Return to the Forest
I’ve gone back to the forest that surrounds the Ella Valley. I’ve gone back to brisk and not so brisk walks into the depths of the forest, where the trees bend over you as you walk and the winter sun filters through the leaves. At this time of the year, the colors are particularly bright. It’s cyclamen season, it’s daffodil season, it’s a season of incredible beauty. What I am doing on my daily walks is what the Japanese and Koreans call a forest bath. Eliot Holt talks about this in a blog post on Poets & Writers, describing how walks in the forest can clear your head and restore balance. Does it always clear my head, restore my balance? No. Does it generate ideas for writing? Oh, yes. And there is so much more to discover in this forest of mine.
I grew up in Yorkshire, UK. Most Sundays were spent on the Yorkshire Moors with my family, heads bent against the wind, trudging along. Perhaps because my head was down so much, I most remember the heather, purple and pink clouds that dotted the landscape. I tried to grow heather in my back garden a few years ago. We dug it up and packed it away in a suitcase and brought it here. It didn’t stand a chance. Some things can’t be transplanted.
I just read a wonderful piece by Roxanna Robinson in The New Yorker. It’s entitled How I Get to Write, a delicate description of how Robinson prepares herself for writing by not communicating with the outside world at all before she sits down to write. That’s very nice but, in theory, the necessities of life usually have other plans for me: getting my unwilling son up for school; dispensing TLC to one or both of my daughters by phone before they begin their own days; and other magical activities like sweeping the floor or taking the dog (and myself) out for a walk.
So how do you do it? You stop procrastinating, stop finding excuses and just do it (to quote Nike, who didn’t do badly themselves). You take yourself, plant your backside or whatever you like to call it in a chair and you start writing, or translating or whatever it is. You, Roxanna Robinson and myself. The time for heavy lifting has arrived.
The Year of Magical Reading
2012 was my year for reading. Firstly, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, a moving memoir on the first year of mourning after the death of Didion’s husband. I then went on to read Blue Nights , the sequel memoir relating the death of her daughter, Quintana. Both these books were recommended to me by E. Ethelbert Miller, a wonderful writer and literary activist who has become my very good friend this past year. I had told him of the death of my brother and, more recently, my mother. He urged me to read these books. I hesitated, to be honest, unsure whether these memoirs would be too difficult for me to read. Going down the alley of bereavement is daunting. I am so glad I read them. They helped me to gain perspective, to understand my own feelings better and to realise that mourning is legitimate and necessary. So many times I found myself nodding my head and thinking: I feel like that, too.
I also read The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, a novel on memory and a reconsideration of the past. It got me thinking about my own memories, in particular those I cannot remember and those that I have perhaps twisted and manipulated in my head over the years. Did they really happen? Did I change them? Can I remember years gone by? Is there such a thing as accuracy in memory?
I just finished Paul Auster’s latest memoir, Winter Journal. Here, Auster relates events and the emotions they conjured up with incredible detail. He describes houses he lived in, food he ate, accidents or scrapes he was in. No gaps in his memory but so many gaps in mine.
Reading for me, this year, has been a form of therapy for me and yes, sometimes an escape. I look forward to reading more in 2013.
The End of the World?
Sometimes it feels like the end of the world. They tell us it’s coming on some date or other, but soon. It felt like it had already happened last week when a gunmen killed so many children. Just look at the photos of all those smiling faces and think for yourself. Best summed up in The Onion, perhaps.
If each one of us tried, just a little, to be better, to be nicer to others, and to ourselves, perhaps it might help. It’s true you only need one crazy person to upturn everything but who knows?