Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Muddled thoughts on a hot night by Anne Booth

Here is a quote  I read on Facebook recently and found very helpful:

I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room.
~ May Sarton

My husband built  my writing shed from scratch for me in 2002, then took it down when we moved across the village, and built it again in our  new garden in 2005, and it has been there ever since. Unfortunately, it has got a bit filled with family clutter, and my own clutter, so will never be an Instagram hit, but I love it, and I have cleared a little space and put a little copy of an icon on the table and a candle in front of it. The copy is of an ancient Coptic icon from the 6th century, of Christ and Abbot Mena, but it is also known as the Icon of friendship, as Jesus (on the right) has his arm around the Abbot. The original, pictured here, is in the Louvre, but it was made popular by the monks of Taizé, an ecumenical centre in France popular with young people, which I visited in my early twenties with my friend, Katy. I bought her a copy of the icon, and she bought me one, and so I think of her often, I have had this icon for about thirty five years. 

The reason why I mention this today is that life is very difficult at the moment for so many. I have been feeling so stressed about what is going on in our country, tweeting desperately, as if somehow I could, in a few well chosen words, copied in to the right people, singlehandedly with a tweet, change the course of history.  Of course, this does not work and it also does not help AT ALL with getting on with my own work, which also adds stress, and then, too often, I go and join my poor family for a meal and get very cross about politics (the auto correct changed politics to poetics, but alas, that is not true) and rant during dinner, or lunch or whatever meal my poor family are unfortunate enough to join me at. Then I go and tweet something about how we all need to calm down and get things in proportion, but I am a big hypocrite because I am often not calm AT ALL.

So I decided the other day, when I felt particularly desperate, that I needed to stop thinking I could save the world, and go and pray for an extended time,  and I went to my writing shed, and lit a candle in front of the icon of friendship. I looked out the window at my little attempt at a prayer garden, (which I love, but Barney our puppy is having a good go at wrecking, and has even pooed in, which Jung and Freud would both probably have a field day with, if they could ever get Barney to be still enough to go on a psychoanalyst's couch, and if they could understand his woofs and growls and yaps).  Anyway, I have recently planted an apple tree - it cost £33 and that is just the best use of £33 ever - the tree is young but tall with green leaves and no apples as yet, and I can see it from my window, so I looked out at that too. I can also see our kitchen window from my shed, and I love seeing my husband in the kitchen, unaware that I can see him, cooking or washing up or chatting with our children.

I think I may have thought that by going to pray, I would find some special, urgent, words to say that would change the world - a bit like a pious, extra powerful, magical/religious upgrading of tweets - but instead, I lit the candle, looked at the Icon of Friendship, and the apple tree outside, and the birds on the roof, and the  overgrown mint and yellow poppies and nettles and untidy pile of abandoned flower pots under the kitchen window, and the house with my husband and two of our children inside, and I stopped trying. I stopped trying to find the words to change everything, and accepted I didn't have them. I just sat, and looked at the icon of friendship, and at the candle, and the tree, and I just felt suddenly so peaceful. For an hour, the worry stopped, and it didn't feel like burying my head in the sand, or running away from 'reality', but being in a deeper, gentler, kinder, and profoundly true and 'real' reality, deeper than poetics or politics, deeper than words, which was the presence of Love, and a reality present for everyone.

The world isn't lovely for many people now, and I think as writers we do have to try and use words to make it better . This may take the form of protesting tweets about political decisions which hurt children, or funny clerihews, or books to make children laugh or help them cry, or teach them about history or even how to read at all. But we have to know that we CAN stop using words when it is all too much, that it is NOT all up to us, and that there is something real and deep under all this commotion and fear, that is good and strong and gentle and eternal and can't be destroyed. Even if you aren't religious like me, and don't believe in a 'God' or 'gods' as such, I think all the writers I know passionately believe in Love and Goodness and Truth, and in something as everyday, but as beautiful and vital as an apple tree = Friendship. My icon of friendship, bought for me by my friend all those years ago, showing an ancient picture of Jesus with his arm around a Coptic monk, a holy Abbot and therefore his friend, is a great spiritual blessing for me. I hope that all the writers and readers reading this in these very difficult and stressful and often heart-breaking times, find comfort and friendship and blessing and the right words, and if not the right words, deep peace in, and under, and beyond words, in their lives today. I hope everyone feels the presence of Love, if we manage to write, but also if we don't manage to write anything at all.



Joan Lennon said...

Wise words, Anne - thank you for this.

(I am trying and failing to suppress the voice in my head that is shouting 'Anne! Get off Twitter!')

eleanor watkins said...

Thank you Anne, much needed words of wisdom! x

Pen Wilcock said...

Amen, amen! Thank you, Anne. xx

Sue Purkiss said...

A beautiful piece!