Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Mystery of Thought

The garden of my early childhood was where I learnt about tenderness and beauty, pain and failures, mystery and miracles, friendship and loneliness. It was a modest garden, with a garage at the bottom, and just enough space for a patio, a vegetable patch and a metal slide. On the left hand-side the garden was flanked by a clump of conifers followed by a section of trellis, while the other side was a stretch of terracotta brick wall topped with varnished sage-green bushes. It was the same world, yet at the same time, it was a different world. It was private and secluded; it had a quiet about it that was often difficult to find inside a city, and a degree of mystery

that would play a vital role in nurturing my imagination.

When I was four, I would pretend that I was mother to a kibby (part baby, part kitten – for anyone that doesn’t know). I would wrap my cat, Gingerbread, in a yellow blanket and push him round the garden in a miniature plum-coloured pram. I would pretend that he had the ability to talk: asking him what he’d like for dinner and explaining that we’d need to go to the shops if he wanted strawberry ice cream.

For a month, when I was five, I would run into the garden to check how much my sunflower had grown overnight. Amazed that a lime green shoot could sprout from a tiny zebra-coloured seed; that it could grow to the height of my knee, that it could grow past my shoulders and eventually end up taller than my dad. And then when it flowered – lemon and black peppercorn – I saw the distinct markings of a face within the circular seed cluster: eyes, nose and a mouth that would yawn before it spoke each word.

In the same year, I learnt that worms were a gardener’s friend, that yellow ladybirds were poisonous (I’ve since discovered this is a myth) and I learnt how to dig potatoes from the ground. I would pretend that I was a great explorer sent to seek out treasure. I would pretend that each potato was a hand-painted golden egg, cleverly hidden beneath the soil by a family of pirates: all with matching eye patches and parrots.

When I was six, I saw my first fairy. She was skipping and flitting across the vegetable patch, holding a strawberry above her head. I learnt that she lived down the side of our garage in a small gap – between garage wall and garden wall – that was only big enough for a child to squeeze down. The privet on the top of the wall was overgrown and had formed a canopy above the dead-end passageway. It caused it to be dusk in the early afternoon, creating a light that was musty grey and prickled with glitter. Purple moss had replaced most of the mortar and there were tiny black-hole doorways chiselled into a few of the bricks. This is where the fairies lived. This is where I came when I ran away from home, until I realised I could run further. And in that moment of growing up, I’d also realised that I was too old to believe in fairies... They slowly shrunk into characters in a story, little more than the pencilled trails of an overactive imagination.

However, the world still held a degree of mystery: I could see faces on the barks of ancient trees, creatures within the pattern of a carpet or on the surface of a rain-splashed stone. In today’s society, ‘sightings’ of strange creatures are thought to be nothing more than by-products of a child’s creative mind or, if they still persist in adulthood, delusions, signs of mental illness, immaturity and instability. But, if we track back to medieval times, it wasn’t uncommon for the medieval mind to understand the world as a place of great mystery and enchantment. In fact, there are hundreds of medieval records brimmed full of sightings of strange creatures. For example, Gervase of Tilbury in the 12th Century reported how the congregation of a small Norfolk church saw an anchor hanging from the sky. Attached to it, and leading up into the sky, was a heavy chain. A sailor appeared above in the cloud, climbing down the chain, hand-by-hand – using the same technique as we would. The churchgoers eventually seized him and the otherworld sailor, suffocated by the moistness of our denser air, died in their grasp.

Mappa Mundi showing a unicorn
There are many more sightings: the wild man caught in the net of fisherman, green people riding green horses who ate only oats, bread and milk, and dog-headed people – frequently depicted within medieval texts and illustrations – who lived somewhere on the fringes of our world. And if we look at the Mappa Mundi, it is dotted with strange drawings: mermaids, unicorns, men with their faces in their chests, monopods. These are creatures, which we now commonly believe to be the things of fairytales, segregated from our current worldview, and yet the medieval mind seems to challenge our preconceived ideologies. How they saw and understood the world is very different to the way in which we now see and understand the world today – yet, as children, perhaps part of the medieval mind is still functioning.

I’ve never really understood the way in which my mind works. It has often left me feeling isolated, excluded and different. It has created a world that is full of possibility, mystery and beauty, but also one that is dark, complicated and threatening. Even hours of therapy over the years haven’t been able to create a harmony between the two opposing forces...

Maybe that’s why I was drawn to poetry, because it offered a space where you could explore the world with a different mind and it was classified as being creative rather than crazy.

Maybe that’s why writing poetry feels like a release, because it provides you with a medium that is accepting of unusual thought processes.

Maybe that’s why reading poetry feels comforting, because you discover that others see the world in a similar way to yourself.

All I do know is that, for me, the world is still full of mystery – thousands and millions of mysteries that are still undiscovered, still waiting to be found and turned into poetry.

Thank you for reading,


Ashley R Lister said...

This ties in so neatly with my pre-medieval research to enrich the current WIP.

Excellent and compelling post.