Wednesday, 25 March 2009

POEM: Tower of Babble

There are two things that frighten me –
sex and dying.

Although both offer a peculiar beauty,
I’m afraid of the process of dying, and the state of not existing,
in the same way that it unnerves me the control and power sex wields
and its ability to blemish and erode

Sometimes, as I stand on this bridge overlooking the motorway,
leaning against its railings with my eyes shut, battered by the surge of a biting
wind whistling in my ears and clawing my skin like a fearless feline,
I wonder what would happen if I jumped –
leapt over the iron barriers and became a ‘jumper’?

I imagine I’m on a trampoline, bouncing high, higher
ready to spring off into the swirling abyss,
but I can’t grasp it, what it might be like to no longer be
this flesh wrapped around sinew and bones,
arranged to form the DNA that is me,
this shell which over time
is destined to perish

then I think of the ladybird and how it scuttled
up the length of my arm; the plasticine I moulded
into a heart or a shape resembling a ginger bread man;
my first kiss with a boy called Ellis at an end-of-year school disco
when I thought no one would propose – but he did ask me for a dance,
I said ‘yes’ and at the end he kissed me. I remember he tasted of liquorice...

to choose the abyss would be to erase all these memories
and that scares the hell out of me, because doesn’t the sum of our memories define us?
Who am I without these details – the gorgeous, the grubby, the gaudy?
Each experience: a stitch that is part of the grand design that is my life...

I will stop being me, and yet there are things that make me ponder about dying.
Is there an art to death? Will the angels break my fall as I imagine they would have done if Jesus had taken up Lucifer’s challenge and flung his weight off a precipice? Would they catch me or let me land in a s-p-l-a-t on the ground, watch as my blood is given over to the soil.

Dog to dust...
Ass to ashes...

Life begins the cycle of dying,
all the cups of peppermint and fennel tea
I’ve consumed; all the rows with my father whose hurts
squeezed the joy out of my innards; the prank I played when I covered
Dan’s entire room with old newspapers; the time I sprained
my ankle and was out of action for six weeks; the sexual encounters I’ve indulged in (I once read that sex is a metaphor for death) – all to come to a nought on this bridge...

The people I wished I’d known: the burly man with the beard
and eyes that smiled at me as our gazes met across Kings Cross escalators;
the larger-than-life waitress who served me a mocha at the Starbucks
in Ladbroke Grove; the youth who picked up a fiver that had escaped my handbag
and fluttered to the floor of the corner shop in Wood Green;
the pensioner who held my hand in hers at St James Church boasting a wafer-thin smile...

so many missed opportunities to give more meaning to a life gone sour

the confusion of the Tower of Babel,
the babble in my tower is confusing me
as I contemplate if there is life after death?

Catherine Mark

Thursday, 19 March 2009

A-Z FACT FILE: I... J...

Dear reader, I’ve decided to intersperse my fiction writing (short stories, snapshot narratives and poetry) posts with some facts about myself... my way of inviting you to get to know me better ‘up close and personal’ (lol). My remit... three key words for each letter of the alphabet... which lead to three brief facts about myself... and, I hope to cover two letters of the alphabet per post (whenever I do post). Hmmmmm - this should be an interesting journey. It’s so easy to hide behind the liquid interface of cyberspace however in these A-Z Fact Files about yours truly I do intend to keep it ‘real and honest’! Please feel free to simply read, share your thoughts/comments, or ask any questions. [For earlier A-Z facts please scroll down... Thank you!]

I: Identity. India. Interests.
Identity... the discordance in my sense of ‘identity’ and indeed ‘belonging’ has been a root cause of the feelings of worthlessness that has blighted my life. I am not unique in this struggle as many third-culture or trans-culture kids, who in turn become third-culture or trans-culture adults, often struggle with issues around identity and belonging for most of their lives. This desire to have an identity and to belong to something or someone led me to indulge in a self-destructive lifestyle in my teens and twenties. I pursued excessive and reckless life choices and behaviour patterns to fill a ‘gnawing void’ in my life, and each proved to be less than fulfilling or satisfying. Not surprisingly, many of these choices had disastrous results (both in the short and long term) and significantly eroded my self-esteem in the process until I became numb and invisible. I searched for a semblance of identity and belonging in all sorts of strange and unhealthy places... such as, the deadness of the clubbing/drinking scene; in the arms of questionable choices of boyfriends; I even joined a sorority (Zeta Phi Beta) when I was studying at VCU wanting to be a part of the popularity scene of the campus at the time; and then in my twenties, I turned to church and God. As I reflect on this now, it’s interesting that these ‘bed-mates’ – the booze, the boys, the nightclubs, the sorority, and the church... all failed to bring any enlightened ‘sense’ to the brokenness arising from my quest for ‘identity and belonging’. In fact, rather than help me, each in turn has hurt me... well, to be honest – I have hurt myself by loving myself so little in my irresponsible pursuits. I have now stopped trying to find/fix something that was lost/broken a long time ago. The truth is that I will never have a singular identity... I am a sum consisting of many parts... I am many broken pieces... I am all my experiences (good, bad, ugly & unforgiveable) and journeys... I am 2+2=nothing & everything... I am a nomad (spiritually, emotionally and physically). Yes – I have stopped trying to qualify or define ‘who I am and what I am’. I just am. I guess the biggest regret is that it’s taken a lifetime of mistakes and wrong turns to come this point of realisation! India... I have always been fascinated by this country – its textures, its sounds, its colours. It never ceases to amaze me the diversity of peoples and culture contained in that vast and densely populated landscape. When I was very young I was enraptured by Indian movies such as ‘Mother India’ and ‘Sholay’. Going on a working holiday for 3-6 months in India remains on my ‘top 10 things I would like to do before I die’ list (lol).... Interests... in a previous A-Z fact file I mentioned some of my creative crafting interests... other interests of mine include the study of the Arabic language which I’ve pursued through short courses over a period of two years... at one time, I had mastered the alphabet and its script... and I knew a good bank of basic vocabulary, however in the last few years I’ve not been able to continue with my learning of this language and so a lot of it has gone but I do hope to pick it up again later at some point in the future... I have always been fascinated with the Arab language and culture...

J: Jerusalem. Journeys. Jogging.
Jerusalem... my happiest memories can be found in my Jerusalem childhood. We lived on the Arab side in Beit Hanina (about half an hour away from Ramallah). My sister, brother and I went to the Anglican school in the city – a schooling experience I thoroughly enjoyed and will always remember fondly. Even at that age, I fell in love with the mesmerizingly beautiful stony landscape. I loved our weekly expeditions to the Old City which always culminated in my parents buying us a bag of almond sweets from Saladdin Street to share. Lots of memories... of giving milk to stray cats, climbing trees, picking ladybirds from their perch on a stem and allowing them to crawl up my arm, playing in fields of anemones with friends, etc. After many years away from Jerusalem, it’s been great to stumble upon Dina’s wonderful blog and reconnect with the wonderful images of my childhood home - do check out her blog space and have a look! Journeys... I love travelling to places for short visits. I especially enjoy train journeys and I sometimes book weekends to spend some ‘me time’ at a B&B. At those times, I eagerly look forward to the train journey involved travelling to and from the B&B. On those journeys, I tend to watch the undulating green landscape float by. Or I’ll read a book, or I'll simply spend time jotting down ideas for a short story or a poem. Places I’ve journeyed to that stand out for me are: Wales, The Malverns, The Lake District, The Cotswolds (e.g. Cheltenham, Cirencester, Tewkesbury) and also Devon – each region beautiful in its own way. Places I’d like to travel to: Edinburgh, Cornwall, Bath and York. Jogging... after an extensive phase of illness and slowly becoming ‘right’ health-wise towards the end of 2007... I am finally resolved (this year) to get my fitness level back on track with a jogging routine – 3 or 4 times weekly (20-25 minutes). In the past, I have always been addicted to fitness and the gym but for the last 3+ years it’s been so frustrating not being able to do much because of poor health. It’s so nice to be getting things back on track – exercise wise... and especially, with the arrival of Spring... it’s lovely to hit the streets early in the morning and breathe in the life-giving freshness of each new day...

Monday, 9 March 2009

News News News!

Exciting News!!!
... I'll start with the good news first. Some of you will know that this year I am committed to two main writing projects. The first: to complete the first draft of a fantasy novel that I started working on last year. The second: is a short story collection in which a number of the short stories will form a portfolio for my MA project. Well, one of the short stories, Blessing, which I hope to develop for this said portfolio has successfully been published HERE in the March/April issue of Munyori Literary Journal. There are lots of strong contributions on the online journal so I encourage you to have a good nosey around (lol)... Anyway, I’m keen to share this story with you because it gives a different example of the kind of short stories that I do write. To give you some background... here is an extract from my working synopsis of the short story collection (which we've had to prepare this term): Walls Have Ears gives voice to the voiceless in its delicate portrayal of characters hemmed inside silent walls across two continents. In the dense landscape of Nigeria a journey to Calabar in search of tortoise eggs decides the fate of Emeka; Nnamdi finds his destiny determined by a basin of bulging yam heads; and Celeste finds her answers to womanhood in The Outhouse. Meanwhile, as the world turns providence falls on the children of Britain, Emma finds clues to the loss of her sister among a collection of butterflies; and Indigo witnesses the brutality of man strewn between bales in a barn.” As always, it'd be great to have your thoughts and comments on this short story... :)

Grim News:(
... now unto the bad news. This weekend, late on Sunday, I was unfortunate in that I had my personal yahoo/hotmail accounts compromised. Some unscrupulous person(s) managed to hack into my accounts (which incidentally are linked) and sent out a spam email to my entire contacts list (that included a whole host of people that I hardly know since my yahoo, particularly, automatically saves addresses in my contact list). Not only that, they deleted my entire yahoo address book in the process. I've been using these accounts for nearly 12-15 years and I've never encountered this problem in all that time. Anyway, I spent a good four hours into the wee hours of the morning trying to regain control of my accounts. Through the process, I found that I was not alone – there is an increasing rise of spam scam which seems to affect many of the web based email systems. And of course there was the very recent incident where Jack Straw’s (a UK politician) email account was breached in very much the same manner and his entire constituency contacts list received a dubious email. For that news story check it out HERE. To re-establish the security of my account I was assisted by this excellent SITE and I basically had to spend time re-securing passwords on all my yahoo and hotmail accounts, and ensuring that my firewall and anti-virus were loaded and working – which they were – but I thought to double-check because I do get a lot of spam traffic injected in my yahoo and hotmail accounts daily. It’s never been much of a problem, as more often than not, the spam emails arrive in the spam folder but recently (a problem with my favoured yahoo account) the spam nonsense has been arriving in my inbox proper. It has concerned me quite a bit in the last 2 or 3 months... but I have been on the move a lot and I have been using (both secure and unsecure internet wireless networks) whenever I’m on the road... so that may be part of the problem. I shared my angst with a few friends last night as the troubles were unfolding and said that sometimes I think technology poses more problems than it solves and I wondered how on earth we survived without all this internet technology in the past. But as I was cursing, ranting and raving (oh - I wasn't a pretty sight to behold last night... chuckle)... I decided that as with many things you have to take the good with the bad. To be honest, I wouldn’t give up the worlds that the internet has opened up for me, such as blogging where I've met, and continue to meet, so many great and interesting folk... so I guess I do have to take the grime with the glory (lol). Well, I thought I’d share this stress with you guys and get it out of my system (hee hee). They do say that a problem shared is a problem halved. Feel free to comment and let me know that I am not alone in my spam scam misery.

Other News!

For recent A-Z Fact File: G & H... please scroll down to preceding post...

Books I'm reading... I'm just finishing off a fantastic book: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and I'm also dipping into an Anton Chekhov collection of short stories: About Love and other stories... another gem of a read! It'd be great to know what others are reading at the moment... as I'm always looking for inspiration as to what my next 'amazing' read will be!

Thought I'd end on a positive note (smile)!

Friday, 6 March 2009

A-Z FACT FILE: G... H...

Dear reader, I’ve decided to intersperse my fiction writing (short stories, snapshot narratives and poetry) posts with some facts about myself... my way of inviting you to get to know me better ‘up close and personal’ (lol). My remit... three key words for each letter of the alphabet... which lead to three brief facts about myself... and, I hope to cover two letters of the alphabet per post (whenever I do post). Hmmmmmm - this should be an interesting journey. It’s so easy to hide behind the liquid interface of cyberspace however in these A-Z Fact Files about yours truly I do intend to keep it ‘real and honest’! Please feel free to share simply read, share your thoughts and/or ask any questions. [For earlier A-Z facts please scroll down... Thank you!]

Glasses. God. Glass half empty.
Glasses... for those of you who haven’t met me in the flesh... well – yes, I do wear glasses. I am short-sighted and therefore need glasses to ‘see’ things clearly at a distance. Despite the fact that I own a relatively trendy pair of spectacles because I can be quite vain I tend to use my ‘trendy’ glasses only to watch television or movies on the big screen – which in a way defeats the ‘trendy’ aspect of the glasses... if you follow my drift (chuckle)! This (refusal to wear my glasses all the time) renders me ‘blind’ most of the time and can be quite problematic. I’ll explain. When people I know catch sight of me on the street and greet me from a distance often I don’t respond because I haven’t recognised their blurred outlines with my weak eyes. Unfortunately, if the person is not directly in front of me all I perceive is a hazy image. This has got me in many a pickle with folk. I have thought about doing the whole contact lens thing and I had an optician slot in a pair for me once to test if I could get on with them. This was about 3 years ago. However, I didn’t enjoy the experience albeit very short lived (I think the contacts lasted about twenty minutes before I insisted that they be removed). Perhaps I didn’t give them enough of a chance but I just can’t imagine subjecting myself to that fiddle every day, even though many of my friends say it gets easier with practice and it soon becomes a real doddle. Another friend of mine has had laser surgery to correct her eyes and she swears by it. Apart from the huge upfront cost involved (although that same friend reminds me... that the upfront cost should be seen as an investment because spectacle wearers, like myself, actually offset that cost in about 4 or 5 years – that is, if you routinely check your eyes and change your eyewear every 2 or 3 years). I’m pretty squeamish about the whole laser treatment thingy – although, apparently, you don’t feel a thing and it’s over before you even know it. Would you believe it that some people have known me for months and years (especially colleagues at work) and would swear that I don’t wear glasses (lol)? God... under my earlier ‘C’ posting – I mentioned that I am a Christian. Having said that - I am realising that the older I get the more uncomfortable I am with the label of being a ‘Christian’ primarily because of all the negative baggage that comes with it (in terms of what others perceive a Christian to be or not). To be honest, I now simply consider myself as someone who believes in God and has a relationship with God. In 2003/4 (before I entered the teaching profession) I went to Redcliffe Bible College and completed a one year course. The reason I mention my time at Bible College at this juncture is because my relationship with God was sorely tested that year. As we were confronted with ‘theology’ - I grappled with my 'personal faith’... trying to make sense of the God of the Old and the New Testament and his relevance in my life, and indeed in today’s world. It’s very strange that I went to Bible College with an extremely narrow perspective on God, that is to say, my view of God was ‘too small’ and ‘quite limiting’. My thought processes were challenged and, if I’m honest, I had a major crisis of faith – to the point of wanting out of the whole Christian lifestyle. Suffice to say, in as much as, my time at Redcliffe was a painful process as I had to sort out the religious clutter - it was a defining year in my life. Though I learnt a great deal about myself and God that year... I confess that I still have very little answers about life... and I continue to struggle in my relationship with God... I always find it hard admitting to my struggles in my faith journey because it seems like a huge failing on my part - but there you have it... Glass half empty... I hate to say this, but it’s true... I am a pessimist by nature. I wish I knew what dictates our temperament in this way... is it genes or environment? I don’t tend to see the positives in situations and can be very melancholic in this regard. But as with many of my character flaws... I am working on it (smile)... I do admire people who are naturally optimistic – I think it makes them relaxed and easygoing... rather than being uptight, moody and intense as I often can be...

H: Hope. Horror Movies. Hmmmmmm.
Hope... is the name of one of my brothers. He is five years younger than I am and is currently completing an MA in International Development from a university in Boston. His interests lies in micro-enterprise in the developing world. There is a reason behind his unusual name (which I hope he won’t mind me sharing). Well, the reason my parents called him 'Hope' is because he was born three months premature in 1976 Israel and there was a high chance that he wouldn’t survive. In fact he lived in an incubator for those first three months of his life. Funny, one of the earliest memories I have as a child is the day he came home from the hospital... and my parents asked if I wanted to hold him. I remember being panic-stricken and absolutely petrified at the idea of holding this strange miniature bundle... I mean to look at him was mind-blogging enough... so I shook my head frantically and hid behind my mother and just stared at the new arrival. Horror Movies... I do not tend to watch horror movies. I think any chance of engaging in this genre was crushed when I watched The Exorcist at a very young age (around 7 or 8 years) and I had nightmares for weeks after that. Hmmmmmm – reflecting on this now as I write this, perhaps this is the source of my fear of the dark (which I talk about in my ‘F’ post under ‘Fear’)... anyway, I’ve watched a handful of horror movies over the years and I don’t enjoy them as they just scare me silly. Hmmmmmm... You may have noticed that I do tend to use this expression a lot in my conversational writing speak and also when I respond to some of your blogs and leave a comment. In my normal speech, I equally use an emphatic ‘hmmmmmm’ quite a lot... to express a plethora of things... (lol)...

Monday, 2 March 2009

SHORT STORY: The girl in the barn

...This remains a WIP... it’s a reworked version of a story I’ve posted previously... I continue to tinker with it (lol)...!

I blow a bubble of cloudy O on the window. Follow it with another, and another. Then, with my stubby, half-chewed finger, I trail my initials through the mist formed by my mouth. The door slams. Mother enters the car. ‘Indigo,’ she clucks, ‘why aren’t you wearing your seatbelt?’ she says, casting a nervous glance in the front mirror. I struggle with the strap. Tug – tug – tug. At last, it extends. I press the buckle in, and it lodges with a click. Mum gives me a fleeting look before revving up the car. The engine sputters in the icy cold. Reluctantly, it springs to life. We are on our way to see Aunt Mavis and Uncle Jock.

There is a purpose to our visit today but I can’t remember what it is. We have visited their home many times before, often during the holidays. Their cottage sits nestled like an ostrich egg on a large farm in the Cotswolds. I am looking forward to exploring the stretch of land that surrounds. It is a grand dwelling and rumours a great deal of wealth. Aunt Mavis and Uncle Jock don’t have any children. Too busy making their millions, my mother often TUTS. Sometimes I imagine I am adopted by them. The things I would do with all that money (I’m sure I’d have a huge allowance). I’d have my room painted a carroty orange with lots of polka-dot cushions. I’d have a large beanbag positioned by the window where I’d sit for endless hours reading. I’d learn how to play the guitar and with all that money maybe I’d even own one. And I just know that I’d travel to the ends of the earth. In Geography we learnt about a place called Papua New Guinea and I want to go and see the pygmies of that land. I’d like to taste the snake soups of Malaysia and ride the elephants in Sri Lanka. Unconsciously, I doodle on the steamed window: India – Japan – Russia – Kenya... If only I were adopted by Aunt Mavis and Uncle Jock.

When we arrive, Aunt Mavis and Uncle Jock meet us at the door. Aunt Mavis is looking immaculate, perfectly coiffed like Nicole Kidman in that perfume commercial. Although well presented, Uncle Jock – short and stout – looks awkward standing beside my aunt. He is dressed in a mustard coloured jumper with a cigar dangling from his lips. Greetings and kisses are exchanged. Mother and Aunt Mavis head off to the kitchen while Uncle Jock mutters something about going for a walk. I decide I will explore the woodland around. ‘Don’t go too far,’ Mother says, disappearing down the hallway behind my aunt. I watch until they are gone before making my way back out into the crisp afternoon.

I embark on a new route: winding my way round behind the stables and vanish behind a veil of woody area. The trees look solemn as I stroll between them. Their bare barks are bleak and barren. With each breath I exhale, a conical cloud rises as it hits the freezing atmosphere. Even underfoot, the ground is glazed with ice. There is no plan in my mind as to where I am going. I simply walk – ambling along a sodden path.

It takes me by surprise when I stumble on a disused barn at the far side of a clearing. Non-descript, it resembles a shack. Even at this distance, I can tell that large chunks of the flat timber are rotten through – dead wood. My size-fives break a twig, surprising a black bird. It swoops off a branch and flies away. I watch until it becomes a black prick against the November sky. Averting my eyes back to level ground, I walk around the rectangular structure. I am quiet. A strange feeling overcomes me and I sense that I am intruding. On what, I do not know. That is, until I hear a sound.

It is a whining sound. Like the whimpering noise cats make when they are sick, or suffering. I stop. Listen hard. Perhaps, I have imagined it. But: it comes again. I lean against the wooden wall, as if seeking some sort of camouflage. I wonder if I should make my escape. No: my curiosity gets the better of me. I am now at the rear end of the barn, and I move closer to the wide window, and crouch low. I take a deep breath, trembling slightly: a mixture of cold, excitement, and fear. I count to ten before edging my body upwards. My eyes hover halfway and peep through the dust streaked panes. I blink, widen my eyes, and press my face against the window – flattening my nose. I see nothing, only the outline shadow of a pile of hay and a scattering of disused farming equipment. As I extend myself fully a wave of disappointment drifts through me. There is no mystery here. In that moment of contemplation, in the stillness that envelops, I hear a strained, soft moan. Following the direction of the breathy whimper, I move past the window and notice a loose panel – no longer overlapping – revealing a slit-hole.

I see two figures. First, I see the fresh, freckled face of a girl. Not much older than me. Fifteen? Sixteen? I cannot see her eyes, but her clenched fists tell me she is frightened. Her red curls are sprawled in a tangle on a bed of hay. She lies still, pinned down by a fleshy mass. His back – a blanket of grey wiry hairs – faces me. I recognise the thinning patch on his head. He is still wearing the mustard jumper he greeted me and my mother with. My chest tightens. I cannot think what to do. Transfixed: I watch the rhythm of his bulge move back and forth. With each thrust a moan escapes; a cry of pleasure and power. I will the girl to kick herself free and run. She doesn’t. She remains as silent as I am.

By Catherine Mark-Beasant