Negative

 

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If you are like me and trying to follow the diamond rather than the golden rule, sooner or later you find yourself with an excess of negativity. This other part of ourselves is not a comfortable place to be in, though, so we find outstandingly creative ways to either get out of it or distract ourselves from it. I acknowledge those who cannot control that negativity. I am also aware of those who prefer to wallow in it and call it everything from realism to ageism to what-not.
But in this article I want to focus on the role of the negative. For those young enough 😛 to have used photo film, you know the fascination of the negatives, the way our brain struggles and then begins to make sense of the reversed image, the play of shadow and unnatural light that coalesces into a weird beauty.
In a more real world (says who?), as I mentioned in another couple of articles, the negative is a lot more useful for survival than the positive. That’s why our brain notices it first and attempts to address it first. No matter the stark beauty of the wide open space of the savannah, that prowling big feline you see coming towards you gets noticed and dealt with so you can admire the scenery another day 
The upside to that is, of course, safety. If we succeed in reaching a safe place, the theory says we can allow that survival-oriented part of our brain to be at rest and we can concentrate on being human, including paying attention to and creating beauty. Most of us seem to have forgotten we have that switch though… does that mean we do not recognize a safe place when we see it anymore?
But there is another role of the negative, especially when we are talking about feelings. They are, of course, great motivators. Probably because of that link with survival, we usually act on the negative faster, and put a lot of effort into it. The results are… hmm, what’s a polite way of putting it? 
I will refer you to the entire range of fiction, and most of the non-fiction writing… just in case you haven’t noticed it, it ain’t pretty! For a milder version, the religious and inspirational teachings focus on teaching the brain to avoid acting in those ways, which is an acknowledgment of the way they usually pan out.
But if there is one thing our brain can do, is learn. We can learn to guide our actions, even when those actions are triggered by negative thoughts or feelings (greed, hate, jealousy and the like). I have tried to learn this with the shades of anger that are my usual negative response to life. I am in a vocation that allows me to use anger to try and change systems. I can also use it to arrange the life around me to be safe. I am not sure if anger can work at a group level (revolutions, anyone?) but at a personal level heck, yes it works! 
Don’t get me wrong, I can wallow in anger myself for a while, uncomfortable as it actually is. I can fantasize about revenge driven by anger – and I am inventive! 
In the long run though, that doesn’t matter because anger is a motivator for action, but (wait for it!) it is not the action. That has been, and is, and will be, under our control – and that’s the way I like it!

 

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December

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Running through ancient arched tunnels, painted grey by some unknown figment of my imagination, the dream follows the classical pattern: I am chasing a train that won’t wait for me. I don’t know where I am, other than the name of the city. I can see the trains sometimes, between one tunnel and the next, but I am somewhere up and can’t seem to reach the next level down. I have spent the day in this Saxon sounding and looking city, going from one amazing site to the other, each more magnificent and more imposing than the previous one, lured by beauty and the eagerness to experience all that I can for one day only.

I wake up at the normal time but the feeling of the dream doesn’t fade. Well, I don’t have to think very hard as to why. What is it about December that sends people into paroxysms of activity, most of it unrelated to the actual celebrations?

December doesn’t usually bother me, as I enjoy the holidays and the pace and the sheer vitality of the whole jolly silly season. But that is when I am in sync, heart free, mind engaged, soul madly drunk on life and the whole of me generally in control of the reality that’s mine.

Not so this year. With so many of my walls up and a few things not going as planned, I am dodging from tunnel to tunnel in the waking hours as well as in my dreams. Threads of relationships that should flow smoothly plaited together fray apart. When the walls are up in one direction I seem to be hit from another side. Some things I, of course, do to myself, as I am reluctant to give up anything (I am, after all, a full on hoarder of emotions and experiences!).

Change is coming. I can feel it, promote it, engender it. I have probably chosen a bad time but sometimes you just have to do it, take it on the chin and roll with it. Nobody ever dared to tell me it was going to be easy I wouldn’t have believed it if they did, really!

I can guide change on the pathways I want it to take. I can settle it into my life when the time comes. There are many things I can and will do. And the first thing is to make some time for myself. Alone, as I rarely am, so that I can hear my thoughts, caress my feelings and organize my ideas. In order to be kind to yourself I guess you first have to make that time exist for yourself. Appointments, rather

I stand, mostly open, feeling slightly battered and overwhelmed by the very things that usually make up my joy of being alive. But I was talking about trees the other day, and they are forever moving yet grounded still. I should be like a tree. Standing.

Land

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With my desire for productivity and for beauty sometimes at odds it makes sense to have a look at this conflict – if conflict it actually is.

It comes as a no-brainer that my insisting on productivity is linked to the size of land I have in my care. Quarter of an acre, that is.

I am no big fan of intensive gardening – I want nature to give me enough of what I want, not a glut of everything. I do not wish to exhaust the land or, heavens forbid, work too much to restore fertility of the land afterwards

That means I have only a limited allowance of fertility available to me, so it makes sense to grow something that I can use.

But beauty… ah, beauty is just as important. Not to say that productive plants aren’t beautiful. Just that I have this quirk of reacting to showy, OTT beauty.

There is an abundance of extravagant scent passing by a fence trailing with jasmine and honeysuckle, a disturbing wealth of trembling in a stand of poplars and maples, an uncompromising quality to tractor seat plants and barberry and a deceptive frailty to pink then cream then green toon trees. And this is still spring, so I am not even going to go near fir trees rising from the snow, or ginkos blazing gold in autumn or the post-card worthiness of pohutukawa in bloom at Christmas (summer!).

I want all of the above and more!

And the only limiting factor at the moment (if you do not wish to count ignorance) is acreage. I may be able to squeeze quite a number of fruit trees on a quarter acre, but for the rest of the forest I dream of I need a lot more space, given that I am not into hortitorture (as my tutor called bonsai, espaliers, pleaching and other bending of the nature laws to human whim).

Some people tell me they are looking for a flat piece of land to build a house, I am asking for a couple of hills cattle have trouble navigating. Others are downsizing while I try to go all out and all over the place And when others are discussing the merits of easy care low maintenance minimalist zen borders I am learning to propagate cuttings so that I have more, more and yet more of every single specimen I encounter. No, I am not looking down at those others, I like all their gardens, I just… dream of a forest.

Because it takes all sorts, the native gardeners and the foliage gardeners and the ornamental gardeners and the orchardists and…. And forest people. Like I want to be.

Day time is easy: finish with the mortgage, set the little one up, find a piece of land that suits and go forest.

Night time is hard. I am human, after all, on a different timeline than trees and getting… younger by the day

I would like to see that forest…

Beauty

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You know that assumption you are making when you have a little knowledge and it seems like a lot of knowledge and you don’t know what/that you don’t know?

No? Let me elucidate

I was browsing in an op shop, as you do I saw this painting, of a girl looking into the distance from a window, over a body of water. It caught my eye because of the simplicity and the beautiful lines and the colour (blue). So I picked it up and got the shock of the day when I saw the signature: Salvador Dali. No, I didn’t think I got an original, it was just that as a young teenager I read his autobiography and saw some of his more famous works, and there was not much of what I would call ordinary in either Which meant that I thought a mad genius could only possibly create the same type of work over an entire career. Presumptuous, much?

So I bought the painting; it will join the growing body of paintings and prints and art books that start to clutter my house. And I started considering beauty.

I make this difference between natural and human made beauty. A quirk, I am sure, but one that sees me in rapture seeing mountains but indifferent to paintings of the same. Or loving the description of Yorkshire moors in “The secret garden” but unsure whether I would like them if I actually saw them… I plan to put this to the test one day!

It’s difficult when you can’t describe beauty. Words come easy for paintings and books and people and nature. Music though… I just can’t find them. And I can’t get into theatre, although I have watched several plays on TV that have changed my life… to see the play on the stage with other people around feels embarrassing – another quirk 🙂

I pay attention to beauty. It has never occurred to me not to, probably because I started young. I had help, of course. My house growing up had art books and stamps and china and crystal. No, we didn’t have that much and not luxury items as such, but enough to look through a porcelain plate to the translucent world beyond. Enough to listen to the sound of crystal. Enough to figure out I really like figurative art. And then again, I lived in a country that had both natural and human made beauty galore (ugliness, too, just for comparison). So it wasn’t difficult to admire fields of wheat with poppies, corn flowers and corn cockle. Or a crisp winter’s day with hoar frost sparkling under a bewilderingly blinding sky. Or cathedrals with avenues of scented roses, perfect for a best perfume competition. Or paintings that would move one to inspiration. The first blooming tree in spring, the lime green new foliage of oaks, magnolias in the inner courtyard of the university, night near the sea and people when you get to know them… and still so much more to see, so much more beauty to experience!

A story I once read said that that elves were immortal because they fed on beauty…

Mountain

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I grew up on the plains, near the river. I know the impossibly wide stretches of land that call the eyes to reach further, and then further still.

I live a few minutes from the sea. I know the foam of the waves giving shape to the wind, and the reflections of the sky in the water.

I want to plant a forest. I know the way the canopy breaks up the sunlight and the branches fluttering their leaves make me tip my head up and name their colours.

But I am mountain people. Born as I was, growing up as I did, living as I do, with the plans that I have… that has never changed. I remain of the mountains, and the mountains are calling.

One in particular, the one nearby, is in many ways a representative. I always think of this mountain as masculine. It’s a volcano, therefore younger than most mountains I have seen. Much, much younger than the mountains I always longed for. But he allowed me a home, and thus became the axis of my life. Loyalty and awe started it, then a better understanding therefore love grew alongside those. Confidence, too, now that I think of it.

I am happy today, and walking fast to contain the feeling (at least in public), I was watching this mountain. The snow glowed pink in the sunset, then faded into blue. The beauty replaced the human aloneness, that sharp tone that gives happiness its actual power. Beauty beyond humanity however, notwithstanding the eyes that measured it. And yet I was happy, so I couldn’t think of myself as lacking beauty – a human quirk, I am sure 🙂

So I talked quietly and acknowledged that in my mortal pride I can still recognize the degree of beauty we’re talking about.

You see, I have always felt this mountain as alive and awake and aware. Powerful, oh yes, and sacred to its original people. Not suffering fools gladly, and very much particular about the people who are allowed to climb. With sacred springs and odd far-seeing faces, with a terrible temper and a pleasant disposition 🙂

Whimsy, but then symbols are allowed for the people who choose them.

I am living here, near this beautiful mountain.

I am trying my wings around him, wobbly flight then sure gliding. There will be many more mountains. In my native country, I hope. In places I read about and love, with mountains so old that even myths are becoming new stories again. In places where autumn cloaks the mountains in colours that reach into the soul. I will see his brother through the drifts of sakura flowers.

And then I will come back, and the first sighting after the long travel will be the same:

Beautiful

Calling

Home

Unreasonable

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I want to find that one person who understands me at each and any moment in my life. Never mind that I sometimes need years to understand myself. Never mind that I have so many people who understand a part of me, because, after all, we are not living each moment to its fullest and when we need to talk we usually limit ourselves to one part of who we are. Nevertheless, yes, unreasonable of me, I want to find that person.

I want to listen to your words and know who you are. Never mind that I see your actions and they speak true. Never mind that I have enough understanding to know that your words can be a lot harsher than your thoughts ever are and as far away from your actions as it’s humanly possible. I know, unreasonable of me!

I want to see your beauty in all its difficult glory. Never mind that you think yourself ugly, silly, dumb and difficult. Never mind that you travel to exquisite places and the beauty doesn’t lift you because you feel it is so far beyond your reach. I will get impatient and tell you off for hiding under conventional standards because yes, unreasonable of me, I want to see your beauty!

I want to feel everything. Never mind that I am out of practice, never mind that there are some things I cannot feel for various reasons. I am made to feel, I am made to experience the retreat of reality under the weight of feelings. Never mind that in the routine of life feeling like this is dangerous for peace of mind and for peace in general! Despite all this, unreasonable of me, I want to feel everything!

I want to reach out and take what I need without apologizing, without even asking for permission. Never mind that life isn’t like that. Never mind that, even if life was like that, the world we live in isn’t like that. Never mind that, even if the world we live in was like that, asking for permission is always a good idea! No, I don’t want to come back to reality! Unreasonable of me, I want to take!

I want to share with you. Never mind that there are no words for the first buds on the tree opening up. Never mind that there are no breaths deep enough for the sky disappearing into shades of clouds above the mountains. Never mind that there is no heart rhythm enough for that book, that movie, that concert. All this notwithstanding, unreasonable of me, I want to share with you.

It should come as no surprise that the only constants are you and me…. and my unreasonable entitlement!

Forest

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Personal taste is an interesting thing not up for discussion as prescribed of old (de gustibus…).

But each of us has at least one thing that we can discuss until the cows come home and beyond. My understanding is that clubs and other organizations have been created for the salvation of each member’s family’s sanity 🙂

And it usually involves a dream as well.

Mine is to plant a forest. Far away from a day job I happen to like, and still this dream would require that job as well.

I like and use annual plants, especially vegetables and flowers. I can tend them and enjoy them and cram them in wherever I see a spot available. But reading about permaculture I have become sensitized to the unnaturalness of this. It says that fallow earth tries to get back to the forest it was once covered in. And if you happen to find a piece of land that has not been used for a few years, you see what I mean by this: the first couple of seasons grasses and weeds prevail. After that though woody shrubs take off and, in time, tree seedlings make their way up, first of all short lived trees and then the giants. People seem to like the Earth solely juvenile, despite long-term effects.

But going back to the dream (if I may pontificate 😛 ) there is something satisfying for me when I see trees and, thinking of my current solid preference for edibles, I realize that this is only a result of not enough land.

You see, a forest requires space to grow and that requires some sacrifice. Not a lot, mind you, as outlined by the edible forest descriptions, but in terms of land allocated, time, money, work invested at the beginning… it’s daunting for a single person to say the least, and even for a family. And then there’s maintaining it, especially pest management… so you get people to help you, volunteers and those who would benefit from the environment, the goal, the tasks, the work experience… ah, but I am getting into the day job now 🙂

So what would I plant? Everything that would grow, really. Edibles would have a place, natives their own, sheer beauty throughout. Flowering trees and autumn leaf colour, summer shade and winter sentinels, dwarfs and giants, everything. I would pay attention to the water and to the summit, to the valley and to the rocks, I would have paths and bridges and benches and clearings. There would be a house with a huge kitchen (those volunteers need to be fed) and outbuildings with bunks in them (those volunteers also have to be housed). And there would be at least one if not more specialists, paid handsomely, to plan with and argue with and who would know where to plant what and in what way and what I can expect… should I just go to school and study all this? That way I can pay myself for making real my own personal dream.

And then, when it’s at least a piece of land with slender saplings barely visible under the grasses and nursery plants, I would put a sign on the gate saying “come on in” to all… for a forest does not belong to one person only… it is the Earth in its prime, made manifest.