A swirly blanket of ice on the car this morning; the sky translucent and beautiful. Bright berries decorating banks, filling ditches; apples bobbing at the lip of the leat. From the woodland margins flocks of migrating redwings take off with a harsh chattering clatter at my approach. I don't think I've ever seen so many fungi as this autumn, and have found myself with a new caution – I used to be so confident at identifying edible species, and have had so little time to forage the last few years that I now doubt my eye.
And now again storms and gales...
It's nearly a year since I started this blog. I've loved the journey. Walking the dog this morning I was asking myself why I started it; why I write it. Answers are numerous and tangled: it's a creative journal; it's a discipline; it's a practice; it's a way of communicating; it's a way of working things out; it's a way of sharing and making connections with like-minded others; it's a way of expressing myself; it's a way (let's be honest) of also bringing more people to my work, which is crucial when you make your living in the arts.
It's a way of remembering, when snowed under (ie 95% of the time) with admin, prep, promotion, emails, enquiries, tutoring, mentoring, writing references/blurb/reviews of friends' and students' work and one way or another facilitating others' writing, or seeking commissions/contracts/publications/future workshop opportunities, that I too write... and some days it is the only 'real' writing I do. So yes it's a way of remembering.
And mostly it's for the same reason that I write anything – because I have to: because nothing else fills that writing-shaped gap; because I feel ill, or - not quite fraudulent, maybe inauthentic – or dislocated, disenfranchised, deracinated somehow if I don't, on a psychic or spiritual level.
It's been interesting to see what things have caught my attention. I expected to write a lot more about myth and psychology, about writing poetry and novels. I didn't expect that birds would make an appearance so very often; nor that almost each post would contain nature notes. I didn't expect Zen to be as prominent.
I knew it would be addictive. I didn't quite know why. I had no idea of my audience; and I had no idea of their (your) loyalty. I had no idea when I started how much pleasure writing this would give me; nor the fact that blogging is different from other writing activities; nor how much I'd love reading others' blogs.
And I have been so touched by the kindness and generosity of so many people, commenting on the blogs here or emailing me to speak about them. A big thank you for your participation in this year – it really does make it feel like a shared conversation, a joint project, collaboration almost, and you have enriched my life.
I hesitate to start to talk of this because I'm not sure I'll stop; but otherwise it's the elephant in the room.
I am only just beginning to glimpse what it is to lose one's mother. Because my father's grief has been so huge, and because a stroke took his short term memory out five years ago which means that he rings one of us (myself or one of my three sisters) or even all of us several times a day to ask us endlessly what's happened to our mum, there has been no space to grieve ourselves (though clearly having to face it all over again many times a day means we've had to let some grief in, grief for him as much as for us). There's also, of course, all the practical stuff to do after a death.
So I haven't really let it in properly, yet; but one part of my mind is pretty constantly preoccupied with it, even as another part notices the quality of light, the buzzard in the oak tree, focuses on what needs to be done; can still laugh, still engage.
My mum had Alzheimer's. Over the last eight or so years we watched her gradually withdraw from the world. She'd had a brilliant brain; had trained as an engineer, also been a pianist and artist; was a member of MENSA; always loved language and etymology, and not long before she succumbed to the more damaging progression of Alzheimer's she completed each day, and once won, the Times crossword. Even recently she still managed to keep some aspects of her connection with language going.
It's the little things that hurt, of course: reminding myself I have to speak or think of her in the past tense; not being able to tell her one of her favourite little jokes ('Where did Napoleon keep his armies?' 'Up his sleevies') to make her smile, or listen to her making a pun or wordplay; putting back on the shelf the little treat I've just automatically picked up for her in the shop – some fudge, maybe, or some blueberry-yoghurt-coated raisins; some handcream, a magazine. Just now I picked up her address book, and the list of our names with Christmas present ideas beside them in her handwriting that fell out dealt me a blow in the solar plexus as excruciating as if it had been physical.
But really she'd already let go. Though she and I had always adored each other in a simple warm relationship, the truth is I guess she stopped being my mum some time ago.
There were compensations. She was peaceful; she lived in a constant 'now' – in her more lucid moments when she apologised for her memory losses, I'd laugh and say that she seemed to have achieved effortlessly what I'd spent all my adulthood in Buddhist practice trying and failing to achieve, and she'd laugh too. And she and my father the last few years, ironically for the same reason (memory loss) caused by different illnesses, found a happiness that would have seemed inconceivable when they were both fitter and younger, their relationship then being so turbulent and so seamed with incompatibilities. This has been the greatest gift of the last five years, in among a great deal of difficulty and pain. Never too late to have a happy marriage.
And when one comes to die, how better than with minimal suffering, at home in a peaceful room, having just seen all your family, and with your spouse holding your hand, telling you how much he loves you and how beautiful you are?