The alien chameleon

One big problem with being adopted is no one understands how much it feels like you are an alien. Anne Heffron puts it very simply, “You want to hear my generalized story of the adoptee in six words? Something is wrong. No one understands.”

Possibly if adopted as a young child then people would see that you had a history with parents or foster parents or in an institution of some kind, but I was placed for adoption immediately, with the gap of only seven weeks between birth and adoption and no one thought that was time to have a history. I don’t know when the cut off is, my brother was three months old when he was put up for adoption and no one thought he had a history either, even though he had been with his birth mother all that time, and cried for a full day when first he came home with our mum and dad. He cried until he was exhausted and then was fractious, but no one thought about the trauma to him of losing his mother, suddenly and completely.

Another point made by the wonderful Anne Heffron (an adoptee who wrote “You don’t Look Adopted”, the book which began my current flurry of writing) is this; imagine being suddenly removed from one life completely then confusingly placed somewhere unknown and randomly told to get on with it with people you don’t know, where you can have no contact with your previous family or life, where if you are upset by this they simply don’t understand why. Now imagine this happening to an adult. It’s called kidnapping and is a criminal offence. But that is how closed adoption works, where files are sealed and no contact is allowed. I know it’s different now in many cases, but this is how it was for my adoption.

By the time I reached mum and dad (I use this nomenclature to be less clumsy than adopted mum or adopted dad, and actually mum and dad were the roles they were in, successfully or not) I was on my third mother through having been fostered, so the alien syndrome was already present. It is now known that newborn and very young babies are responding to their mother and she mirrors them, she smells right and she has the other half of the bond they share fixed before birth, the biological bond that is our animal heritage birthright. Of course, an adopted mother, even if she is the most loving and devoted parent can have none of these advantages, she is on the back foot before she begins.

I am not an expert in the biology and psychology of these areas, there are many good references on bonding, attachment, and separation trauma, starting for me with John Bowlby and Donald Winnicott. Initially, I learned most of what I know in relation to adoption and these issues from Nancy Verrier, who wrote “The Primal Wound” and “Coming Home to Self”, both of which are go-to reference books for me in dealing with the adoption issues. Read them for lots of sense, and referenced and researched science.

The bit of science that seems relevant here is the limbic regulation that the mother provides to her baby, to soothe and to give a feeling of security. This is part of a neurochemical bond and without it, the child feels overwhelmed and this causes a large part of the traumatised response that maternal separation induces. I imagine my little mind was full of confusion and loss, the limbic overload of trying to mirror and connect but not getting the right signals, maybe not any signals given my mum was not a cuddler or an empathetic mother. My baby needed to connect to stay alive, literally, the baby is helpless and all they have is this connection.

There appear to be two responses to this lack of connection in adopted children; to be compliant or to act out in the external world their rage and despair. I was a compliant baby – a “good” baby, mum said. When the Adoption Society conducted a welfare visit on 24 March I was reported to be on three meals a day and sleeping through each night. I was 15 weeks old.  The reptile brain operates very basically: do what is asked of you and be safe, anything else and they might abandon you too. I conformed and slowly turned into a very proficient chameleon.

Growing up it felt normal to feel alien, it was the water I swam in. I didn’t look like anyone I knew and felt disconnected and abstract for much of the time. I continued to be a compliant and quiet child, the chameleon. But more of this anon, I feel the need to process what is written here already, stay with the newly adopted Baby and be with her.

The Gap

“You were chosen”. These words are said carefully by parents who adopt, but they are not true. They are meant to make up for the fact that there is a silence, a gap in history not spoken about, the gap between being born and being adopted of which nothing is known in any closed adoption. This gap for me is 7 weeks, which is how old I was when I passed to my adopted parents.

The words are not true because you are not chosen from a range like selecting a brand of washing powder from the supermarket shelves or a new car with a variety of options in a showroom. No, not chosen, you are delivered like information on a piece of real estate, in a letter with your particulars and those (that are known) of your anonymous birth parents. The new parents can then accept or reject you, as my adopted parents had already rejected one baby on the grounds they (read my mum and grandmother) didn’t think the baby would be intelligent enough. Mum was already, unconsciously perhaps, emulating her cruel mother by loving conditionally, even before this baby was able to talk.

Then you are collected, like a parcel from the post office. In my case, there were six days between letter and delivery. You don’t, however, come with instructions so everyone is feeling the burn of the change; no nine months to get used to it, read up, or plan anything in the case of parenting, and no way of helping the baby understand what was going on. Like a plant, I went into transplant shock and I am still dealing with it today.

The big trouble is until about 1990 no one realised that babies noticed the difference. The separation from biological mother postpartum is a primal wound, the bonding that begins in utero is the start of a continuum, so bonding does not begin at birth. Thinking about it that would make no sense – the baby is literally formed from the mother’s cells, within the mother’s body – she grows a fully formed human connected by a blood pumping cord – how could they not be attached even at birth!

I blame Descartes! The separation of body and mind. And a human history of arrogantly thinking ourselves  “above” being an animal. Of course a baby separated from its mother is hurt and terrified, we see it happening in all animals – it is not natural and it is a trauma. In terms of understanding it from an adopted child’s point of view, I recommend The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier. It’s where I started my journey into all this 20 years ago.

So, that was me, traumatised, in an alien environment for the second time (having spent four weeks in foster care) with an alien mother, who, as I’ve described previously, was ill-equipped for mothering any baby.

But still, the world kept turning.

The Mothership

What does “mother” mean? How does it shift if I consider that I have a birth mother, a foster mother and an adopted mother? I understand intellectually the dictionary definition – mother means a female parent, but that is what they are, not what they do.

Maybe, simply, I can describe a mother’s role to be responsible for mothering? Mothering seems to be encapsulated by the word nurturing, defined in my dictionary with phrases such as feed and protect, support and encourage, bring up and educate. OK, where do my three mothers fit into all those?

Down the rabbit hole we go…

I was conceived on a ship that my birth mother took from Australia to England where she had a short relationship with a member of the crew. She got off the ship 10,000 miles away from home and pregnant.

I arrived three weeks early and very quickly by all accounts. Consequently, I was delivered at her home in London by a paramedic. I was then with her for three weeks. In that time did she mother me, was I nurtured?  As I write this I don’t know if I was fed by my birth mother. Clearly, I was fed, but by her milk? She has been back in my life 14 years and I have never thought to ask this question! For two of those weeks we were in hospital where, she reports, staff were surprised I was to be adopted, so I am deducing that she did look after me as any new mum would.

The last week we had together before I was fostered was spent at a “Mother and Baby” Home. I wonder what protecting went on?  She was only just 19, I imagine she needed support and encouragement and protecting too, were we vying for the emotional care and the physical resources that were available? I find it heartbreaking that this week was Christmas and New Year and I don’t imagine there was much celebrating going on, while now my Baby-self remembers and cries at Christmas.

I was taken to the foster mother, Mrs Jones, by my birth mother. While I was there my maternal grandmother flew in from Australia, no mean feat in 1966, and was helping/hindering her daughter in the details of my despatch. There has been talk of her wanting my birth mother to keep me, of her asking where the baby was in her very late years after being overtaken by dementia. But my birth mother has always maintained that I was to be adopted and she wanted me to have two parents. It always was her decision, she says. During the search for my birth mother, I was given access to my adoption file, a thin and meagre set of papers that the social worker seemed to be embarrassed about for its lack of detail. However, within its contents was one telling handwritten note: “Mrs Jones reports, the girl’s mother won’t even look at the baby and the girl’s father, still in Australia, refuses even to discuss the matter, therefore, adoption is the only answer”.

I know less about the four weeks I spent in the foster home. Were there other children or babies there? Did Mrs Jones look after me with others or just her? What was it like there? I know that my adopted mother said, disparagingly, I arrived with nappy rash so she thought I had a bit less nurturing than necessary, obviously! However, I know nothing more of that time except when I left I had spent over half of my life in that house. I do know that January, the span of which covers my time with this temporary mother, has always been a tricky emotional sea for me to navigate each year and I am sadly familiar with the bleakness that can’t always be squared away with it being wintery outside.

I arrived with my adopted parents, (who I shall refer to here as mum and dad) at seven and half weeks, moving on to my third mother. This woman was already an adopted mother to a three and a half-year-old boy. Still, I am unsure how ready she was to be a mother. She had had five days notice by letter of my impending availability when she and my adopted dad travelled to collect me. This time I was destined to stay and was legally adopted at 5 months.

This mother was ill-equipped psychologically for her nurturing role. She suffered from clinical depression, not yet diagnosed at my arrival, but it manifested over the rest of her life in ways that blighted our family and created much despair for her and for me (and others). She was such a damaged individual herself; reared by parents who wanted a boy, who demanded academic excellence and dominated by a mother who was cold in her emotional neglect and cruel in harsh judgment – she once said to my mum it was a good job that she and my adopted father could not have children as heaven knows what they would have produced! Permanently feeling a failure on all counts and battered by life, my mum fell into severe depression and never really recovered for over fifty years.

Unfortunately, having such a poor role model, my mum fixated on the practical details of mothering; we were washed and clothed and fed and educated. We were not protected or nurtured; we were not loved, cuddled or supported emotionally. I remember even as a small child how I felt her lack of connection with me when washing my hair or cutting my nails; she would hold me or move me like I was an object, an inanimate thing, not warm or caring in touch or sensation.  I know now it was her lack of empathy, her inability to feel or to understand what the other feels, but then it just felt remote, harsh and strange, and it left me with a sense of being a burden or an inconvenience, a feeling which I still find hard to shake in relationships today.

I was desperate to connect; adoption leaves the child with the adoption grief – the loss of the mother – at whatever age this occurs. Sadly, my adopted mother was not available for connection, and I know this upset her terribly from conversations we had when I was an adult. She regretted not hugging us, not cuddling us but it was too late and patterns were concreted in. She said she didn’t feel she could love or was loved by anyone and I tried, desperately, to be there for her and to love her, ending in a childhood too full of caring for her, helping dad to care for her. She told me she could love me more if I was her natural daughter. This when I was 14 during one of the late night heart to hearts when I became a surrogate therapist. But it was all one way; I never dared to tell anything of mine for fear of breaking her, upsetting her to the point of collapse, which was often threatened. Being asked to stay away when I was at university, by my dad, because my being at home caused rows and upset her; being yelled at to effectively choose which of my mothers I would be loyal too when I was an adult and had successfully searched for  my birth mother; having been asked at 18 if I thought they should split up because I was so upset just before my A Levels began that I had my mum by the neck and was screaming “It’s all your fault!” over and over into her face. These, all these, lead me to suspect my mothering left a lot to be desired.

It may be unsurprising then that I decided not to be a mother myself. I felt totally unmaternal and completely put off the child rearing idea. Once I had decided, even after a failed attempt at pregnancy, that I was not cut out for it I was more settled. With all that I recount here and the instinctual feeling that I couldn’t be a mother, that Mothership sailed and I remained a childless mother as well as a motherless child.

I am learning to mother myself now.

 

Moving into Myself

This winter a transformation began to crystallize. Before, it was swirling around; I was aware of it but now it feels more grounded and available to me. Since dad died last August I have noticed the small voice that I knew as the Grown-up – my adult self – has been getting stronger. This is not exactly a voice of reason as it holds many emotions,  but more a still centeredness, an assuredness, and the gift of fielding my reactions and allowing me to respond appropriately.

Previously, I have felt a tsunami of feelings when I am upset or angry. I have not always been able to avoid being swept away into a reaction that is devastating and damaging to myself or others around me. I would yell, cry, maybe even leave the building, and then repeat if pursued. This is a catastrophic limbic reaction, I know, and I found it impossible to contain, until now. More often I find that if I feel upset or angry I can hold that in, return to it and while breathing through it, not open my mouth to shout or feel an overwhelming urge to run away. I can literally face the emotions that are coming up. I have a new image; a dam wall holding back the water and I can operate sluice gates to let a little emotion out, and then a little more. It isn’t perfect and sometimes the dam wall breaks anyway, but it is beginning to feel more enduring and I am beginning to trust it will stick around!

I am sure that mum’s death, now three years ago, began this change, enabling me, freeing up space in my head (and in the physical world), to move more into Myself, hear my Grown-up, and feel the corresponding groundedness that accompanied it. Mum and I had a complex relationship. This is another blog post in itself I am guessing but here are the headlines; my adoption issues and her depression, the contorted family relationships and our repeated failures to be the mother and daughter we needed led to much pain and heartache. Her death was a release from the binds of this relationship and so I could stretch, begin to move into Myself.

I also think that being 50 became a turning point as in the last year since that birthday the sense of Myself has been stronger. I am amazed because this last year chiefly has been full of all the parental woes; illness; aging; incapacity and finally death. J and I have been juggling three parents in these difficult stages in practice whilst also trying to handle the emotional minefields that these circumstances created. The amazement is because, looking back, I have not only managed myself through these tricky waters I have also grown and changed in this period. In times gone by I would have felt I was continually bailing the boat of myself, the leaky vessel would be getting worse, not better. I have the definite feeling that I am mending the holes in the boat – healing not constantly bailing and just barely managing to keep afloat. This is both a surprise and a joy.

Being 50 and being free of my parental relationships released me into something that I didn’t know I needed; permission to be Myself. I will continue to navigate this opening way and hope to record it here.

 

 

 

 

Dad’s story – my eulogy read at his funeral

James Peter Arnold was born in May 1933 in Swanage on the Isle of Purbeck, Dorset. His parents ran a small holding in the neighbouring village of Corfe Castle where his dad was also a driving instructor.

Dad spent his first eleven years in Corfe, sharing life with his parents, his sister, Jill, born a few years later and his cousins who also lived in Dorset. He went to the village primary school to begin with but his parents had aspirations for him so at eight he went to Hillcrest Preparatory school in Swanage.

I think he enjoyed those days in Dorset, he told me of walking over the fields to Dancing Ledge and swimming in the sea, as well as being out on the hills over Corfe Common.

Growing up around animals on the smallholding his love of all things furry and four legged was born and we can think now of his menagerie of cats and dogs that accompanied him through his life.

At eleven he was sent to Gresham’s, a boarding school near Holt in Norfolk and he remained there completing A levels. His parents dreamt of a doctor in the family but unfortunately, dad was not too great at science!

He spent the next five years working in and around London at London Transport and at Vickers, both in admin posts. He was heard proudly boasting in later years of having signed the Official Secrets Act at Vickers, but of course, he couldn’t say why!

In 1956, at 23, he applied to the School of Librarianship at Loughborough College, where he spent a couple of years becoming a Chartered Librarian, the career he would follow for the rest of his working life.

He loved the classification work and the book binding elements of the course particularly. And it was here that he met Alfreda, our mum.

They were married in March 1959, a small wedding with just close family. They started out married life in Northamptonshire but jobs moved them around the country. By the time Chris, their son arrived in 1963 they were living in Clacton on Sea and by the time Rosemary arrived (that’s me!)  in 1966 they were living in Wall Heath in the suburbs of Birmingham.

Mum and dad could not have children of their own so Chris and I were adopted. Sometimes this fact feels easy and sometimes more difficult, but dad never once made a distinction; we are his children he would say and nothing else was important.

1968 saw a move to Doncaster and dad became a district librarian with particular responsibilities for the mobile libraries.  I think this was a job he really enjoyed and would like to have stayed in but the local government reform of 1974 saw his job literally disappear as the West Ridings vanished!

The family moved first to the moors over the west side of Doncaster and then finally to Mirfield as dad got a senior job in Kirklees libraries, based in Huddersfield. He stayed there until he was made redundant in 1985.

During all these moves and changes, one constant for the family was the annual pilgrimage at half term down to Dorset to see family and friends. Dad’s dad had died suddenly in 1960 and I know this was a massive loss for him, his sister moved away to live in Switzerland and married over there so only his mum remained and she stayed in Corfe until she died in 1998.

Every year we would go and stay with Granny Goose, we all called her this as one legacy from the small holding days was she still kept geese in her back garden. Dad’s Uncle Emil and Auntie Joan lived at the seaside at Swanage so some days were spent down there as a family or on Studland beach nearby.

Dad didn’t have a great number of hobbies during his working life but he had inherited a stamp collection from his grandfather on his 21st birthday so this was where his love of classification and order would be exhibited. He was not a fastidious man in many ways (who can forget the cat haired trousers and the fights to get him to change out of them to go out for meals!?) but the stamp collection in big leather bound files with thick squared paper pages classified by country was pristine. Sunday afternoon he would spend sorting and sticking in collections that arrived, first day covers or single stamps he wanted.

His other great love was, as I have said, the furries that he chose to spend his life with. His beloved Susan, the spaniel he had as a young man, and then Furzy and Pearl, the dog and cat Chris and I knew first as children.  Then numerous cats and dogs, all special in their own way and all, of course, great providers of the pet hair we fought over!

Dad seemed to have a way of collecting waif and strays so the pets he had were always from shelters or ones that literally came in from the street.  In the later years he and I shared many calls over Tommy, the feral ginger tomcat he worked really hard to tame. Then there was Jack who was so timid he literally hid under cupboards. Dad got them to come to him and it was immensely pleasing for him to succeed at gaining their trust and love.

His special attention was also directed outside, where he always put food out for the birds and particularly at Great Hale he was delighted with “his” family of hedgehogs always fed in the shed.

After his working life was done, dad was heavily involved in voluntary work. He used to visit Kirkwood Hospice in Huddersfield and drive for visitors and patients there. Once he and mum moved to Lincolnshire to retire in 1991 he was involved in the hospice in Sleaford as well as the voluntary car service in Heckington, where they lived.

Dad was fond of secrets, so he was ideal for a secret society and he became a Freemason during his forties and remained so for many years, joining lodges in Yorkshire and his alumni, Greshams. I am not sure this was a popular move for everyone as mum was upset about the time it took up and Granny had religious reservations. Nevertheless, he persevered and rose through their ranks, changing the colour of his pinny (his word!) as he went!

The regalia were kept pristine, in sharp contrast to his other attire; I remember as a child we always had running conversations about where the yolk from his breakfast boiled egg might end up on his tie!

As part of the Arnold family heritage he became a liveryman of the Fishmongers’ Company, when he was 21, as his father and grandfather had before him. Fishmongers is one of the oldest livery guilds in the City of London and has close ties to his school, Gresham’s.

Invitations to black tie dinners in the Fishmongers’ Hall by Blackfriars, and to the oldest sculling race in the country, the Doggett’s Coat and Badge, along the Thames were exciting to attend and dad tried to rotate his invitations so everyone in the wider family had a trip down to London.

Dad was not always the easiest of people to be with or to know. As his family, we saw the stresses and strains of his life and the struggles he had at times, but I know he lived in Great Hale as he wished and was more content here.

He had his animals and he had his own particular habits. He loved to read thrillers and crime stories and he would always enjoy a good classic old film on the telly, as well as liking a variety of musical styles from baroque and early church music to jazz and swing, but he never modernised beyond about 1950 to be honest! This lot plus his voluntary work and such groups as Probus filled his time well.

He relished time travelling with cruising on the high seas being a great pleasure. Sometimes he and mum would go off but he also went round the Baltic and across to the Caribbean as a solo traveller.

He gave Chris and me a huge gift last year when he bought us, as a family, a 5-day cruise on the Saga Pearl. We mended bridges and cleared air that needed clearing, and he gifted us the opportunity to become a family again.  I will always be grateful to him for that, particularly as largesse was not his usual style!

He was very distressed when mum passed away in 2014 and although their marriage had its ups and downs they lived in a sort of symbiosis and it was a tough blow when she died so suddenly.

His own physical health was always a struggle and he succumbed to a heart attack only a year later, as well as beginning the tricky period where falling became a real issue. This led to an unfortunate stay in Boston Pilgrim in September last year, whereupon he was so ill it was deemed unsafe for him to return home to live alone.

This was when York House in Billinghay came into our lives. He went there last October and lived there until his death, being rude to staff and blustering at every opportunity! My brother and I both visited with our partners at various times over his stay and over his last week in particular. I can say we were all moved by the level of affection and care he garnered from the staff; for all his grumpy old man (his words, again) he had a blue eyed twinkle and a little wry smile that was hard to resist even when he was being outrageous!

As I have made phone calls and talked to people about him after his death they have said he was funny or he was clever or witty, and I have heard he was loved. Thank you to all those here, and elsewhere, that helped him when we, his family, could not.

His attitude to being over there (gesture to the coffin) can really be summed up in a comment from him. Chris, Jane, John and I sat in his room at York House the afternoon after he died doing some initial sorting out, we sat as a family and laughed and cried as you do at these times.

Dad’s love of order had been so systematic that he had planned for events that needed to be attended to after his death.  He had given to Chris some years ago a Life Book as a way to annotate the necessary actions for dealing with any illness, and to help us at this sad time. Dad only wanted it to be used after he died so a section about medication was completed in his spidery writing. It said “Not filled in because when this is read I will be dead” and dead was underlined twice.

RIP 30.05.1933  – 08.08.2017

Thoughts for a new year

I haven’t written anything for so long, hardly even journal entries, so it was quite a surprise today to be sitting in the car, unusually travelling in the back, and for words to come unexpectedly. I was in the back because my father in law was coming to stay and needed to be in the front with J. I was musing on how I felt at the start of this visit compared to other visits and these words came to me:

“If I let my mind stop insisting
that all will not be well,
I can feel a small sense
of peace I hear tell from others
more serene than myself”

This after I had read Mary Oliver’s powerful poem, Snow Geese

Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last!
What a task
to ask
of anything, or anyone,
yet it is ours,
and not by the century or the year, but by the hours.
One fall day I heard
above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound
I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was
a flock of snow geese, winging it
faster than the ones we usually see,
and, being the color of snow, catching the sun
so they were, in part at least, golden. I
held my breath
as we do
sometimes
to stop time
when something wonderful
has touched us
as with a match,
which is lit, and bright,
but does not hurt
in the common way,
but delightfully,
as if delight
were the most serious thing
you ever felt.
The geese
flew on,
I have never seen them again.
Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.
Maybe I won’t.
It doesn’t matter.
What matters
is that, when I saw them,
I saw them
as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.

What gorgeous gifts to receive on New Year’s Day!

Thoughts…

Today so far have read uplifting things and had a lovely soulful chat with John… these really really helped. I talked about how amazing it is that my life feels so different in such a short time: dad, Chris, my own personal growth and some adult self that seems more certain and appears to stay around more often. All in this current year! Plus my lovely group of new friends, again all since the start of this year! Wow!

I am going to stay with the positive, Judy gave me a good bit of advice yesterday, she said she uses the criteria of how much shit would she bear and what is the most emotionally good thing for her to do (we were talking in the context of our families and the aged parents/siblings etc ) when deciding how involved or what actions she takes. I think this might work for me in anything! So, I adopt it and today I did not start by reading the news or anything of the fuckwittery in the world of men, or depressing stuff. I read Brainpickings and some intelligent and thoughtful writing, I wrote a couple of good communicating emails to ladies in my life who care, and then I had an honest and soulful conversation with John. These feed me… I need to remember!

It is not that all the things we speak of are joyous and light, but hard and emotionally heavy things are easier when shared with a good connection and soul friends, and with John… that leaves me feeling blessed that I have these opportunities.

I feel like I have been wordless for a while. I appear to have found some!!

Awake August – small stones

The Writing Our Way Home people  ( http://www.writingourwayhome.com)  have begun an August project where we write and share a small stone poem for each day of August.  A small stone is described as “a few words that point to a moment” and given that I have had a dry July it feels like a way back in to writing. I will post one small stone here each day through August, and take it from there…

August 1st

Trees breeze in
as rain tickles leaves
and wind pats them dry

August 2                                                     Grapes

Small green parcels
bunching up
juicy pockets of pip and pulp.
Homegrown!

August 3

A deathly hush in the doctors’ waiting room
sharply broken
by a toddler’s shrill scream
struggling with a red toy car

August 4

Spilt soil, I stand and stare,
the back dirt sinks into the carpet
as I watch.
I clear up the earth silently
surprised by my own serenity!

August 5

Small white Apple flickers
I wait impotent as updates
with new defences are added.
Being mindful of this moment
I write a small stone.

August 6

Furious flying through the garden
a sudden silence –
birds are not twittering.

A single feather floats down.

August 7

i am trying to ignore the cat, she makes sure I hear her displeasure.

August 8

Coming from the west
our man-made moon
sails across the space above
setting silently as a star
in the east

August 9

Small green eating machineimage
Stomach on legs
Camouflaged
Except for the small black dots
Discarded on my kitchen counter
Telltale signs of my basil stowaway

August 10

Pied mischief makers
pile into the garden
bouncing across the lawn, clacking
barging and strutting
intimidating pigeons and sparrows alike.

Mealworm treats entice
more strident mobsters each day,
this morning, thirteen.
Unlucky for some!

August 11

A found poem:

How Does a Caterpillar Turn into a Butterfly?

To become a butterfly, a caterpillar first digests itself.
But certain groups of cells survive,
turning the soup into eyes, wings, antennae.

The story begins with a very hungry caterpillar
hatching from an egg.
The caterpillar stuffs itself with leaves,
growing plumper and longer
One day, the caterpillar stops eating,
hangs upside down from a twig or leaf
spins itself a silky cocoon

But
How does a caterpillar rearrange itself into a butterfly?

First, the caterpillar digests itself,
enzymes dissolve all of its tissues.
If you cut open a cocoon at just the right time,
caterpillar soup would ooze out.

A group of cells known as imaginal discs
survive the digestive process.
A disc for each of the adult body parts
Some caterpillars walk around with tiny rudimentary wings
tucked inside their bodies,
though you would never know it by looking at them.

Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues
the discs use the protein-rich soup all around them
to fuel rapid cell division required to form
wings, antennae, legs, eyes,
Certain caterpillar muscles are preserved in the adult butterfly.
Moths remember what they learned
in later stages of their lives as caterpillars.

Getting a look at this metamorphosis as it happens is difficult;
disturbing a caterpillar inside its cocoon
risks botching the transformation.

A Tussah silkmoth failed to spin a cocoon
see the delicate, translucent jade wings, antennae and legs
a glimpse of what usually remains concealed.

August 12

Piles of clothing on the bed
some new, like today new,
some old and worn.
What to pack?
An enigma, quandary
and drama!

August 13

Long lunch with a lovely friend,
talk turns to sweet smelling toilet facilities
and eucalyptus.
Let’s bottle koala farts
that would do the trick!

August 14

Birds busy at the feeders;
table full of blackbirds kicking seed,
variety of tits on nuts.
And a rabbit
Where does he fit in?

August 15

Evening clouds,
shepherds delighted all across the county.

August 16image

Quiet room

cool space.
Under the stairs
a window on the world beyond
it’s hot out there!

August 17

Red juice slow dripsimage
Gin soaked raspberries
dangle
Muslin stains in its work
While I relish the results.

 

August 18

Today’s work is pulling thistles
Feels like I am pulling up my roots
Scotland is far far away

August 19

Builders’ hammering.
Nail guns sound
like shotguns.

I need to beat a retreat.

August 20

In the dying daylight I go out
in the dusk to put hedgehog food
in the bowl, the rustling wind
In the trees reminds me I am
in the moment, listening.

August 21

Sunday morning
casually read the news
a growing sense of abhorrence.
Above the line all gold medals
honour and smiles.
Below, horror, rape and terror
relegated into silver.

August 22

A box is opened today
packed in a previous life
revealing lost treasures
suddenly it is 1991
and I am marrying
for the first time

August 23

Cloud watching from the hammock
on this humid afternoon
a cheetah running
followed by an ice skate
just one…
more swirling and it turns
into a suit of armour

August 24

Green fields
speeding train
a bolt of black and white
the sheepdog bounds
chasing the carriages

August 25

Summer rain
beats on the windows
of my glass house
Summer feels like autumn
days are colder, shorter
Mist clouds
my vision

August 26

Busy days but not much present
I stop to breathe and catch the time
standing still
waiting for me to notice

August 27

The neatness of my packed suitcase
contradicts the chaos in my head.

August 28

Yesterday all about travelling,
stop, start, stop, stop
mostly stop on the M25

Overnight we have turned French
And we are stopped again
much happier this time!

August 29

Ruth must know something!

The healing power of waves
and a family rift is flowing closed
I will return from this time on the water
A sister once again

August 30

The murmuring shush of the sea
softens the burbling banter
of the biddies
as we await the ferry

August 31

Me: I went into the ladies and there was a male steward handling an orchid.

Husband: That’s a small stone right there!

The Alchemy of Poetry

The next few months look like they will hot up in the writing life stakes. I have joined a local writing group where the majority of members seem to be poets, and I am attending a local (different) group where, at the January meeting, I am due to read my own work to the unsuspecting public (which is really other, very sympathetic, poets!) I have also signed up for a four-month course to learn the craft of poetry creation more formally, and I am looking forward to this very much indeed.  It has a well-known poet as the tutor and only a small group of students so I should get some good feedback and learn lots.

This exposition takes care of what is happening out in the external world to feed the soul with new inputs and to create threads to hold me to the work that I need to do, but that is only half the story. Recently I have been thinking about the alchemy of poetry and the connection it has to my heart and soul. The ability for what look like ordinary words on the page to take on this magical property when in the right order and turn into an exquisite masterpiece of language and meaning – to make something opaque appear transparent, (or even something always thought of as clear look opaque!)

Through the work of David Whyte and Oriah MD, plus many other more, I have seen poetry work on a soulful level. The books by Roger Housden  in the series “Ten poems  to…”,  particularly the first one “Ten Poems to Change Your Life” are full of such work, and essays about how they have done just that. These writers make for inspirational reading. Sometimes though it is hard to see what it is that is being said – there is a certain way to look at poetry, a bit of an art to reading and absorbing a poem (like the art needed when looking at Magic Eye 3D pictures from my younger days!).

Kim Rosen says the following in her book “Saved by a Poem: The transformative power of words”:

In order to enter poetry’s language, your grip on habitual, left-brained ways of processing information needs to soften. Somehow we know how to do this with music and art. You probably wouldn’t try to figure out the exact meaning of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or Ella Fitzgerald’s scat singing. Nor are you likely to do a pragmatic analysis of an abstract painting by Georgia O’Keeffe or Jackson Pollock. You feel these art forms. You allow associations to play through your awareness. You let your linear mind relax and go for the ride.

As you read poems, listen to them, and speak them aloud, try meeting them as you would a piece of music. Allow your rational, linear brain to relax. Dare to not understand, to lose your grip on making sense of the words. Let the images, like musical notes, pour over you. The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard writes that poetry “comes before thought . . . [R]ather than being a phenomenology of the mind, [poetry] is a phenomenology of the soul.”

This is beginning to make sense to me; the alchemy of turning words into poetry and the language of the soul. I hope to be doing more of this in my own work and finding the soul food in others’ poetry as I really start to understand and appreciate the magic in making of verse.