Surprising

what might turn up on the page after flexing our fingers and moving the pens across the page in workshops.

For various reasons (probably mostly the naysayer in my head) I’ve not tried my hand at fiction very often. But Mark Iliss’ workshop yesterday prompted an afternoon producing over 1,000 words of a short story.  When we met for our tutorial he mostly asked, “what happens next?”  Off I went back to the laptop to figure out the destiny of the family of characters that had turned up in my head.

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The biggest problem was moral.  I felt bad about wanting to kill one of them. And worse if any of the others murdered him.

All of this was revelation, the words spooling out from what was quite a sketchy character exercise in the morning, the characters taking life in my head (was this how Zeus felt when he birthed Athena?), the morality of plot decisions (this may be why not many Quakers are counted amongst top fiction writers.) One of the biggest mind blows this week was that I need to  completely reassess how I see myself as a writer.

The poetry workshop with Carola Luther was stimulating without exciting any  of the short fiction moral dilemmas.  My walks around Lumb Bank have me pondering geology, rock and water.  The well stocked library can’t answer these queries.  One thing I will be checking on Google when we get to Manchester wifi land.

One exercise took me rather nostalgically back to my own lane.

Arvon Lumb Bank

Hag’s Chair

You think of me

Not at all

Just another

Piece of limestone

Furniture.

Glacial erratic.

Both true.

Skidding in on ice –

A one off.

Distinct.

Impervious of weather.

Imperious to some.

My view.

My sun. My moon.

My chair.

You know nothing,

Mortal!

For as long or longer

Than these mountains last

Here I’ll sit.

Bee Smith is travelling in March 2014 with the Leonardo da Vinci Life Long Learning Programme “Developing Creative Practice Across Borders” to Yorkshire and Lancashire organised by the Cavan Arts and the Social Inclusion Unit offices.

Committing

First full workshop day at the Arvon Lumb Bank with South African born poet Carola Luther. We start with some creative writing limber up exercises  that involve writing a collaborative poem, which segues into our own solo efforts.  Carola then introduced several poems that come under the category of list poems.   This is my take on the list poem.  You could also  take it as advice for future Arvon Lumb Bank participants for packing or preparing to embark on an Arvon course at Lumb Bank.

What Every Arvon Participant Should Pack for Lumb Bank

A plaster. Prescription and over the counter drugs.

Travel is hazardous business.

A torch. A torch?! Well, it’s on the website.

A small, wind-up torch. In it goes.

Pens (6). iPad.  Laptop.

Too many wires and leads.

Flashdrive. Camera. Batteries.

Wires and leads tangling asymmetrically.

Layers- singlet, long T’s, light sweater, heavy sweater.

Many pairs of socks.

The indoor shoes. The hat and gloves.

The waterproof coat.

It’s the Pennines. It will rain. Definitely.

No more than three books. They have a library.

Many blank sheets of paper.

An open mind.

A truce with silence.

The guardrail down on real life.

Bee Smith is travelling in March 2014 with the Leonardo da Vinci Life Long Learning Programme “Developing Creative Practice Across Borders” to Yorkshire and Lancashire organised by the Cavan Arts Office.

Landing

is not quite the same as arriving.  Muscles sore from pulling wheely cases and toting laptops finally come to rest at Heptonstall. I unpack. My office for the next week. My business is writing. That is what the Arvon Foundation provides. Space for writers.

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And it is Perfect. Private. Ground floor. Sensitively providing a wetroom for the slightly lame and halt. Arvon’s  Lumb Bank could not be more astute in providing me with made to order writing space.

The train pitches up at Hebden Bridge where we disgorge  and decant our plethora of baggage before exploring the nearest ‘big town’ to Lumb Bank.

Which is a town that seems to be the product of Posy Simmond’s magical thinking. Not only has it a Little Theatre, a Picture House, a Quaker Meeting,enough organic bakeries and cafes to fodder an army of hippies, you can also buy yourself some bamboo or hemp socks and get a recycled cycle. It has buses and trains  with posted schedules. Which appear to run on time! It is like a sustainable living model village with Fairtrade written in its stick DSCN1170of candy rock.  It feels almost Scandinavian.

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It has the Calder River and  the Rochdale Canal. The soot has been blasted off the mellow sandstone facades mostly.  There is some soot about though to authenticate its mill town past.

Not only is it certified hippie haven it’s also dedicated to dog comfort.  We need caffeine, wifi and lunch.  We find a cafe with wifi that also makes muffins for dogs that are gluten, salt and sugar free.  There are dog beds scattered around the cafe as well as water bowls and little tether points where you can hook your leash. Various dogs come in with their owners for lunch and both chow down.  I eat a puy lentil and butternut squash salad and have the best brownie east of the continental US. Not for dogs since chocolate is toxic for them. So The Lamppost likes two leggeds, too.

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I have landed in a place designed by English Eccentrics. But it works.  I buy a pair of socks. And some incense.  I can work this look.

I’m definitely not in Ireland anymore.

Bee Smith is travelling in March 2014 with the Leonardo da Vinci Life Long Learning Programme “Developing Creative Practice Across Borders” to Yorkshire and Lancashire organised by the Cavan Arts Office.

Embarking

If you live in the shadow of the mythic embarking on any sojourn requires patience.dog  mt haiku

A car. A bus. A pause and another bus. A rainy night in a B&B in Cavan Town where the upstairs neighbours were an army rampaging in stiletto heels. Imperfect pillow with sleep interrupted at two hour internals. (Did they fall out of bed upstairs?) Gave up sleep at 5:15. Meanly contemplated turning TV on really loud as vengeance upon the heavy footed folk on the upper floor. Mastered self and let it go.

Pull the 12.5 kilo wheely suitcase down the Main Street, lugging 7.5 kilos on my shoulder. And an unestimated weight in the Tardis that masquerades as the handbag for this sojourn, hanging bandolier style across the rain coat that covers the sweater coat.  Layers being the the fashion solution for a sojourn in Britain in March when the  weather is decidedly bipolar.

A mini-bus with eleven virtual strangers with a seat mate gradually becoming less strange as we bond over dog adulation and the necessity of the Platonic ideal of a comfortable pillow for sleep.  Belfast International. Why does every airport in the world have a modernist metal gateway arch? Sort of brutalist in a Stalinist approved art form way.

Yet again set off the metal detector. Humiliation of assuming the position in stocking feet. The randomness of it. No, it is not the titanium in my ankle setting if off. If you say so.   Feeling tickled as I got frisked around my waist.

The passivity and quiet of the departure queues.  Airplane as sardine tin, packed in, knee joints locked as wing flaps up.

The brutalist metal gateway. Manchester Airport seems to have one, too. Or am I dreaming this in my weariness?

Medieval travel as Basho wrote of it in his haibun could not be more brutal than the purgatory of the Departure Lounge.

Tomorrow embarking further- a  tram, a train, a taxi, Arvon. Tonight another pause in the sojourn.  A new pillow to sample, to wrestle, to embrace  with/towards unconsciousness.

Bee Smith is travelling in March 2014 with the Leonardo da Vinci Life Long Learning Programme “Developing Creative Practice Across Borders” to Yorkshire and Lancashire organised by the Cavan Arts Office.

Travelling Prep

“Traveling is a brutality.

It forces you to trust strangers

and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home & friends.

You are constantly off balance.

Nothing is yours except the essential things:

Air – Sleep – Dreams – Sea – Sky…..

all things tending towards the eternal

or what we imagine of it.”

-Cesare Pavese –

Natural Cathedral

Certainly travelling forces you out of your comfort zone.  Between choosing what to pack for all British weather eventualities (snow is forecast for one day at Lumb Bank),  preparing what to take for a fortnight’s travelling for a combination of both rugged country and inner city locations, my logistical muscles are getting a workout for this fortnight’s sojourn. With my laptop and all other writing utensils going as my single carry on I have to squeeze two weeks worth of travel clothing and comfort into a single bag no more than 20 kilos in weight. I keep lifting the suitcase (which has had three versions of travelling logistical schemes so far) and telling myself it’s not as heavy as a Cozyglow bag of coal. So it must be alright!

Yes, I will be leaving home and friends but I’ve modelled some of my essentials on a friend’s wisdom.  When she left Ireland as a child she amused family by piling rocks into her suitcase.  She counted that literal ‘touchstone’ as essential baggage to help her remember her homeplace.  Last week she gave me both a Tibetan shawl from some of her own travels and a Hag Stone pebble. It’s small and has three holes through it.  Hag stones are sacred to the Irish goddess the Cailleach; with the three holes it also resonates to the Triple Goddess.  So I have a  spiritual touchstone to keep me grounded and the shawl to keep me warm in what may be a chilly stone house at Lumb Bank.   So  much for renouncing comfort!

(As an aside I have become fussy about pillows in middle age. I once slept in nine beds in 14 days and forbore the discomfort by dreaming at each stopover that I would meet the Platonic ideal of the perfectly comfortable pillow.  My nephew has good sources and won the challenge. There is no room to pack a pillow, which constitutes a great sacrifice of comfort and may compromise the essential of sleep.)

I digress.  I have my symbolic travelling comforts of Hag Stone pebble and shawl.  Hot water bottle. And herbal teabags. (One must cherish one’s digestion on the road.)  Travel insurance. That’s about the height of it comfort zone-wise. There will certainly be strangers as I will travel with ten people only one of whom I’ve ever been introduced to before. But even nodding acquaintance still makes you essentially astrangers.

Whenever I prepare for a trip I think of my mother.  She was the one who meticulously taught me the art of packing a suitcase. Of course, she did most of her travelling in Depression and wartime America when suitcases were  things of utility, beauty and heft.   I can hear Mom’s voice in my head, a memory of being taught the proper way to fold blouses, trousers,rolling socks.  Like much of her advice, I deviate from the template. Yet every time I haul the suitcase out and prepare for another trip she turns up, telling me what matches or clashes, honing the perfect capsule wardrobe.  My mother liked travelling, going places. She used to look up at passing planes while she hung out the laundry and feel her feet begin to itch.  She did travel later in life and got to Italy, the Holy Land and England. While I pack I remember the excitement and yes, anxiety, too, of ‘going places.’ Anticipation is often a mixed emotion.  Yet we volunteer for travelling, to be a bit off-kilter as we seek those things that are eternal.

Bee Smith is travelling in March 2014 with the Leonardo da Vinci Life Long Learning Programme “Developing Creative Practice Across Borders” to Yorkshire and Lancashire organised by the Cavan Arts Office.