Island Blog – Space

Today the photography volunteers have been given the name of their project.  Minimalism.  I watch them wander around the reserve, deep in thought, eyes looking down, eyes looking up, looking out, thinking in.  What does minimalism mean to me?  Is it this leaf in a dustbowl, or that emerald green gecko shinning up a fat brown tree?  What do I hear while I seek my subject?  What do I feel, how do I feel?  Someone hunkers down to take a picture of an attention bell, one of those ping things that sit at reception when reception has popped out for a pee.  She places it carefully on the wide stone floor and crouches down to get it right.  I see the bell, tiny in such a lot of negative space.  From above it certainly is minimalism.  A child’s boat in a great stone ocean.  From down there, where she is, the bell becomes huge and the stone ocean goes on for ever, or, at least, until it meets the wall.

At art school we were required to work on negative space.  I hadn’t a scooby what that was, thinking it was something dodgy, the opposite of positive space, if, indeed that’s not an oxymoron. I found it extremely difficult at first, looking at what wasn’t there, the space in between the things that were.  We had to look, see, draw the spaces, not the jugs or benches or trees or parked cars.  All I could see was physical presence until, eversoslowly, just as my eyeballs threatened early closing, I got it, saw it and it was huge.

My understanding of opposites can often be This or That.  I forget there are many miles in between the two, many colours, hues, options.  Inhabiting that space is something I need to re-train my mind to work with.  A physical life requires certain choices between This and That and decisions are based on what I see, what is available, what is acceptable in any given moment.   We like routine, most of us, known quantities of things fixable and in good working order, things we use in our daily lives.  There is, after all, a time and place for everything, is there not? I want a positive space to live in, one that protects me, mostly, from myself, one that nurtures, one I can see clearly and understand.

At home, I would call those times of deep internal unrest, negative space.  Instead of really looking into that space, seeing it for what it is and allowing it just to be, I feel that I need to colour it in with my own pack of crayons.  I need to get busy, sweep the floor, cook something, change a bed, anything that gives me good grasp of the positive, the physical. What I can touch reassures me.  At least, over these things, I have control. That awful empty space back there, the one I just ran away from, the one full of unhappy thoughts and doubts and fears, well I sincerely hope that, by the time I descend the stairs, it has flown out the window.  Go pray on someone else you horrid negative space.  I’m fine now, with my pinny on and not long till lunch and the aftermath of dishes and cups to wash and dry.  When I focus on the tasks ahead of me, I can feel the calm.  There is always something to be done, after all, something that demands straightening, or mending, or wiping down, and once collected in an orderly fashion inside my mind, I am happy again. I am safe.  this life is just fine.

However, this is a life out of balance.  It must be, because the negative space is still there and it still bugs me. I don’t ask for it but it has something of import to show me.  Drawing the space in between two jugs, I began to notice the distance.  It wasn’t empty at all.  Behind the jugs I could see someone’s hand as they drew their own negative space, a corner of a cupboard, a snatch of white-scuffed blackboard, and even further back, the branch of a tree through the murky window.  It made me realize that I could look for ever into negative space and find positives, but distant positives, not too close, not mine to fix or mend or rearrange.  They were simply there.  I could fill in the gaps, complete the cupboard, the hand or the tree in my mind, but, somehow, I didn’t need to.

In order to control my mind, my thoughts, thoughts that fuel my choices of action and thoughts that will always have consequences, I need discipline, but discipline and I have never enjoyed each other’s company. I didn’t ever complete the drawing (no discipline!) because I was so pulled into the space.  I may have been given  poor marks, but what I learned about negative space back then has become a life-long fascination.  The trick is to be able to inhabit it, just as it is.  Those times of discomfort and self-doubt will still come to me.  I can fill them with stuff and noise and self pity; I can beat myself up, tear myself to shreds with my hyena teeth, or I can simply let them wash over me and move on.  I doubt that I will ever learn my way around them, never ‘complete’ my drawing, but if I just sit and let them come to me, surround me, without fear……. if I can find the courage to do that, I believe I will, at last, be able to say this is Me.

No apology.

 

Island Blog 108 Left Over Right

2013-10-26 19.32.55

 

 

Last night we had Leftovers for supper.  Actually, to be honest, we often do.  I have never been that sort of a cook who follows recipes, noting down what I might need in order to cook a certain dish and then trotting off to buy it.

Is this, I wonder, because I am too lazy/impatient to don my prescription specs and follow a recipe?

Could be.  I remember once thinking I was dutifully following one cake recipe when I was,in fact, following two.  I did wonder at the imbalance and curio-factor of blending two unlikely bed mates into one cake, but the wild and colourful in me rose to the occasion with a skip of excitment.  The cake, or cakes, arrived as one rather wonky lump, listing dangerously to one side and quite impossible to present on any level surface. I make up my own recipes now.

Back to last night.  Well, first I must open the fridge.  I creep up on the door and swoosh it open suddenly.  This is an old tactic and can often prevent anything escaping.

Aha!  I say with a cook’s gleam in my eye.  Opportunity presents itself and I grab it quick and hold on tight.

Next, onions.  I always need onions and garlic and I rarely run out of them because they lie artfully arranged in a nice basket from Portugal and in full view.  Any old vegetables, chopped, julienned, grated, diced, depending on what lies floppily inside the salad drawers.  Olive oil, infused with whatever I can more-or-less identify as herbs in the herb garden.  I know I should know which is which, but the voles have shifted the labels around.  Big pan, light on, favourite wooden spoon ( I never cook with metal weapons) and off we go, but to where is quite another thing.

As each ingredient is added, the house fills with tempting aromas that  join together in a rising sound wave until I turn down the heat.  As one animal now, it simmers and softens into a harmonious chorus.  Now, what would lift this dish?  I taste a little and let my instinct guide me.

What?  Mint you say, and dark chocolate and fresh nutmeg?

Never doubt that voice.  It’s not a left brain thing.  This could be casserole or cake.  Just don’t argue.

I comply and taste again.  Delicious.

I notice 3 old bananas hanging on the banana hook, all in a big brown huff.  What can I do with you I wonder?  I check the fridge – a tub of elderly natural yoghourt, lemon juice, and in the drinks cupboard which is still called that even though it isn’t any more, I find a teaspoonful of banana liqueur.

I chop the bananas and fry them in butter, adding a spoonful of wild honey and the liquer.  Whizzed up in the whizzer to a fine  puree, I add three serving spoons of yoghourt.  Meanwhile some almonds have been toasting in the oven.  I pour the mixture into two glasses, top with toasted almonds and pop them in the fridge, which is empty again.

Or is it?  One woman’s empty fridge is that same woman’s chance to shine. It’s all about self belief and no 24 hour shop down the road.

In that famous parting line from Fanny Cradock’s tv series, spoken with such confidence and encouragement into a thousand homes by her husband and assistant, Johnnie…..

May all your doughnuts look like Fanny’s.