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Memoir and motorcycles

There's much more to travel than simply arriving - although with our air-conditioned cars and our earbuds we tend to block out the physicality of moving from place to place. That can be a sad loss in our awareness and in our ability to communicate about who we are.


Travelling on the Tube I noticed a woman with a tailored shirt/smock that had paint splashes on it. Looking more closely I discovered that this was in fact a manufactured series of identical ‘splashes’ designed to make her look as if she were a fine artist who could look stylish even when she’d just stepped out of her studio.

I know artists and painters. I know where the paint collects and splashes, how it smudges up around the wrists and then around the rib area when the paint on the (usually right) hand brushes past the fabric. I know the real thing.

This was ersatz, designer paint splash.  Like distressed leather jackets and ripped jeans, it was all about posturing. 

Perhaps it means that people are finally starting to admire the artists of the world, to want to be like them. Possibly they’ll even start to do some art themselves – and revive their souls in the process. 

Travel Notes

Sitting in a rather tidy little breakfast restaurant on the King’s Road I realized the man to my left was reading his poetry from a notebook to an older man, who was listening as well as he could over the general noise that always accompanies restaurant serving.  The waitress, a swift footed Diana of the Diners, bustled past, plates of Full English Breakfast (with extra chips) stacked on her forearms.

The young man was seeking an opinion of his work from the older man.

My first thought was, “Why try to read poetry in this noise?”

So of course I listened in as well as I could.

The younger man was desperate to be ‘found’, to be published, to be heard, he explained. Yet he hadn’t sent out any of his work, and he needed the approval of the older man. The older man, with infinite tact, asked him why the approval of others mattered so much. The younger man could not answer, except for saying he needed something to show for his writing efforts.

The conversation went on for some time. Diana of the Diners collected their almost untouched mugs of tea and bustled away. At no point had the young man said there was something inside he wanted to express, and that this was what had driven him forwards. At no point had he talked about the content of his poetry.

For a moment I felt sad that this person was so desperate for recognition. He’d even missed out noticing Diana’s loveliness. Then I turned my attention back to the sausage, eggs, ham and chips before me and knew he was on his own learning path, and that it was perfect for him.

Bay Path

Huge thanks to the wonderful participants who came to the Bay Path Concord campus for "Writing as a Healing Modality" workshop yesterday. Rarely have I had the privilege of working with such insightful, deeply intelligent, and aware people. Thanks to you we were able to traverse some demanding terrain and arrive at a deeper sense of the way writing can help us let go of the past and empower us for the future. You were able to do this with good humor, laughter, and real empathy. Yes, there were some tears, and they were respected as an important part of the process of healing.

I hope to meet with you all again and continue our work together.


City of romance, miraculous sunsets, history, and way too many tourists.

Let’s see if we can step back in time and see what made Venice such a superb creation in its heyday. Think of it: a city built on water – the advantages of that. If we look only at the history and the art we’ll miss the sheer convenience of the place when it was in its prime.

What would it have been like? Well – to begin with, there would have been no need to have drains or trash collection, the canals would do it all. And transport became easier. No more slow lumbering wagons, heaps of horse manure, and noise of wheels. In fact no more need to house and feed horses and clear up after them. Instead there was the easy flow of water borne traffic. Surely the canals would smell a little, but nothing like the pungency of heaps of horse and human manure that plagued other cities. And, best of all perhaps, no dust.

Fresh water, filtered through the earth into the wells of individual houses, would have been better than in most other cities, and in no shortage. Better yet, fire, the scourge of so many cities (think of the Great Fire of London in 1666), would not be such a terrible threat.  Rats, too, would have had a harder time spreading diseases to stone built houses, and less garbage to feed on. Diseases would have been plentiful, of course: malaria and other water-borne plagues would have been very unpleasant, but then many European cities seemed to have them, anyway, as swampy areas adjacent to the city centers were always likely to breed mosquitos, flies, and so on. 

And as for trade… ships could bring in goods easily, reaching all corners of the city without effort.  Even from a military point of view all that was needed for defense was a navy, and once the ships were built a navy was not nearly as expensive to maintain as an army, nor as unruly. Other city states would have to gear up to fight a naval engagement, taking months to build ships, and they would be expected to maintain an army too.  Not the Venetians.

Quiet, calm, secure, relatively pleasant to the nose, easy travel – Venice would have had it all. It would have struck the visitor of bygone times as superbly modern and innovative. Perhaps we can learn from it about what city dwelling might need to be.


The other day I was walking past a delightful garden and I saw the owner, an older lady, transplanting flowers. I looked up and noticed that directly above her a large tree with dead branches overhung the plot. Surely, before too long the dead branches would fall and crush the flowers, or perhaps if workmen were sent to cut the branches they would surely damage the flower beds.

And that is what we do. When we can’t manage to deal with the big things in life we set about doing little things. We can’t deal with our lives, so we re-arrange the furniture. We can’t deal with world poverty so we donate a pair of shoes. We can’t face the littleness of our own being, so we have a nation that elects a president who constantly tells us how great he is.


When I was very small my parents would hurry me along, always chivvying me to get ready and be presentable way before the event was due to happen. 

Now, when I'm with Zoe (6) and Ellie (4) I sometimes find myself telling them to hurry up, to get ready, not to dawdle. At such moments I catch myself. I don't want to be late, but am I perhaps still living my life according to my parents' schedules? I have no right to pass on that anxiety to this new generation. They have a right to their own self-pacing. 

My problem is not going to be their problem if I can help it.

Iron Hans

I've recently had cause to revisit this Grimm Brothers' Tale, and it's provided me with plenty of food for thought - which is not a bad thing in a story about psycho-sexual maturation.

One part caught my attention particularly. In the middle of this tale the young prince is carried off by Hans and told to look after a lake, to protect it for anything falling into it. The first day he forgets his task and puts his aching finger in the water, the same finger that got caught in the door of Hans' cage. It turns gold. The second day he looks in the water to see his reflection and one of his hairs falls in, and turns gold. The third day he sees creatures swimming beneath the surface, leans forward, and all his hair flops over his brow and into the lake. It promptly turns gold, too.

He's failed his test of keeping the lake pure, but what actually is this series of events signaling to us?

I'd suggest that for the adolescent there are three 'tests', the clearest of which is on the second day when, narcissus-like, the prince looks at his reflection and a hair falls into the lake. If one of the challenges of growing to maturity is to master the narcissistic aspect of one's temperament, then this may be the clue we need. The first day the boy wants to ease his painful finger, the wound he got when he opened Hans' cage and let him out. We can, at the adolescent stage, identify too closely with the wounded feeling that our parents and others do not see who we truly are. This is a real challenge. Feeling like a victim can blight one's life unless one decides not to dwell on it. The finger turns gold - just as the experience of being misunderstood can lead us to the gold of greater understanding - if we take the time to process it.

On the second day the narcissistic element of the boy looking at his own reflection is likewise a phase that needs to be dealt with in order to reach real maturity. He sees the hair that has fallen into the lake and recognizes with a shock that the task is not all about him. Teenagers preening in front of a mirror today may need to take note of this one.

On the third day the boy is attracted by something beneath the surface. And here, I'd suggest, is the most important event so far. It suggests to us that he now wishes to look beneath the surface of life, to find out about the things that exist beneath the surface of his own being. Knowing who one is, in depth, is a great blessing, and yet spending too long in the place of introspection can be a trap of its own. The boy pulls back and sees his hair is now all gold, and he seeks to hide it - which is exactly what any of us will do when we see the authentic essence of who we are. Knowing what our soul actually is feels like a huge gift, and it is. But others, who know only the material world, may give us a hard time about being our authentic self. This struggle is fairly acute during adolescence, which is where the boy is in his development. At the end of the tale, finally, he is able to reveal his hair to his bride - and so to show who he actually is.

I've gone into this tale in such detail because it seems to me that it contains hugely useful information about adolescent development, information we have often chosen to ignore in our school system. Teaching to the test and cramming for SATs will not replace the wisdom encapsulated in these ancient tales. It's time we recognized that.