It’s funny how being faced with an interview or CV update makes you look at yourself and the ‘story’ of your life objectively.
A friend of mine insisted that I am eligible for an application I wouldn’t have believed myself a candidate for. As she went on to explain all the ways in which she thinks I am perfect for the role, she wrote a story of me and my life that I absolutely had not had the vantage point to see before.
I see only the absences. What she was saying had so much more form and structure and positivity than I have ever seen before. I am only familiar with a drifting, shapeless failure with ever widening gaps.
We all like to be flattered of course and that was what she was doing. But in the eyes of another we see ourselves. I’ve just read Rachel Cusk’s ‘Outline’ with perfect timing for this new Outline of myself. Although the gaps I berate myself with are painfully present in their absences, I can now see that an alternative story might be written. It is not just through the eyes of friends we see ourselves, but the eyes of children, strangers, animals, even landscapes. Positivity and perceptibility are needed to give them shape.
I ate my lunch in the Learning Lab at school today and read the motivational classroom display:
Change Your Frame of Mind.
‘I’m rubbish at this.’ – ‘What can I do to improve?’
‘I can’t get it right.’ – ‘Mistakes mean I’m learning by trying.’
‘That’ll do.’ – ‘How can I do better?’
I understand that how we feel about ourselves, our failures, each event, big or small, comes down to attitude or frame of mind. That’s what we’re trying to teach our young people.
It’s just so much easier said than lived.
Lucy hugged me mid-class on Wednesday. I was on her level supporting the learning of her fellow student and for no reason she came to me, put her arms around me and nestled her head into my neck. “You’re my favourite” she said. I could cry.
It was like a blessing. As magical as a songbird choosing to land on me for a moment. Like being filled with a golden light, totally out of the blue and totally without motive. All these gaps and regrets and worries regarding the trajectory of my life, when life is really moments like these.
Also, there really is no protecting oneself from the risks of the pandemic in primary education.
I seem to be on a ride I can’t get off at the moment. I obsess about my age. While anybody would scoff and say I’m young, at 31 I don’t have a home, a reliable income, a baby, or a relationship. I’d say if anything, that I’m too young for my age. There is no fix that I can see and time is running me down. So I can’t get off the ride, if anything I need to speed it up; get qualified, get money, get pregnant ASAP, before it’s too late. I’m fucking up.
In an attempt to stay well and whole I grab and make moments wherever I can. I have so much to do on my days off, not least sleep as demanded by my autoimmune disease. On my last day off I walked on my crippled feet for 2 hours.
I saw my raven again, except this time there were two.
It was roughly where I saw it last time, except this time I was on foot.
I trespassed into a field with the most beautiful view I can think I’ve ever seen. I miss the Canon all the time. My iphone can’t touch views like that.
I sat out of view of the farmhouse and road in a field I had no right to be in, I ate my dried fruit and was causing no harm to the fancy breed sheep near me or the Ruby Reds down in the valley of the field. Above me croaked my ravens.
They were playing.
One would fly up high, turn upsidedown with its feet sticking up into the sky, close its wings tight to its body and tumble a revolution or two, let out a croak and then extend its wings to catch itself. It was so clearly for pleasure. It’s mate was doing the same thing, but seemed more half-hearted, more like it was just joining in to see what the fuss was about rather than being as wholly absorbed in the act as the first raven.
I caught myself grinning watching them, whirling effortlessly about above me on the updraughts of the valley that stretched beneath us.
My thoughts had pulled me off the here and now, as they do, and I found myself crying that I don’t and can’t see how I will have a family of my own, jealous of the parents of my students. When I came back to myself I also realised my ravens had left and I hadn’t even seen them go.
I saw a dead hare on the road on my way to work yesterday.
It was along the straight fast stretch after Halwell Business Park.
It was a shock.
It cleared my mind of what I had been thinking about and I thought it was a bad sign or ill omen. Then I pretended to myself that maybe it’s a good omen; they’re in such high numbers that they now make appearance as road kill, but I knew that was a lie to myself to try to quiet the dread I was feeling at my diaphragm. How can something that ethereal, that alive on the periphery of reality, be killed by something as mundane as a car?
The reeds and ex-thatching stock that neatly hem the fresh water of Slapton Ley are reverberating with late summer cricket calls. They’re incredibly loud; driving 60mph through the lanes of an evening after work, blaring ‘Autumn’ by Joanna Newsom, they’re calls easily cut through the open car windows, like accents to the soundtrack of a season dying.
Every time I have an unexpected sea swim now it feels like the last, a bitter sweet experience that I have to greedily consume before the cold puts an end to it for the year. Everything feels poignant as we approach the end of the (Celtic) new year and halloween looms and the dreaded ‘back to school’ sadness.
I left Slapton village and entered into the high hedged lanes of my home county, broad views of Devon reaching all the way up to the Dartmoor.
Perched on the top of a telegraphy pole, gigantic and disorientating with nothing to gage its enormous proportions by beyond the pole, the scudding clouds and the way it holds its weight.
Like a hare, you’re not sure if you’ve seen one but when you see one, there’s no doubt.
I saw one 10 years ago, when I used to sell tour tickets to tourists at Start Point Lighthouse, I had many exciting bird encounters in that job. Before that was on horse back at the family farm in my early teens.
My Raven looks down into the car self-consciously at me staring unblinkingly back. Anthropomorphism is supposedly bad, but not unscientific when we talk about Corvids, or as they’re lovingly known, Ape-Birds. These creatures are _smart_.
They recognise gaze from humans. I have conducted experiments in my old art studio with jackdaws, watching them with my eyes but my head held away and they knew what I was doing.
They know they’re reflections for what they are and have the mental capacity to solve puzzles with complexity that a 7 year old child can manage.
[Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds by Bernd Heinrich pub. 2007.]
Thankfully I had no one behind me and I ease my old Toyota to a stop. Awkwardly, keeping an eye on me, the raven takes flight, I gasped again- that wingspan!
I slowly ease forward, scanning for its trajectory. It effortlessly swirled around and crossing my path further up the road, sinking down to land in a field. I cruise up to a halt at the gateway where I have another magnificent view of my Raven standing in freshly turned red Devon clay.
Now I have all the crows I could hope for to compare this solid, coal-black body against. It lumberingly walks away, keeping an eye on me through the lower window. I turn my music off and soak in the scene.
Over the brow of the fields curvature, the roof of a tractor briskly drives back and forth, kicking up a pink dust cloud of soil as it harrows the field. The birds are working the ground. The raven has walked a considerable distance by now, I guess take-off is a big effort when you’re of those vast dimensions, before another car finally comes and I leave my first Raven sighting in years, in peace.