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There are medieval ones apparently, and classical ones. And they are not mazes, which are designed to tease you and get you lost etc. Exactly the opposite: labyrinths are one-way systems, that you walk. And walk. And before you know it, you’ve reached the centre. And you sit. And think. And then when you’re ready, you come back. 

My mother used to say that she was always afraid of waking up one morning and suddenly becoming born again. She felt she was the sort to whom that might just happen. Somehow.

Whereas my grandparents were devout Baptists. Not born-again, but sure.

I’ve never been much more than agnostic, and somewhat share my mother’s fear of losing my free will all of a sudden.

However. Today, courtesy of the University of Kent and their Unit for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, I walked the labyrinth. It felt strange, walking into the Senate Chamber, this 36 foot pattern in cream and green laid out on the floor, calm music playing. I thought, oh dear (but in different words) what have I got myself into? Because, believing in creativity and imagination as abstract concepts, and as mysterious forces in themselves…I’d said that I’d be interested in working with the possibility of the labyrinth. Creatively, that is. But first I had to try it.

It’s the kind of experience to which words don’t come easily. Suffice it to say that I really wouldn’t have much of a problem being born-again in that context. Suffice it to say that it’ll probably turn up in my work somewhere.

Afterwards, I made the decision to see where this will go. Working with Jan S and we hope the Canterbury Festival. And some interested students. It isn’t wishy-washy earthy-crunchy namby-pamby — though it kind of looks like it might be, granted, when you peep in the door. It feels ancient. And a tool. And a kind of unassuming revelation.

It looked just like this. 

Stay tuned.

Right. Been tagged by Sarah Salway. Uh, to list six random things about myself. Love it. I wonder if the ‘random’ is of the real type (here) or of the slang type used by my nephew, my students, and now my son, as in ‘that’s so random man’.

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1) I used to have a recurring nightmare when I was young which involved me riding in a tiny toy-like car away from people who were chasing me. All during this ride the world was in tunnel vision, with strange creatures and sometimes very ordinary life lining the sides of the road. Sometimes as I’m falling asleep I still get this tunnel vision, which makes me feel like I’m falling.

2) I absolutely adore frosted brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tarts. Only available in the States. At a push the frosted strawberry ones available in the UK are okay.

3) One of my ideal situations is being driven down a highway with the windows open, road music on, and my bare feet hanging out.

4) I’ve never read Moby Dick. This may only mean something to Americans. But I have read Ulysses. And loved it. Does this mean anything to anyone?

5) I’d like to ride in a hot-air balloon again. A lot. The one and only time I went, I was a secretary in a real estate agency in London, going along for an early morning client-pleasing ride. It was completely thrilling. And silent. And hugely poetic. And I had to keep everything I felt about it to myself.

6) One of the most formative creative pursuits of my life has been translation. At Oberlin College I translated poetry from around 15 different languages (using trans-literations). My very first publication was a translation of a ‘creative non fiction’ essay by Miroslav Holub, Shed Blood, which was later collected into a book (The Dimension of the Present Moment, now out of print). Translation seems to speak directly to the intangible, the bit before words, beyond words…and I find that fascinating. It has made me acutely aware of the creative transformation of coming to the page: you may think you know what you want to write in your head, but the page, the process, changes all of that. The process of translation is like high-intensity editing of your own work: you wait for it to dawn on you, to talk to you in your own language. I love it, and everytime I think of it, I miss it.

 

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Now it falls to me to pass the baton, along with the rules:

Link to the person that tagged you – i.e. me.

Post the rules on your blog.

Write six random things about you in a blog post.

Tag six people in your post.

Let each person know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Let the tagger know your entry is up.

So now I tag… Caroline, George, Danny and Alis.

 

 

 

The kitchen. Dig it. The rest of the house may be covered in molted white cat hairs and carpets that don’t fit and detritus from months of building work…but this — this is a little (well big) slice of heaven.

It’s like having a gigantic Rothko, Klee or Hepworth right in your very own house, to look at for hours and walk around and be in. That’s how pleasing it is to live with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Each time I enter this site I see the what now seems s heavy photo of the crypt. A good — but heavy — night. So light though too that it flies away….

So now to an antidote. Remember two posts back? A line from a country and western song made famous by Barbara Mandrell. I have a deep and endless soft spot for the poetry of old country and western and folk music, the black comedy and rhyme of it. If you are speechless with disbelief, oh well. When you get your voice back, we’ll have a conversation.

Here’s a version of one of my all-time favourite country and western songs, written by John Prine, sung here by him and Nanci Griffiths (oh Nanci! more from her later…). Enjoy. It’s laid back. Only a guitar.

I like this song so much its lyrics are in one of my short stories (Flying). Indeed they are.

 

The concert last night — given by the Ensemble Intercontemporain in the Canterbury Cathedral crypt –was…one of the most powerful musical experiences of my life.

Words can only gesture toward what happens when players at the top of their form engage with music sublimely suited to the place and time. People all around me were crying. I was crying. Nancy and Hamish were there. I saw Nancy at the interval and she said she had a struggle not to cry in the first bars of Debussy’s … — and that was only the first piece!

The silence in the Cathedral crypt  always crackles. It seems to hold everyone’s thoughts and emotions, somehow turning it all, like a big ship, back upon us. The silence washes over in waves.

This was music of course that privileges silence.  I’ve always found the contemporary/modern music of French composers such as Messiaen and Boulez resonant. It’s an aesthetic not far from R’s, and not far from my own, at heart. Lots of space, breath, and a sense of elevation, suspension. Where the quality of pure sound, the sound of sound, if you like, is valued. (Or so it seems to me. I realise I am quite the pleb when it comes to musical analysis…)

But I sort of digress. I suppose some of what I’m saying is that I was up for it. As was the whole audience it seemed. The clarinetist Alain Damiens and the cellist Pierre Strauch, well. It’s difficult to say without seeming mad, but I wanted to climb inside their instruments and live there. I wanted to be in that, all day every day. I thought, in another mad moment, keeping in mind that this was in a church — so I probably prayed it — just let me always hear this, be there, and I will never be without joy. I wanted it to last forever.

The final piece was Messiaen’s astonishing Quartet for the End of Time. After the last, almost inaudible strains of the music finished, the audience did not clap for perhaps 20 or 30 seconds. It was as if everything we knew had stopped in its tracks. And we were waiting for some sign, any indication of where to go next, what to do. Waiting to be reborn. Which never came. Because we had no choice but to return to our lives. And clap.

I feel particularly quiet today, like I’ve been through a crisis and must recover. I don’t know how we are to carry on after a night like that. The transience is almost too much to bear.

The programme:

Claude Debussy Sonata

Gerard Grisey Charme

Tristan Murail Les Ruines circulaires

Olivier Messiaen Quatour pour la fin du Temps

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Thank you, Sounds New.

I HAVE MOVED

From January 2010, my new blog is Waving and Drowning

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Who am I?


A writer born in Texas, who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (yes, like the song), and who's been living in the UK since 1988. I've published two books (see below), and teach creative writing at the University of Kent. I'm married to a composer, and we have two young children. See About for my full profile.