre, Essendy, Perthshire)
WRITINGS IN JAPAN…
[22-9-2012] ONE-DAY WORKSHOP FOR DOTWW GRADUATES
Morning Exercise, summed up by Kathryn in her first line:
I’m a little pebble, my color I can’t quite name.
Afternoon Exercise, as written by Sarah:
“Embrace change or change will embrace you.” My friend’s parting words explaining his exodus from Japan echoed and resonated within the caverns of my mind and heart. Over the years , I have never forgotten the simple messages expressed in both phrases – similar words and yet completely different attitudes; letting go versus holding on.
To embrace change signifies an acceptance and adoption of a new outlook and an ability to to integrate the idea in one’s own life and philosophy. One is greeting change willingly and eagerly in the same way as accepting the subtle shift of the four seasons. As each season presents its unique set of challenges and opportunities, there is a sense of trust in the natural ebb and flow. A horrendous typhoon means transitions we must endure for the moment. Experience has shown us that inevitably once the rains subside – a beautiful day awaits with gentle breezes after the storm has passed.
In the arts, it seems simpler to accept the beauty expressed in transitions. In the world of music we welcome the creative hint of change in the modulation from one key to another. In literature, we are engrossed in the text while crossing a bridge to a new place of discovery in a poem, article or novel. We sit at the edge of our seats in the theater as the plot of of a play or movie unfolds. Well-crafted transitions within the shelter of the arts later provide indepth and innate courage to face transitions of our own whenever faced with real- life situations.
Embracing involves the sense of feeling and touching. We may first smell the fragrance of change in the air. We may hear the murmur of change whispering in the wind. We may see the news reports giving clues of the emerging change. However, we remain asleep to the signs of change until they knock at our front door and we feel and touch them first-hand in a warm embrace. We accept the change as a guest welcome in our home or as a long lost friend.
And what if we elect not to open the door? That will not stop the construction of a new passage. The difference is that change will encircle and enclose our existence as on an isolated desert island. To be embraced by the change without our soul’s permission is to be adrift at sea – an immense ocean of separation- or to be enclosed in a prison of one’s own design without having a key.
The next time I hear that well-meaning yet empty flattery of “You never change” or “You haven’t changed a bit”, I will respond with a new outlook. I am changing in every second, in every moment. We are essentially creatures of change. Change is as natural as the air we breathe in and out, the blood that courses through our veins, and the embryo from which we grew in our mothers’ wombs. The creation of life itself begins with the art of embracing.
[1-9-2012] INITIATION, level 1, first workshop. First WRITE:
The music is so relaxing. I like the higher notes. The high and soft sound of Yoyo-ma’s cello. I used to play the cello, but I didn’t really like playing in the orchestra. I had a cello teacher and her eyes said that she was in love with the sound of the cello. I think musicians are in love with music, and the tune of their instrument. I’m in love with the piano. The sound of the piano wakes me up and comforts me. When I hit the key it’s enjoyable. I feel happy hitting every single key. Sometimes I envy a professional musician, someone who can spend a lot of time playing the piano. Having skills to free their music inside them. If only I had something. One thing that makes me absolutely happy. Like the piano for the piano player. Painting for a painter. Singing for a singer. I used to be obsessed with the idea of becoming a successful artist in some kind of area. And thought that it was a way of becoming happy. I thought that I had to become an artist to be happy. I knew I was artistic; I had “something” that had been waiting to be freed inside me for years. But after I went to an island earlier this year, I think I changed a little. I swam with the dolphins and the fishes and felt fulfilled without creating something. I was happy just being in the water swimming with them. I still love music, but now I don’t dream of becoming a professional singer or a piano player. I’m still searching for the “something” that would brighten up my life though. Being happy in the water is one thing. Doing something on land is another. I want to do both.
[6-10-2011] Class 4, Level 4: 10 minute pieces of writing with an elemental watery theme:
How long had we been down there? I had no idea, it could have been hours. At least it felt that way. But then I checked my meter and the needle had only moved one or two notches. About five minutes, I thought. I took my glance off the rope in front of me for a second and stared out into the blackness. The beam from my flashlight simply illuminated the plankton in our immediate vicinity, creating a dazzling display of fluorescent colors. An entire galaxy underwater. And beyond those stars? Nothing. Just pure, empty blackness. At least it appeared that way. Every now and then I could make out the rough outline of a fish, maybe the fin of a turtle, but other than that, nothing to see other than some faint glows out there.
The sea had swallowed us entirely. We were only ten or fifteen meters beneath the waves, but it could have been the moon. Through my regulator, I could taste the warm salt water. The bay was perfect that night. Hardly any wind, no strong waves, but just enough motion to kick up a mist of plankton that reduced our visibility to near zero.
And the rope stretched on down. We continued climbing down the rope, not knowing what we would find, or when we would come back up.
The sound of water splashing against my board. The wind gently pushing me through the water of the sea, soft like butter when I glide through it, soft when I land into it.
Soft on my skin in the shower, soft in my mouth when drink it.
With every sip of water, I come alive and stay alive a little longer.
Water feeding the soil, feeding the plants, the grass, all that I eat.
Water, the basis for my favorite wine.
Fresh, refreshing water. Light water.
Its beautiful transparent color, reflecting back to us whatever we direct at it. My image, the sun, the shadow of the trees hanging over it.
Water, forever moving, never still, always changing form, always ready to give and to be given, to receive and be received.
We are born in water. We come into this world wet behind the ears, and wet we stay. Again and again, we step back into the water.
Water, the ultimate connector.
Standing under a gushing waterfall makes me feel alive. The Japanese call it “misogi” – cold water purification. It really feels like all dirt gets washed away – not only on the outside but also on the inside.
As the water is engulfing the whole body, I feel part of it; being fluid rather than a solid person. The gushing stream massages my shoulders and my head while I say a prayer to thank the element. Sometimes hikers pass by. They stare at me as if I am a mad woman. What can possibly be more natural than enjoying a cleansing dip under a waterfall? Actually, it is a luxury these days to do so.
When I am at home under the shower I sometimes think of the waterfall. The water of the shower is running down my body but it feels very different; on the one hand the direct experience of nature’s force in its raw and possibly scary form and, on the other hand, a stream of water that is held by pipes and forced up to the seventh floor by pumps – water that is possibly recycled and that contains chemicals to make it usable.
Is water always water or is there some water better than other? Shall we respect the one but not the other?
It was the summer of 1986 that I dropped out of college, put all of my stuff in storage, got on a flight to Taipe with three pairs of socks, underwear, shirts and shorts stuffed in a red day pack, with a few thousand dollars in American Express Travelers Checks and my Chinese study friend and hope-to-be love interest, Caroline, by my side, and we walked off the plane into a wall of boiling water… the 150% humidity of Taiwanese air.
We travelled down the eastern side of the island and up through craggy, shaky, deep green and black mountains to our shared destination, Wen Quan, which means warm water. A precarious walk down a slippery trail that took us to a hot spring, carved out of the granite, in the side of the mountain, right in front of a roaring, ice-cold river. We spent the day sliding from super hot to crazy cold and lying on our backs looking up at the mountains and the thin sliver of sky as the cold water splashed on our feet.
At the DOTWW monthly meet on August 18, six writers were asked to create a new word and its definition arising from the current situation in Japan. As follows:
MENTRACIOUS – (adj., first recorded usage in the lays of an anonymous C13 French troubadour): acting as though a volatile and potentially dangerous situation is absolutely normal and fine (Emma)
NATALOBSCURATION – being born in the midst of an uncertain situation where the truth is obscured (Kathryn)
NORMALPHOBIA – a fear of returning to normal (after March 11th….) as that might lead to facing yet another future disaster (Sarah)
NUKEPOLLUTION – radioactive fallout from damaged reactors (Yumiko)
PEACEJULE – the ability to overcome adversity through calm and peaceful nature or actions (Geneva)
WILLBEOUS – the presence of collective willpower to move through fragile or threatening situations (Jacinta)
Emma Parker, then working for The British Council in Tokyo, was hauled along unwillingly to my very first course in 2005 by her friend, Helen Fujimoto. “I don’t know why I’m here, I can’t write,” she said crossly, and then wrote what follows. She subsequently completed all four levels. Emma is now a freelance translator and writer, married, and lives in Niigata Prefecture.
Beware, for I am a shape-shifter.
I am the adder flickering across your path.
I am the snowflake swirling through the storm.
I am the bud that slowly unclenches under the first kiss of spring.
I am the whisper of the fern frond unfurling.
I am the far-off land that draws the swallow home.
I am the vine that hugs the ancient trunk.
I am the darkest recess of the deepest cave.
I am the vibration of the violin string.
I am the mountain torrent rushing from the glacier, and I am the expanse of the ocean; beware the currents that will draw you far from shore.
I am the still axis of the tornado.
I am the perilous beauty of the sleeping panther.
I am the breath of a butterfly’s wing.
I am the life that runs through your veins.
You cannot hold me: I will slip through your fingers like smoke.
But take my hand, and we will dance together in the heart of the flame.
INITIATION, LEVEL I, CLASS 2, FEBRUARY 17, 2011
Patricia is thinking about who she is in a way never seriously considered before.
I shut my laptop and rub my eyes. Walk. Pulling on my coat, the crisp air feels refreshing on my face and I revel in the solitude of the night. I have to write my omiyage for class – why do I put everything off?
My head is full of my ancestors, and I think of the small town of 700 souls that my grandfather was born into in the century before last. Wow. Over a hundred years and yet only two generations passed. I know nothing of their lives. I found the town on the internet and my main impression was claustrophobia. Images from the archives, recording the births and deaths of the inhabitants, the same names over and over again – are burned into my retinas.
Walk. What did they see on a stroll? Surely not this izakaya or that manga cafe.
It’s a tiny outpost in eastern Europe that saw waves of invaders and settlers and wars and new borders. Then some began to leave again, to the new world, to opportunity, to freedom from history. And so a young boy and a middle-aged woman found themselves on a crowded ship and made their way to Galveston, and across land to family that had gone before them. The woman – the mysterious Maria of several names and yet always alone. Who was the father of her child?
I want to find out. Whose blood fills my veins?
EXPLORATION, LEVEL 2, CLASS 4, SEPTEMBER 23, 2010
An omiyage: the first poem this German-born writer (a
clinical psychologist) has ever written on her own:
Autumn rain cool down the earth
and soothes summer’s excesses.
Small rivers swell and run more swiftly
within their narrow channels.
How fresh the air now, how cool on the skin;
my familar raincoat feels strange on my body…
How long since I wore it?
Was I somebody different in Spring?
I know this past summer has changed me,
after the heat entered my bones,
burning, searing, scorching away
pains that have always been known
to be nothing but memories of the past:
cleansed to a state of white ashes.
Autumn rain cooling down the earth,
ready for seasonal restraints.
CONFIRMATION, LEVEL 4, CLASS 2, SEPTEMBER 17, 2010
Resulting from the same exercise. Notice how distinct the two voices are…
I breathe in a pink bubble of air
but it only goes as far as my chest and no deeper.
Whuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu out again.
One more time, the pink bubble inflates and I am able to move it further down to my stomach. My belly. Pink bubble of air. Whuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.
This time I think about my feet first and I imagine my pink bubble splitting in two heading for my feet.
Breathing in, the pink bubble hits my pelvic floor, splinters in two flowing fast to my tootsies. My pink tootsies.
My pink bubbles of air.
All the way down.
Dancing at my feet.
Now I need champagne.
Wind: And she’s riding on the wind, the ghost I’m writing about.
Wind: Wind carries the smoke from the chimney in another direction.
Wind: I’m afraid of a strong, dry wind, especially at night. When it shakes the house, I feel anxiety and can’t sleep, but the wind at sea has never frightened me.
Wind: Which season is it that the yellow dust from China blows in? If it is from the desert in China and comes on the wind, it must be a Chinese wind.
Wind: “Where does the wind come from?” I asked when I was a child. Last summer, my niece asked me the same question. I still don’t know the answer.
LEVEL 3, AFFIRMATION, class 5, 2009:
MY IDEAL LIFE
When I awake the first day of my ideal life, the first thing I notice is that I’m not tired. As a matter of fact I feel great, and I jump out of bed. With that, I notice the next huge change – nothing hurts. This is unfathomable. I try a few bending and stretching exercises to test my new flexibility. To my amazement, I not only can touch my toes, but can place my hands flat on the floor.
I next try a full back bend, which is accomplished without any problem, and I can even loop my hands through my legs. I woke up as flexible as a rubberband!
Just to make sure my appearance hasn’t changed, I quickly look into the mirror. No, it’s really me, but I have no wrinkles on my face, and my hair doesn’t even have a touch of grey. Wow! I try to remember what I ate and drank the night before. What could have produced such a dramatic change? No lower back pain! I’m elated.
Off I hop to the kitchen. On the way, I knock at my son’s door and find that he is already out of bed, and the bed is made. No Paul in sight. I wonder where he is? As I skip down the stairs, I am hit with the delightful smell of freshly baked bread, and my eyes feast on a beautifully set breakfast table. My guys are both up, showered, dressed and cooking with huge smiles on their faces!
“We just wanted to surprise you!” They laugh, when they see my shocked expression. Hans points to the newspaper lying on the table, and tells me to put my feet up and look at the news.
So what’s in the news, I wonder. The front page shows the two leaders of North and South Korea shaking hands with a caption, ‘NO More Missiles’, ‘No More Hostilities’. As I read the article through, it appears that the Korean peninsula has been totally disarmed, and that a reunification pact has been signed. I quickly look up at the date on the clock, wary that I might have been asleep for years. No, it really is just the next day.
Also on the front page is a headline article about a Middle East Accord. All the leaders of the Arab world and the Israeli president are smiling and clasping hands. They have just worked out a constitution for the Union of the Middle East States. My jaw drops.
As I look at the second page of the paper, I notice a worldwide accord on Environmental issues and some good news about diminishing CO2 gases. Tokyo announces the elimination of the last gasoline automobile, and there are some slick pictures of new solar cars. The news article talks about the use of fusion energy to power micro-factories in small communities, and the recycling of nuclear fission waste.
I open to page 3 and there are more articles about huge health advances and the curbing of starvation across the world. It seems that with the new small-plant fusion power, everyone is now able to produce clean energy.
Page 4 is covered with articles about the new inventions for extracting water from the air and sea. According to the article, the water shortage around the world has been solved. I rub my eyes to make sure that I am really awake and look again. The text of the article is still there.
In a total daze, I lay the paper down and look closely at Paul and Hans moving around the kitchen. They are unusually spry and are working together like two Japanese restaurant cooks who have been moving like planets in a small orbit for years. No one misses a beat. No one runs into each other. I am amazed.
My gaze settles on the hamster cage and I almost fall off my chair. There is Zach, our hamster, cleaning out his cage and generally cleaning up after himself. There also appears to be some plumbing installed. A hamster toilet? “When did that happen?” I ask in amazement.
Paul looks at the hamster cage with a quizzical look. “You know that Zach went to training school awhile back,” he replys.
Where was I? I wonder.
After a delicious breakfast, the guys clean up the table and Paul happily leaves for school, whistling as he goes out the door. As I yell out to him about his lunch and homework, he smiles and replies, all done!
Hans brings me a cup of tea to cap off my breakfast and sits down to talk. I look at him questioningly and wonder if he works anymore. He reads my inquisitive look and with a smile, responds that he will be working at home today, over the global office satellite link.
I wonder if this will be good for me, and start thinking about my day and todo list. As if reading my mind, he mentions that he has lunch for us already ordered. He also reminds me of my appointment with my editor tomorrow at 10:00.
“What editor?” I ask.
“The one who has been publishing your books for the last 4 years!” he replies and looks at me rather strangely. “They’re being read worldwide,” he adds. “You should take a look at your lab before he arrives.” With that he heads up stairs.
My Lab? With that, I go searching around the house, which is much bigger than I remember it, with a lot of doors and tons of closets. Outside there are balconies with wonderful sitting areas around flower gardens. At the other end of the living room, I open a door and discover my lab.
There are gadgets everywhere and incredible looking test equipment atop a myriad of tables. As I cycle slowly through the tables, I see all the things which I am working on: Vibration and heat recycling generators; clothes that regulate their thermal characteristics based on a person’s activity and the room temperature (at this point I notice that I am wearing such a suit and now realize why I am neither cold nor too warm); rain makers (there’s a little thunder cloud hovering in the back of the room); a yoga suit (one that automatically trains your body into poses, without straining your muscles); a pedestrian mover ( a small, enclosed vehicle which uses a score of sensors for navigating crowded walkways); and various large screen displays with news, weather, and sports at each corner of the room.
I stop in front of one of the tables, which is displaying a holographic figure. As I look more closely at the figure, I’m astonished to see that it is a dimensionally perfect representation of myself. I spy a computer display to the left of the figure, and start reading the text instructions. It guides me to select various styles of clothes and accessories, which I do. Instantly the holographic figure is clothed in these items.
I start playing with the program and try out a whole new wardrobe. This is great! I don’t even have to go to a store. I admire my work. “Now that is really practical!” I notice that I can directly order on-line, anything that suits me. It’s like paper-dolls in 3-D, only with your exact measurements.
I turn my attention to the assorted large screen displays and check out what is being broadcast. As I switch my gaze from one to the other, I notice that the sound from the other displays is totally filtered out. I am only receiving the audio from the screen I am currently focusing on. I look around for sensors, but don’t see any. Telepathic control? I wonder.
On one display, a picture of my family from the States has just come up, and there are my niece and nephew holding their hamster. I focus on the screen and we start talking. Everyone at home, including my 85 year-old parents are healthy and happy. It’s not only a relief, but it’s fun to talk with them. Instead of reminiscing about years past, the conversation is fresh with activities and plans for the future.
After our conversation, I walk to a bookshelf, where I see a row of books, all carrying my name as the author. They are all about technology and inventions, which are going on around the world. I am amazed at the material within the pages. There are so many credits to huge collaborative efforts around the globe. The world seems to be miraculously at peace and sharing technology. I look at the calendar once again and pinch myself a few times to make sure this isn’t some sort of dream.
As I walk around the periphery of the lab, I notice a door marked ‘nirvana’.
“Well that I have to see!” I remark out loud. I open the door, half expecting a backyard alley and garbage can as a crude joke. What I see stops me in my tracks. It’s a beautiful garden with palms and jungle flowers. In the center is a large, inviting swimming pool, surrounded by lounge chairs. In the far corner is a jacuzzi and a sauna. The air is filled with the chatter of birds, and the scent of the flowers wafts lightly in the breeze. The sun peeks playfully through the palm fronds, casting a glitter over the water’s surface.
“Screw work!” I strip off my clothes and jump into the pool. The water is pleasantly cool and laps refreshingly over my skin as I swim to the far end. I feel totally alive. (Rita)
In 2005, a young Australian lawyer working in Tokyo recorded the substance of her WRITES:
Lora writes: The proprioceptive writing has been a valuable exercise for me, although it took me places that I didn’t really want to see again. A theme which has been common to all of my Writes has been my desire to please, my inability to say no – recognizing this as an issue has helped me to understand myself more clearly, and hopefully will help me modify some of my negative behaviour patterns (and also inspire characters/storylines for future writing).
Week 1 (27 January) – The first week, I wasn’t really sure of what we were supposed to do. I rambled along in a stream of consciousness, and only used the “What do I mean by…” question twice. Strangely, mid-way through the second page of this, the first exercise, I ended up in much the same place as I did during my later Writes. I wrote – “I don’t have to be embarrassed anymore. What do I mean by embarrassed? Have I spent my life ashamed, shy, believing other people were better than me because they fit the stereotype and I don’t?”
Week 2 (3 February) – This Write started off with the sentence that finished my previous Write – “Am I scared that if I let them in, I won’t be able to get them out again?”. This referred to my relationships with men, casual ones in particular. I had intended to go a bit deeper into this issue, but in less than a paragraph I was off onto a philosophical (and not particularly interesting) tangent. I don’t recognize my hand-writing in the paragraph discussing my casual relationships, the tight, perfectly formed cursive only starts to look familiar once the topic changes, and by the end of the second page, it’s back to my quick, semi-illegible scrawl.
Week 3 (10 February) – This Write was a rant, a tough day at the office on paper. I had been volunteered to do a full-time secondment at a trading company, which would have taken the quality of life I was used to, and flushed it down the toilet. The question that arose from this Write – “Why didn’t I just say no?” Towards the end of the Write I started focusing on where I’d rather be, what I’d rather be doing, and the image of my parents’ beach house (and the “sea change” that it represents) came to me.
Week 4 (17 February) – “Why can’t I just say no?” was my question for this Write, and by the time I’d finished I hadn’t come close to answering it. Rather than analyzing that question, I asked myself how I’d managed to get to where I have, and where I should go from here. I focused on a path, and having strayed off it, struggling to get back onto it without knowing whether the path was my own, or a path that someone else had designed for me. I quite like the tone of this Write, so I’ve typed it up and attached it to the back of this report.
Week 5 (24 February) – 25 questions and no answers, but this Write is the one which reveals the most about me. I started with the question left unanswered from Week 4, “Why can’t I just say no?”. I ended up questioning how I’ve been affected by events in my past, hurtful things said by thoughtless (or malicious) children with nothing better to keep them entertained. Perhaps this childhood taunting has instilled in me a sense that I’m not as good as other people, making me strive to please (and therefore preventing me from saying no), so that people will like me. As this is the Write which I think moved me along the most, I’ve typed it up, and attached it to the back of this report.
Week 6 (3 March) –This Write was uncomfortable, forced answers to paraphrased questions, cold and hard. I snapped out a blunt answer, ignoring subtleties, nuances, and tried to move on to something different. I couldn’t get anywhere – “Tonight I can’t. Can’t think, can’t breathe, can’t focus, can’t see.” An off night.
Week 7 (10 March) – This Write was influenced by a man that I had just met, who hadn’t called (never did, in case you were wondering). As such, it’s quite an external piece, in that it explores something I’ve done rather than something I am. I come back to the “Why can’t I just say no?” issue which I’d covered in earlier Writes, before dismissing it.
Week 8 (17 March) – To get to the final class, I needed to turn down a request (a demand, really) from a client to join a teleconference, of which they had given me only an hours’ notice. The first sentence of the Write is “Today I said no.” There were no real consequences, everything took care of itself (as things tend to do), no harm done. Considering the angst I have had over my inability to say no in other situations, which I’ve explored in numerous Writes, I’m happy to have been able to end this series of writes with a vindication of a good result achieved by standing up for myself.
Also from the inaugural course in 2005
Michael… and feathers… when we scattered his ashes in the hungry deep blue waters off Waikiki, Peg asked for a sign and from nowhere, from the bowels of Gaia, Mother Earth, a huge whale breached and in unison, all the ladies in Michael’s life gasped and burst into tears.
Feather… and then we started finding feathers, in places that feathers never were and were never found – soft and fluffy from the underbellies of newborns, others a bit more worn for having felt the soles of down-trodden shoes.
Feathers… feathers are messages from Michael. The “I’m here” , the “I’m everywhere” message… (Ellen)
Scantily dressed, her pale green bikini barely there, the samba dancer shimmied on the float, oil and sweat glistening on her body. She shook her body quick-time, in perfect harmony with the music, a part of it. Her head-dress of bright orange and lilac feathers shook with her, reaching the rooftops, brushing the earth as she dipped her head. She was a wild thing, an animal, a bird of paradise in full display, proud and alive.
The Carnival floats moved on down the streets, each one covered with hundreds of dancers like Solena, enjoying every moment, broad smiles and laughing eyes. For this one night, they were the stars, on parade. Tonight there were feathers and sequins and bows and silk and gold. Who needs tomorrow, with a tonight like that? (Lora)
What he needed most?
There are places he doesn’t go in his own house. The locked cupboard, the corridor to the room where his old grandma used to sleep, wrinkled and angry. And the attic. As a young boy he dreamed of armies of ghosts trooping down the rickety ladder, a recurring dream, terrifying, waking him panting and screaming for his father. But here he was, a young man on the top steps of that same ladder, its metallic frame creaking beneath him. It smells musty. His fingers move along the dusty beam to the lightswitch. A single bare lightbulb flickers on. Looking around he sees the space is so narrow, the eaves so heavily sloped, that he cannot stand. He is surprised to feel a sense of relief that there are truly no ghosts. Books are piled high. Crowded with clothes racks covered in dust sheets. An old armchair sits facing him in the middle of the ream. It looks as though someone has sat in it to sift through the contents of an old trunk, its lid still open beside the chair. He climbs up into the attic and sits in the chair. He wants the stillness. As he sits, he closes his eyes. His hand slides down the edge of the armchair cushion. He feels, one after the other, two bumps, like eyes watching him. Slipping his hand further down he feels something rectangular, leathery, solid beneath his hand. Opening his eyes he pulls it out. With a surge of anticipation, of hope, he recognizes it as a notebook. He needs a sign. Taking a deep breath inward he opens the cover. Nothing. Just empty pages of narrow-lined paper, browning with age, and the stub where several sheets had been removed, illuminating no mystery. Or did they? Maybe, maybe, these empty pages were exactly what he needed most. (Emma C.)
Maybe that is how they did it… The Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carte, even simple love letters from back in the day. It was the quill pens!
How could you not be brilliant grasping your feather, flourishing it, twirling it between your thumb and forefinger… dipping it into the coal black ink. And then the parchment, the blotting paper, there was even sand or talcum to finish it and set it to the page.
As I have thought with so many things recently… easier isn’t better – it is only easier. Convenient isn’t better but only faster…
Faster isn’t better because we were not meant to think, or write, or live so fast.
Care and consideration created a quality that is lacking in the world of speed and convenience. There must be a way to use what we have learned and invented and yet maintain some sense of slowness and deliberation. (Lauren)