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Been doing revision with E for exams the week after half term. This morning: religious studies. You’ll remember (maybe) my recent experience walking the labyrinth. I have to say that in the dry language of copied notes and dog-eared handouts, none of the three religions he studied this year really appeals. Bit of a relief as yet another leap of faith is avoided.

However. I was drawn to the word renunciation. In the last stage of a Hindu life, this means the giving up of small things in order to aim for the larger.

I look at my life and see the small things I could do with renouncing. And they are, ironically, the things which bother me the most: administration, ambition, acquaintances. And a healthy portion of neurosis.

It’s difficult to keep aiming for the large things that fulfill us. That are large simply by virtue of fulfilling us. It’s hard to jettison everything we could do and be for what we are happiest doing and being. It’s difficult even to see it.

For me, anyway. My reaction to any clear air — like today, the one day out of the last two weeks when I’ve thought, phew, a bit of a breather —  is to start to agitate: what can I do next? what am I able to do? The drive to fill the space justified as I can do anything. But do I want to? 

No. I want to keep the big things in focus. If you could see my study, you’d see that I’m working in a space just big enough for the keyboard. All around me are piles of papers, books, swimming badges and childrens’ music programmes, preparation materials, newspaper articles, scraps of reminders, DVDs to return and CDs to burn, old receipts, foreign money, mint copies of my books and innumerable dragonfly items. Not to speak of M’s hair holders, E’s films and a rubber band the cat tried to swallow when it was on the floor.

This is the place to start. Renounce the urge to fill all sorts of spaces. 

Where has the last week gone?! Somewhere unmentionable. Kind of.

However. I would like to be able to write posts with this title all of the time: poetry. Poetry. Poetry.

Not always possible though. Of course.

But when it works, it really works. It does the job. It takes you at once much further into something, and much further away. Everything stops.

Last Wednesday I heard Richard Price read as part of his judging of the T S Eliot Poetry Prize (not that one) run by University of Kent. He was fab. Really fab. All night I didn’t care where I was, who I was, or what I had to do the next day (which, as it happened, was a school assembly for the Laureate programme, trying to get kids to submit work: submit! submit!).

Later, at dinner, all of us talked about lots of things: translation, archiving, playground rhymes and games. We saw a waitress exhibit the most wonderful micro-expression of disdain at us for waving her down.

And I got his book, Lucky Day. It’s got prose poems in it. Good ones. And other poems and sequences. His range of tones and registers throughout the book is impressive and in some odd way heartwarming. I leave the pages feeling like taking risks, like anything is worth a try because you might get something that strikes another thing just right, that makes something. 

Thank you Richard. And everyone. I’m still feeling weighed down, but for a night last week, all was flight. 

It’s been a tough old week. After Tilly, a number of things. But it’s also been life-affirming in many ways. Mainly because of friends. And R and Mom. And E and M. 

I came to friends late in life, having the ‘desert them before they desert me’ mentality of someone used to not trusting anyone. For good reason, I might add.

Anyway. Despite several wonderfully loyal and giving friends hanging with me through my teens, twenties and most of my thirties, it wasn’t until my late thirties that I finally stopped running. I looked around. I saw wonderful women (mostly) around me, offering friendship, true friendship. Most of them had been there for some time. I have the feeling somehow they just decided not to give up on me. For which I remain absurdly grateful. Such a simple thing.

I have a thing about not taking anything for granted. Seems almost disrespectful to do so. Yet some things are meant to be taken for granted. They flourish by being as a ‘matter of course’; they quietly sink roots beyond the surface, where wind and a heavy rain can’t dislodge them. They need tending, but only in the daily run of things, no more, no less. They are there, no matter what happens.

No matter what happens! No matter what happens. This is the secret celebration for me, the unexpected. It’s no big deal, no drama. No questions need to be asked, no unspoken price.

Two phonecalls, three texts, many blog comments. Several emails. Four, five, six face to face conversations. A raucous dinner.

So, to all of you, thank you. I’m not looking forward to the week ahead, but — cliche upon cliche — you’re making it bearable.

I started this post wanting to point you to my good friend Nancy Wilson‘s Flickr widget that I’m so thrilled with. I love her stuff, really love it. I just wanted a bit of her kind of light on these pages. 

To get you started. And me. Happy Monday.

Tuesday evening saw us round up six of M’s friends for dinner and then a trip to ‘the ballet’: in this case, Ballet Central at the Gulbenkian Theatre. It was a belated birthday celebration for M, and a wonderful time was had by all. We were particularly impressed — not to say gobsmacked — by the table behaviour of the group! To a person, they sat still for maybe 40 minutes, eating and playing self-generated games like Chinese whispers etc. R and I stood in the kitchen next door, gratefully sipping white wine and stuffing in ham sandwiches. Real conversations! True friendship! Great to witness.

This year M has discovered that she’s a Taurus, and has ended up doing some online research into this. So the last couple of weeks we’ve been treated to things like: mummy, when can we plant up the pots outside? Tauruses have green thumbs. And to her brother: If you say that again you’ll make me angry. It takes a lot to make a Taurus angry, but when they go, they really go! This was enough to elicit a rather stunned cessation in the teasing, so I guess it did the job.

She’s pleased to know she’s an Earth sign, like her father. Home-loving, she says. And don’t we know it. She likes her nests, a kitchen full of cooking, and to know where we are at all times. Tauruses are good at the arts, she also informs us. And so she is, of course, even gifted at them.

She doesn’t like, though, the other bits, which she, being honest, dutifully recites to us: tendency to be sulky when crossed, stubborn, slow to change. Saying that, she relishes our stories of her spectacular tantrums: once, on the High Street, I had to hold her in her buggy, while she screamed like I was inflicting the worst punishment in the world and wouldn’t someone come help her please! Strangers stopped and glared at me. Her healthy lungs nearly landed us in a private room from all the noise on the day she was born; so when she uses them, watch out.

And yes, somehow, she often, very often, manages to get her way. This getting of her way is not at all a spoiled thing. She just doesn’t give up. Ever. She knows what she wants, how she wants it, and finds ways to get it. Determined. I’ve always thought, despite the early days of horror at how single-minded she is, that it’s a desirable characteristic in a girl, a woman especially. Less likely to get stomped on. Although fierce loyalty is also in her deck of cards, so it may take her a while to realise if something’s going wrong.

But realise she will. Forget astrology. She’ll believe herself.



be the food of love….

We had alot of music in the house this weekend, due to concerts and, well, maybe the sun, maybe Tilly’s death. Anyway, M on the violin, learning fourth finger position (don’t ask me, but it’s difficult) with impeccable (examiner’s word) tuning, and E returning to Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude, which he played in last autumn’s Kent Piano Festival. He’s brushing this piece up for a winner’s concert on 8 June at 3 pm, in St Peter’s Church in Canterbury, if anybody’s interested.

I simply love hearing my children play music. It has the same effect on me as reading poetry. More than that (of what I don’t know, but more of it) indeed. How often have I just stopped outside the closed sitting room doors, just to listen…

Here’s the Raindrop Prelude, played by someone else, but at a similar speed to E. I find it hugely powerful, always have.


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.