‘Now I am old, all I want to do is try;
But when I was young, if it wasn’t easy I let it lie,
Learning through my pores instead……
I see more now than then…..
I see it perfectly, except the beast
Fumbles and falters, until the others wince.
Everything shimmers and glitters and shakes with unbearable longing.
The dancers who cannot sleep, and the sleepers who cannot dance.’
Ruth Stone in In Person: World Poets. Bloodaxe2017
Hannah, my granddaughter, and her boys visiting for the day on their way to holiday in Bergerac says, ‘Your room looks like a writer’s block!’ And so it does. Now it is totally empty and I am writing on a table in the corner of the living room which contains a sofa, two armchairs and Phil’s treatment couch. Most of the house is full of beautifully wrapped and labelled boxes that belong to the people who are moving into our house in thirteen days. We have had six different moving dates, this one actually has times for signing so it looks as if it is for real. It’s hard to envisage cats in their travelling boxes, beds finally unmade and ready to go, the last minute cleaning and putting in place. Most of our furniture and possessions, including all my books, not neatly wrapped and unlabelled, are in the large barn at the back of our new house. They have been there for several weeks now as we moved them in anticipation of a moving date nearly a month ago. The plants from the garden, cuttings from the greenhouse, precious bits of bushes and shrubs are all lined up behind the barn just like a garden centre on the last leg of a sale.
It is so curiously disorientating this moving business. I am finding it hard to read, to settle to any kind of writing, even the donkey writing that needs doing before we leave. I have the list of magazine emails, competition entry forms on my computer but dates pass and nothing is sent off or done. It’s as if there is a real block sitting in the front of my head. Sometimes I can almost feel it, want to shift it bodily with my hand.
This is several weeks of nothing much happening apart from cleaning and making meals – there are no long term domestic tasks, no garden produce to pick and freeze or make into jam or sauces, pickles or puddings. It is the kind of ‘free’ time that I usually long for when I can read, write and think without interruption. Except that I can’t. Something in the loop in my head, going round and round over the trivial and unnecessary, uses up all the creative energy. I am so tired I fall asleep in front of the telly, then I go to bed and later creep down here to try and do something and to escape the weird memory fall that cascades into my empty brain. It is an anxious, feeling memory game. Guilt and regret about things left undone, words unsaid, unkind and thoughtless actions that must have hurt and disturbed people in the past.
I am remembering clearly names and details of things from long ago – it’s a bit worrying as I think about how old people, losing their grip on the everyday and immediate, retreat into old memories and early parts of their lives. I am very aware of my age in a way that I have never been before.
I felt today as if I was too old to start again, as if I had left everything too late. Then something lovely happened. Kay left me her new Bloodaxe Anthology ‘In Person: World Poets’, that has a DVD accompanying it. There are interviews and readings from different poets from all over the world. So my empty sitting room today has entertained Robert Adamson, Tomas Transtromer, Jack Mapanje and, most wonderfully, 94 year old Ruth Stone talking about her life from her house in the Vermont hills. Nearly blind at the time of the interview she says her poems by heart and her voice as she speaks is so strong and moving. And there she is, old as the hills, with a smile on her face, and a wonderfully engaging way of communicating. Tomas Transtromer, whose poetry I had not read a lot of, with his gentle face and loving wife supporting him, wrote two volumes of poetry and a memoir after suffering a stroke that left him without us of his right hand and unable to speak.
Where is the end? It’s in our own heads and hearts. It is in the refusal to attend to the immediate moment, to allow the spool to unspool and to spoil as it weaves in and out of reality, boredom and the past.
So here I am, in the small hours, sitting in this echoey room, at the unfamiliar table, starting to marshal the thoughts, to string together words, to regret the waste of time, to know that there are many times ahead of positive, happy and productive life. A new house, small and undemanding will be a good place to write. Like my earlier writing pod I made in my Park home in Falmouth there will be less Adlerian demands from the domestic front. There is a small garden with a wall on two sides, trees with red candles of flowers and a hedge around it – it seems to be the perfect retreat for writing in, on my green round table and a garden chair.
I am looking forward, I am writing about it, I feel the need to communicate again. I have my most important books with me. Robert Knox seems pertinent in his own dislocation and need to make a new home in an unfamiliar place. I will start working on the Knox poems again tomorrow. Now I will go quietly to bed, unwoven, relaxed, feeling whole again and thankful to my friends who are my imagined audience.