The Angel and Edna (Part 2)

Edna did a quick check of his appearance: uncombed, bare feet, dressed in a nightgown that had seen better days, no wings (thank goodness for small mercies!) and a sort of shimmer radiating from his hair.  That was strange, as was the fact that, although he seemed a grown man, he had extremely smooth cheeks and the voice of a choir boy.  What kind of trick was this?

She took the proffered cards and put them willy-nilly in a drawer, while trying to think how to best handle the situation.  Should she call the police?  The man seemed harmless enough, positively helpful.  Perhaps an ambulance, then?  She looked around.  No one else seemed to be in the library at this time. Where were all the dreary old codgers when you needed them?

Finally, when all the cards had been picked up and stuffed into drawers, the angel gave an awkward smile and said, ‘Maybe you could  help me, actually.’

Uh-oh, here it comes.  Can’t be a request for money, no one is ever over-due at this library, so we don’t even have a fine box.

‘I- I  don’t quite remember how I got here.’

Aaah, well, no surprise there!

‘And I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing here either.’

That was honest, at least.  Maybe the attack or seizure, or whatever it was, was beginning to wear off.

‘OK, first things first,’ she said, feeling marvellously in control and ever so understanding, ‘What’s your name?’

‘Gabriel.’

But of course!  It must be some delusional mania.  Edna had read about a case like this only a couple of weeks ago in the Britannica 1997 edition.

‘Hello, Gabriel.  My name is Edna.  How can I help you?’

‘I’m not sure.  I feel a bit…. As if a cold wind is blowing all around me… and my stomach hurts…’

‘Well, you’re probably cold and no wonder, in those clothes.  Do you have a coat or something?  What about shoes?  No?  It’s only early spring, you know, still rather chilly outside.’

The man merely gawped at her, so, heaving a dramatic little sigh, she tap-tapped her way to the lost property box and found a long woollen cardigan that had collected dust there for many months.

‘Here, have this.’

The angel seemed to have some difficulty putting it on, as if he didn’t quite know what buttons were for.  If the library had been busy, or if the man had seemed at all sleazy, Edna would have shown him the way out at this point.  But he seemed so innocent, so lost, that she felt sorry for him, so she offered him the best remedy for any ill known to mankind.  A cup of tea.  And she even opened her secret stash of biscuits, for she thought he looked a bit peaky.

Empathy

She sits in laundry like a queen.

She heaves big sighs like someone slighted.

Each look reproaches

When she approaches.

She makes time fly in bustling beeps.

 

She yells at children far too often.

She issues orders, nags and rants.

It’s all her way

Or else no way.

She’s sly with arrows, hitting true.

 

Yet for all her sovereignty, the house is not clean

And administrative tasks fall largely through cracks.

For all her big postures, her actions near miss.

She’s long given up on gainful employment,

Or bringing in money, or useful discourse.

 

All this I can take, all this I can stomach.

But one thing I cannot and will not forgive:

When she forgets about us and shrugs off her kin,

When she goes off into her world of mad scribbles,

Leaving us poorer, defensive and flawed.

The Angel and Edna (Part 1)

Something quite different today: the beginning of a story that dates back almost 30 years.  Yes, I was a child when I first got the idea for it (and the title – the name Edna has never changed).  I’ve lost the original version and have ended up rewriting it once or twice every decade since.  The ending always varies, and sometimes disappears altogether.  I’ve never been satisfied with the story, have never felt it was complete. Perhaps this is the story of my life?

Edna had her devilish streak of course, but on the whole she resembled the great-aunt she had been named after: trim, prim and efficient.  She didn’t own a TV – instead, she liked curling up with a good or even average book on her sofa.  She cooked twice a week and froze it all in neat little batches.  Occasionally she might keep herself company with a small glass of sweet sherry.  No excesses of any kind.

She also liked going to the library.  Which was quite fortunate, really, since she was the village librarian.  This was no poncey Multimedia Resource Centre, but a good old-fashioned village library that had somehow managed to survive local council cuts, although it was no longer open daily.  It had a play area for children, a cosy seating area for reading the papers and countless dusty reference volumes outlining the delights of the local area, of which there were many.  They had some CDs and DVDs, of course, but no computers, and the returns were still done with card index files.  This was the job that everyone thought was deadly dull, but Edna quite liked the sheer mindlessness of it.

It was precisely those card index files that Edna was re-indexing one quiet Thursday morning, when, under her curtain of hair, she saw two bare feet come to a stop in front of her desk.  She looked up and saw an angel.  So startled was she, that she dropped the card-drawer with an almighty crash and the cards all came tumbling onto the floor.

‘Heaven’s bells and hallelujah!’ The angel jumped.

This was so extreme that Edna had to smile amidst her confusion.  It must be a joke.  A fancy dress party.  Or a poor madman wandering about lost.

‘Can I help you?’ asked Edna in her most professional voice.

The angel smiled beatifically.  He really was gorgeous, with very big, strikingly blue eyes, long lashes, wavy hair right up to his shoulders and rosy cheeks.

‘No, no, let me help you!’

Hunger

Oldest story in the world: top of her class, distinction at uni, hired then poached by ever better-known firms.  Youngest to make partner.  Tipped for wealth and greatness. Travel, exotic foods, white villa with Ligne Roset furniture.  Then cutting back as one adorable toothless grin, then two, then three captivated her heart.

‘Not pasta again!’

‘Don’t want to wash my hands!’

‘Staaaaarving!’

Husband off again, something about bringing home the bacon. He was trapped by long hours, but she was the bacon.  Right there: cauliflower crumbs in her hair, stained with sauce, scoffing remains, falling over muddy gear.

‘I’m sick of you all!’ she screeched.

Grunts subsided, six eyes looked up.  Was the fear in their eyes a reflection of hers?

Later: ‘Did you know, Mummy: pigs can’t look up at the sky?’

Nor oxen either.

They never found out why she thought that the funniest thing ever.

And in case anyone thinks that there is a recurrent theme in my work and that I hate or resent children: this is fiction!  But what interests me is that tension between the creative best version of self and the everyday workhorse. Stanley Kunitz talks about the poet’s need to find the taste of self, which is ‘damaged, wiped out by the diurnal, the cares, the responsibilities that each day demand one’s attention… but the day itself cannot be construed as an enemy; it is what gives you the materials you have not only to contend with, but to work with, to build…’

Circus in Three Rings

Image: greenphile / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

I don’t care where in the world I am

If my lair is cosy,

Well-stocked and well-connected.

I can hibernate year-round

Among familiar smells

Velvety warmth of comfort habits

Foods tried and tested –

Make mine a ham and cheese sandwich-

Yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever –

If the world comes to me through my screen

Why need I go seek it out?

 

I seek the wind to sail me,

Adventure to toss me.

Even in the face of fear and discomfort

I need to earn warmth and plenty,

When muscles are weary

And brain is saturated.

I need to try newness,

Quench those thirst-filled questions

Too numerous to waste time.

No lifetime is enough –

I’ve got world to conquer.

 

So one wanders off

Outside the magic circle,

The other firmly within

But absent of mind.

Not much anger but not much laughter either.

We know not which to follow,

As they tear off in opposite directions.

Developing the Creative Habit

The Creative HabitI am currently reading Twyla Tharp’s ‘The Creative Habit’ and I think of it as my own personal creativity coach.  Twyla Tharp, of course, is a dancer and choreographer, but her principles and suggested exercises are applicable across a wide range of creative disciplines.  And here we have that key word ‘discipline’, which perhaps only a dancer truly understands.  But let me use Ms. Tharp’s own words:

‘It is the perennial debate, born in the Romantic era, between the beliefs that all creative acts are born of (a) some transcendent, inexplicable Dionysian act of inspiration, a kiss from God on  your brow that allow you to give the world The Magic Flute, or (b) hard work.  … I come down on the side of hard work…. Creativity is a habit and the best creativity is a result of good work habits…. In order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative.’

In other words, in order to reach the highest pinnacles of achievement that you are capable of, you need to do your warming up exercises.  You need to put in the practice and talent will find you (and she gives Mozart as an example, the hours and hours of practice and study that he put in as a child, the 24 symphonies that he wrote almost as a ‘draft’ before he finally wrote a good one).

For a long time, I was of the opposite school of thought.  Because I had moments in my teens when I was suddenly struck by flashes of inspiration, I thought that all I needed was a quiet place and enough time to commune with my Muse.  Inspiration would come again.  Some automatic dictation would occur.  But as I grew up and life got more complicated, the opportunities for introspection became limited, as did the time I could dedicate to creative writing.  I fell silent for far too many years, waiting for that flash of elusive inspiration.

Still, still, I stubbornly clung to the belief that an hour or ten minutes or 500 words or whatever daily routine I would try to establish could have no value.  Me?  Write without being inspired?  Good heavens and all evidence to the contrary, no!  And then I found my teen-age diaries and began to realise that my ‘moments of genius’ (as I thought of them back then, no matter how my overblown poetry makes me cringe now) were surrounded by utmost focus on literature.  I was reading huge amounts daily (and really analysing texts, too), I was writing for hours in my diary, letters, book reviews, prose and poetry.  I was learning new things every day and exploring them through my writing.  I am astonished at just how productive and hard-working the 15 year old Marina was.

So I have now converted to Twyla Tharp’s school of thought about hard work.  Yes, I now have a lot more obligations and preoccupations than a fifteen year old, but I still have to do a vast amount of practice, whether I like the results of those training sessions or not.  I have to make creativity a daily habit.

Or, as Pablo Picasso put it even more succinctly: ‘Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.’