Search results for "xmas "

The Shape of Memories

Author: joe

Monday, 28 December, 2009 - 16:08

A magician wrote about how the natural course of healing covers over the wound as spiders' webs ultimately smother the bric-a-brac on a table in the corner of a long-locked room; yet he wished to not allow the wound to heal over, but every day pick it open and keep his pain alive, rather than allow the web of forgetfulness to conceal the rawness of his experience.

The extremity of self-knowledge is the pursuit of the only absolute foundation he could reach: "nothing is true; everything is permitted." My self-knowledge is bound to a foundation made, amongst so many influences, of my father and the unknowable depths of my psyche which are made from his history in my life. I recall my father as much to understand myself as I do to keep his memory alive.

Rowing boats, van-rides with Candy and souvenir mix-tapes; evenings in beer gardens, Neil Young in the car; yards with kids, playing action man in the street. Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick on Top of the Pops; kissing a girl on the school railings, AZED crosswords, tin of snails in the first university hamper. Sunday afternoons with 2p for the phone box; huge home-knitted jumpers with big striped colours; shopping for records on my birthday; black and white photographs of me and an old Wolseley.

Memories have shapes. Although they are recalled all at once, like frozen instants, they also unfold in time. They have a flavour and pattern whose tone and complexity seem to present themselves whole; yet they also play out their complexity, like stories retold. Each retelling allows some room for change - room to create new tastes and tones.

As I let each memory spin out I recognise a new note attach itself. It is an aftertaste of grief; there is a hint of bitterness - the reaction against tragedy; but also an intertwining of happiness and melancholy. Maybe grief imparts complexity the way a cask enriches the liquor aged within it. Perhaps the immediacy of the experience is lost; but perhaps as each year passes, there is an ever more rich emotional flavour to each recollection.

Perhaps the bitterness will round out; the joys and the sadnesses may mold themselves into familiarity; and perhaps rather than need to keep pain alive, it will be replaced by something other than the forgetfulness the magician feared. Another Christmas passes...

Categories: xmas, dad, grief, time, memory, complexity,
Comments: 1

A Cherry Tree and Memories

Author: joe

Saturday, 26 December, 2009 - 18:18

I went for a walk by Pond House and Horsepool Hill in search of a cherry tree and memories of my father.

Boxing Day 2009 Walk in Shipley Country Park set on Flickr

Download the podcast (mp3, 23:53, 55MB)

Duration: 23:53; Size: 56MB

Categories: xmas, grief, boxing day, shipley country park, memory, place, walk, pond house, cherry tree,
Comments: 0

Commonplace and Singular

Author: joe

Thursday, 24 December, 2009 - 14:53

The umber journey through bereavement reveals itself as the experience which levels everyone sooner or later. No-one is born who cannot expect to grieve a parent, except by reversing the calamity. Notwithstanding the silence we collectively smother over death in our discomfort and inability to handle one another's tragedies, grief and bereavement touch every but the most unlucky life. Mourning is a commonplace, a universal. And yet it is utterly singular, uniquely experienced and individually felt; an axis around which a life will eventually turn. Like love, it happens to us all, and when it does, we are the only lovers in the world.

It was around Easter this year that I decided to study the nature of creative expressions of grief. I knew earlier than that that I wanted to study how creative activity - whether journal writing, drawing, poetry, musical composition, anything - had a therapeutic dimension. I struggled wildly to find an ailment of the body that I felt I could talk about without feeling like a charlatan interloper from a soft science - a quack calling the advocates of hard science, "quacks". Choosing instead an ailment of the soul may have been a retreat from an anticipated "clash of civilisations" where science and hermeneutics meet, but it was an advance in terms of making the study my own.

The vernacular ear hears words like "complex" and "syndrome" as mental illnesses - this is of course because they are wielded by doctors and psychoanalysts whom we so often call upon only when we feel sick in mind or body. But complexes and syndromes are what we all are made of. What makes you you, and makes me me, are the respective complexes through which we see the world. Far from seeing the world clearly, we all have our own individual motes in our eyes which render the glass dark. Grief is another complex, another mote; grief makes me me. If grief is an illness, then everyone who has lost someone is ill.

A friend said, a few weeks after my father died, that over time the pain of grief would die away. His mother had died when he was young. "Now I think of her occasionally," he said, "And it's sort of... 'Oh yes... Mum! She was a person, a long time ago...' you know. It'll get better." I was sure he was right, but that only made it worse. I didn't want the pain to go if it meant that the memory of those I loved also receded and lost their significance. Surely this meant that they died twice: their lives ended both in their own death and the death of their memory. If it meant that the memory of my father would dwindle to the facts and material residue of his existence, then I did not want the pain of grief to end.

Grief is something I do not want to let go; but equally I know it is a phenomenon with its own logic and evolution which, if not allowed to take its course, will become more than a complex: a neurosis, a pathology. I try to write again, and each time I summon spirits of grief as though the words are a magic rite which revives memories, enriches them and brings my father closer. There is an interplay between letting go and holding on; between inarticulacy and making meaning; between forgetting and remembering; between pain and solace.

Categories: xmas, dad, grief, complex, meaning,
Comments: 0

Christmas, Grief and Shadowplay

Author: joe

Wednesday, 23 December, 2009 - 22:47

Christmas is a hard time in my family. My father died eight years ago on Christmas day, after a few short months of living with a terminal diagnosis. It is still hard to summon words to trace the contours of the experience and its wake. Each thought rushes back; memories and meanings impossibly offer themselves for articulation; words flinch from the responsibility of bearing the burden.

It is easier to write of the difficulty of voicing the experience than of the experience itself. How do I select from the galaxy of emotions that I recall; how order the candidate sentences; where do I even start? Do I begin with the way he lived; the way he died; the way we go on; or what no longer goes on, now that he is gone? A few years ago, I wrote about several of my memories of christmas, culminating in the christmas of his death and the scattering of ashes; only such an oblique method seemed possible, since a direct approach was less surmountable than a sheer cliff.

If I talk about the way he dignified his illness with a grace I can't imagine anyone exceeding; or the pang of pain at his death that no anticipation could deaden; or the way that time, which so many said would heal, is for that reason, the very enemy of grief; if I put into words any of these or other countless confessions, then it is only as a laboratory scientist handles toxic germs or radioactive metals with gloved and levered tongs through reinforced glass and platinum barriers.

Only by pushing away the significance of experience can it be diminished enough to be compressed inside words. An eclipse cannot be viewed directly, but projected as a phantom through a pinhole. Or perhaps it is more like the everyday landscape when inverted in the darkness of the camera obscura. Perhaps it may be like the shadows on the wall of the cave: perhaps the direct experience reveals less than its shadowplay, since the hands working the spectacle disappear off the stage.

The facts and experiences are no less mundane, bleak and irredeemable for bearing such volatile emotions: but maybe the alienated handling of them with ever new words, the constant renewing of the bare events with repeated efforts to give them voice, are what produces new meaning and new significance each time, and create some sort of sense out of the senselessness of brutal reality.

Categories: xmas, dad, grief, words, meaning,
Comments: 1

Door

Author: joe

Monday, 25 December, 2006 - 14:27

So it was 5 years ago, 2.30pm on Christmas day. Andrew's breaths had slowed down - there were 45 seconds between the last, I don't know why I was counting. I waited a little, and there were no more. I didn't say anything to anyone else in the room, I just went outside for a cigarette. When I came back, everyone was standing outside the door. A nurse had been in to check him, and had suddenly asked everyone to step outside. Now there was a doctor in there. He came out a few minutes later, and told us he was very sorry. I was glad I hadn't been there to be told to leave.

I can't describe what happened when we went back in the room. Maybe in another 5 years? I remember afterwards that Kathryn called the smell the death-spray - something they spray in the room, that just smells of death, masking malodour with malodour. Different worlds, either side of the door.

What is strange is how you know when you leave finally that that is the end. You can't go back to the body. Once you leave, you have left forever. The body lies for days, and I suppose if you demanded it, you could go to the mortuary, wherever it is - the basement? - and be with it again. But really after you leave the room, 'it' is now an 'it', not 'him'. I held his hand, and of course it was still warm. They had closed his mouth, as well as sprayed him with death, but it had fallen slightly ajar. Ajar, like a door. I don't actually remember leaving the room - just being outside again - the sun had gone in, and the day was grey from then on.

Categories: xmas, dad, death, door,
Comments: 0

Consumption

Author: joe

Sunday, 24 December, 2006 - 11:50

1997: just days before christmas, around about when I really started to cough blood, I was diagnosed with TB. My dad insisted I should come and stay with him, but a few minutes later, called back to say he'd realised, of course, I couldn't come to stay. I was supposed to be in isolation, and certainly not hanging around with kids.

Two weeks I had to stay away from people, and my house-mates had to get checked up before going away for the christmas break. And six months of anti-biotics and no alcohol. My mother and her husband came to stay with me, and we had a roast lamb christmas dinner in my student house.

It wasn't all bad - I was just trying to get a job as a writer with a small publishing company, and told them of my predicament. They said that having consumption was a good omen in a writer.

Categories: xmas, consumption, TB, dad, family,
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Swiss-army Knife

Author: joe

Saturday, 23 December, 2006 - 18:56

1983: At my grandmother's house, and big sprawling family - uncles, great-uncles, aunties, babies, cousins, great-grandmother, mother, a clan numberless. For christmas, I got a pop video annual with David Bowie and the Police in it, and a swiss-army knife from my dad, who had come early that year.

I have photos from that day, where I sit next to my great-uncle (he was a great uncle, he said 'well, I don't know...' and when he said it, it meant 'isn't the world an amazing place?'). He held a child in his arms, looking as though about to fall, a shy look on his face. I remember aluminium steamers full of sprouts and carrots, and steam everywhere.

The swiss-army knife lasted for years. It opened tins when I hitch-hiked to Frankfurt 7 years later, and sliced dirty cheese on trips with my friends to camp-sites in the wet English summer. The cork-screw broke quickly though, before I was supposed to use it. Sat in my fist like a knuckle-duster. It's gone now, like so much else from that day.

Categories: xmas, swiss-army knife, uncle Fred, dad,
Comments: 0

Christmas Melodica

Author: joe

Saturday, 23 December, 2006 - 13:21

I must have been eight or nine, when for christmas I got a melodica, a cross between a recorder and an accordion - the bellows replaced by a mouthpiece. It was a beautiful day, so sunny and bright, and crisp, walking down the road home from church, I was a pied-piper, blasting a cacophony from my new toy.

Back home, I competed with the radio in the room whose details are just so to me but must seem bizarre. A pram hung from the back of the door. Giant red rats stuffed with cotton wool and rags. Cloth on the walls, and through the window, the bare tree, winter-blasted but basking in the sun.

The moisture in my breath condensed inside the medolica, making it gurgle, and when I got carried away and blew the thing like a herald, it trickled back into my mouth. And my dad visited, as he did faithfully every christmas, and I blasted some noise in his ear and he seemed delighted.

Categories: xmas, melodica, breath, sunny, dad,
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An American Neighbour

Author: joe

Saturday, 23 December, 2006 - 00:11

Windsor, 1999: an American neighbour was a lover for a while. She heard me through the walls, I bought her flowers because I scared her daughter by banging on the door, and she thought I was 'Etony' because I wore a waistcoat with my suit.

For some reason I forget, I told her I disliked Robert Burns. For christmas, she gave me a book, inscribed it beautfully; it was an Everyman, one of my favourite bindings; it was 'The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns'. Later, of course, we fell out permanently.

I don't even know whether she'd ever been to Scotland. I could have deceived myself and seen her earnest American evangelism as irony. Funny the things that you think of at christmas.

Categories: xmas, poetry, american, lover, books,
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Death on a cold day

Author: joe

Friday, 22 December, 2006 - 00:50

On very cold days, when your breath buffets away visibly, I still think of a car-park, outside a hospital, five years ago. Frost on the wind-screen first thing still takes me back to mornings five years ago, over christmas, going from hospital to house to house, brother, ward, step-mother, brother. Cold winter, hospitals, houses, disconnection, cancer, death, ward, breath. Dad. Never cried like I cried on christmas day, 2001.

I still can't write about it. Winter mornings, cold breath, disconnected hardness, death. Man aloneness. I remember most clearly getting out of a car, looking up at the hospital building, christmas morning, breath tossed away, little brother, silent, sun shining, carrying PG Wodehouse to read to a man in a white starched bed, wanting to be made of granite.

If I'm miserable and nasty to you at christmas, I'm sorry, I can't help it.

Categories: xmas, death, dad,
Comments: 0