It’s early evening and the day has gone quickly and I am feeling like a person who is watching the sand run out of the hourglass, and I have to remind myself that time is not my enemy, that I do not always have to be doing something. Time is a medium, it is not an active force though we are often fooled into thinking it is. Time is like air, or like water in a stream. It flows around us, we sit within it and it passes us by and there is no way of stopping or controlling it, it does not care what we do. I am the force which acts on myself. I am the one who worries about inconsequential things. I am the one who feels like I must push against something and if I can’t identify the actual thing then time is a suitable substitute. It is classic displacement. I am the rock in the stream. I am the one standing at odds of everything. If I can only make myself like water or air, I can become what flows not the barrier or obstacle to be avoided. It is no use asking time to become something else. It doesn’t speak my language. It does not recognise what I am. How can it, when I don’t know myself?
There’s something wonderful about getting up early in the morning; really early, either before dawn or just as dawn is breaking. This morning I woke at 04:30. The windows were on the latch and outside the birds were waking and singing and making a glorious racket. It was raining, the clouds obscured the sun’s appearance but it didn’t matter. As it grew lighter, as the details emerged from the night’s fuzzy colours I saw a version of the world which is largely unknown to me, occurring as it does when I am usually sleeping. It made me think about why it is that I never stay up all night talking, or watching the earth turns its nightly rotations so that I see stars I never usually see, so that I can feel the motion of the earth in space? I wonder why it is that I don’t rise at dawn regularly and simply begin the day with the flush of sunrise, the spill of light over the fields and the houses, tainting the clouds, taking it slowly and simply watching. I can make the usual excuses: I work, I have responsibilities, I need to be focused, I am expected to turn up on time, regularly, and in a fit state, but what if I didn’t now and then, would that be worse than missing all of this? The fact is I am lazy, I am compliant and I am thoughtless. I have not done these things because I never think to, because it is easier to fit into the regularity of routine and pretend it doesn’t suit me. Experiencing life is harder than simply living it. Living requires nothing more than existing, it requires no effort. Living is what happens to us whether we want it to or not. Experiencing life takes effort. It takes an effort to pay attention, to observe, to let the world work its daily magic. But it is worth it, isn’t it?
I look out onto a landscape which is washed grey and streaked with rain. There are wide open fields, trucks passing in the distance, and I can forget for a moment that it’s raining except if I focus on the glass between me and the outside world which is smeared and dripping with raindrops. It is so easy to see only what we want to see, to not see what is in front of us. A shift of perspective and I see cars on the motorway, trees, grass, I can see a sky stuffed with clouds and if I look closely enough I can perceive a slight fuzzing of the image but it’s easy to ignore. Shift my gaze again and I can see blurry streaks on the glass, rounded transparent drops that slick down and slide together, blending and merging into complex patterns. I can’t say which view is the better one.
I like to watch the rain. I like the patterns it makes on sky and surface, it’s rhythmic motion, its drumming sound. I like the way shimmering pools of birdsong emerge, cascading from tree and rooftop; how the world changes its smell and freshness seems to be released from the ground with each drop. I cannot perceive all of these things from behind this glass prison, but I can perceive other things: the way the water interacts with different surfaces, its fluidity, its perpetual motion; and the way it changes the scenery turning the colours darker and the textures less distinct, the preponderance of brollies and raincoats, the way people move or shelter. It is nothing if not interesting and it captures my attention as it once did when I was a child, trapped inside on a rainy day tracing the tracks of raindrops with my tender fingers and hoping and hoping for rainbows.
Today I went out for a walk in the park with my children, a local park which is both wild and curated. It was heading towards dusk, the sun’s rays were long and low and far-reaching, and though there were clouds in the distance, the promise of rain to come, it was pleasantly warm. We walked by the stream, past clouds of midges swirling over the slow flowing water. Carpets of bluebells past their prime competed with clusters of white pom-pom shaped flowers which gave off an onion-like scent. Buttercups bobbed in the breeze like a spillage of bright yellow paint, still flowing. We clambered up to the log throne and down again to where the water flowed over a weir. We crossed bridges and forded the stream in places where the path disappeared. On the path we stopped to take a closer look at an unusual bee. It was resting on the pathway, its body furred and barred not yellow and black but a pale cream and black and it seemed to pant there, on the path, as though it too had been busily exploring. We left it there, resting. Trees were climbed. We crossed grassy meadows. We had no plan, there was no direction and no purpose, we just walked and clambered and had a good time, out in the not entirely wild wilderness.
Today I’ve been thinking about words, I have been thinking about composition and the thrilling desire to write. What is it that creates in me this irrepressible desire for expression? Or not just expression, for the written word. There is something so mysterious about language, about the way a word or series of words can elicit a physical reaction. There are words that I love; often these words are centred around the natural world, describing something which exists in nature. I adore the names of flowers and plants: Michaelmas daisies, coltsfoot, trefoil, hollyhock, loblolly pines. These are words which create a squirming ache in my stomach, a sensation which is like the first lick of an ice cream – cold and shivery, deliciously rounded and creamy, and there’s a pleasure to it which is indescribable except that I love to try to describe it and I wonder, sometimes, if it is possible that there are really people to whom spoken language, the way it is conventionally used, is merely enough. That it is enough to say: “I like wine”, and not want to describe what it is that happens when the wine is drunk – how it tingles the tongue, the sensation of something filling the mouth with warmth, the flushing of the saliva glands – slightly painful – the acidic, berried, oaked flavour that cradles the mouth and teases the nose. Yet even these words, these descriptive leapings, are insufficient in themselves because beneath all of these words – tingles, warmth, acidic, berried, cradles – are more words, more meanings, more descriptions which defy explanation and I follow them down and down to a place where there is nothing but feeling, a cavernous spaciousness that engulfs me and it is like staring into a void and not knowing, not even beginning to know, what is out there but wanting to cast myself into it anyway.
You can’t speak to another person like this.
All day it has been raining, a gentle drizzle, off and on. The paths are dark with water and the grass and the earth where I’ve cleared it for meadow flowers. The cat goes out and comes back in again, announcing her displeasure. I lie on the sofa listening to the birds singing loud and the fuzzy sound of the rain and an aeroplane vibrating somewhere far off in the distance. It is strange to be doing nothing. I lie and I look at the ceiling and I see the ghosts of cobwebs strung between the tops of the lamps and everywhere else and I think about sweeping them away but I don’t. I listen to the clock ticking and the cat’s heavy breathing from the corner of the room where she is sleeping. I listen to the sound of my children coming in from school and I think about pretending to be asleep so they won’t bother me but I don’t. I think about getting up and watching Twin Peaks but I don’t. I lie there composing, thinking about words and things and how weird it is to simply do nothing at all, I am not used to it, I am always doing something. I guess I am still doing something, even if it’s lying on the sofa and listening to the rainfall and the birdsong and thinking about doing nothing at all.
At some point in the afternoon the weather changed. The sky has turned that oppressive yellowish-grey, darker in one direction than the other, and there’s a sense of something ominous and looming. A light wind blows, but even that is subdued, suppressed, suspended. Waiting for whatever is to come. I love this weather. There’s an anticipation, a sense of waiting for something to happen. It makes me think about the colour grey. Grey has a bad reputation, it is perceived as something uniform and bland and yet the sky is cobalt in one direction, silver in another and every gradation in between. Here and there is a hint of blue, and in some places a white patch and where the sun glints through the thin cloud it is so glaring I cannot distinguish a colour at all. I do not think there will be a storm, the heat is too tempered and the cloud cover, whilst extensive, is not heavy enough for that. But the promise is there. I smell rain in the air, a hint of that hot, damp tarmac smell that comes with rain after a period of warmth and it is one of the few instances where the synthetic, the manufactured, enhances rather than detracts from what nature gifts to us. I hope it will rain. It will be good for the grass and the flowers, good for our diminishing reservoirs, but more than anything else it is wild and dramatic, uncontrollable, a welcome change from these days of balm and empty skies.
Another beautiful day: light blue skies taper to yellow on the horizon; a chill in the air; birdsong, all the usual trimmings. What have we done to deserve a spell of such marvellous weather? Nothing, of course. Deserving / undeserving simply doesn’t come into it. There is no morality of weather. It just is. Bright, sunny, kiss of light wind, clouds fat and jolly or sweeping, sun-warmed or thunderstuck the weather does what it does and we live our lives beneath it, wishing and dreaming and turning our faces up in hope towards the sky.
At the end of the tunnel there was a door.
When the door opened,
Isn’t it always like this?
We walk through as though there is no other option.
We cannot go back.
We cannot lie down in the tunnel cradling the darkness.
The door beckons.
What is on the other side
we cannot see.
It is light.
The compulsion is to go towards it
as though the light is always welcoming
and the dark tunnel
is not where we belong.
I looked up at the sky and it was bright and blue and empty, and it was possible, for a moment, to really feel that I was looking up into space, even though it was daytime and the illusion of a great, blue dome was at its full power. There is something dizzying about looking up and realising there is nothing between us and the vast infinitude of the universe except a thin cushion of air held in place by a force we can name but don’t entirely understand, or I don’t anyway. I don’t need to see the stars to know that we are hurtling at incomprehensible speed, heading in an uncertain direction through a medium we cannot conceptualise except as a repetition of something we already know. I cannot feel this motion any more than I can feel my eyes tracking back and forth when I look out of a car or train window, though it is happening all the same. Such is the divergence of knowing and feeling. I was thinking about this and then a plane appeared, and a thin suggestion of cloud. The dome slammed down, the illusion reasserted itself and that cushion of air pressed me back down, safely, into the comfort of my chair.