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THE ISOLATION BLOG: NOV-APRIL 2014

 

searching for isolation

Isolation Blog #1

Searching for somewhere isolated involves interacting with many people.

Banks, the inland revenue, and many mailing lists want an actual address rather than an imagined one.

People who rent out flats or caravans or others who may think you should move to a particular location have a lot of questions and need to know all the answers quickly. But if they like you, it’s pretty obvious from the very first meeting.

Instincts are everything. Thoughts get in the way of these, and sometimes not thinking is the best way to keep moving towards the right thing. Instincts are emotional beasts. Emotions don’t get in the way, they are the way.

When the right thing appears, it’s not coincidence. It’s been hunted for while considering all the wrong things. And even the wrong things are worth knowing about, because they may be right later on.

People say that ‘it’s always the last place that you look’ about finding the right thing. Of course it is. Otherwise you’d keep looking.

Sometimes it is easier to cope with a transient life if all the televisions, mobile phones and social media are firmly switched off. Then the noise is limited to the immediate surroundings. To seek somewhere without noise sometimes feels impossible. Even inanimate objects make noise. When noise feels invasive, the underside of a duvet can blanket out the loudest sounds.

It is fairly easy to be invisible in any city while wearing a beanie or a hoodie. Strangers sometimes seem initially suspicious but are more inclined to look away once their instincts assess that there is no immediate threat.

Strangers who have homes and jobs mainly talk about their homes and jobs – ‘where do you live/work’ is a commonly asked question.

Toilet cubicles aren’t always as quiet or private as they should be. Graffiti varies between towns and says much about the place.

It is easier to get to and survive in isolated places if you drive a car. I don’t. The instinct I have to move towards isolation may be permanent or temporary. I may therefore need to learn to drive. I am wondering how long it takes, how many people I’ll have to see to do this, and if I’ll want the car when I eventually have one. It may, however, make a good greenhouse for tomato plants or poisonous mushrooms so I’m not ruling it out.

Sometimes very little seems important in terms of possessions. Sometimes insignificant objects become incredibly significant when their potential for usefulness is realised. Elastic bands, paper clips and paper bags can become all kinds of things.

Saying ‘there’s nothing here, look away’ internally, seems to work in terms of getting personal space in just about any public area. If that fails, pretend to be ill. A tissue over the nose usually keeps any neighbouring seat empty. People have an instinct to avoid germs.

Genuine smiles have a softening effect on most people. They can make just about anything happen. But they need to be real, otherwise they’re quite sinister and can cause people to interact, just to reassure themselves that they’re safe.

What people want can be overwhelming, especially in shopping areas. In a crowd, human desires move around in the air, seeming to crash into everything. Sometimes it’s really difficult to stay upright. Perhaps having a lie down in the middle of a crowded shopping centre should be an option… But security guards really don’t like it.

Rocks – in any form – beaches, cliffs, walls… are good for moments of stillness. Even the pavements can provide solace when everything seems to be moving too quickly. There’s a heartache in the coldness of rocks, but after that fades, warmth rushes in. The stillness and silence of stone is a calming thing.

Finding the right isolation – the kind that you really want, means that there is stillness coming. When this possibility becomes real, exhaustion hits.

And soon the isolation will be real. I wonder what it will feel like when it’s a reality. Will I long for crowds, possessions, communication, sound, light, smells?

Or go mad, writing about imaginary people. Is all writing or creativity some kind of mirror-madness?

Give me five months. I might know by then.

 

 

isolation found

Isolation Blog #2

In the mornings, everything drips.

Condensation on the inside of the windows.

This feels like the edge of the world.

The edge of the world has hills, torn trees, brambles and branches in all directions.

Stone walls with soaked moss.

The weather changes constantly throughout daylight hours from light to rain to sleet.

When night comes, the winds pick up and sounds whirl, untranslatable.

There are bones scattered around the fields on the edge of the world.

Part of a spine, broken antlers, a hip.

 

what is home?

Isolation Blog #3

It’s November. Since July, I haven’t lived in a place that’s a ‘home’ of my own. Even now, I’ve borrowed someone’s address (for official purposes) in one region of Scotland, and am living in a caretaker’s cottage without its own letterbox in another.

For six weeks I was living in a freight container converted into a flat.

Then I was staying in a friend’s spare room in Brighton.

a guest room in a monastery in Lancashire.

another friend’s spare room in Cumbria.

a room at my parent’s house.

A sofa in another flat.

Brighton again.

Another bedroom.

Devon, a bathroom attached to the bedroom.

A Glasgow hotel for one night.

And now here. Living in a cottage that isn’t really mine. Four other cottages next to me, all currently empty, all lived in when people are on holiday. I’m here to write and be the caretaker of these cottages through the winter. Five months.

The irony that I’m responsible for the care which needs taking of four cottages, when I don’t technically have a home of my own, hasn’t escaped me.

I’m not really sure about why we call certain places home. My thoughts are confused. This blog entry might be confused…

Freewrite – fast writing – getting a tangle of thoughts from inside to out. There are only questions:

What makes a home? Is it just a word humans say to each other to gain a sense of companionship, or belonging? Do animals have them? Nests are only there temporarily and for a specific reason. But home, for humans, for you, is it different, invented, an idea or something real? Is it the walls you’re inside, is it paying rent and bills or a mortgage? Is it being registered to vote, having a postbox, an address linked to your name, other people with you or a familiar location? What if you realise that you don’t want to be in the place you’ve called home for years, and want to be somewhere, anywhere else? Could it really be anywhere, what if it’s too cold, or too hot when you get there? What if you imagined it all wrong or all right and suddenly you’re in this terrible or perfect place and it doesn’t fit you? What if your home is removed, or you choose to leave it or are forced to move on? How big or small can a home be – and if you’re not meant or allowed to be there, or you’re squatting, does that make it more or less of a home than if you’d borrowed some imagined money from a computer screen in a bank and been handed a set of keys by someone wearing a suit?

Or is home just the lock on a door. A key that you have, that fits the lock.

I need to learn how to make this cottage seem like a home.

For a home, the implication of one, or a temporary idea, some kind of personalisation is needed. Otherwise I’m staring at yellow walls other people painted, a carpet someone else picked, and a sofa and bed other people chose. There’s nothing wrong with any of these objects. It’s just that for a sense of ‘home’ perhaps there has to be some element of choice. Even in something as basic as picking a colour, scent or texture.

My clothing could cover the furniture and carpet in colours or fabrics that I’d chosen myself, but it’s so cold I need to wear my clothes. All of them. My body is expanding with layers of fabric. Thermals do fit under skinny jeans. Skinny jeans fit under tracksuit trousers. This sorts out the temperature of legs. I won’t describe what I’m wearing on my top half. Or my head. I could cut shapes out of binliners and use them to decorate the walls, but I don’t have any blue tack and as I remember, it stains paint. I could get some scented oils and hold them over the fire in a spoon, but the spoons aren’t mine either and as well as the spoons, I might burn my hands as I don’t have fire-proof gloves.

But I don’t really mean any of this. It’s unsettling that I don’t quite know what to do. I must have known once. I’ve called other places home before now.

Perhaps I’m unsettled because I’ve realised I’m more attached to a pair of scissors than any of my other possessions at the moment, and I’m not sure that’s quite right.

I’m sure everyone has different things they need around them. I didn’t think I’d need as much as this. I might still need a little more. At the very least, packaging (cardboard) is good for kindling. The thing is, my possessions do all have to fit into one bag again when I leave. The bag is enormous but it wasn’t full when I lugged it here on Sunday. I don’t know if I will be able to lift it when I leave. There seems little point in travelling anywhere with an unliftable bag. May as well just sit on it, stay put, and call it home.

The things I brought with me:

inappropriate and appropriate clothes (not enough of the latter, I’ve discovered – only 2 jumpers isn’t enough) a borrowed raincoat, walking boots, my 2 books, someone else’s book, a borrowed book, 2 notebooks, a small towel, (now beloved) scissors, screwdriver, binliners, parceltape, envelopes, penknife, a few stamps, post-it notes, a rail map of the UK, a broken ruler, many pens, memory sticks, laptop loaded with music and writings, a marker pen, shampoo, soap, moisturiser, an eyebrow pencil, mascara, lipstick, toothbrush/paste, too much underwear, kindle, a couple of cards from friends who remembered my birthday despite me being off facebook, a miniature set of tarot cards, purple blanket, sanitary towels, painkillers, hot water bottle, knitting – 2 needles and thick wine-coloured wool, a pebble from Cove Park, a white feather from a Brighton pavement, a button that a child gave me at the station, a chinese metal locket with; a tiny piece of blue ceramic, a stone that looks like a shield, and a cat’s claw inside it.

The things I’ve had to get – to make this cottage feel like the ‘idea’ of home at least:

towels

wood for the logburner

food that ‘keeps’ and fills the cupboards enough to seem abundant, to let there be choice

non-bio washing powder (the other kind is itchy)

bedlinen

throw for the sofa

adaptor plugs (I need more choice of where to plug in a laptop. Currently it’s sharing electricity with the fridge.)

The most important thing was the bedlinen. There’s something about having your own intimate fabrics. Perhaps because it’s so personal. Not to the place that we might choose to call ‘home’, but to the body.

Skin may be the closest thing to a home that we have sometimes.

Scissors and bedlinen. They’re currently the objects which are making this place feel like a home. Potentially, a dangerous combination.

 

backwards fairy-tales

Isolation Blog #4

Isolated Writing…

John Glenday’s fantastic poem, A Fairy Tale, was dancing through my mind. It’s a fairytale told backwards to powerful effect. And then Cliff Yates set the task of writing an event backwards in one of his writing exercises at Arvon just before I set off with my enormous bag to the other end of the UK.

Ever think the life you’re living now is the one you’ll have for ever after?

Sometimes, everything changes.

I’m re-writing a couple of fairytales backwards as warm-up exercises. Keeping my hands warm, as well as warming my brain. You know the stories, we all do. Young woman works her fingers to the bone, goes from rags to riches, drops a shoe while dancing incognito, marries a prince who loves the bones of her, and lives happily ever after.

Backwards, that could run:

Cinderella was living happily ever after, married to a prince till she kissed him for the first time and he seemed little more than a stranger. She fled from him, dropped a shoe, and tore her fine dress to shreds. She limped down castle stairways, through a forest and into a small village. There, she went to a charity shop where she re-clothed herself in other people’s outfits. She rented a room in a cottage from two women who claimed they were sisters and shared a double bed. They gave her many jobs to do to distract her from misery. While they slept, Cinderella sat by the kitchen fireside, pondering. A godmother disappeared and emerged in the smoke and removed the love spell from Cinderella’s heart. After a time, the repetitive physical jobs made Cinderella’s bony fingers feel stronger. Often, she murmured, once upon a time, and then shook these thoughts away, refusing to allow herself to dream.

 

How many fairytales do we try to build into our lives? Rags to riches, the love story, the transformation of ourselves from one thing to another. What happens when they change? If we run the stories of our own lives backwards, where would we end up? High street shopping to stolen or borrowed rags? Marrying someone lovely who becomes a toad? Old age on a cruise ship travelling steadily over the wildest seas back to an urban childhood spent spraying intricate graffiti of distant places on high brick walls?

Here’s a draft of a fairytale I’ve been playing with. I decided not to look up the original version, but mess around with my memory of the tale:

 

SkinStiltRumple, Remembered Wrong

She cries after forever making a stranger of her baby. Half-sized in silhouette, a wrinkled man enters through the barn door, carrying the baby back to her in a cloth. The man is rumpled, stilts-for-legs, wrapped in skins.

Arms stretched, she collapses into bloodstained straw. Her dress rises above her thighs and bloods rush back into her. She exhales the smell of the sea. The man unswaddles her newborn and places it screaming between her legs. He uses scissors to reseal the umbilical cord. Watches, head tilted, as the baby is sucked and pulled back into her body, it clenches and curls head-down inside her womb.

The crumpled man walks backwards out of the barn as she stares at him in recognition and swallows screams as her contractions are fast and violent, slow and then stop; she is soaked and then dry. She’s thinking of white threads and the distortions of magic. The baby kicks too hard, her swollen belly flattens as the baby shrinks and shrinks back into foetus. Her breasts unswell, her hipbones reshape themselves and her body is thin.

Her woven thoughts tangle, her hands stroke her abdomen. She wishes she could name a fertilised egg in this glow of love before it splits and splits and splits.

Her period doesn’t come. She hides, ashamed.

In a forest, half naked, she takes lust from a farmer against a stone wall. His sperm rushes away from her egg and he unclenches her back, pulls his body from hers. They back away from each other, dressing themselves, eyeing one another with feral curiosity which fades into fear as they startle each other.

She runs into an empty farmhouse where she is soothed by the silence which follows a loud noise. Sitting on the edge of the bathtub, she wipes cream off her hardening fingers. She can’t hear the farmer or his wife, but a clock tocks too loud. She runs back into the barn and breaks down the door which mends itself behind her and locks her inside.

Through a crack she watches autumn leaves blow back up onto the trees. Something shakes in the air.

A feeling of Wrong. She speaks the last of the guesses. It is an impossible game; she regrets all her attempts at choice. Her thoughts split hint from clue, puzzle from maze, key from lock. Final try.

Wrong. A second guess. She considers the endless work she must do. She is clever, she knows this. Pick the right name, the right one. The first guess is always false. The first guess is wrong.

Night after night, the crumpled man is with her. Through her dreams she hears him suck in the words, ‘born first your me give, or name my guess.’ In the corner of the barn she sleeps terrified on bales of hay from dawn back to midnight when she wakes and again he hands her the spindle and is gone.

From midnight back to dawn she unravels threads off the spindle till blood runs into the cuts on her fingers. Wiry threads soften into cotton which fills the barn to the rafters with pale clouds thick with dust. She is choked, unravelling, alone.

A wind pulls away from the sky and a witch unlocks the barn door and steps inside. She removes the spell from the spindle, empties the clouds out into the sky, and pushes the girl through the shrinking forest all the way to her forgotten parents.

Her parents’ tears roll back into their eyes as they embrace her. They throw gold coins into the hands of the witch, who disappears, leaving the girl staring at a thickening sky in anticipation.

Inside their cottage her mother and father sit by the fire, starving, poverty-stricken and strained. She begs them for time. They explain to her that they are welcoming her home. She feels young, small as a child.

She pushes herself upon them. Cries like a baby. At least once.

 

sometimes there aren’t enough words

Isolation Blog #5

15 words for loneliness

Ignornly – The kind of loneliness that other people comment on – as in ‘I think he’s lonely’ and their expression shows sympathy, but also a little wariness, as if loneliness could be contagious.

Youache – Where a specific person is missed, and only their physical presence will cure the ache of missing them.

Idealone – A hankering for an imagined scenario – where it’s the idea of the situation which actually causes the loneliness. For example, the ‘ideal’ of the perfect friend sitting opposite on the sofa, laughing over wine and confessions and saying all of the right things.

Disampty – Where the immediate environment is problematic – usually in practical ways. The rubbish split all over the floor, the smoke alarm is going off, work is waiting, the clock is ticking, the umbrella’s broken, it’s lashing with rain and there’s no one else around.

Lonmyth – the belief that no one cares / is interested, without any effort to allow people to care or show that they’re interested.

Crowdsad – Felt while around many other people. Crying while walking along streets crammed with strangers, feeling unable to speak during a burbling conversation in which others are talking loudly and not leaving any gaps.

Solilone – A type of melancholia experienced while gazing at a wide-skied landscape. A longing for strangeness, for the unreal or the surreal to appear.

Xiley – The loneliness of ears: usually during unexpected silence. For example, when any music player suddenly ceases to work, and refuses to be fixed.

Feartrap – when alone, overactive fears producing images of other people becoming monstrous.

Despane – The loneliness of feeling misunderstood, unloved or unheard by someone who used to understand, love or listen.

Uncharm – When you realise that no matter where you go, everywhere and everyone looks almost exactly the same.

Starn– Craving something or someone to be there but knowing it’s/they’re not. Wanting to bite something.

Priclash – Keeping emotions or secrets private while desperately wanting to let them out.

Upwrench – The rational side – loneliness needs to be felt and solitude is needed even if it’s not always comfortable. Letting loneliness come, but giving it a time limit: not wallowing.

Yorch – The final kick just before you’re about to be reunited with the person/people who you’ve missed.

 

the relief in uncertainty

Isolation Blog #6

The electricity went off.

The gale was blowing the fire and its smoke into the cottage and me.

The smoke alarm works, even without electricity.

The fire went into the washing up bowl with some water, and with all the windows open, the gale blew the smoke out of the cottage.

I coughed up the smoke that had gone into my lungs.

The woman on the phone at the electricity board was called Lizzie.

I felt like she was my new best friend.

She said, ‘Can you go to a friend’s house, as it may take a few hours to find the damage to the wire?’

I told her, ‘No, I don’t know anyone here.’

That’s when it hit me.

I don’t know anyone here.

It’s what I want. And in that moment I wasn’t sure that it was.

The next day I walked for over an hour through gale force winds and rain to the nearest town.

Just to prove to myself that I could, if I wanted to.

There were people there, I made eye contact with everyone I passed.

Bought some discarded clothes from the old lady in the charity shop.

Now I’m dressed almost entirely in other people’s clothes. And still know no one.

I think it’s what I want. To know no one, just for a while. To let myself be lonely because I’m genuinely alone. Not because I’m in a city surrounded by people and stacks of buildings, noise and chaos and finding it too overwhelming.

While on the telephone, I realised that I wasn’t sure. I might need, over time, to get to know someone, here.

Or

perhaps I need this blank time, where I desperately want something, and don’t let myself have it. Knowing what not having something feels like, might be more important than gratification.

It’s a world filled with want, after all, that I needed to get so far away from.

All the same, it’s a relief not to feel certain.

Because I have considered the fact that I might end up living in a cave somewhere, being silent, un-learning all languages, only able to communicate with insects, animals and birds, trusting no human. It’s a feeling that had been building up over a long time, becoming more and more urgent. Sometimes it’s frightened me. I am hoping that over this time it will pass, and I’ll understand what it means, if it means anything at all.

 

in praise of kindness

Isolation Blog #7

At dawn, geese fly through a sky woven with white strands.

They’re calling each other on.

There is distance still to be travelled, for them.

But for me, finally, there is a moment of stillness in the frost.

Tears come too easily, because the journey to get here took too long.

I didn’t recognise what I had to do soon enough.

Thank you Tom, for the loan of your raincoat.

Thank you Anne, for reminding me I like knitting.

Thank you Alan, for asking questions and listening to the answers.

Thank you Jac, for the warm gloves you gave me for my birthday.

When people say someone’s ‘too nice’, it’s a lie.

There’s nothing in the world that’s warmer than kindness.

 

an imagined place

Isolation Blog #8

Sirens

The peeling lighthouse no longer functions:

the keeper evicted herself so long ago

there’s no one here to remember the reason she left.

Whether she went suddenly, in a moving strip of light

or gradually walked away along a shadow.

 

There are no lamps or lenses reflecting on rocks for sailors,

no one to shine the beam, to warn of the dangers

of playing love songs on ship radios

over strange accompaniments, these thuds in the tides

and those wails of pulling, drawing gales.

 

the minor rant

Isolation Blog #9

I am not a “wee lassie”. I’m 41 and not a dog.

Yes, I’m isolated up here. That’s the point. Yes, I can cook (when I have to). How’s that important? No, I don’t want to go to the pub with you. A pub would be seven circles of hell with you in the middle of it all. Now please go away. I don’t want to tell you that I will have visitors while I’m here so that you stay away. Oh. I’ve just had to.

I don’t drive, but even I’d know that reversing a delivery van into a muddy field rather than the car park might not be a good idea. Yes, I’m in the field and waving a kitchen knife as I direct you to the nearest tractor as you seem to think one’s needed. I did offer you some big sheets of cardboard to put under your wheels, which would probably get you out without having to ask for help. You don’t have to stare at the knife quite so hard. I did bring it out here for a reason. Your earring is the reason. If you weren’t wearing such a large earring, or if you were wearing two rather than one, I wouldn’t have come out here with this knife. Don’t ignore me because the farmer has now towed you out again and you’d rather talk to him when I’ve just made you a coffee. I left the knife in the cottage while I boiled the kettle. Anyway, I only offered you a coffee to give myself something to say instead of “you muppet”.

There’s a waiting list of a year and a half for all the dentists in the nearest town. Does everyone who lives around here have too many teeth?

The jobs list… So I started digging a hole. It became a ditch. Now I’ve obtained a pipe and am attempting drainage. None of this I mind at all. But I’m certain that at no point did I say I could sew.

 

big and small

Isolation Blog #10

So the first holidaying visitors have been and gone. I have cleaning, a pile of laundry and ironing to do this weekend and so much space to do this in, I don’t see these things as chores. All the doors are now open.

This is slightly like the fairytale where a couple live in a house, grumbling about how small it is. Everyone else moves in and the house seems yet smaller. Then all the other people depart, leaving the couple saying how enormous their home is. They settle into contentment.

Today is full of big and small things.

A pile of practical tasks to do while carrying a happiness the size of the sky.

It seems easy to find enjoyment in small things, with an open state of mind:

a piece of grey fluff on a clean duvet cover becomes something a cat would want to chase so I claw for it

condensation on glass is a collection of sliding diamonds

all music is danceable. So is silence, but in a different way

the minuscule pieces of gravel have been swept off the doorsteps back to their crowd of gritty companions

the sea doesn’t feel too far away

a feeling of flying or falling and not caring which one it is

the warmth of laundry fresh from the drier against cold fingertips

Cleaning kitchen counters and tabletops, aware of the ceiling above the room, the roof above the ceiling, the sky above the roof. Cleaning away the dirt, wiping off crumbs, polishing away the smears. Even the tidiest of visitors leave fragments behind them. I’m making patterns on the floors from crisp crumbs, imagining what the people who dropped them are travelling home to before I wipe these traces away.

 

predictive texts

Isolation Blog #11

Sometimes when I’m writing it feels as if the words are coming from somewhere else entirely.

Having been briefly visited here by two people who have read my second novel, Cooking with Bones, I’m now wondering if in the distant future I will find myself locked in the Thrashing House from Snake Ropes, discovering what brittle or feathery substances there are at the core which show an undiluted truth.

The reason I’m thinking like this is that my visitors had a wander around. They found parallels:

They pointed them out to me: I’m living in a cottage on my own in what they called ‘Bones Country’. There are bones lying around everywhere. They commented that I am looking after some ‘Holiday Lets’. That for most of the winter they stand empty. There’s a fir tree wood just up the track from here. I am wearing a lot of black clothes, and while they were here, a small black dog was running around. On the second evening of them being here, a ‘local’ popped by, bearing two jars of honey as gifts. Did he think about just leaving them on the doorstep rather than knocking on the door? I didn’t ask him. It’s better not to know.

So now I need to find a taxidermist, a GP who would rather be a gynaecologist, a ten year old kid in a dress, or a ten year old boy with ginger hair. Now where am I going to find at least one of these?

Predicting the future is probably never a good idea. Believing the future exists at all seems irrational. Is it possible to write a story which doesn’t come true in one way or another?

Time will have to answer that question, as clearly, I can’t.

 

writing in fragments

Isolation Blog #12

Still playing around with fragments of backwards and forwards writing. Attempting poems, short stories which aren’t finished yet, and writing exercises to play with ideas. The latest backwards fragment:

Taking Care

She sits in the doorway wrapped in a purple blanket as the stars shine themselves out of her eyes. It’s all right to have nothing of her own while she’s caretaking these holiday cottages that belong to someone else. No one stays for long in winter, it’s too cold. Her favourites: keeping moving to keep warm, or being still and wrapped in softness while pretending to herself she doesn’t feel tired. She’s trying not to dream as she clutches a mug of smoky tea she can’t sip, can only smell.

In the kitchen, she takes a steaming teabag out of the bin containing rotten oranges and drops it into  boiled water. The sounds of bubbling and electricity become silence. She flicks the kettle switch and holds it suspended over an empty sink. Trying not to dream, but the tap sucks cold water back into itself.

The cupboard doors are wide open. She hunts a familiar smell but she doesn’t know what she wants so fingertips her way along kitchen surfaces. She spits out a painkiller and another, and goes outside to let the daylight remove her headache.

She plants weeds of grass, moss and dandelions into gravel courtyards with a rake. Moisture lifts away from the gravel and rises into clouds. She walks backwards, smiling down at beads of dampness as they leave her thick black jumper. She rakes stones into the middle of the courtyard creating trip-hazards for anyone who walks there.

Taking ironed linen from neat folds over bedroom chairs, she runs sheets through the steam press to crumple them. She shakes irregular creases in, turns duvet covers inside out and outside in, and dampens them on the washing line. She unpegs wet fabrics and runs them through ever-dirtying water. When they’re soiled and dry, she takes them into bedrooms and throws them in bundles on the floors beside stripped beds. Avoiding breathing through her nose, she thinks of the smells of unknown bodies.

Trying not to dream. Wiping crumbs onto tables, smears onto counters, dust onto shelves she sings a love song backwards. She covers gleaming mirrors with smudges, puts small hairs around the plugholes and footprints across the lino. Her song fades as she sees the cloth in her hand is now clean.

She closes doors, clicks keys into locks, wondering what’s on the other side.

Today is a practical day, one that needs her to keep moving through it. Sitting in the cottage doorway looking up at pink fish scales rippling through the sky, she knows that everything she touches might break. Stubbing her cigarette, it ignites allowing a small dream to emerge. She’s happy though it’s fragile. She has grown fond of small places to fold herself in. Up or down. Falling. Flying. Will the sun still shine, though pink at this time of day means rain?

Make everything dirty, not clean. Give this winter more colour.

She locks pinkness outside, unrolls her cigarette and empties its tobacco into a pouch. Removing the blanket that’s wrapped around her, she drops it on the edge of the bed. Under the bedclothes it’s already warm. The air above the bed is freezing as it moves one way or another, its direction isn’t clear. She closes her eyes. A lone figure she didn’t expect to see disappears from a cliff, jolting her into sleep.

 

writing to prompts

Isolation Blog #13

Using a one word title, writing to a time limit. No editing, just writing without too much thinking.

Treasure

There was a time where nothing made sense because the world and its patterns had changed into a catherine wheel, spinning in its own excitements, scattering sparks.

But I couldn’t catch them. They grew dull as I chased, faded from bright to dark, ripple to rust, as if light moved away whenever I reached for it.

And then, just as my eyes had adjusted and I walked away from the glare other people seemed to see, so clearly, there was a star.

It was a small thing. Not the size of real stars, not so timeless, or old, or vividly shining as the ones in the sky. They seemed out of reach and the blackness they climbed was hiding false treasures in it, or buried in sky or whatever languages humans use to disguise the things we can’t ever understand.

This star I found wasn’t something I’d been looking for. It would have fitted into the pocket of a shirt, so I hid it inside the pages of a notebook that no one would ever open but me. It burned in there, or froze. I wasn’t sure which – it seemed to exude whatever temperature it could bear to, as if purely by being so hidden, it rebelled, wanted to make itself known somehow, through white heat or the cold of ice.

I didn’t know how to look after it. I worried it might die or burn out if I removed it from the notebook and examined it too closely, as if to look at it would cause it to disintegrate, to vanish as easily as it had arrived.

All I knew was that I wanted to hang onto it, that if I could protect it from the danger of being looked at, I might just keep it. I wasn’t sure it wanted to be kept. But all the same, I treasured it, not knowing how best to speak to it, or when that might feel possible.

Sometimes it sang between pages, at other times it laughed, whispered or cried. I worried that it wanted to be examined more, listened to or spoken or sang back to. But I wasn’t sure yet that it would hear what I was trying to say because I didn’t yet know what that was.

One day, a tired morning, I left my bed half-drunk on sleep and tears swelling in the backs of my eyes where I’d blinked them to on waking. The star was lying on the floor beside my bag – it had fallen out of my notebook, or placed itself there.

We looked at each other for a while. I crouched, it glowed. It showed me the carpet, the strands of threads in one hundred different colours which made up one shade. As it shone on layers of dust I examined what they were made of and guessed at the substances I didn’t know or understand.

Then I realised if I let it shine for so long without replying with any brightness in response it might burn itself out. So I put on a pair of winter gloves and picked it up. I attached it to the grey lightbulb in the ceiling with clear sellotape. I closed the curtains.

Switching the light on, I closed the door behind me. I leaned against the doorframe, willing it to shine anyway, whether it had my company or not.

 

themes

Isolation Blog #14

Revenge

Cold:

Take an empty glass bowl, freeze it,

wrap it in stained linen.

Place it outside in sleet, to soak.

Refreeze overnight,

place on top table,

serve to the deserving.

 

Rope:

A highwire

traverses a Mercator grid safety net.

My anchor point, my first step

walking, arms outstretched, knife in teeth.

Destination, you.

 

Hunting:

Many years later:

the predator, now prey: has something to lose

the prey, now predator: has nothing to lose.

Hunting is all about timing.

 

second person

Isolation Blog #15

It’s blowing a gale, the electricity seems to be off more than it’s on, and the damp smell is spreading, no matter how often I open the windows and blast the electric heaters.

So I’m playing around with writing till I get basic survival and comfort sorted out enough to be comfortable enough to write anything lengthy…

The prompt was ‘the opposite’ and I wanted to try out second person. Again, unedited, and not too much thinking involved. I have to keep writing very fast when the lights could go off again at any moment.

 

Reversal

There’s a pull towards reversal in all of us, sometimes. Have you noticed it yet? It’s in that moment when you stop thinking so hard.

Are we nearly there yet are we nearly there yet are we nearly there yet

stop.

The reversal goes like this:

the thoughts pause

clear, empty,

everything changes.

Your years of history – the history of how you think, often don’t let that pause happen. The usual thoughts kick back in and do what they’ve been doing for all these years, holding all your ideas, questions, answers, instincts, senses and habits firmly in place. You’re safe there. Why change anything?

The reversal happens when it’s no longer possible to continue to be the way you are. You don’t even know this at the time. It’s just that for a moment, you can’t think. Or that’s what you first notice. And if you let this unthinkingness continue, you feel naked, exposed, more body and instinct than thought or mind.

The thoughts, stop.

The senses, go.

Your fingertips have new languages if you let them wander. Your knees have a heightened dullness as if they’ve just crashed against the floor. Your legs want to move, take you somewhere else. Your skin feels stretched, almost electrified. Your eyes can see microscopic detail.

Something’s happened: a shift, and there’s no one around to describe it to. The reversal always happens when alone. Other people are too distracting, normalising or overwhelming at this point. If you described it verbally at the time, it would disperse. You’re alert to the air as it moves around you, you can feel the bones from the inside of your body, the blood moving through veins and arteries, fabrics against the hairs on your skin. There’s the feeling of yourself being somehow bigger than your own body, the tension in the air surrounding you seems to be a part of you.

That’s the reversal.

And thoughts can kick back in and stop it happening at any point. You feel safe when they do. The logic, the things you should be doing, the phone calls to be made, the dishes to be done, the jobs to be completed, the rent to be paid, the groceries to be bought, the friends to try to match moments with, the TV to be watched, other people’s social commentaries to be witnessed… All these habits are the clicks of your thoughts.

You can back yourself up in them whenever you want.

Or you can continue with the reversal.

So you do, and you begin to question your environment. Are the jobs and tasks relevant – do all these things really need to be done, if you weren’t there, would anything bad happen if you didn’t pay the rent, phone the electricity company and change supplier, cancel the milk, collect the parcel from the sorting office or change your inappropriate twitter name? Would anyone notice if you didn’t ‘like’ something they’ve posted? Do other people really need any kind of acknowledgement from you? It’s not as if you’re dying and leaving them a pile of grief, questions or a funeral to deal with. You just might decide not to be there. No one is chasing you. You aren’t chasing back. You haven’t seen any of your friends for over a couple of weeks, others, it’s been months and one or two, a year, all this while you’re all living in the same town. If you just left, they might not notice for some time.

The reversal removes your automatic pilot uniform, you’re suddenly aware that doing anything familiar feels wrong on a fundamental level. You question the routines that have held you in place for years, see habits as futile traps. Do you still enjoy eating the same breakfast you’ve been eating for years, did you ever enjoy it or did you just eat because you thought that you should? That radio programme you’ve always listened to seems no more than a layering of forgettable voices and you’re not sure you’ve heard what was being said. Your possessions are just objects you’ve collected inside walls and secured behind a locked door.

Again, you can turn back. Let your thoughts keep you safe.

Or you can let the reversal continue:

You get rid of your phone, stop engaging with the radio and TV and don’t buy newspapers.

You don’t pack much. Only things for being alive. Warm. Fed.

You leave your job, your possessions, your home, the people all around you.

You don’t mind if anyone says anything at all about this.

You don’t mind if no one says anything at all about this.

You don’t mind if anyone says nothing at all about this.

You don’t mind if no one says nothing at all about this.

You feel as if you’ve been leaving for years but this is the first time you’ve noticed. There isn’t really that much to get rid of, and you give the charity shop an invented postcode as a giftaid address because you’ve already forgotten what your postcode was. You don’t say goodbye to most of your friends, or not properly because you don’t know what the future is and goodbye feels like death, but you’re not dying and neither are they. You know this because in most cases someone would have texted you or posted it online.

It shouldn’t be this easy to forget your postcode. How many years did you remember it for?

Why did you think it was so important to remember it at all?

The reversal is now fully in play, though the thoughts to stop it keep creeping in. You realise it has been coming for years.

You’re somewhere else now, miles south or north or whichever direction it was, you just kept walking forwards for days, till you stopped. Another four walls and a door which locks. No one you know anywhere near. You exhale. Your senses calm down. The intensity of your vision fades and allows you to see the shadows on the walls, you smell damp in the air, you see that you have nothing left, realise that you’ve lost everything, but despite the grief you’re feeling you know this is what you’ve chosen and it had to happen this way. And now.

You’re almost sure of this.

Now the reversal is leaving, flowing out of you, away, the full circle of it has pushed you to move. It feels like a forced eviction that has crept up in front of you. Done it’s job. Got you here. Wherever here, is. And is gone.

But the thing is, now you’re enclosed in a building you realise that any new set of walls need similar things to the old set of walls. Pictures, curtains, paint. Perhaps you haven’t gone far enough.

So you go further. All you need is a warmer climate, somewhere that food grows in fields or orchards instead of being sold in shops, a spring for water, the means of lighting a fire, a river to wash in and some shelter from rain.

You hitch rides, you stow away, you become overly familiar with small cramped places.

A boat, a cave. A hut you’ve built yourself. No visible hostilities.

Will this do?

Not yet.

You’re now wishing you had a penknife, some nails and a hammer, a bottle opener, a bottle to open. And once these matches are gone, there aren’t any more.

It’s the thoughts which have to change. The habitual ones, the late at night thoughts which are still trying to tell you what’s important: that you need a home, other people, a family, friendships, possessions, work. You have to make a difference to other people in order to find meaning in your life. The thoughts that say you shouldn’t be edging the world like this, you can’t be this alone, you don’t have what you need, it’s mad, you’re mad, you’ve got to go back… All those things you’ve been told, all those things you’ve believed.

Trying to speak to yourself in opposites, you give yourself a good talking to, you used to know how to do this – you have everything you need, you don’t need a home, other people, a family, friendships, work. You don’t need to make a difference to find meaning, you can do this, it’s sane… you can stay… still.

Though you do need more matches.

Not far enough.

A cliff top – no shelter, a wide open sky. A gale.

Your breathing slows as you let winds bash your body and it tells you how raw it is, it knows stop, go, sleep, eat, warm. Your instincts pull you in fear or flight directions, but this is only hunger or cold. It hones the senses, wakes them up.

A cliff edge, and the gale picks up. You used to be so afraid of losing everything when you had a gas-warmed home, too much food, cupboards and drawers of possessions, security, comfort, a busy worthwhile life… and now they’ve all gone.

You’re in danger of being blown away.

Your body curls, finds shelter, seeks survival between two rocks.

You let yourself be cold, experience hunger, sleep, do nothing, be still.

Part of you knows you can always go back. See what’s still around. Gather it all up again if there’s anything left over. But for now, you’re not sure that you’ve lost that much, or at least, you don’t feel it yet.

 

from a prompt: the most (blank) thing she ever (blanked) was (blank).

Isolation Blog #16

KISS

A plughole; taste of mildew, old metal, stale water.

It looked like a mouth in the half-night of a gashed window.

The sounds of the city, other people’s fuss.

She hungered for another pair of lips. But only the lips.

Starting with the metal rim softly, her bottom lip felt cold.

And then the hunt for a tongue.

Her back ached as she straightened up,

this was nothing to want.

 

Outside the city screamed sound, smelled of the brewery.

Her hands gripped the sink, she leaned towards

the edge of the mirror?

Ice of glass.

 

She could go outside, it would be easy.

Find someone, anyone who would kiss her.

But the thought of a face that belonged to the lips,

the thought of the head attached to the face,

the thought of a body froze her.

 

Was it all right just to want the lips?

Her lips were the part that felt desire. Nothing more.

A fruit knife, pomegranate and lemons,

the hands of a clock, light bulbs:

there had been other textures, flavours, temperatures.

Sharp, sweet, bitter, moving, burning her lips.

 

this time of year

Isolation Blog #17

It’s December, nearly the 25th.

I’m really lucky. I have parents who are still alive and together, three brothers in the same country as I am, good friends scattered over this island we call the UK and a friend visiting till the start of January. He said at one point I seem ‘friendless’ here but I’m just not next to any of my friends geographically right now, or really using my phone much. Missing people is a really good thing, I think. Absence and hearts growing fonder? It’s absolutely true. Time to think about them. Remember all the reasons why they’re so brilliant.

Xmas this year has come from other people. It’s small things, really lovely ones. There is a cake from my mum and a line of string held up by a sewing needle and a nail on which I’ve hung a small row of cards. A gold-wrapped gift from a friend in Brighton and three more in colourful shiny paper from my family. The TV isn’t working but we watched a brilliant film on DVD last night I’d never seen before. Napoleon something or other. Great colours. Awkward teenagers. Laughter. We bought a bottle of sherry today. I wasn’t even sure if I liked sherry. Turns out it’s great.

It took me a while to work out when Xmas really was. I thought perhaps it was on a Saturday, or Sunday, but only because those days sounded like good days to relax on. But I realise now that it’s not tomorrow but the day afterwards. The days of the week are falling away. I only know it’s Monday because I have to keep track of when the rubbish needs to be wheeled down the track.

On the rare trips to the town which is an hour’s walk from here, it’s Xmas. Properly Xmas. Music in shops and everything. A small town; fairy lights, baubles, presents being bought, foods in red and white packaging. Excitement about days off work, about who’s coming round and when. People travelling to visit, people going away to visit. Stressed expressions when people talk to each other about who’s coming round or staying and when and shopping and what needs to be bought because it’s all got to be got in before it happens… It’s a time of year where people arrange themselves into clusters. And these clusters need feeding in very particular ways. Without sprouts, it’s ruined.

And I wonder why this sense of ‘gathering’ only happens once a year, like this, with so much pressure for it to be right or perfect or as it should be. Starlings and geese and the changing shapes of flocks of birds are moving through clouds over the hills. There are gangs of crows and ravens in fields and high in the trees. I’ve been imagining them getting drunk on gin, or passing out on a sofa, over-egged on the pudding. But I don’t think they can see into our houses, so they can’t mimic humans too much.

Perhaps humans mimic birds, but only occasionally.

Watching flocks of birds in the wind struggling with direction, windflow, balance, and then moving on together squawking and squalling makes me think that the conversations must be good up there. They have a lot of things to say to each other. Hope they’re not just talking, but listening too. I’m not yet sure.

 

writing prompt: yet

Isolation Blog #18

Yet

Once, all things sky-height looked down at the earth and watched humans looking back up at them. Gales, sun, moon, stars saw many human dreams because they were so often hurled upwards in their general direction.

Since then, time has moved backwards or forwards, humans have extinguished themselves from earth, and nothing counts time any more. All of the clocks have run out of battery, wound themselves out, and lie ticking old echoes through overgrown landfill.

It’s not possible for a whole race of mammals who believed they were the centre of the universe to die out without leaving a mark on the world. They effected everything around them. Above and below.

Up above the earth:

Gales blow, gather, rise and lose themselves in sky-land-sea. The gales are considering going into therapy but aren’t sure they’ll know how to scale their mood swings or which type of behaviour is appropriate for what direction. They’ve been offered group therapy by the sun. But only six sessions.

The sun’s wanting praise or a lover who’ll adore it, a public who’ll worship it, or at least a television crew who can track its every move as it inches across the sky, made of pure gold it thinks a diamond might be nice. It could believe in diamonds.

The moon’s been taken hostage by military clouds and it wishes that for one night, just one, it could break free, attend a crater-rending opera or shadow-soaked ballet or just drunk-dance with a close planetary friend or have a close planetary friend close-by, for anything at all. It’s not been let out of the clouds for some time and can’t now remember if it had any friends at all.

Stars fill the sky with a puzzle shaped like the gaps between them. The stars have no pen to fill in the blanks and win the zillion-coin prize in the competition they’ve set for themselves.

Down below on earth;

Bramble bushes left over from autumn bend through barbed wire curves as if making themselves into sculptures of thorns.

Gorse stems muscle themselves into green spikes and fists with glamorous petal-yellow fingernails.

Vivid green moss sponges sleet and rain into itself for the sake of hygiene.

Rain diagonally slices classical-style percussion through whistling festive trees.

Straying flocks of sheep trample reeds and heathers, drop litter in red bracken and pale grasses, their wool soaked and then blow-dried, they disappear in the night.

Crows attempt flight into ill-advised headwinds which spin them into psychotic episodes.

Wires carrying redundant electricity are skipping ropes for gulls.

Gates rust into sand and the grains blow away to rehouse themselves on retirement dunes.

Puddles have surface arguments and can’t mediate the separation in patterns of wind and rainfall.

Rocks, once stacked to make walls, fail to divide abandoned boundaries of land, and top themselves.

Cliffs argue with the bumping planks from old shipwrecks, but they’ve nothing confrontational to say about birdstains, sleet or snow.

Only skylarks are able to answer frost’s interrogations.

Soil sulks, unloved, it’s needs aren’t being met – a gift of some kind would help – ideally a massage or exfoliation. It wants to demand the resurrection of rakes.

There are gaps everywhere; a branch which aspires to be a hairbrush is ripped from blackthorn, a wave that dreams of a distant jacuzzi is swallowed back into the ocean, a cloud intrigued by tumble driers is blown away.

The unhumaned earth has dreams, but never looks up to wish for them.

The gales, sun, moon and stars get no further ideas from what’s now going on down below. They aspire to meet their goals of elation and brightness, become better, bigger, higher, greater. The gales have gone into therapy with the sun who’s a celebrity. The moon’s a hostage, trapped in clouds and the puzzle of gaps set by stars.

 

writing prompt: what are you thinking?

Isolation Blog #19

Here’s a fragment of what I’ve been thinking. A free-write, a line of thoughts which may be a little tangled.

Are we born with unseen armour? Or do we grow it, in invisible layers over our skin, wrapping the air around us, containing us. A transparent and fine layer of brittle shell that we wear. Can it shield us enough from the actions or words of other humans, from what we witness, from onslaughts of sensory information, can it defend us from damage?

If we are born with it, our mother grew it inside her along with our cells, bones and organs. But we are each born raw, covered in blood and fluids. So perhaps it grows as we experience knocks and scrapes, as our eyes learn to see and we adjust to the scale of our world. It helps us remain protected as we grow accustomed to the confusions, truths, pain and beauty we find.

When someone dies, when someone ceases to love us, when we fall in love, when a child is born, when someone either harms us, or causes us to feel ‘mended’ and we find we need something outside ourselves, these are the times the armour seems to disappear.

These are the times we most need it to be there.

And yet it is not there.

We need to learn how to feel. Re-learn how to feel, over and over again. But again we are raw. As if birth is never really experienced just once. The armour shatters and echoes our vulnerability at birth whenever a significant event is thrown at us. We catch these events, and in catching, are exposed yet again. The armour is gone. Skin prickles as if a scab has been removed, pain from deep inside the body surfaces. The spine spreads aches into tissues which now feel full of holes. The heartbeat aches, booms louder, more violently, as if the heart occupies a greater amount of space than it really does.

How do we repair invisible armour, grow it back into place?

We have choices, there are two extremes on any spectrum. It’s a continuum: somewhere along the line is balance. But any continuum or line or scale is part of the same length of tightrope.

Repairing of Armour: Safety/Danger:

What is safety?

One choice is to gather around us that which we know to be safe. Whether that’s familiar people, comforts of home, warmth, food, routine, and the luxuries and indulgences we know we used to enjoy. This can repair the armour over time. It involves asking for help. Not everyone is able to do this.

The other choice is to walk away, as far as we can, from everything we’ve called ‘safe’ and which may now feel dangerous. The sentient emotions of all humans, the ‘rawness’ and experiences we can soak up and there’s also our own ‘rawness’ to consider – what if it somehow leaks into others? We can walk away from everything: our homes which now feel like traps, our possessions which are too heavy to carry, from unpredictable strangers, news reports of disaster and destruction, threats and predictions, social media’s demands to be ‘liked’… we can turn off our mobiles and look instead for text messages in star constellations.

But if all these things used to feel safe, who is to say that wherever the body is taken will feel any safer? What if ‘walking away’ to the next place leads us to a place of greater danger, rather than safety?

And how will we recognise what danger looks like?

When we’re raw, that’s the best time to unlearn what we believe to be danger.

Hunger is not danger, cold is not danger, rain is not danger, damp is not danger, no central heating is not danger, not enough choices inside kitchen cupboards is not danger, no television is not danger, no internet is not danger, no friends is not danger, no phonecalls is not danger. How alone can we safely be?

No love could be danger. In ourselves, and in others.

But love can be danger as well. Love breaks through armour, from inside to out, and outside to in.

There’s this girl, she’s a daughter and a mother. She lives in the town nearest here. And there’s this boy, who’s a son and a father. Domestic violence. He gets jealous, he hits her. She’s fled and taken the baby. I only know this because the man who delivers the logs for the woodburner told me. The girl’s thinking constantly about going back to the boy, because she’s worried no one else will ever love her. There’s a lot of domestic violence in that town, as there is in many towns. And a lot of people who say they’re in love.

But love can be vandalised.

Sometimes love can feel so immense, we tell ourselves that we have no choice. That love makes us act in particular ways. We follow it, hide it, seek it, hold onto it, let it go. All of these things we often do without thinking.

‘There’s no arguing with love’ this phrase is used an excuse for all kinds of things, from vacant staring to idealism, arguments, dreaminess, jealousy, murderous intent, lying, bad poems, cheating, and yes, vandalism. Vandalism of all kinds, from toilet cubicles and trees, to other people’s bodies.

Why won’t love let itself be argued with? Doesn’t that suggest an arrogance which we don’t usually associate with the word, love? Or is love unable to defend its own opinions? Or does it not want to argue because it’s peaceful? Or, because it’s jealous or violent?

Jealousy is part of the structure of love, not it’s opposite, but it’s a vein which can burst. But what if when you saw the person you love laughing with someone else, you didn’t let jealousy have its pulse, or allow its violence to break through? You would simply see what was really there:

The person you love, laughing.

There are two sides to every thought and a whole range of other thoughts along the line between them.

Perhaps love is more dangerous than we know. When the armour is gone and the rawness stings, maybe that might be the right time to learn what love is.

And then re-learn it all over again.

And yes, these are all just thoughts as well. What are you thinking?

At the other end of the line of these thoughts about armour and rawness, about love being dangerous, there is another question… a rock of a thought. It’s an anchor, a nest, the root of an ancient tree. It comes in few words, spoken softly…

Is it possible to love without hurt?

 

the quiet days

Isolation Blog #20

Some days I don’t want to say anything at all. Or not with words. So I paint with the few paints I have on whatever seems to want to be painted on.

 

less than home

Isolation Blog #21

It’s not that I’m home / less, it’s just that for now,

I have less than a home.

Without a home, somehow the weather gets in

too deep, or just right,

on one particular day, or an / other.

Emotions are now out / side, left on coaches, roadedges, hills.

House walls, dry stone walls, boundaries.

Blocked walls of cities, towns, villages…

As if no place is any different to any other place.

Every / where looks the same

no / where looks like somewhere to feel at home in.

Returning to these borrowed-cottage walls, knowing

they’re only holding me here for two months more.

And then out

to some / where, or no / where or every / where?

How to decide, to think, to know:

looking for guidance from rail maps, cloud shapes and tarot cards,

seeing symbolism in temperature changes

and the shapes that the stars dangle themselves in.

But none of these things answer back.

How to know where would feel home-more

when some / no / every

wall:

divides to make boundaries

claims ownership

hides what’s behind it, from the sky.

 

surviving coldness

Isolation Blog #22

Cold is beautiful, it’s also terrible, horrible, clear, brittle white and stained clean with bleach or dirtied with thick grey paint. I’ve been learning about how to chase coldness away, also when to look it direct in the eye.

So here’s some unwanted advice:

1) Put on weight. A lot of it. Beef yourself up a bit. Fat cells and tissues hold onto hot.

2) Keep moving. Drink so much coffee that you’re constantly hyperactive. Dance with coldness, call it Jack Frost to it’s face, or sing bad winter-wonderland songs at it. Make it angry, because anger is fiery. Then laugh at it.

3) Do gardening in the gaps between sleet and hail. Rake and weed. Weeds are grabbing onto warm and not sharing it nicely. If the soil is looser, it won’t hold so much frost and the cold will rise away into the sky and not hang out too close to the ground.

4) Cook. (see 1) Baking is best because the oven can act as an additional electric heater. Leave it wide open after baking and sit with your cold fingers and nose NEAR it, not IN it. Bake anything that smells good. Add spices. Then add hotter ones. The smells of baking onions, chocolate or chillies induce hunger. (again, see 1)

5) Never, ever, ever sleep under a single duvet and enormous pile of blankets. They end up on the floor and then under the bed. If you HAVE to sleep under a single duvet and pile of blankets, sleep UNDER the single bed.

6) Share body heat with another body.

(Warning – choose the other body very carefully otherwise mishaps may arise, especially when there aren’t that many humans around and it’s ramming season. In rural environments you need to carefully consider the features of any warm-blooded creatures in case you ever find yourself compromisingly alone with them. Rams, quite frankly, are so full of testosterone that their expressions verge towards violent. They could probably break down doors or get through windows if they wanted to. I am genuinely worried for the sheep.)

7) Avoid cold sounds. Many of these make you want to piss. (7a: avoid pissing for as long as is possible and try to heat the bathroom, even a hairdryer might be a good plan…) Cold sounds – running water, streams, dripping taps, old fridges, shattering or smashing sounds of slate, glass, ice. Play happy music as loudly as possible when the gales are up (providing that the electricity has remained on, see 8).

8) When the lights flicker, the electricity is likely to go off fairly soon. (Keep the lights switched on because even lightbulbs generate heat.) In anticipation of no electricity, first boil the kettle. If you can, also boil four pans of water. Make a hot waterbottle and a pint of tea. If the electricity is still on, boil rice, pasta and lentils. Add curry powder (see 4). Get the candles and lighter and torch. Eat as much food as you can. Have another pint of tea. Put yourself to bed. (Or under it.)

9) Smear your face in moisturiser in the morning, not at night. In the morning, your sleep-warmed skin will soak it up. At night, moisturiser just sits in all the cracks looking white and feeling wet. And when it’s icy, any type of moisture feels like it’s freezing on extremities, particularly noses. And about noses, why has no one invented a nose-muff to sleep in? The decision between burying a nose under blankets and duvet vs the ability to breathe is a really tough choice to make when you’re tired from the day’s coffee-hyperactivity.

10) Let yourself go. Don’t think about being pretty, clean or generally keeping yourself tidy. Enjoy letting yourself go – in fact make it a mission. Mud and paint on clothing makes the fabrics thicker. Wear all of your clothes and leave no air-gaps whatsoever between tops and bottoms. Aspire to develop the silhouetted shape of the Michelin Man. He always looked warm (and would probably be left well alone by horny rams, even in the dark, even under a full moon, even if there were no sheep for miles around). Avoid washing too often. A permanent layer of earth, dust or grease may well be far warmer than getting out of a hot shower into freezing air. Oh, and forget shaving. Body hair is really fur. Making a mission of ‘letting yourself go’ may also involve ‘letting yourself go feral.’

 

hand drill, hair dryer and hands

Isolation Blog #23

Ah, possessions.

Still feeling strange about gathering them, after abandoning so many things.

So everything I need to get, I question the purpose, the practicality, its volume and weight. Do I really need it? Would something I already have do the job instead? Could I steal something similar from elsewhere and then I might not get too attached to it? Or are stolen things more precious than bought ones?

It feels so soon that I will leave here and I still have no idea what will happen next and what I will have room for and how heavy a bag I can carry.

All the same, I have just ordered some simple clock parts. I have all these broken bits of time that I’ve painted on slates. So I’m thinking I should attempt to make some clocks. I’ve ordered the parts I need to do so. One exciting thing about this was choosing the hands. The other exciting thing was that the seller on ebay gives the option of ticks or no ticks.

A tick would weigh nothing. It’s less than a heartbeat. It’s measuring time, which seems to be such a strange thing to do. At the moment the only thing I’m measuring is the weather: daylight length and gaps between showers. When it’s best to anticipate and when it’s wiser to hide. The intensity of purpose within the wind’s direction. The emotional state of clouds. I’m becoming a weatherspy and predicting the future of the sky. These predictions only last about an hour and then I need to do a new one.

I also realised I’d need to be able to drill though slate paintings to attach the hands and mechanism. So I would need a hand drill and some masonry bits. I had to sleep on that one, as I’ve been avoiding getting a hair-dryer because my hat will do the job just fine. A hair-dryer is roughly the same size and possibly weight as a hand drill. When the carpets got sodden, I couldn’t think how to get them dry, and that’s when I thought  that a hair-dryer is perhaps an ‘essential item’. Then I decided that having my own hair-dryer and only using it to dry carpets which don’t belong to me isn’t quite fair. Not when I’d rather have a hand drill.

So clock parts, ticks and no hair-dryer, but a small hand drill with bits. I have the feeling that these are good decisions.

Sometimes making something new is the most exciting thing in the world, even if I don’t know if I can do it, the slate might crack and leave a clock with no face. But then I’ll have more fragments of slate pictures, and these picture/stone fragments feel somehow more right to me at this point in time than all the other things which are broken.

And now I have anticipation: I’m going to be awaiting the postwoman who’ll bring me a small package of ticks, the sounds of time, the weight of air. There is no letterbox here. She’ll have to put the parcel straight into my hands.

 

MAP

Isolation Blog #24

Is it possible to change the direction of the wind?

 

Isolation Blog #25

I’ve always been afraid of change.

I don’t think I can be afraid of it any more, because everything that could possibly change has changed so much, beyond the point of finding anything familiar.

Change is a bright light shining direct in the eyes. It doesn’t go out no matter how much I try to look away. There isn’t any arguing with it: change illuminates, interrogates, demands that eyes remain open and see every one of its colours. And these colours dance. Their movements make me feel happy. And they also clash with each other and make the sounds of cymbals and stones cracking. So I know this must be real. I’m laughing in colour, jumping when the colours clash.

Surely no one can feel all this for very long.

It takes courage, I know this.

 

care taking / taking care

Isolation Blog #26

I’ve been priding myself, stupidly, all the time I’ve been here minding these holiday cottages, on being a ‘caretaker who doesn’t care’. I’ve had jobs before where I’ve cared too much. It’s knackering. This time around, I thought I’d try not caring, then might do an all-right-enough job without getting exhausted.

These damp cottages are filled with broken things. From hoovers which have been fixed so many times they’ve forgotten what ‘suck’ means, to windowframes which seem to drip in different places every time I mop up one drip. One hole is bringing brown rain in now. It looks like watercolour paint is being dripped in via the roof. Perhaps rain isn’t always made from clear water. Maybe it falls in colour during the night when everyone’s asleep. But I’m not a damp-proofer, a meteorologist, a roofer or a watercolourist, so what do I know?

Thing is, the longer I’m here, the more I do care. Not a good move as this is not and never will be my ‘home’ and I don’t want to get attached to it as I’ve always known I’ll have to walk away from whatever life I’ve had while I’ve been here. Again.

I’ve just spent the morning destroying flies with chemicals, sweeping layers of dust, animal fur, human hair, and cobwebs so big I could stuff pillows with them away from a curved 18th (or 17th?) Century staircase. It was genuinely interesting. Felt like a kind of archaeology of detritus. There were dead butterflies in there as well. Two of them – red admiral ones. Emerged too early because the last person who stayed in that cottage left the electric heating on constantly for the whole four days she was in there. I know this because I read the electricity meter before and after she visited.

I’d been leaving those butterflies well alone and keeping them very well hidden deliberately. I almost liked her when she went away because she told me stuff about her life and didn’t ask too much about mine. Don’t like her any more because I liked the butterflies more than her.  After all, I’d spent more time with them than with her.

That’s the other thing, as well as getting a bit attached to these cottages, I’m also getting slightly protective, and a little judgemental. When people stay, I do the hello and goodbye here’s your key thing but other than that, just leave them alone and clean up after them. And hope that they also leave me alone, which they have so far. But when I see someone’s decided to eat ready meals for their entire stay and they’ve not recycled anything, or decided to squash an insect and smear it on the ceiling, and when I know far too many intimate details about them from cleaning their bedlinen and shower cubicle (my curiosity is a little too forensic at times) then I can’t help forming a picture of who they are. It isn’t accurate of course. But I’m currently thinking that the ready meal eaters are going to die young, that the man who squashes insects on the ceiling is under the thumb of a domineering boss, and the more intimate details I’ve noticed… well. Even though I’m not sure that anyone’s reading this blog, I think some thoughts should perhaps be kept as thoughts rather than words.

I’ve fixed a lot of stuff. Learned about planing doors and cleaning out the strips in doorsteps, how to seal edges with silicone, when to kill insects and when to leave them be. I killed a mouse by accident and set two free as far away as possible. One dead out of three is a terrible statistic. I have massive dead-mouse guilt and it’s not going away. Might have to write a story about ‘The Revenge of the Murdered Mouse on the Caretaker who Didn’t Care’. But now I know to check the ‘ethical’ mouse trap sooner next time, as clearly not all mice can survive being ethically contained for the same length of time. There should be a small water container in those things. Chocolate is tempting enough to trap a mouse, but it doesn’t cure dehydration.

I’ve scraped peeling paint off ceilings, undercoated and emulsioned the gaps. Cleaned damp patches with vinegar and then aired the buildings to remove the smell of vinegar. Repainted internal doors and window frames and made sure they still open and close afterwards. Done stuff with polyfilla that’s probably a mortal sin to anyone who knows anything about these things. But I’ve never pretended to anyone that I’m any good at this stuff.

I’d like to say I’ve been doing my best, but that would be a lie. I’ve been doing my best not to care. Clearly I’m not any good at that, either.

Oh, broken things.

Once you’ve spent time mending something, it’s impossible not to love it. Just a little bit.

 

clocks

Isolation Blog #27

I am developing such a strange relationship to time. I’m not paying it any attention at all, because here, I don’t have to. I’ve lived what’s felt like a year within an hour in various jobs. Over recent years I often panicked at the thought of being late for work. I’d have frantic dreams where I was late for the 9am start, arriving at around 2pm, unable to explain where I’d been or why. I’d wake at around 6am and not go back to sleep in case it really happened. I’d stay on at the end of each day, just making sure I got more work done than I needed to, in case I was late in the morning. I don’t think I ever was.

Many people are slaves to the school run, work deadlines or a whole variety of time-bound activities from caring for someone who needs their medication at a precise moment to having to ‘clock on’ at some antisocial hour.

When I was working full time while also writing full time to tight deadlines, time was full. I couldn’t let it overflow or spill. So I watched clocks constantly. I knew where the clocks were in every room at work and which ones ran fast or slow. I carried timepieces in my pockets and on my wrist, checked and double-checked so my lunch break was exactly 58 minutes long, allowing a minute to exit the building and enter it again. I never counted seconds, but I kept an eye on them.

I probably only did this because I wasn’t getting enough sleep. I thought sleep was wasting time. It was so quiet at night. All those empty hours to write into.

Now I have some time, and especially because I won’t have it for long, I don’t want to waste it. But perhaps wasting time is exactly what’s needed. Maybe I could even kill time: not too thoroughly dead as in murdered, but perhaps leave it a little maimed.

After all, time is just a set of rules regulated by measurements, calculations, concern, consideration, ticks, expectation, cogs, hands and obligations.

So I’ve made some ‘broken bits of time’ clocks from slates, clock parts, and acrylic and watercolour paint. The hands move round, they tick, but they don’t tell anything.

We force clocks to tell us the time. It’s all in the numbers.

What if clocks could tell us other things?

I painted symbols instead of numbers on one of these clocks and now, It’s coming up to ‘rain past bird’.

Much later it’ll be ‘kite to anchor’

‘eye past letter’…

I know there are other ways to kill, murder or maim time. The most obvious one is to watch daytime telly. Thing is, it’s all rubbish and I never know when anything good is scheduled to be on because with these new clocks, I’m listening to overlapping ticks but not knowing what time it really is.

Anyway, I prefer making stuff. It helps me think. Thinking helps me write. It’s all relative.

 

thistledown, currents, seasons, tears

Isolation Blog #28

Thistledown won’t appear till much later: fine strands of seeds that are clumps of white, like cotton, like fleece, but from Summer, or was it Autumn I last gathered it? Thistledown feels lighter than air. A soft thing. Easily blown away. To anywhere. Everywhere. No where. There for a time and then gone.

Thistledown was the softest thing my fingers had ever felt. I gathered it last Autumn. Yes, that’s when it was. I’d gone for a walk with my dad along the coast of the Irish Sea. I picked clumps off the tops of the thistles in the field till my coat pocket was filled with thistledown. After I’d gathered it, I sat with my back against a jagged rock and stared out to sea, unable to speak. My fingertips stroked it. My dad sat near me. He talked for a while and then fell into my silence, bringing his. He felt like an anchor.

Despite a terror of drifting, my body feeling too raw, the deep currents of the Irish sea seeming to shudder, I remember thinking that wide empty sky would be a good place to throw thistledown into if I needed to. Despite losing everything, despite being frightened, I knew I was lucky in that moment.

I posted some of the thistledown to someone who’d like it for a while and then forget they had it.

And kept a little clump for myself.

I was collecting small things. I had been since Summer. Light things. Impossible things. A wasp’s sting. A moth wing. Broken ceramic fragments with sharp edges smudged away by a tide. A needle to find a haystack for.

That’s what it felt like then. That terror and raw and those currents. The luck to have an anchor and a pocket filled with softness. Small collections. It feels like that again now, perhaps because the seasons are changing. Perhaps because I’ll soon leave here.

The white blank of the future is frightening.

But it’s an invisible place. I can’t stare too long at it. Like the sun, it’s blinding.

The past is dark like a cave. Hurt hides in it.

But there are other things to see:

Small and big things:

Threads from unseen spiders vibrating in fine lines over grass.

Wind crosses an invisible map, altering a plan and destination.

Winter, ending.

Spring, beginning.

Moss blossom looks like frost but doesn’t feel cold.

Rowdy conversations of ravens.

Five sheep and how different each of their faces are.

A black cat which each night is creeping closer to the spine bones on the wall.

Daffodils, crocuses, snowdrops exploding from soil towards sunlight.

The old tree slowly breaking, the rip between branch and trunk is opening a gap big enough for crows to build a nest. If they wanted to. But they haven’t. They’ve chosen tall trees with stable, tangled branches. Not all of their nests have survived the gales. They’re fighting over the few which are left.

The nights are icy and the stars look bigger, as if coldness is what makes them shine brightest.

I only cry when I’m not seeing these things. I only cry when I think about the past or the future.

So tears don’t really matter. They’re about something that’s gone, or something which might or might not happen later.

But they’re still there, sometimes often.

When a gale’s blowing, I could cry them into air and let wind carry them away.

Post them to someone who’ll forget them.

Or collect them and keep them with all the other small impossible things.

 

holes and the winds

Isolation Blog #29

The thing is, while I’ve been here, I’ve been trying not to care about anything or anyone. It’s not working. It’s just that I thought I’d try. I’ve cared too much for too long and somehow, become a bit lost, or lost my way. Most of the things I thought I cared about are now gone. And that’s my own doing. Not all of it, but most of it. The gone things have left gaps. Holes. I knew that they would.

And the holes need winds to blow through them for a time. Till I learn how to care in a different way. Maybe just enough. Not too much. Though even here, I’m losing myself in caring sometimes.

I really must stop talking to dying insects.

If I didn’t have these holes, I might feel more solid, but the winds could just blow me down. Like that story with the wolf and three little pigs. What if there were no straw, stick and brick houses in that story – would the wolf’s breath have blown the pigs down or away? Was it the house or the pig inside it that the wolf really wanted? Was the wolf hanging around with the pigs because he wanted a home, and thought that them having one each was greedy, or did the pigs deliberately build their houses near the wolf, to taunt him? ‘Big wolf, big wolf, you can’t come in.’

Even stories contain many things to care about. I’m now far more concerned about the wolf than I ever was about the pigs.

I think too much. And I don’t have a pretty little head to do this with, I have an ugly big brain.

I am sorry, if anyone who hasn’t heard from me while I’ve been here would have liked to. And I’ve not been good at checking emails or making calls. The outside world or the time before now, this moment, as the wind is blowing through, seems a strange place.

Perhaps more so now, as my time here is soon coming to an end. I’ve been missing people a lot. Friends, family, people I used to work with, even people I don’t know very well. But that moment of reaching out or reaching away from here sometimes feels like a terrifying anticipation: awaiting the hurricane from the throat of a wolf. Knowing I’ll be concerned for days about both the hurricane and the wolf’s resultant sore throat. I’ve got a stupid fear about listening to news of the outside world. Because it’s not just ‘hearing’ it. It’s ‘listening’. And that’s a different thing entirely. Caring too much about the insecure housing of pigs. The houses which have blown down. And the mice who were crushed when the walls fell. All kinds of things are being blown down all the time. Blown away. Blown up. But each boom seems to make a new hole.

This might all sound ridiculous, but I can’t let myself care too much right now, about anything. It overflows. Bubbles through, falls out everywhere, falls in too hard. So I’m writing this knowing that I can’t care about what other people think of me as they read this, or even what I think of myself writing this. It feels too honest. Foggy. Unclear. Woolly. Raw. Dusty. Most of my thoughts are probably off-kilter. That’s what holes do. Get hollowed by winds which come at them from odd angles.

Because the wind needs to blow through holes. That’s when it makes its most interesting sounds. And there’s a lot of sound, a lot of noise blowing around the holes in this big ugly brain of mine. The sound isn’t destructive and neither’s the wind. It’s just bringing echoes and fresh air to thoughts.

And honestly? Maybe this blog entry isn’t really about too much care. Maybe it’s about too much love.

I can’t explain it very well. Probably because I’m thinking too much. I’ll try to describe the feeling of it instead:

Holes.

Unable to say that anything I have or love is ‘mine’

unable to think it, without crying for it.

Everything is too important:

the needle and its haystack, the key without a lock, the lie and the good reason,

the book’s spine, the gaps between words, and time.

It feels as if the whole world might need a love letter to soothe it,

but it’s not for me to write.

All of these precious things –

needle, key, lie, book, gaps

bundle them up. Look after them.

Do not let them out of your sight or they will be stolen back

by what they belong to –

the haystack, lock, good reason, spine, words, time.

These are angry things. Love them anyway, as well.

Trap them or release them as you have to, but cause no pain.

A love letter, of a kind. Without any request or permission.

No reply is expected – not yours, the world’s, or mine

but there’s this constant shadow, on the wall.

If you look, it’s gone.

Love it anyway.

And whatever it’s falling from.

 

what is possible

Isolation Blog #30

It is possible:

that this blog will never be read.

that this blog will have been read by people who don’t know me at all.

that most people who read this won’t have talked to anyone else about it.

that this blog will have only been read by people who know me, or think that they do.

that the words contained in this blog are all true, and therefore not fiction.

that the words might all be fiction, and so be considered, in a blog, to be lies.

Every story that’s told contains many other stories that haven’t.

There is never just one thing happening, to anyone.

It all depends on who is writing, how they’re writing, who is reading, how they’re reading, and what both reader and writer can see within the words.

Which/whose story to tell is often a deliberate decision.

And so is which/whose story not to tell.

We all do this. We tell each other the stories of pieces of our lives on facebook, twitter, social networks. And some pieces of our lives we keep to ourselves. How do we know who or where anyone we know really is, when they’re not beside us? They could be making everything up.

We make ourselves up.

We also often believe what others say about us and this can form much of our identity. Unless we start to pick it all apart. Find out what’s true or false. We remember the bad stuff much more than the good. But online we can fictionalise who we are. Without all the baggage, or with it. We decide what we have to say for ourselves. We can choose how we want to be seen. We can even sometimes choose who’s seeing us. Surely that can only be a good thing?

Unless it’s used to hurt others.

All anyone really needs, to create the main online character, is a name, a photograph, an email address, and something we want to say.

 

the unwritten posts and hidden stories: nearing the end of this line

Isolaion Blog #31

There are many blog posts and stories I could have written more fully, or written at all, but haven’t done so here.

Here is a list of what they might (or might not) have been:

Why I decided to go somewhere this isolated in the first place.

If I was running away, or running towards something. I’ve always known that things which are run away from do catch up. I also know that things which are run at, very often, also run away.

A story about a decision. Someone was once asked to choose between two things she loved. The choice she made resulted in her feeling unable to still love what she’d chosen. She had to find out if she loved anything at all anymore.

What to do when needing help but feeling unable to ask for it. How to live for a while in a place where there isn’t any help available, so it’s crucial to survival to simply stop wanting it.

Toughening-up and softening-up at the same time, avoiding becoming mud/slurry/jam in the process.

There is a long story that goes back many years, about why I needed to unravel all its strands as far as this particular edge of the world, off the edge of this map, and to the end of this road. I haven’t written this story down. I don’t think I can.

There’s a story I want to get on with writing, but not here. It’s about love and a tightrope wire. A woman is looking straight ahead, stumbling for steps, understands she knows nothing apart from all the risks of falling. A man who is made from music is singing at the other end of the wire. They aim to meet halfway. Just to know if when they’re both on the middle of a wire trying to balance, at least one of them might still be able to sing.

I haven’t blogged about how stories can sometimes turn into real life for the person who’s writing them. This can be terrifying because when stories start writing themselves, it’s like channelling. Or listening. Or somewhere in between. Despite mention of channelling, I wouldn’t describe myself as spiritual. I’m far too human for that. Perhaps that’s why it’s frightening.

A love story without a beginning or ending. If it’s ever told, it should be co-written. So I won’t tell it here.

There are longer short stories which have been written while I’ve been here, but not put on this blog because of their length and my assumptions about online attention spans.

There are poems that haven’t gone on here because they’re private messages. Direct ones. Arrows of some kind or other. Or sticks and stones. Most of them will never be read by anyone. I just needed to write them.

There are unwritten stories which have titles: ‘The Revenge of the Murdered Mouse on the Caretaker Who Didn’t Care’,  ‘Silence in the Land of Men’, ‘The Mowdyman’s Boy’ and ‘The Drowning of the Dress.’ So for now, these are titles in waiting.

And perhaps the most important blog post that’s missing is this one:

I haven’t ever said exactly where I am.

Is this because I don’t know, or because I’m not really here?

 

the identity parade

Isolation Blog #32

All of these blog posts might have really been written three years ago, last year, last month, or the dates might all be true. Fiction’s like that as well. You can write anything you like, any way you want to.

And anyone who wants to can post things online.

So is this really fiction or really a blog – a portrayal of a version of a real person’s real life, or an online character and therefore an invention?

To write anything from a distance, a place which is outside of the world, and then post it online, needs time and focus. It’s a strange thing to do. To navigate the virtual world while there’s no-one around to provide a ‘real world’ needs a solid identity. More solid than mine is right now. To be online at all, you need to know who you are while you look, know what you’re looking for, and that what you’re seeing is real.

This isn’t always easy.

Blink, and you’ll miss it. Instant messages, disposable communications, adverts and sales, liking and following the currents. Don’t get caught in the bubbles, bleeps and blips. Dip in, dip out. Tweet tweet. Where are you, what are you doing, who are you with, who are you?

Online, it sometimes seems as if everyone’s fishing.

I went back onto facebook and have stayed there for now. I don’t ‘like’ it yet. I heard from one friend that I was in Liverpool. Another told me I was in Glasgow. And yet another, New Zealand. Facebook came up with all kinds of locations. Twitter thought I was still in Brighton. Most people who know me think I’m in Scotland.

But am I anywhere at all, while my eyes stare at this computer screen? It seems that everything, virtual and real, friends and fishers, even locations and countries, have some kind of identity. And identities are such changeable, disposable things. Scotland might go independent. Can people do this as well?

Not many people ask for photo ID any more. I’m wondering what it’s really used for other than getting on aeroplanes. I could be anyone at all. No need to prove anything about name, date or face. Nothing to lose. But I must all the same remember to change my address in my passport. It might go independent and get itself lost. And need to find its way back to me. Back to where, though? I’m not sure, because I’m online now and online seems a non-location, exactly where I am.

Only three people who know me have visited, and know for certain where I am. Or think that they know for certain.

But I may only have been here while they were.

If I could make it up, well. I might. I’ve always wanted to visit China. Faslane. The ghost towns of America. Dungeness. Any border which is heavily guarded. Derelict buildings and swamps. I’d like to cross seas on a warship. Go into the no-go zone in Japan. Go to Canada but only for one night. I’d be using someone else’s passport.

It’s possible to assume any identity.

This one is the unreliable narrator:

Do you know where I am? Do you know me? Are you sure? If we met, I’m sure you could persuade me to tell you that I’ve not really been anywhere at all. That I eat too much sugar and keep crickets as pets. That my favourite book has a sunset-orange cover and my favourite dance is the Charleston. I’m living right next door to you and have been all along. I’m not anywhere that’s any different to where you are. I’m just talking about somewhere else. It’s just a lonely place in my head. You know that might be true because isolation’s what this blog is all about. I might tell you that this whole blog isn’t real life and it isn’t a story, it is a lie. I’ll tell you why I’ve lied, when we meet. I’ve always thought of lies as a little like scratches. Do lies need sticking plasters? Have you got any?

From this screen, I can say anything. I could say that I’m invisible. And I’d tell you that invisible is a good thing to be. It means I’m able to move around as much as I like. Go anywhere, nowhere, somewhere. I could tell you I’ve been caught by some virtual wind that blows through the world wide web, and right now?

Right now I’m on the other side of your computer screen. I can see the whites of your eyes as you’re reading this. What big eyes you have, seen from this angle. And yes, so do I. My grandmother used to say she loved big eyes, just like mine. She was a wolfish old dame.

You must have a webcam, is there a hidden one?

I have found a virtual telescope. I can see everything. You want to look too? Virtually, we can have anything we want. We can do whatever we like. Virtual is one home of the imagination. And until you’re inside it, you’ll never know what it looks like. The shape of it all. It’s quite beautiful, it has strange flickers of light through it sometimes. But yes. Dangerous at times. Protection is offered for good reason. But don’t pay for it. Don’t waste your money. Rip-off merchants don’t have to get rich quick. Not if you’re wise to it. I’ll show you how to get round all that. You can come in to this virtual place and join me here, if you like. If you knock first, I’ll open all the doors.

It feels like I’m telling stories through a cloud of disguises. You’ll see what you need or expect to see.

Should we just meet up in the real world? I’d like to hear you talk.

Don’t believe a word that I say, unless you’re sure it’s me saying it. And the only way you can be sure, is to listen to my voice.

Let’s get away from these screens. My real voice only comes from my mouth.

Come and find me.

If you now have even the slightest instinct to meet the above ‘character’, for whatever reason, then know I have just successfully ‘groomed’ you. If you are a little unsettled, then I am glad. I didn’t enjoy writing this post. But I’ve been offline and online for a while, gaining some kind of perspective. It all needs to be talked about more than it is. And right now, I have nothing to lose. And neither do a lot of other people.

 

feral: the last post

Isolation Blog #33

Gradually making contact with a very few people in the outside world after a long time.

It’s like a shower, a warm one, of sparks, hearing missed voices, getting emails.

News of the outside. Welcome. Welcome in. But afterwards, it feels like invasion.

I want to phone back. Email them immediately. Say other things. But I don’t think I can.

As if the body is a battleground, thoughts/emotions are its weapons.

And they’re firing in all the wrong directions.

And then after listening to once familiar voices, desperate loneliness. Confusion. Lines crossing, thoughts crashing. Missiles, emotional ones, misfired.

I need to go quiet again, for a while longer yet. For the final stretch. Shut down switch off tune out.

Is this loneliness, or the effect of isolation? But the thing is, I’ve felt this way before now.

Living inside a crowd, feeling alone.

I’m realising that I’ve been lonely for years and haven’t noticed till now.

I might always have been lonely.

That’s just how it feels. It’s probably a bad move to say all this online. But I can’t lie. Say it’s all beautiful, everything’s fine, isolation has ‘fixed’ something, make any wise final statement.

All I can do is say how it feels, knowing that no one may ever read this. It’s privately public or publicly private. I guess that’s the nature of blog or memoir type writing. How much of the truth to tell. Which story to tell when there is never just one version of events, one way to describe things. Even in an isolated place, so much is going on. Decisions. How honest to be. How far to go.

I do want the loneliness to stop, I’m not attached to it, this feeling.

I don’t yet know how.

But while I’ve been here, I’ve been learning about all of the things the word ‘lonely’ can mean.

And safety, and danger, freedom and traps. They’re all linked.

Knowing something well is one way to tame it.

If you catch a feral cat, and want to keep it, this is what you have to do. You put it in a large cage in the middle of a room. Don’t look at it too often. Talk softly to yourself as you go about your business. Don’t ever touch it. Just leave it food and drink. Keep it in the cage till it becomes curious about you. Still, don’t make too much eye contact. Let it come to you.

Once it’s got used to the cage, the room, your movements and voice, and is curious, then that’s the time to leave the cage door open.

Let it come out whenever it wants to. Let it go back in as well.

Don’t pick it up. Don’t expect anything from it. Sometimes, sit quietly and wait.

When it jumps onto your lap for the first time, it’s testing you. Don’t touch it.

When it jumps onto your lap and lies down for the first time, don’t touch it.

When it jumps onto your lap, lies down and looks up at you, blink at it. Let it sniff your hand.

Then the next time it does this, after it’s sniffed your hand, stroke it once. Very gently.

Repeat this process again and again until it is used to your smell and your touch.

Blink at it every time it looks at you. Cats feel safer with blinks. It means something to them that humans might never understand.

Once it feels safe enough to tell you it’s story in the language of yowls and purrs, spend more time with it.

Never forget to blink at it. It needs to see safety in you every day: or it could still attack you or leave.

Once it doesn’t go in the cage any more, once it comes to you every day, throw the cage away.

Make sure the cat sees you do this.

And then ask it to tell you its name.

 

 

I have more than I came here with:

I have fifteen new words for loneliness. A collection of small impossible things. I know how to keep warm and keep floods out. I’ve remembered some of the things I used to like doing, and am learning some new ones. I have got a lot of writing done, and have more than a lot to keep going with. I have some broken clocks that don’t tell me anything, a small suitcase full of pictures and a cracked heart map – a painting on slate. I also have a real heart. Sometimes, in quiet moments, I listen to its beats. It’s calling me on. I’m keeping it still. Carrying it carefully. Lending it out. Giving it away. Something like that.

I’ve been more honest in this blog than I can be when speaking.

But there is much I haven’t said.

It’s hard to say anything until you trust that someone is listening.

I don’t trust anyone yet. Maybe I’ll try again later. Maybe I’ll try again soon.

Trust is some kind of destination. A point on a map to travel towards.

A blink to look out for. A cage from which to escape.

But for now, I have a head full of stories.

What else could I possibly need?

 

 

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