Life histories

Doing Ottolenghi-style things with asparagus, new French beans, baby potatoes, baby fennel, new pink garlic, tender creamy goat’s cheeses. Grated ginger, fresh limes, wild lettuce leaves, rocket, salads with toasted sesame seeds and lemon zest that  have crunch and aliveness and flavour in every bite.


Reading and considering JM Coetzee’s question to a psychoanalyst on her approach to the truths of  clients’ lives:

What is it that impels you, as a therapist, to want your patient to confront the truth about themselves, as opposed to collaboration or colluding in a story—let us call it a fiction, but an empowering fiction—that would make the patient feel good about themself, good enough to go out into the world better able to love and work?


Is consolation and fantasy inimical to living an ethical and honest life? I’m wondering this as I work on a fiction that is at core an exercise in truth-telling even if it is not  a simple recall of ‘what happened’. As I blanch fine beans in ice water and fan out slices of ripe avocado, whisk olive oil and lemon juice with Dijon mustard, I’m working out another scene featuring a character determined not to confront her past. We need the truth in our lives, we need to have people around us capable of telling us truths we may not like to hear. My character  chooses to inhabit a blurry and indistinct space and  when she looks in the mirror she sees only a wavering fog of self-pity, delusion, comfort-seeking. A sentence from Jacqueline Rose comes back to me: I do believe that if you negotiate these things as complex aspects of your own psyche then you will not have to subordinate other people to the project of lying to yourself.”


As straightforward and powerful as that. The salad splashed with dressing and ready for lunch in the garden, life histories rolling around like boulders in a swift-moving stream, shifting position and catching the sun on their shoulders.

A tongue from dust

Lost two blog posts, not sure how — carelessness and the irresolute nature of that button so boldly reading SAVE.

Great soft grey-green mounds of sage and origanum in the herb garden, far more than I need. Roses flowering white and a baby-faced pink. Sharp melodic song of the African cuckoo, the piet-my-vrou concealed in a leafy Dombeya or wild pear tree: jug-whit-hoo, jug-whit-whoo. Plum trees scattering confetti.


The housemate has knee pain and a torn ligament. She is waiting to hear back from the orthopedic surgeon and I am waiting to hear from her. Sick with helplessness and anxiety of  course, but  that is  the nature of life, of relationships, the smooth and the rough, the awkwardly rough.


Sat and forged out, eked out, the draft of a longer fiction, good in places but half-formed and inexact too, ugly stiff writing because I am trying something new. It is always like this. My hand cramped as I held the pen over a lined notebook and then fingers hesitant on the keyboard. My mouth dry, saying and unsaying sentences in my head. All the other submissions for the month have gone, winging their way through the ether, flickering into virtual life in someone else’s mind. Now only this remains: entering the text, I can see the oblong white of the window and  if I squint, a corner of the street, but I can’t  get through the doorway or walk around the room. A character has her back to me, dark red peonies are wilting in a grey vase on the  table. Dust thickening on surfaces.


In among the tiresome self-mythologising presentations on Facebook, this post from a young woman whose mother died a month or two ago: You taught me everything I needed except how to live without you.


From Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem The Words Collide

She wants to tell her dream to the only one
who will get the drift. How she saw their children lying
every one dressed out in their simplest fears. They glowed,
the shape of their sentence outlined in sea green.
Among those beloved exiles
one sighed happy, as a curtain
lightened and the grammar changed, and the wall
showed pure white in the shape of a bird’s wing.


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